(Personally tested and recommended by the author of this web. Some links might lead to other websites.)
I have found this document so valuable that I am placing it here for all procrastinators without functional time planning methods, to see. The original author is Simon from Psitek. Note that you can use the same approach also with TimeTo software.
HOW I IMPLEMENT "GETTING THINGS DONE" USING ABOVE & BEYOND 2000
(Feel free to pass this document around, or post it anywhere that A&B
users might hang out together - or feel free to email me for the
latest version. I find this approach has worked well for me so far,
so there's no reason why others shouldn't benefit from it also).
Above & Beyond is unique among PIMs in that it does NOT provide you
with the standard "To Do" list.
Instead, it provides you with a definite, detailed, minute-by-minute
plan for achieving what you want. The plan changes minute-by-minute
through the day as new things crop up during the day that would
normally play havoc with your schedule.
The plan automatically adapts to whatever you throw at it so you can
immediately see when you are over-stretching yourself. And you can
immediately see if you really can meet those tight deadlines.
There is a trial version of A&B available from http://www.1soft.com
I have no connection with 1Soft - I just think the program is
uniquely useful for REALLY getting things done.
"Getting Things Done" (GTD) is the name of a book based on the
(revolutionary, in my opinion) time-management methodology of David
I've been using the Getting Things Done approach for nearly a couple
of years now and I'm totally convinced that it works better than any
other time-management system around.
My problem is that I find it hard to keep reminding myself to check
actions lists again and again throughout the day to see what is
important. I also find it really boring to have to keep checking
action/project lists to make sure that the item I have just completed
is not part of some bigger project that now needs another next
action. I also find it tedious at the weekly review to go through all
my active projects (I have alot of them!) to ensure that each has a
I find myself actually skipping my weekly reviews sometimes because I
find doing this sort of stuff so boring and tedious even though I
know it is worth doing them in the long-run. (shame on me, I know)
In fact, I'd rather something or someone else just took care of all
that boring stuff for me and presented me with a suggested list of
items (based upon deadlines and priorities) from which I can pick and
choose according to my intuition and judgement. The problem is that I
am the only one who really knows what my priorities are so I need to
be fully involved - rather than delegating my entire life to someone
else <grin>. This is where the dynamic scheduling power of Above &
Beyond comes in.
Since switching to A&B for my GTD approach, my life has literally
transformed as far as achieving solid results is concerned. I'm now
using my favourite PIM according to my favourite methodology and the
combination is proving to be awesome - for me, at least.
I guess others think this way also, hence the popularity of a dynamic-
scheduling-style program like Life Balance for the Palm. I've
seriously tried Life Balance on a few occasions but the Above &
Beyond approach is really the ultimate approach in my view because of
the minute-by-minute scheduling...but then again I don't use A&B in
quite the same way that most people do or as it was originally
intended to be used, as you will see.
Despite trying just about every other PIM that exists, I keep coming
back to A&B because it really *makes me* do the tasks that need to be
done - sometimes just through good old nagging - instead of giving me
a pretty theoretical plan which I can feel good about and then
ignore, or which is rendered worthless by the first interruption.
There is something within me that just NEEDS to see a detailed,
structured plan for the day and feel confident that everything
important can be achieved - but there is also a part of me that needs
to feel free enough to just ignore it on a whim! A&B gives me the
best of both worlds.
A&B does take some getting used to though. I avoided it for years
initially because it felt like every moment of my day was being eaten
up by some bizarre program that was dictating how I should live my
life from minute-to-minute.
It was not until I finally had had enough of the "Microsoft Outlook
mentality" of increasingly-long task lists that never seemed to get
any shorter, or give me any feeling of progress, that I had the
insight of creating "empty appointments" in A&B just to have free
time to do whatever I wanted. Then I realized that Above & Beyond was
the perfect solution for keeping track of everything that really
needed doing in my life while allowing me to REALLY enjoy those
downtime moments without guilt.
