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ATPM 13.12
December 2007




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by Ed Eubanks, Jr.

What Leopard Means For Getting Things Done

Apple’s Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was one of the most anticipated upgrades for Apple’s operating system ever. With many new features and improvements to old features (more than 300, Apple reports), combined with a renewed interest out of response to Microsoft’s Vista and a record 30-month interval since the last major upgrade, Leopard’s reception was a virtual lock. More than two million copies sold in the first weekend confirmed it: Mac users are excited about Leopard.

Now that it has been out for over a month, many of the features and improvements are becoming familiar. Yet, many people (especially those still deciding whether to upgrade) may be asking, What does Leopard offer me for better exercising my Getting Things Done (GTD) fu?

I had a column halfway finished when I bought my upgrade to Leopard; it was only a day or two before I realized the other column would have to wait. I’m going to take a break from working through the GTD principles and take a look at Leopard’s GTD-esque features. I’ll break them down by application or feature and try to reflect on what may be an advantage to some users. Let me first make these disclaimers: your GTD workflow may or may not receive any benefit from some or all of these; also, there may be GTD aspects that I’ve failed to consider or recognize. (I’d love to receive helpful feedback on this if you have any.)


Apple’s e-mail client, Mail, got a pretty substantial upgrade with Leopard, adding a number of features. GTD users will be especially interested in the addition of to-dos. Mail now allows the easy creation of a to-do or task, which automatically synchronizes with tasks in iCal. In short, you don’t have to change applications from Mail to iCal to create, edit, or check off tasks. Any field that appears in iCal can be viewed and edited in Mail (though by default some are hidden); choose View ‣ Columns to add or remove columns that you want to view in Mail. If the task-management list found in iCal is sufficient for your GTD needs, or if it co-operates in some way with your GTD application (through synchronization, for example), then Mail will extend your GTD workflow nicely.

Notes is another new feature in Mail, and while it is more limited in its GTD application, I can see how some might decide to make heavy use of it. The concept is pretty simple: think of Notes as a digital notepad built into Mail. The difference between Notes and, say, Stickies is that a Mail Note can be easily converted into an e-mail or a to-do with a single mouse click. And a Mail Note can have metadata appended to it (via Indev’s MailTags). Of course, another major difference is that they live in Mail; you don’t have to open another application to see or work with them.

Mail also can handle RSS feeds now and has a function called Data Detectors built in. The RSS feed handler is fairly bare bones, much like the one in Safari. Data Detectors recognize information within the body of e-mails such as addresses, phone numbers, and date or appointment references, and it allows you to easily create new entries in iCal or Address Book with that data. Neither of these is, by default, GTD-specific, but they can save you time and streamline your workflow.

I like Mail’s additions for better GTD implementation, because it’s consistent with David Allen’s own principle when it comes to collection tools: “Give me as many buckets as I need, and not one more.” It may well be that these tools expand the already existing features of iCal to make it entirely sufficient for your GTD needs. Or it might simply prevent you from needing to change applications as frequently to reference your task list, or streamline your data collection when using e-mail and RSS. Regardless, these are nice additions and point Mail in a direction that I like to see it going. Even if they aren’t enough for you as is, it may be that the tweak or adjustment that you miss will be added in a future update.


While iCal didn’t receive as much attention in terms of new features, it did get a number of nice additions. A few of these offer further streamlining for the GTD-minded user.

Events in iCal now have a drop box, where you can attach files for each event as needed. URLs, documents, photos, videos—attach them all and keep them readily accessible for the event. What is more, they will be distributed to attendees automatically as well. This will save many of us a lot of time and headaches keeping up with which docs are needed and who has received them.

A long-awaited feature for iCal is group calendaring, and iCal’s introduction of CalDAV calendar sharing opens this door wide. It’s easy to set up access to existing CalDAV server accounts, and CalDAV group calendars have access to a number of features for scheduling events, such as the Availability window and Auto-pick for discovering the best time for meeting, published office hours, and delegation of calendar control to other users. Of course, you’ll need a CalDAV server to utilize these tools, and getting access to one is not an easy endeavor. My guess, though, is that over time, more and more Web-hosting services will offer CalDAV as a part of their products.

Another feature that many users have longed for is the ability to automatically add alarms to new events, and the Leopard-updated iCal offers this as well.

It’s easy to focus on tasks and to-do lists as the primary function of GTD while forgetting that calendaring is a key part of the GTD equation. The improvements to iCal offer some strong changes to an already great calendaring application.

Finder Improvements

Outside of Mail, iCal, and GTD-specific apps, most of us spend a lot of time in Finder. Naturally, any improvements to navigating or organizing Finder are welcomed because they save time and attention—or both.

Quick Look and Cover Flow are two such improvements, and they are both nice features. The upgrades for Spotlight are also great. If you follow Steve Jobs’s recommendations (back from when he introduced Spotlight as a forthcoming feature for OS X 10.4 Tiger), you throw all of your files into one big folder and archive that way. Both Quick Look and Cover Flow offer new ways to find the particular files you’re seeking, and they do it in very different ways: Cover Flow allows you to skim through many files quickly, while Quick Look gives you a way to peek into a specific file.

What makes these especially powerful is using them together. Use the improved Spotlight to find a set of documents that file a particular keyword or search term, then view them in Cover Flow to narrow your search more quickly, finally utilizing Quick Look to verify that you’ve found the file you want.

Two other Finder improvements make a difference for productivity: Stacks and Spaces. If you like Exposé, or if you’re frustrated by the lack of screen real estate that you have (and who isn’t?), then Spaces may offer you a solution to organize your workspace(s) more efficiently. Stacks jump out of the Dock to give you fast access to the contents of certain folders very quickly.

