When the David Allen Co, the global training and consulting company that supports GTD, asked me to review their upcoming GTD Setup Guide for Wunderlist, I had not heard of the application.
Although not designed specifically to support GTD, Wunderlist has many of the features that can be used to support GTD in its free basic version.
The Pro version (at $4.99/£3.83 a month) adds 10 more backgrounds (not really important in my view), removes the limit on the size of files attached to T0-dos (it’s 5MB in the Free version), removes the limits on the number of people you can assign a To-do to (it’s 25 in the Free version) and also removes the limit on the number of subtasks that a To-do can have (it’s also 25 in the Free version).
None of these Pro features is essential for a personal GTD implementation, and my advice would be to start with the Free version and only upgrade if you need to.
This article explains what the official GTD Wunderlist Setup Guide covers, what it doesn’t cover, and how I have expanded on what is in this excellent Guide to make further use of Wunderlist’s basic features. The Pro version doesn’t add any new features, it just expands the Free version’s features, and what the Guide covers is the Free version, and this is the version that I use.
The GTD Setup Guide
As with all the Setup Guides they produce it starts off with a brief overview of the GTD Methodology and then the bulk of the guide covers the application of GTD to Wunderlist.
Projects and Next Actions
- The Most Common GTD Lists
- Setting Up Lists
- Explanation of the Common GTD Lists
- For each type of list (Agendas, Anywhere, Calls, Computer, etc.) it explains what the list is used for and how to set it up in Wunderlist.
- For the Projects List, it also explains one way to add Project Support material.
- Linking Projects to their Next Actions
- It explains how to use the Wunderlist Tags feature to do this. I have expanded this approach, as you will see later, to link Project Support material and the GTD Horizons
- Moving Items between Lists
- The Weekly Review ties it all together
- Customising your Contexts
- Using Subtasks
- Creating Folders
- How to use the Wunderlist Folders feature to group similar lists, for example, if you wanted to have a Someday/Maybe – Personal list and a Someday/Maybe – Work list. Again, I have expanded the use of this feature for the GTD Horizons.
- Using the Wunderlist Inbox
- The Wunderlist Inbox is an excellent feature for capturing ideas for later Clarifying and Organising and this section shows you how to capture ideas straight to the Inbox, via email, and via the Wunderlist extension on your desktop or mobile device (meaning you can clip items from the web).
- Reviewing your Lists
- Daily and Weekly Reviews of your Lists are recommended
- Using Due Dates, Reminders and Starring
- These are three features of Wunderlist that need to be used cautiously in a GTD implementation as their overuse will “erode trust in your system by creating a pattern of false due dates” as the guide warns. These features include Smart Due Dates whereby a date in a To-do that you enter, such as “Meet James next Wednesday” will automatically add a due date of next Wednesday. This feature can be switched off as mentioned under Waiting Fors under the Explanation of the Common GTD Lists
- Marking Items Complete
- Sorting Lists
- Wunderlist can sort Items in a List alphabetically, by Creation Date, and by Priority (putting Starred items first). It can also sort by Due Date and Assignee if you’ve used these features.
- Using Shortcut Keys
- Sharing from Wunderlist
- Emailing Lists and To-Dos
- Adding Shared Access to Lists
- Integrating Actionable Email with Wunderlist
- This is always a difficult area as few apps make this easy. However, two options are provided in the Setup Guide
- Two Options for Managing Actionable Email
- Option One: Use the Email as a Reminder
- This isn’t my preferred approach as it means you have another pair of lists in Mail to keep track of as well as those in Wunderlist. Something is bound to fall between the cracks.
- Option 2: Use Next Actions Lists in Wunderlist or your Calendar as the Action Reminder
- This is the approach I prefer to use as it moves a copy of the email into your Wunderlist Inbox from where you can Clarify and Organise it just like any other Captured item.
- Option One: Use the Email as a Reminder
- Wunderlist for Outlook
- There’s a Wunderlist for Outlook app for Outlook.com or Outlook 365 subscribers using Outlook 2013/2016 for Windows, and this section explains how to use that. As a macOS user, I don’t.
- Getting Your Inbox to Zero
- How to manage your Email Inbox using the GTD Workflow Map (shown in the first part of the Setup Guide).
- What belongs on your Calendar
- What you should, and shouldn’t put on your Calendar
- Setting up a Calendar Feed
- Wunderlist has a feature for producing a Calendar Feed so that you can see your Due Dates (if you’ve used them – see warnings above) on To-dos on your system’s main Calendar (be it Calendar on macOS/iOS, Outlook or Google).
- Reviewing your Calendar
- Using Wunderlist to store Reference Information
- How to store non-actionable Reference lists, checklists, etc. using the Wunderlist Folder feature. I have used this approach to maintain the GTD Horizons of Focus, but that is outside the scope of this Setup Guide. I will explain later how I have done this.
- Syncing between desktop, web and mobile versions of Wunderlist is seamless and automatic so that your lists all appear more or less the same and the basic user interface is identical.
What I will cover in future articles
The articles listed below are planned and will change to links to each part as they are produced.
Part 2: Account Settings, Smart Dates, Smart Lists and Printing Lists – how I have set up Wunderlist and how I use its advanced features
Part 3: Setup – how I have used the official GTD setup guide and Wunderlists features to meet my system needs
Part 4: Wunderlist in Daily Use – how I use Wunderlist each day
Part 5: The Weekly Review with Wunderlist – how I carry out my Weekly Review
Part 6: The Horizons of Focus and Project Control – how I use some of the tagging in Wunderlist to link Next Actions to Projects and Projects to Horizons of Focus
Part 7: Reference Material – how I file some Reference material within Wunderlist
Part 8: Hints and Tips – what I’ve learnt in the first year of using Wunderlist for GTD