Thursday, 23 April 2009

Remembering the milk

By moutzouris
This is going to make me look like a complete geek, but here we go...

In January I starting using Remember the milk (RTM) to help me get more organised. More specifically I'm using it to adopt the Getting things done (GTD) system (which I might blog about some other time when I've finished the book (!), but thanks to ffolliet for getting me into it). But after a useful, albeit brief, meeting yesterday with Jo Badge and Gareth Johnson I thought I'd note down how I'm using RTM.

Getting things done involves 5 stages
  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Organize
  4. Review
  5. Do
...and remember the milk (RTM) is helping me with all of them. I needed something that was useable for both a PC and an iPod Touch and allowed offline access. Most of what follows aren't my ideas, but things I've found from various RTM forums (especially this one on a GTD set up and this one on useful searches). So this is just a record of the technical stuff (it's a bit dull, but if you're interested read on).


I just have two regular lists; inbox and processed (which I call '|' so it takes up the least room on the tabs)


Most of my tags I give a prefix so they are appropriately grouped.


My context tags I prefix with c_ (I tried @_ but I didn't fint that as intuative). So context tags are things like:
  • c_office
  • c_phone
  • c_email
  • c_web
  • c_home
  • c_errand
So you can see I use the sytem for home stuff as well as work stuff - which I didn't think I'd like but actually I do.


Status tags I prefix with s_ and I have just the standard four:
  • s_deferred
  • s_nextaction
  • s_someday
  • s_waiting


Project tags I prefix with p_ (I bet you're beginning to see a pattern here!) and so are things like:
  • p_lts2010
  • p_tutorials
  • p_itpeersupport
These will be fairly meaningless to you but are very specific to me - and I have loads of them because GTD defines a project as something with more than one action.


Reference tags I prefix with r_ and are things like:
  • r_itswg
  • r_plone
  • r_homegroup
  • r_itpeersupport (a lot of my reference tags link to projects)


This helps create the tickler file and are a means of setting how many days before the action needs doing you want a reminder (days, weeks, months).
  • zzz_1d
  • zzz_2d
  • zzz_3d
  • zzz_1w
  • zzz_2w
  • zzz_1m

Smart lists

Because I have smart lists I only need 2 manual lists. The search code for my smart lists is as follows.

Next actions



NOT(due:never OR due:today) AND NOT (list:zzz)



ZZZ ( a bit of a monster)

(tag:zzz AND dueAfter:now) OR (tag:zzz1d AND dueAfter:"1 day of now") OR (tag:zzz2d AND dueAfter:"2 days of now") OR (tag:zzz3d AND dueAfter:"3 days of now") OR (tag:zzz4d AND dueAfter:"4 days of now") OR (tag:zzz5d AND dueAfter:"5 days of now") OR (tag:zzz1w AND dueAfter:"1 week of now") OR (tag:zzz2w AND dueAfter:"2 weeks of now") OR (tag:zzz1m AND dueAfter:"1 month of now")


I also have a smart list for things I need to do tonight (if I feel like it!).
dueBefore:today OR due:today AND tag:c_home
It's not a perfect system, but it is a system - and it's working well for me. I'm feeling more on top of things and less hassled. Do you have a system? Do you need one? What do you think?


  1. Hey Stu can you com and organise me please?!!!! A.S.A.P

  2. [...] Remembering the milk post is largely because James Clay retweeted it at ALTC2009 (thanks James!). I’m pleased to [...]

  3. I have just created an account based on this. Slightly puzzled but will have a proper look later!

  4. This is brilliant. I always wondered what all your 'zzz's meant. I've been using RTM for a while but this will really help me get it organised. Your an inspiration once again :)

  5. I'm not sure I'd bother with such a complex system on an initial set up. I'd use it on a simplified system to start with to see if you like it. What I love about RTM is the ability to view tasks by tags not just due dates. The people and project tags are esp. useful.

  6. Hi Stu,

    I'm trying to implement some of this strategy into my own RTM. With your zzz list. Do you have one long zzz list or one for each instance e.g. zzz1d. If it is one long zzz list how do you sort by priority i.e. zzz1d at the top?

  7. Hi Stu,
    I have had an account for some time but need to make time to get organized too so this is really helpful. Matt has been great in getting me all sorted with a dashboard too. I need to do more with it. Might need to chat with you when you in next about the tagging.

  8. [...] Source: Adventures in Student Development by Stuart Johnson [...]

  9. Sorry for the delay - of course, v happy to chat. I'd suggest a simplified tagging system to start with - people, projects, that kind of thing. Let me know when you want to chat

  10. I never look in the zzz list - just the tickler where tasks pop in at the specified number of days/weeks before the task is due. Remind me to show you at our next catch up

  11. [...] So I gave it a go and didn’t get it. It seemed really bulky and I didn’t understand the ‘zzz’ method of setting how many days before the event you wanted a reminder. View Stu’s original blog post here. [...]

  12. I'm not using smart lists, but think it would probably help. My brain tends to work on hard dates though, so I might think, I need to have this done by 8 April, rather than 'in five days' (I know they are the same thing!!). Sometimes there are things I won't need to do for several months but know exactly when they are needed for - eg conference presentations - how do you schedule those?
    Also, while I'm here.. Have your tags evolved from this original system? Will be good to talk this over at our rtm coffee next week :-) I'll blog my system.

  13. [...] using the getting things done (#gtd) technique two years ago. He administers his system using an awesomely geeky method of tagging and smart lists on remember the milk. I love a good list, and I have subscribed to the paid version of RTM for two [...]

  14. My tag systems have evolced. I have one more category which is meetings, e.g. m_teamleaders which strictly speaking is a context but the context tags were getting too numerous and the number of meeting sI have to go to has increased to. Re a conference - I just put in when it's due and then use the zzz list for how soon before the event I want to be reminded - assuming I remember to check the 'tickler' (?!) list when I do a weekly review. Other option is to set a hard date for when you want to be reminded but that can end up cluttering up things a bit. There's no right way though - best to find somethign you like. Chat to you next week :)

  15. [...] Source: Adventures in Student Development by Stuart Johnson [...]

  16. [...] while back I explained how I set up the system, and after nearly 2 years of use I can say that it’s still working. I’ve not changed it [...]