I get a real Mind-Like-Water experience, as David Allen puts it, from
using this program. If I don't feel like doing anything important for
today (or the next few hours), I just create an immediate appointment
in A&B blocking out the next few hours. It automatically reschedules
everything and notifies me if there is any deadline that will be
blown away by me doing this. Otherwise I can just relax for a few
hours knowing that everything is still on track. My entire life is
literally dumped into this program so I can be totally relaxed that
nothing is slipping through the cracks. It's a great feeling to
be "totally free" for a few hours while on a busy schedule.
I run many simultaneous GTD "projects" (personal and professional)
side-by-side. (In GTD, a project is any multi-step goal or outcome,
even if fairly trivial). Somedays I have a very hectic schedule while
other days I have to provide my own inspiration (and motivation) to
do things since there is nothing pressing in the short-term but there
are many long-term goals to work towards.
So I need to be both reactive and proactive - sometimes switching
between one mode and the other very quickly. But I also get bored
easily. So I like to intuitively chop and change the tasks I am
working on depending on how inspired I feel in the moment. I get much
more done when I'm in the mood for doing it than when I am forcing
myself to do something I would rather defer until later.
Enjoying my life IN THE PRESENT MOMENT is a major thing for me and
using A&B is like having someone there constantly to deal with all
the mundane stuff while I just "cherry pick" the good stuff I want to
do in the moment. When you use this kind of approach, you find that
there are times when you genuinely enjoy doing a few boring, mundane
things (as a kind of break) and other times when you genuinely enjoy
being highly-creative and concentrated. And there are some other
times when it's great to just do nothing at all while knowing that
everything is still being taken care of.
Tasks in A&B automatically reorganize themselves according to
priority and deadlines so my dynamic schedule is always in a state of
constant flux. It ebbs and flows according to my whims and moods but
I get everything done on time (usually well in advance), with almost
no effort because it all seems like fun. But most importantly for me,
I genuinely enjoy the process of achieving things.
P.S. In fact, this whole description of how I use A&B virtually wrote
itself because I only ever did it when I was in the mood for it so it
was all fun. Whenever I got bored I just moved on to something else
in my schedule that A&B suggested I should do.
BENEFITS OF USING A&B FOR GTD
- The need to constantly check action lists is taken away. A&B
handles all deadlines and prioritizing.
- Once all your tasks and projects are in A&B, you can REALLY relax
and just play with your schedule knowing that if you push it too far,
A&B will let you know that you cannot possibly meet a deadline.
- You don't have to think upfront about the right Next Actions. A&B
will automatically surface tasks (even "amorphous blob" tasks) when
it is time to work on them. You can then do some "natural planning"
(as David Allen calls it) in the Notes section of that task to define
and highlight Next Actions and future actions.
- It helps enormously with time discipline so you don't end up
leaving stuff until the last minute. In the past, I have often left
it too late to do Next Actions off my actions list. If there is any
danger of that for a particular project or task, I just set the
duration of the task to an amount of time that I think the entire
project would require (in an ideal interruption-free world) and A&B
automatically watches to make sure that there is sufficient time
- You always have a feeling of progress even when tackling massive
tasks. Using the split tasks feature will allow A&B to let you work a
bit at a time on a large task and keep coming back to it when you
feel like it.
- You automatically get a daily record of events which I find very
useful both when weekly reviewing and also when wanting to know how I
exactly spent my time on any particular day.
- You don't have to think anymore about whether the action you are
just completing is part of a larger project. A&B has a "follow-up"
feature which, on completion of a particular task, will ask you if
you want to schedule the next one. In my approach, I use this
extensively to set a Next Action on completion of a previous Next
- You can be sure that everything you are doing is moving you to
towards accomplishing significant goals and projects rather than just
being time that is being frittered away unnecessarily on meaningless
- Assigning Next-Actions to projects during Weekly reviews are much
simplified (more on this later) - and are often not necessary at all.
WEAKNESSES OF USING A&B FOR GTD
- A&B will only sync one-way to your Palm. Effectively, your
appointments book will be read-only since it will be overwritten at
each sync - plus you will not have any dynamic scheduling. At first,
this was a major stumbling block for me and I installed and
uninstalled A&B several times because I kept on believing it was a
major stumbling block. But over a period of months, I've noticed just
how much benefit I get from the way that A&B structures and
automatically sorts out my day for me minute-by-minute so I am now
prepared to just buy a laptop and carry it from location to location
if necessary just to use the program.
