Implementing GTD in Mem
A new approach to “Getting Things Done” using Mem.ai
At the very beginning of my career, I was a software engineer. The first products I worked on were in the Personal Information Manager (PIM) category in the early days of the personal computer. I helped design the first digital address book for the Mac, called Dynodex, I worked on the Apple Newton — the first Personal Digital Assistant, and I co-founded an early web-based calendar service called When.com.
Along the way, I worked with GTD creator David Allen at a little-known startup called Actioneer, attempting to build a digital workflow for David’s personal organization system now known across the globe as GTD.
All of that to say… I’m an OG user of David’s GTD methodology. Now it’s 2022 and there’s a new productivity platform in town, called Mem.ai. It’s easy to use with effortless free-form note taking, combined with a depth of tagging and bi-directional linking perfect for building a true knowledge web. I’ll show you how I implement GTD in Mem, but first some quick Mem basics.
Mem notes are stored chronologically on a timeline and are blobs of text with full markdown support for formatting. Imagine a CEO of an early stage startup meeting with her co-founders Jawana, VP Marketing, and Omar, VP Product. A quick meeting note in Mem might look something like this:
The power of Mem comes alive with hashtags, linked notes, and tasks. While typing that same note in Mem, if I typed #estaff, +Jawana, +Omar, and  preceding each task, I’d get something like this:
If you’re not already familiar with this approach to tagging and linking, Mem has a great “getting started” introductory video:
There a few simple steps to my suggested implementation of GTD in Mem:
- Set up and use a set of hashtags to tag your notes and actions. I use:
#na — next action
#wf — waiting for
#sm — someday maybe
#ref — reference to read/watch/listen later
- Create a Projects page (note Mem calls everything a “mem” but I like to think of persistent, container mems as pages) to list all your current projects, and # those projects in related notes and actions.
- Create a People page for key co-workers or direct reports. In my simple example this is one page but you could create separate pages (aka “mems”) for each person. These are great for planning 1:1s.
- Use the Mem Inbox for your Mind Sweep to capture and store quick notes and ideas for later processing, tagging, delegating, etc.
Here’s what my fictitious startup CEO GTD setup looks like in Mem:
New notes automatically queue up here. Mem also has lots of collaboration features that I won’t discuss in this post but the Inbox is also the place where items that have been shared with you by teammates show up.
Pro tip: if you’re typing a quick unstructured note you can hit Cmd (or Ctrl) S to save it to your In Box. If you’ve typed a note and already tagged it you can hit Cmd (or Ctrl) Enter to bypass the Inbox and save it to your account.
The Inbox is a great holding pen for thoughts, ideas, notes, follow ups. Your Mind Sweep can get them out of your head and into Mem where you can later go back and process them with GTD’s four D’s (Do, Delegate, Defer, Drop).
Note the editable textbox in the left navigation column where I’ve included shortcut links to my most used hashtags. This “Home mem” is a great persistent part of the UI canvas that you can customize however you like.
Note the right hand column automatically shows related mems for the two people I’ve linked on this page: Jawana and Omar.
Mem’s term for hashtags is “topic tags”. Here I’ve given each major project a short topic tag. Whenever I include those in other mems, they automatically show up in the right hand Related column. Of course everything is searchable as well.
In this version of the meeting note example I mentioned earlier, I’ve captured two action items in the meeting and added the #na (for Next Action) tag to each of them.
One of the key approaches to my GTD implementation utilizes a feature of Mem called Starred Pages. When you search for *anything* in Mem, you can “star” (in the top nav bar) the search results page. Mem will ask you to name the page and create a persistent link to it in the left column navigation.
In this case my Next Actions page is actually a starred search for “#na”. Similarly, I’ve created Starred Pages for Waiting For (#wf), Someday / Maybe (#sm), and Reference (#ref).
Tasks are Special:
It’s worth noting that tasks, or action items, are special in Mem. They are recognized within notes and automatically aggregated into the Tasks view. In this example you’ll see a mix of Next Action and Waiting For tasks. That’s why the Starred Pages are a powerful way to filter your tasks into GTD categories.
So Much More
There is a *lot* more capability to Mem that I did not cover in this article. The Mem team have created some great YouTube “meminars” that I recommend if you want to dive deeper!