GTD Read-Review Ideas

For those of you who are GTD’ers, how do you manage your digital “read-reviews”? I save all PDFs and Word docs that I have to read in a Dropbox folder. I was thinking about whether I should just save them into OF as attachments. (As far as web reading, I’ve been saving links in OF instead of using read-it-later services, which has the benefit of keeping everything in OF and I have one place to look for any and all of my tasks.) I have been rethinking this process and was curious how others address this issue.

Personally I don’t think I’d want to bloat my database storing a lot of embedded content, much of which I may not even look at again. You can attach files linking rather than embedding the data, which should work as long as you keep the originals in the same location in your Dropbox.


I’m not a big fun of bloating my OF database. I’ll put stuff in Dropbox or Instapaper for later reading. Then I make an appointment with myself (15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the afternoon) to breeze through my read-reviews. My first pass is to go through each item (PDF, Word Doc, Instapaper post) and consider it for deletion, deferring it to someone else who I think might benefit from it, or save it to my Devonthink database. Then I create a task to handle the item I saved. If it’s something to explore further, I might enter a task such as R&D Social Media Marketing in Instagram into OF. This means that I intend to either start a project or research a subject further.

Most of the posts end up in the trash can. Many articles have a short lifespan and is only worth it in the moment. I need to be able to take at least 1 action item from a post to consider pursuing it further. Otherwise, it’s mostly entertainment.

Set aside time each day to work through your OF reading links, PDFs, and Word Docs. Make it a small appointment. Maybe 10-30 minutes every day. During the weekly review, I’ll go through these someday/maybe ideas generated from the reading material and decide to expand on it further with some more brainstorming (GTD natural planning model) or just kill it. Sometimes a project might take up more energy, time, and resources than I’m willing to give. I might delegate it to someone else or just kill it.

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I put the things I want to read into Evernote, then add an OF task in my [To Read] project with a link to the item.

I leave my [To Read] project paused so they don’t show up in available.

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I save so many things that I might want to read (links or documents) that I’ve never attempted to capture them all in OF.

I keep only a general reading shortlist in OF where each item has a link to the article or document. Like other respondents, I don’t want to have lots of large attachments in the OF database, and the experience of opening, browsing, or searching a set of documents (often PDFs for me) is better if they are stored in a cloud folder or sometimes Evernote.

I’ll add to this reading shortlist either immediately when I encounter an item which I will definitely want to read, or during my weekly review when I look at all the folders or apps where I’ve saved things to read (in effect these are additional inboxes; being able to save items there with minimal friction is worth the cost of having multiple places to look at later). I’ll order the items in this shortlist so that I can just look at the first item when I want to read something I’ve already curated (and this ‘first available’ reading item is included in some of my ‘doing’ perspectives).

Whenever reading an item is necessary for one of my projects, I’ll include it there.

I give all these items one of two tags: ‘Read’ for casual or short reads, or ‘Focus Read’ for demanding texts requiring my concentration.

I have a master ‘Reading’ perspective which displays:

  • All items tagged for reading in my goal-oriented projects
  • The first available item in my general reading shortlist
  • The first available item (oldest) for each newsletter or periodic media which I track in OF.

It returns individual actions grouped by project; this provides a nice overview of everything that I want to read.

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@Matt78, @wilsonng, @mtrifiro, and @MultiDim - Thanks for all these great responses thus far. All of which seem to tell me I should stay the course. I’m going to experiment with some other these other ideas, but I appreciate the caution about bloating. @MultiDim, I also have a two tiered read-tagging system, which has helped.

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Recently, reluctantly, I began using the chrome browser and gmail. After a period of adjustment, I could not be more happy. (This gets relevant to the topic in a moment)

The killer use case is when I get an email that I have to act on, I create an omnifocus task and paste the URL of the email into the note. Then I can simply archive the email, basking in the knowledge that I can access it immediately when necessary.

From there it was easy to extend the same trick to files, which I park in a gDrive. So both my o’focus database and Evernote can stay lean and clean.

Rouding out the solution, Keyboard Maestro makes capturing the various URLs very easy.

I have a zapier “zap” which sends a task to OF to check out any article I save in my read later service,

For mail I use MailMate app which has a send to OF action with or without a summary and unlike most mail apps uses the generic message:// protocol rather than proprietary ones like Spark or Airmail, so I can open the link with any mail app available to me.

Pocket is a great phone app that you can use for all web-based reading. I’ve been using it about 6 months and it’s just fabulous.

I second this. I leverage Pocket for all of my digital readings - from websites, to emails I send it all to there to keep it separate from bloating my OF database.

how do you get emails into pocket? Is this function only when using webmail?

There is an email address associated with your Pocket account. Anything you forward to that will go to your account.

You can find it under your settings.

Thank you!

What about a workflow for PDFs to read later? Do you just put them in your OF database as attachments? I find a good PDF workflow to be difficult to sort out.