- A&B has no outliner (yet) so you have to use the notes view and
just indent text using the TAB key if you want to simulate outlines.
Actually, this is no worse than using a vanilla Palm and keyboard
really - something I've done quite a lot of in the past. In fact,
this entire document was written in the Notes bit of A&B over a few
days in spare moments. I just outlined using the TAB key.
- It is a complex program using some clever algorithms to figure out
which are your most important next actions. You have to trust it to
pull up the right things at the right time. If you don't have faith
in the program (or computers in general), this may not be for you. It
also goes against the pure principle of simplicity in the GTD
approach by using such a complex piece of software however it works
wonders for me so is it really so bad? (The GTD Police probably
- To use A&B effectively, you really need access to a PC all day
long. That's not a problem for me since I sit at a PC all day at work
and have one on all the time at home. I just sync A&B between the two
locations as I travel between them.
- A&B is so different from "normal" PIMs that it does take time to
appreciate that it really does work and it does take time to really
appreciate the thought that has been put into the program. There are
features that only make sense after you've used it for a while. I
usually recommend people try it seriously for a couple of weeks
before passing final judgement.
- You risk being jailed by the GTD Police for not using "pure" GTD
HOW TO DO IT...SETTING UP A&B FOR GTD
All the following setup might sound terribly complex but it really
isn't at all once you understand why I am doing it this way. It's
just that explaining stuff in written words can take a long time
whereas the actual actions themselves literally take seconds once you
know what you are doing.
My GTD approach has gradually evolved out of quite a few weeks of
intensively using A&B with the deliberate intention of trying to
figure out some way to get it to work in a "higher-level" way than
just the clever task scheduler it might at first appear to be.
Because of this, it is easy for me to assume that everyone else does
something the way I have now got used to it when, in fact, it may not
be obvious at all to even an experienced user. So, if there is
anything unclear, please ask!
Most of my day, I can almost forget that I am using A&B and it might
seem to an outsider that I am not using it much at all even though it
is always running on my PC. I just dart in occasionally to see what's
next, maybe shift a few things around depending on work pressures but
most of the time I'm just focused on the "next action" that interests
me the most at that moment.
That's at the heart of my motivation for using A&B. I spend time
doing and ENJOYING doing - instead of just planning and then having
those plans wrecked by something unexpected. With A&B, I can be sure
that what I am doing is (probably) the most important thing I can be
doing at that time.
THE KEY IDEA IS...
A&B together with GTD represents a powerful combination of human-mind
and machine-mind. The computer produces a candidate list of the most
important stuff to do, and then human intuition selects from that
list in the moment of action.
And importantly, I can confidently spend time NOT DOING and be sure
that there is nothing in my life that I'm allowing to "fall between
The following subsections are in no particular order - they are just
snippets of what combines together to become an overall "A&B + GTD"
approach. It would be a good idea to read through them all first to
get an overall feel in your mind for the approach before trying
anything yourself. Otherwise, you may get very confused as to why I
am doing certain things in certain ways. This approach is written for
advanced A&B users so I've not explained much about the A&B features
being used. If you are a beginner and need help understanding
features, just ask and I'm sure someone will help out.
I don't have time at the moment (or so A&B tells me!) to write all
this up into a completely perfect document but I still want to get
you started on using A&B this way if you like the sound of it. So I
figure this "random thoughts" approach is probably a reasonable
I'm sure there must be bits I've failed to explain properly or even
bits I've missed out. I apologize in advance for this and suggest you
post a question if are confused about any aspect of this.
Your ultimate electronic inbox is A&B itself.
All your GTD collection buckets should ultimately feed into this. If
you are at your PC when an idea or task occurs then just dump it into
A&B straightaway and get it off your mind. For other non-computer
occasions, you'll have to work out your collection method. I carry a
mini-digital voice recorder everywhere I go to record random thoughts
and ideas and tasks. I have a recurring daily A&B task to make sure I
empty it into A&B daily.
ENTERING GTD TASKS
The only important things to fill-in upfront when entering a task are
the description (obviously) and any deadline, plus the appropriate
priority (see Priority Codes below).