Many of the features and improvements in Finder are subtle, but in combination they offer a collective boost in efficiency.

Other Areas of GTD Interest

There are a handful of other Leopard tools and features that may contribute to your GTD productivity. If you use more than one Mac—and you’re a .Mac subscriber—then Back to My Mac will surely be a welcome feature. Automator’s new capacities make scripting (and—duh—automating) your Mac easier than ever. Time Machine will all but remove the hassle of backup routines for a lot of us. Even Dashcode and Dashboard Web clips will be very useful.

The bottom line: Leopard doesn’t simply bring enhancements to the appearance of the OS, easier backups, and Boot Camp as standard. It offers system-wide advances that will serve as lubrication to the fine machine that is your Mac. If you’re considering the upgrade, think of Leopard as a small investment that will pay for itself many times over in hours saved, thanks to the many refinements it offers to a productive worker.

The List

Ah, the list. So much has happened since my last updated list in the June issue. As I mentioned in my last column, I’ve been working on a new, easier-to-read, and more attractive version of my list. I’ve also been moving and starting a new job, so unfortunately the list has gotten short shrift in my priorities.

As of now, the new and improved list is about two-thirds complete, and I anticipate finishing it up in December. (Once it is finished, by the way, it will also be much easier for me to keep it updated—another benefit of the new and improved version.) Assuming I stay on track for this, I’ll post it in the January issue, even though I won’t publish my next full Next Actions column until February. Thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile, if you know of any GTD-oriented applications that aren’t on the June list (and weren’t mentioned in the comments then), please let me know!

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (6)

Michael Ogilvie · December 2, 2007 - 10:45 EST #1
While the new features of Mail would be great if they worked consistently and reliably, they don't. Use on more than one computer with iMap leads to duplications and data loss. Furthermore, the new features don't even integrate well with the iPhone, let alone non-Apple platforms. I was disappointed.
Michael Wittmann · December 2, 2007 - 16:16 EST #2
Much as I appreciate the changes that have come to Mail and iCal for all my getting things done mentality, I have to say that the bug-ridden mess that is Notes and todo links is really so annoying that I had to stop using it. Examples:

1. When I put todos in Notes, they would sometimes get corrupted such that they weren't listed as todos anymore.
2. When I filed Notes, the original sometimes wouldn't get moved, and I'd have two copies. Due to synching issues, one would get corrupted as listed in #1. Ah, but if you deleted one, they would BOTH disappear! What the hell? I had to go into the Finder and find the multiple copies of the mails (yeah, QuickFlow for this), then delete them, and then rebuild the offending mailboxes.
3. Oh, right, once you've done that, all todos that were linked into iCal are missing. They got deleted, after all. ARGH!

In sum, it's a totally non-trustworthy system, and I spent more time fighting it than using it. The promised "system-wide" todo access didn't materialize for the Finder, so there's no easy way to attach a Finder file or folder to a todo, either.

I went back to iGTD, which had its own problems. It doesn't synch with iCal, but I've given up on that travesty. Corruption is sure to ensue. Not trustworthy, and I can't afford "not trustworthy." I just don't use iCal. With the new iGTD, I am one keystroke away from dumping any Finder file or folder, as well as any Mail, into the iGTD database and processing things from there. It works.

I do miss Hallon. It was a fabulous and quirky program that allowed for all sorts of filtering and such, but it was never a real program. If it gets fixed, it does better at collecting information from around your machine and filing and filtering it, but the quirks eventually made it too difficulty to use. I keep going back, though...
Amber Vaesca · December 4, 2007 - 06:41 EST #3
TaskPaper has been the pleasant surprise in the interval between publications of this column. For those not in the know, it is Jesse Grosjean's (of Mori and WriteRoom fame) latest work. TaskPaper is a lot like what the name sounds like. It brings the simplicity and ease of paper based lists to the computer, using a text file based format that is easy to parse for external scripting. Out of all the applications and web apps I've used, it is by far the easiest to brainstorm in. Unfortunately, I also find it a bit difficult to get data *out* of it once it is in---once the list gets big. I have many hundreds of tasks, and many of those are time sensitive. Currently TaskPaper doesn't have much in the way of due date management---critical for what I need. BUT it's not shabby. There are some good features for focussing on projects and contexts, so while it didn't quite work out for me in an industrial setting, I'm sure many will love it.

So I have a licence for it, and will definitely keep watching its development, but for now I continue to use OmniFocus (which I also have a licence for). OF has matured quite a bit as well, and its powerful Perspectives feature is unique as far as I know, to the GTD application market.

I have to agree with Mr. Wittmann regarding the disappointment in Leopard. The pre-release hype made it look like using the OS itself as a GTD platform would at last be feasible, but sadly this has not turned out to be the case. I never did much like Mail. It felt like an unstable client in the past, and it feels even more unstable now, even if you don't use the buggy notes and todo features.
Durbrow · December 4, 2007 - 13:51 EST #4
Has any Leopard user abandoned QuickSilver? That is, does the new SpotLight make the APPLICATION-LAUNCHING ability of QuickSilver obsolete? Note: I only use QS for launch apps.
coyote · December 28, 2007 - 10:48 EST #5
@ Durbrow:

If you use QS just for app launching, then you might as well use Namely.

It'd not only be faster than QS for that purpose, it'll also minimize system overhead on your mac.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 28, 2007 - 11:39 EST #6
Durbrow/Coyote - for my needs, LaunchBar still functions fine under Leopard and works great as an app launcher. But I use LB's other features as well.

Having said that, please note that the article on this page is about GTD, not app launchers such as QS and LB and Namely. ATPM requests all comments remain on-topic for the page to which it is posted.

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