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Backpack and GTD - What's the next action

Backpack and GTD

28 11 05 - 00:10 - Bookmark this post

I am turning into a fan of 37signal’s product Backpack as a tool for my personal management. It takes some time and some tweaking of the system, but we are getting there! What is Backpack? It is a web based project planning tool. No gant charts or any difficult projectmanagement-lingo, but plain ol’ lists! In Backpack, you can make several pages on which you can make lists of “things”. You can make a page for a conference you are visiting (like I am next week) and on that page you can make lost of things you need to bring, emails with confirmation from the hotel and train and a map of the area.
If I can relate it to GTD-speak, it is a Next Action List and Organizing tool in one application. Because you can make multiple lists on one page, you can make a list of “things to remember” and before that make a list of Next Actions to make sure you have everything.
Like I said, it is not a GTD-app in the pure sense of the word, but hey, what is? To me, Backpack fills my need to use it whenever and where ever I want in a way I can think of myself. Therefore, I would like to go through some of my practical uses of and in the process, explain some of the features. I will end with a good/bad comparison and the conclusion. I have a Basic Account which means I have all the features of the site with a monthly payment of 5 dollars. Some of the features I mention are not available in the free version

What do I use?

As I mentioned, Backpackit consists of several features. First of all, you can create pages. These pages can have their own name and description. On these pages, the features are always the same. You can make multiple lists of items. Just press “add item” start typing, press enter and it’s there. Real easy.
I use the notes-feature every now and again. Most of the time for some piece of text I want to save, an address or a quote. You can make multiple notes per page. In the paid version you have the option to upload files. This can be very handy for drafts, or when you’re working on a excel sheet with someone else. The images are also only for the paid plans. I don’t use it that much. But you could share photos, designstages or other material with this option. The writeboards feature is one that is brilliantly linked to their own free service of these shared wiki-like editors. You can import and link writeboards to projects and share these yourself. Brilliant feature and implemented in a very transparent way. The Links-option is somewhat of a mystery to me. You can link directly to other pages, but the use of it is unclear to me. Because you can from any page directly to any other page you made with the sidebar navigation. The links-feature is unnecessary this way.
Every page you make, you can share with anyone. You can share it in public (Like my CD-list) or just with a small group. After they make an account, they can add, edit and delete any content on the pages. Interesting feature I use every now and again for some projects like an ezine I co-edit and a conference for which I am organizing a diner with some participants.
The reminders are an excellent tool for future ticklers and well…reminders. You can make a reminder with a couple of clicks and have it emailed to you on the day and time you specify. In the US, you can also have the reminder sent to your mobile phone. Unfortunately, this option is not available (yet) in the Netherlands…

When do I use it?

I use it every day. My frontpage is the homepage in my browsers. As I said, I use it for my personal management. So I don’t use it for work related material. When I am at work and think of something I need to do at home, I can email it to one of the predefined addresses and it gets on the list. Or I put it directly on the list.

Why do I use it?

Well, because I am still looking for a good system for my personal management. Trying to incorporate it in my professional system (Outlook) turned out to be a hassle. So I needed something else. Something that is web based and has mobile access! And Backpack has that. I can check my CD list on my mobile when I am in the record store or I can update my lists when I am waiting on the train. Another reason was the extensibility of the service. Meaning, it leaves a lot to the user. There are some predefined type of lists (images, files, notes etc) but other that , you can use it any way you want. There are a lot of hacks popping up online. I have collected some on my for you to check out. I still have to try some of them myself, but for now, Backpack does for me what it needs to do: Unload my brain with thoughts, to do’s and forget-me-nots

Where do I use it?

Anywhere I can. Since Backpack comes with a mobile page, I can check it on my cell phone. But I use it most of the time at home or when I go into town to get some errands. Just check the list and go. Easy as that!

How do I use it?

Hmmm…hard to describe in a couple of sentences. I still use the “clean” version, so without the hacks and without the API. One little hack I can give you is in the Reminder-part. You can send reminders to one emailaddress. I use my personal mailaddress for this one. But every now and again, I need to have a reminder for work related things. For instance, while in the trainI think of something I need to do at work. So I take my cell phone and add a reminder. But I preface the subject with the word “Work – ”. Now, in my gmail-filters, I make a filter that checks for the subject with the words “Reminder: Work -” and from my backpack account. It forwards it to my business email and archives the original. Easy as that!
I try to use Backpack as a personal management system. But I also use it to collaborate with others on articles or the organization of an event. So it is not a true GTD-application if you look at it that way. Like I said before, it is a NA-list and organizing tool in one webapp.

The good


This is an article which is part of my weblog "What's the Next Action". It deals with everything GTD and the five phases of projectplanning as written by Dave Allen in his book "Getting Things Done".

The previous article on this blog is called 'The connection between GTD and Tai Chi'.
The next article on this blog is called 'My mind is playing tricks on me...'.
You can find all the articles on the frontpage.
You can contact me via email

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