It is important you fill in these items as soon as you can since this
is what A&B uses to perform the magic of dynamic scheduling.
If I am under pressure and the tasks are coming in thick and fast and
I have no time to think about deadlines or priority yet, I leave the
priority as blank. This marks it as "new" in the A&B priority list.
This means that A&B makes that tasks the highest priority of all and
it keeps surfacing to the top of the schedule automatically until I
assign it a proper priority. This is a very handy failsafe mechanism
when you can't afford even a few seconds of upfront thinking time.
What I find interesting is that I don't need to think about what
the "next action" should be at this point. This is handy if the tasks
are coming in thick and fast. I can just dump my mind into the
program and deal with it all later when things calm down a bit. (I
have task times set to 30 mins by default, but follow-up on by
Because A&B automatically surfaces important stuff, you will soon
notice that you are scheduled to perform a vague unknown task. At
this point you will realize that you need to do some GTD "natural
planning" on that particular item. (See GTD book - or audiobook -
for description of "natural planning"). More on breaking down vague,
unknown tasks (or "amorphous blobs") later.
My A&B priority codes are used as follows: (These descriptions are
not entered anywhere - it is just the meaning that I assign to each
letter in the priority list)
A = "must do as soon as possible"
B = "do whenever there is time"
C = "someday/maybe"
O = "out" (equivalent to @errands in GTD )
T = "talk" (equivalent to @agenda in GTD )
W = "Waiting For" (same as GTD)
A&B PROJECTS (Not to be confused with GTD Projects)
Unlike most people, I only use A&B Project items as higher-level "how
is my life balanced overall?" type categories, not as things to be
accomplished. Each project is defined as Franklin-Covey "roles" or
Tony Robbins' "categories of improvement" (from Time of Your Life)
type of thing.
This means that I can look at the colour blocks (that prefix each
task) for a day or for a week (in week view) and get a feeling for
the colours that are dominating or non-dominating and adjust
accordingly. I know this is vague but going too much into this here
is getting away from my GTD approach so I'll brief on this bit. The
higher-level stuff is also a very personal thing anyway that everyone
seems to want to approach slightly differently so figure it out for
It's the lower-level concrete tasks that seem best suited to
particular solid methods.
MY DAILY SCHEDULE
I often don't do the day's tasks in the order that A&B suggests but I
use the software's opinion as my safety net in case I go too far and
start putting too much pressure on myself by deferring tasks. I pick
and choose from the day's schedule what I want to do as the day goes
on and I "hit f5" (start A&B task timer) on things that I notice that
I would rather do now than later. This brings them automatically to
the top of the schedule. Occasionally, intuition suggests something
that A&B has put on the next day's list or even further ahead. Here I
just pull the task over to today's schedule and anchor it if
necessary. (I usually don't bother spending time altering the
priority unless the task is part of a project that is now much higher
If I get bored and want to try something else, I might just hit
<CTRL>+ <f6> to mark the task as partially complete and move onto
something else until I feel inspired again to return to the original
task. I might also use the <ALT>+<LEFT ARROW> or <ALT>+<RIGHT ARROW>
keys to adjust the task timings now that I've worked on it a bit and
know a bit better how long something will really take. I do this
many, many, many times each day and A&B just recalculates my schedule
Set Follow-up as default option in New Item Defaults. This is
important for the reasons outlined in the following sections.
The way A&B uses shared notes for duplicate tasks is key to this
entire approach. If you duplicate a task in A&B, then it will share
any notes between them automatically. So if you have a task with a
follow-up item then when you mark it done in A&B, a little dialog
pops up asking if you want to schedule a follow-up.
In GTD, tasks are really bookmarks for projects so if in the current
sitting, so if you have completed finished the project, you can say
No, because the task is over otherwise click on Notes and up pops
your project planning that you have done for this project.
Use the Notes as a basic outliner and idea storage place for each
project - rather like you would on the Palm. You can use the TAB key
to indent text so that you can get some sort of outlining.
Note that in this method, every text note relating to the project is
automatically attached to each task in the project. This is done
automatically by using the "follow-up" feature.
For massive amounts of text notes, I use a separate program (Zoot) to
store the information.
