| 5 min read

Getting things done – Remember the Milk

By  Regan Hughes,
 4 May 2012

My last blog was about Getting Things Done (GTD), in this post, I plan to outline the core of my implementation of GTD.

This central nervous system is a piece of software called Remember the Milk (RTM) – which is essentially a simple and elegant list management tool.

The purpose of this post is to tell you how I use this tool, as a relatively busy New Zealand telecommunications professional – the thing I like most about RTM is that it’s easy to customise to your own needs, whether you’re managing a busy household, construction company or IT team. I’m regularly tweaking the way I use RTM, as I’m sure you would – I doubt there is a single best way for all people all the time.

I don’t plan to provide an overview of Remember the Milk, or discuss its useful short cuts (there are many), or it’s good features (e.g. smartlists), but if you’re reading this you’ll probably be able to figure them out relatively easily at or this useful blog – and if you’d like to know some of my favourites, I’d be happy to share.


Progress Update

Since my last post GTD has gone from strength to strength for me. The continued creativity that comes with a clear head has been terrific – I often find myself walking around with that excited feeling you have when you’re working on interesting ideas.

I also find I’m developing a ruthless efficiency to how I deal with the less important ‘busy work’… which has left me more time to focus on the truly important, i.e. building relationships, continuous improvement and thinking ahead.


Useful guidelines from the book for RTM

There are a few guidelines from the GTD book that I’ve found useful in setting up RTM for GTD:

  1. Keep hard edges between lists – that means no one item should appear in more than one list or ‘context’ (see last post for a discussion of context)

  2. Every piece of ‘work’ you’re doing that has more than two tasks should be a ‘project’

  3. Don’t prioritise within a context/list – priorities change all the time and it’s better to review the entire list and figure out what’s best to do based on your time, energy and priority at that moment.

  4. If there are too many next actions in a context, split it up in a way that has hard edges, e.g. for work pc context, I split it into work PC with deadline (wkpc-dline) and those without (wkpc)

  5. Use the calendar only for ‘hard’ commitments and reminders, not things you’d like to do that day but don’t have to
  6. Do anything that will take less than 2 minutes when you process it rather than putting it in RTM (I’ve had to time myself, because I’m far too optimistic on what I can achieve in 2 minutes)
  7. Write next actions as if you’re writing a detailed procedure, e.g. ‘Google address of gift shop’ as a first step to ‘buy gift’.


RTM Web App

The RTM web app is the central nervous system of my GTD workflow. It holds lists for next actions, based on context (errand, call, agenda, anywhere, pc, work & home); projects and associated notes, someday/maybes and delegated tasks. Each of these are split between personal (ps) and work (wk).

I use tags to create lists, e.g. #na means next action, #wk means a work task and #pc means at a PC. Most tags will filter things to a specific list, although I have some that I use for adhoc queries – e.g. if something relates to a specific person (e.g. my boss, team mate or wife) I’ll tag it with their name, then if I’m meeting with them I’m able to quickly check for that tag to see if there’s anything else to talk about.


Special lists

Some have recommended having a list for each project you’re working on, that would get too complex for me. One of the great things about RTM is its simplicity. I do keep some specific lists though.


Projects – A list of all projects (split between work and personal) i.e. jobs requiring more than two tasks. It’s useful for keeping your boss up to date of what you’re doing and getting an overview of your current work. I tag a note to each major project to capture the outputs of David Allen’s ‘natural planning’ process (i.e. purpose, outcome and all actions).

Someday/maybe – These are things you may want to do at some later stage. It’s interesting what happens when you create this list – the things on it have a way of happening by themselves and it allows you to look out for opportunities to trigger them.

Wait – Whenever I’m waiting for a reply or output from someone I note it on the ‘wait’ list. It makes it easy to keep track of all the balls that up in the air with other people.


The iPhone App

The iPhone app is one of the best parts of RTM. The two best things about it for me is that it’s very easy to add tasks and ideas when they pop into your head, and to review contexts when you’re out and about – either meeting with someone, doing errands or killing some time while you’re waiting for your next appointment.


In a nutshell

Benefits: RTM makes GTD list management and review easy, where ever you are.

Key concepts: Keep hard edges between lists, don’t prioritise – review the entire list, keep your calendar only for hard commitments.

Useful resources: This blog provides quite a good overview of RTM and links to other useful blogs.