Actions versus Goals / REAL Projects / Archive - revisiting my workflow

Inspired by Tracking Open Items

I wonder whether the cultural influence of GTD methodology has gone to far - for me at least. GTD encourages us to break everything down into the smallest, individual action. But I find that by doing do, I lose the context of how the various actions hang together to work towards a bigger goal.

One of the attractions of Agenda for me is the potential to get more of an overview of what I’m working on and why. I say ‘potential’ because I haven’t yet created a structure and workflow that does this to my satisfaction. And part of the reason for that is perhaps that I’m creating actions in Reminders App using the \remind command, and then try to review and plan my work in both Agenda and Reminders.

I’m thinking I need to experiment with:

  • using check boxes in notes to keep track of actions
  • where the note includes a small number of closely related actions
  • making each note as done when all check box actions
  • only using /remind and Reminders to alert me that a deadline etc is coming up.
  • moving notes on and off The Agenda in my daily review to create the list of notes that I’ll work on each day.

Also I realise it would probably help if I used Projects to arrange my work more into actual projects with clear goals, milestones, actions and endpoints. I generally use the Agenda filing structure to group notes by areas “notes to do with X”, rather than “Project: deliver X”. Obviously not all my work fits a project structure, but I’m going to review how I organise notes with this in mind.

Also again, I realise I’ve not been taking advantage of the Archive function to keep things tidy and focused. In some categories I have up to 20 projects, and now I review how I’m using Agenda I realise a lot of these are complete. While I may need to refer to some of them very occassionally, they definitely need to go in the Archive.

Now I’ve moved completed or reference only projects to the Archive, things are looking for manageble.

The experimental method you outlined is exactly how I use Agenda. In my mind the primary advantage of Agenda is structuring between categories/projects/sub-projects. In all other notes apps that structuring is visually distracting; particularly if you manage a large number of categories, projects, and sub-projects.

I manage my entire workflow through Agenda. While I use the /remind tag frequently, it is primarily to get reminders for tasks (usually checkboxes in a note) to show up in the right hand screen at an appropriate date. They also function as an alert for a specific time if necessary (e.g. /remind(tuesday) or /remind(tuesday 9am).

All of my major projects have individual folders or sub-folders. My planned work notes for a given day are put “On the Agenda” in an attempt to bring focus to my day.

For minor projects, that are short-term and often a collection of just a few tasks, I create a project note and file it as a miscellaneous note in the appropriate category.

Is use @tags to for people. So tags that will involve Joe are tagged @joe. That way when I meet with Joe I can easily bring up all our active matters. I often find that I remember work that I did with a person more readily that the details. So I may use an @joe search to find the project we worked together a year ago.

I hope this helps stimulate thoughts on your experimental process.

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Thanks for sharing both!

I use Agenda this way too and find it works much better for me than reminders. Here are three things I find especially useful that I don’t quite see mentioned in this thread yet

  1. I assign a range of dates (rather than defaulting to the day I create the note) to any note with incomplete action items that have a deadline. The deadline is the last day of the date range I assign. I use check boxes for the action items, and assigning dates this way keeps the note on my Today list. When I complete all items, I mark the note as complete and modify the date range from the deadline to the actual completion date if they differ (relatedly — if I miss a deadline, I extend the date range until I can get it done).

  2. I also keep notes with incomplete action items and a date range marked as On the Agenda, but my On the Agenda list is broader than the today list. I also use it for notes with action items that I’d like/need to complete as soon as possible, but that don’t have a fixed deadline (i.e., the kinds of things that would be marked as important but not urgent on an Eisenhaur grid).

  3. I assign a #someday tag to any note with an action item I’d like to do/.would be good to do, but is a low priority now and has no fixed deadline, or for notes containing ideas that might turn into active projects someday. I also toggle “on the Agenda” off for these items, but I have a saved search on the #someday tage. Then, as I complete priority projects, I can easily review the #Someday search and put items back on the Agenda or even give them date ranges/deadlines as above.

Related to this I don’t mark any note with an action item as “done” unless/until all its action items have been checked off. This essentially gives me three lists and a naturally daily workflow: On the Agenda + Today are top priorities, On the Agenda (but not Today) are mid-level priorities, and #someday list notes (not on the agenda or today, but not marked as done) are low level priorities. The #someday tag might seem redundant since I could just scan for notes I haven’t marked done, but I have a lot of notes and fear I might miss them.


On actions vs. goals, I use categories for my broad areas of responsibilities, and specific Project lists for things to do. And I keep “memory” notes on more or less everything that happens in my day (phone calls, meetings, etc.) as well as “action” notes related to specific projecs — so Agenda is both a journal and a to do list.

One thing I would like to see in Agenda is a way to assign a note to a general category/subcategory but not a specific project/list under that category (I migrated from Things, which does have that kind of functionality). Absent that, I have bounced between using an “overview” project to store memory notes in each of my categories, and just having a single “calls/meetings log” project where I store those kinds of memory notes for ALL projects (lots of my meetings might related to several projects anyway). Still not sure which works best in terms of workflow — but either way I am always able to search and find memory type notes relevant to something or someone relevant to whatever I’m working on.


Curious to hear what kind of notes would qualify for being “project-less” and what your use case is.

Here’s one: I have four direct reports at work and I have projects related to each of their subdivisions. But during budget seasons, or annual evaluation season, I find myself taking notes that apply to all of them.

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I’m now structuring my categories by goals - i.e. each category is explicity made up of projects to acheive a particular goal. (This is to help focus my mind on why I’m doing these projects and to help prioritise projects and tasks that take me towards that goal.)

I have a note for each category/goal, in which I spell out the goal and key milestones etc. At the moment it has to be in a ‘project’. I would like to have it ‘floating’ outside a project at the top of the category.

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