TURNING A STANDARD A&B TASK INTO A GTD PROJECT TASK
Just put "[" and "]" around the task description and write the next-
action in front of that.
e.g. To turn "Write Report" into a project with a next-action task
of "Get a pen from stationery cupboard" would become "Get a pen from
stationery cupboard [Write Report]". That is, you just put the
brackets around the original task and add the "next action" in front.
It just takes a moment to do this once you realize that you have
an "amorphous blob" task (i.e. project) instead of a real next-action
item. You can also do a quick check to see that the "Follow-Up"
button is pushed (but you should have this on by default anyway)
The reason for using the "[" symbol is for easy filtering of projects
which is explained later on.
AFTER COMPLETING A GTD PROJECT TASK
The "Follow-Up" dialog should appear since you have set the "Follow-
If this is a project task like "Get a pen from stationery cupboard
[Write Report]" you can just click "Yes" and a new task is created
with all the same settings (and, most importantly, the same notes).
All you do is click on your notes (or just use your intuition) and
decide what the next action should be so this item might be "Fill pen
with ink [Write Report]"...you just change the task name in the newly-
created duplicate task but leave the project name intact to be
carried forward. The notes will also be carried forward - which is
key to making the system work.
Eventually when the project is done, you can click "No" to the follow-
up dialog and that's the end of that project.
Remember that in GTD, task items are merely "bookmarks" for reminding
you where currently stand on an uncompleted project. This means that
you only ever need to know the project name and the next action.
Every other task or idea pertaining to the project is hidden away in
the notes. So, in this way, you can be storing hundreds of potential
tasks in A&B notes yet there are only a handful of actual "next
actions" on your schedule. This, in itself, is a massive stress
Also, don't worry about durations too much (a rough estimate is
fine) - I leave durations at 30 mins on many tasks that I can't be
bothered to estimate because I leave it up to my intuition how much
time I want to spend progressing any particular project before I get
bored. I hit "f5" (start task) as I get back into a project via a
next-action and A&B automatically updates my schedule. I hit
<CTRL>+<f6> (partial completion) as I leave a next-action which has
not been fully-completed.
(If the next-action was fully-completed, I would hit <SPACEBAR> and
the follow-up dialog appears as mentioned above)
As I get clearer on how long something will really take, I can adjust
the durations easily on the schedule itself using <ALT>+<LEFT ARROW>
and <ALT>+<RIGHT ARROW>
These act as your location contexts such as @work, @home, etc. Note
that this is a completely different use for them than the program
author envisioned (!) but I think A&B is more useful when doing it my
Setting statuses will colour-code your task descriptions (the actual
text colour changes) so that you can instantly see which tasks can be
done together. For example, if I have just done a blue task then I
know I am in the right location to do other blue tasks as well. I
don't even need to know what the blue colour represents. You should
change the default colours to colours you are happy with and which
look very different to each other.
Don't use the "special" or "undefined" status. "Special" changes the
day name to a red colour to indicate a really special thing is
happening that day so leave it alone and "undefined" is the default
colour (though I tend to change the default colour to a light-grey
colour - such as the normal default "tentative" status colour) so
that the task description looks faint on the screen compared to all
the other colours. That reminds me to set statuses for tasks that
look faint on the screen otherwise I have trouble reading them!
The contexts I have defined are: work, home, internet, computer,
calls, out. Unfortunately, you are limited in the number of statuses
you can have so choose your contexts wisely! I hope this limit will
be increased in a future version of A&B.
"Out" just indicates that the I am going to be "out and about" during
that appointment/task so whenever I see that colour, I know that I
can take a quick look at the "O" priority tasks at the bottom of my
(<CTRL>+R) priority list (the "Out" tasks)
You'll know when you're doing this "statuses trick" right because
your daily schedules will look like multi-coloured rainbows! Very
quickly, you'll start to appreciate what each colour represents and
just by the overall colours you see, you can tell what location A&B
thinks you should be spending most of your time that day.
