Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nirvana In Depth Testing

As 2015 draws to a close, I have started the process of conducting an in-depth test of Nirvana as a possible solution to transition away from Todoist. I've briefly tested Nirvana in the past and found it lacking. However, it looks like they issued a pretty significant update this past fall. As I prepared to take the plunge on doing an in-depth test, one nice thing I discovered was I could unlock the Pro features with just a monthly cost of $5. I thought I may have to spring for a whole year, but I can just upgrade later if I decide to stick with it. The first step in this project is trying to figure out how to configure Nirvana in light of my Todoist configuration, which is the primary focus of this post. I'm expecting the transition to be a bit of a challenge because Nirvana sticks fairly close to the GTD method and although I incorporated concepts of GTD in my Todoist setup, I had also strayed quite a bit, so I need to get things reined back in for Nirvana.


To start with, I wanted to tackle the Labels I was using in Todoist. Most of my labels were based on energy or focus levels. The nice thing about Nirvana is that it has a specific attribute for energy using a 4 point scale - low, medium, high or none (as in no selection, not as in requiring no energy). That meant I could map the following labels to this attribute and no longer worry with them:


I also had labels for backburner and next which effectively replicate GTD's "next action" and "someday/maybe" concepts. Nirvana comes with built-in "Actions" which appear to mimic GTD concepts. The actions include:

Next -> for next actions
Waiting -> for tasks delegated to someone else
Scheduled -> for tasks with definite due dates
Someday -> the someday/maybe items from GTD

Nirvana also has an action called Later that is an option users can turn on. I'm not exactly sure how it works other than being something not ready for next action status, but not so far away from needing attention that it falls in one of the other areas. I've turned it on for now and will see what I can figure out.

Those familiar with GTD know items can also land in a reference folder and Nirvana has a section just for that separate from the actions list. I've never used reference in any solution and don't expect to with Nirvana, but wanted to note that it is present.

So, the backburner and next labels will now be mapped as actions in Nirvana.

I also had a label in Todoist called "recur" for any action that was repeating (which is quite a few of my tasks). In Nirvana, tasks have an attribute available called State and one of the selections is "Scheduled". Scheduled includes options to set a start date for a task or to make a task repeating. So I'll use that feature in place of the recur tag. I could probably still tag these tasks with recur in Nirvana, but it seems I can just use the Scheduled action to view just these items.

Finally, I had a label in Todoist call "bills" that was a subset of "recur" that I used to narrow and identify the bills I manage. That was really the only label from Todoist that has survived in the Nirvana system as a tag, although I changed it to "money". The table below summarizes the changes implemented for the Todoist labels:

Todoist Label Nirvana landing point
zombie Use "energy" attribute
zippy Use "energy" attribute
zone Use "energy" attribute
zen Use "energy" attribute
backburner Use "Actions" item "Someday"
next Use "Actions" item "Next"
recur Use "State" attribute to make repeating, then view on "Scheduled" actions list
bills Use user created tag "money"


The other big area to be mapped over from Todoist to Nirvana are the projects. Like so many other people, I've used projects in Todoist to handle more than just the classic definition of a project from GTD (something that requires more than one task/step to complete). I've also used the Todoist projects to establish areas - Work, Body and Personal to try to isolate different facets of my life.

In Nirvana, areas are handled by the aptly named "Areas". Unfortunately, the Areas in Nirvana cannot be nested. In Todoist for example, in the Work area I had one sub-project for projects and another for routine work. Within the projects area I would then setup sub-projects for actual projects and in the routine work area I had sub-projects for different major roles/functions - finance, IT, procurement and other.

For the Work area, I went ahead and setup separate Areas that replicate what I had in Todoist. The only problem is that they are all on the same level. This will be one area I'll look at to see how well it works and frankly, whether I really need to organize things this way. I'm thinking it may be possible to just flatten things to one area - Work - and then use Nirvana's tags for things like "finance", "IT" or "procurement".

I've also abandoned the specific projects as Areas since Nirvana has a specific area for Projects where I can set those items up. In fact, I've already created the "Top Five" project to manage my special purpose project in Todoist where I listed my top five tasks to be done each week.

For my Todoist "Body" project, I had three sub-projects called Spiritual, Mental and Physical. Both Spiritual and Mental also housed specific sub-projects. In Nirvana, I setup a single area called "Body". For the other areas, my plan is to use Nirvana's tags and I've created "spirit", "mind" and "body" (realizing body is a duplicate).

Finally, in Todoist I had a project called "Personal" that housed sub-projects "Family" and "Fun". Family then included some specific projects while Fun tended to house sub-projects that corresponded to some hobbies or specific interests of mine, like BSC or THMMC. In Nirvana, I have a new single area called "Personal". Again, my plan is to not drill down any further with areas, relying instead on tags like bsc, cardinal, or thmmc.

I suspect one of the keys to a successful Nirvana deployment is going to be effective use of the tags and being willing to create new ones on the fly. The struggle there will be to not create so many tags that I lose track of them (kind of like I have here on the blog).


That pretty much covers the configuration stuff and my efforts to figure out how to organize the projects and labels I had in Todoist over in the Nirvana system. As you can see, with the structural differences between Nirvana which comes with some GTD structure built-in and Todoist which is more of a build-your-own system, there were quite a few changes that had to be made. Hopefully I have thought things through enough that the new configuration will work in Nirvana.

My next entry on this transition will hopefully cover some of the discoveries I make in how Nirvana actually works and how that impacts my workflow and management of tasks.


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  2. Hi, did you find Nirvana good to continue?

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