FILTERING CONTEXTS (LOCATIONS)
For today's schedule, you can just see by looking at the colours what
can be done where, or filter using the status property to pull up
work, home, internet etc. items
Or you can go to the priority list (<CTRL>+R) and filter by
appropriate statuses (or contexts in my approach) to get a complete
Note that you can choose a number of statuses at the same time (so
you can see stuff you can see, for example, "home + computer + talk"
items all at once, which is useful sometimes)
I have one five minute daily task to read through O, T, W priority
items (= OUT, TALK, WAITING FOR) just to keep on top of them since,
unlike in pure GTD, these items are slightly hidden away down at the
bottom of the priority list.
You can filter on "[" character ( <SHIFT>+F with Text="[" ) to
find all projects worked on in last week (scroll backwards and
forwards through your last week of done items to see what projects
you made progress on. The use of this is mentioned in the next
A&B THINGS TO DO AT YOUR GTD WEEKLY REVIEW
Do your GTD weekly review as normal but also do these additional
- check you've not lost any projects during the week by failing to do
appropriate "follow-up" actions. Find these by filtering on the "["
character, as mentioned above. Each task that you have completed that
pertains to a project will show up as done items in each daily view
for past days. Quickly scan the project names. If you suspect that
you haven't seen one of them on your current priority list anymore
(i.e. you forgot to schedule a follow-up for some reason), just hit
<CTRL>+R and switch to the filtered priority list and you will see it
there (or not) immediately. Flicking backwards and forwards (using
<CTRL>+S and <CTRL>+R>) like this makes it very easy to see if you
have accidentally lost any projects. (NOTE: Only fluid items will
show up in your priority list view)
- check that there are no C priority tasks/projects (someday/maybe)
that now need to be started. To start them just change their
priorities to A or B and set their numbered priority level to
whatever you think is appropriate relative to all the other tasks in
that priority section.
- Take a general look over your priority levels for each task in the
priority view (<CTRL>+R) and drag tasks up and down until you feel
generally happy. You might want to schedule a recurring task every
few days (or more often) to do this if it matters alot to you.
AN EXAMPLE OF MY APPROACH
This is just a quick journal of what I did to get started in writing
up this document, to give some real-life illustration of the
After making my initial posting in the GTD_Palm Yahoo group stating
that I would be willing to explain how to use A&B with GTD if there
was interest, I entered "check GTD_Palm group and write up A&B
approach if enough interest" as an anchored task for about three days
into the future. I left the time as the default 30 mins.
I then dumped a few ideas for things I would mention in this document
straight into the notes for that task so I would remember them if I
had to explain coherently what I do to another person. This was just
to get them off my mind and get back to "mind like water".
After about 10 mins or so of brainstorming, I realised that there
were quite a few subtleties to what I was doing and since I did not
have a lot of time at the moment, it would be better to change "check
GTD_Palm group and write up A&B approach if enough interest" into a
GTD project and "check GTD_Palm group" would be one task in the
project and "Brainstorm ideas to explain" would be another task.
I then simply pulled up the anchored task and altered it's heading
to "[write up A&B approach if enough interest]" - that is, just added
the square brackets - and dumped a few ideas for other things I had
to into the notes. Just before closing the task, I cut and pasted
the "next action" item (in this case "Brainstorm ideas to explain")
from the notes and prefixed it to the task. I made the task a
floating one and marked it priority B (to do whenever I have time -
i.e. important but not urgent task)
If I was doing this without keeping this journal at the same time,
the whole process would have taken me a few seconds. I do this sort
of thing many times during my day as ideas bubble up or "amorphous
blobs" appear on my schedule.
I closed the task and then noticed the text was coloured a faint
light grey (which indicated no context assigned). I right-clicked on
the task and set the context to "computer" - since I can only do this
when I am at my computer and the task text became the appropriate
colour. A&B just seamlessly slipped the project into my schedule.
I later expanded the time required for this project (using
<ALT>+<RIGHT ARROW>) to something alot larger as it became clear that
this would be a reasonably-sized document.
Hopefully, you can get some idea how this task evolved from
an "amorphous blob" into precise tasks that led to the creation of
this document. There was minimal organizational and tracking of this
project since A&B just kept it going in my spare moments, and I only
worked on it when I felt like doing so.
I hope you can begin to make sense of all this. It is more tricky to
explain in words than it is to do in practice so give it a try and
see what you think. If you have questions, post them and I'll try to
answer when I can.
<End of document>