I have three tags under a parent “reading” tag called “must read”, “should read” and “want to“ read. “Want” is like a someday and set on hold.

This works great with pocket and online content but PDFs and MS docs give me trouble because the task of reading and the task of filing are separate acts. I’m searching for a good workflow. I also use Devonthink.

I’m very tempted to Roll up my sleeves and try to figure out an AppleScript that (1) sends the file to Devonthink inbox with OCR for filing later and then (2) create an omnifocus task with a link to that Devonthink item.

Any DT users have good ideas for a PDF “read it later” workflow?

Okay, so I think I can answer my own question. After a quick google I found this post on a blog by Chris Upchurch, who also generously shared his apple script. This script watches a folder for new items and automatically uploads them to Devonthink then creates a new task with the url to that item in the Omnifocus inbox. His blog post maps out his workflow nicely.

I figured out how to amend his code to have the new task put in the inbox rather than a default folder.

This solves my problem for a “read it later” app for pdfs. I can now, in theory, use my iPad in Omnifocus as a read it later device for pdfs and open the file in PDF Expert to read and annotate or even DevonthinkToGo and simply save back to DevonThink. Unfortunately, the forum won’t let me add the script as attachment to share with you so send me a message if you’re interested in the script.

I’d be interested to see if any others have any good read-it-later solutions for things like pdfs.

I keep my reading list mostly out of OmniFocus.

  • Books to read are saved in Goodreads
  • Blog posts, web pages and such are saved in Pocket
  • PDF or documents are saved locally in a specific folder, synced in the cloud

All of these are part of my Someday/Maybe list and are reviewed at an appropriate frequency.

On the other hand, for documents/books I have to read to complete an active project, an action is entered in OmniFocus in my Next Action list as a reminder.

For your “must read” list associated with projects/tasks do you keep the attachments directly in OF? Ive always been paranoid about overloading the database but if only “must” and not “want” attachments are going in perhaps that is the simplest way to deal with it. I also have to do a lot of reviewing of others work and it word be easiest to just forward the attachments directly to OF then hack a workflow just to keep the DB light.

No I don’t attach anything in OmniFocus. I just log a task, as a reminder that the next action is to read something. I paste a url to the file/webpage in the task note field. I find OmniFocus doesn’t handle well any of the two attachement options : create a link to a file and embed the file.
I usually save the document that I want to read in a project folder within Finder/Dropbox/DevonThink.

I’ve been enjoying and appreciate all the thoughtful comments here. All last year I conducted an experiment. I used to have separate lists for (a) someday/maybes and (b) wishlist items, but I migrated all of them into OmniFocus. The reason that I did this was because I really disliked having to manage several separate lists. Something would come up that I would want to remember, and I had to consider whether it went on my Wishlist, which was a folder in Apple Notes, or on GoodReads, or in IMDB, or Discogs, or what have you. I spent more time trying to find homes for things then letting my “trusted tool” do the hard work.

So what I did was migrate them all into OmniFocus. They are saved in a special folder all all tagged with my on-old tag called “standby.” They are set to be reviewed quarterly, although, I look at them more frequently in actual practice. Unless I specifically look in the Someday/Maybe Folder, I never see these actions come up anywhere else. So they do not “clutter” my perspectives with un-actionable noise. My database runs plenty speedy — I have 238 projects and 2,180 actions, but my database doesn’t run (perceptibly) slower than when I had 2/3 fewer actions.

The experiment has worked nicely, and I have no desire to separate these “wishlists” back out to other applications. I like knowing that there is one place in the world where everything I need to do is stored.

This background is what motivated my question about read-reviews. My current practice of creating an action to “read my read-reviews” and then saving those materials in a dedicated Dropbox folder works to get the work done. But it obscures the amount of work to be done. I can’t tell you from within OmniFocus whether I have seven documents to read or 700, or whether they are easy leisure reading or complex materials requiring careful analysis.

I still like the idea of saving the documents outside OF. Having the documents in OF does not make access to them easier. On the other hand, having things in multiple places (a task in OF and a document in Dropbox or a URL in Pocket) means making sure everything stays in sync.

One thing that has worked, when documents come via e-mail or the web, is to create an OmniFocus action that links to the “containing source.” Then when I’m ready to act on it, I click the link and can open the reading material.

One solution to this that I would love would be for the OmniGroup to make OmniFocus a file provider available in the Files app. If I could ripple through attachments through Files, have MS Word open words docs from the OmniFocus file provider, and have PDF Expert access PDF from the OmniFocus file provider, it would give me the best of both worlds: allowing me to keep my documents attached in OmniFocus (until acted upon and archived) and easily accessible elsewhere. [The downside of this, is whether people would then try to turn OF into Dropbox and tax the OmniSync resources. My universe of attachments, is not usually ridiculous large. Currently, I only have 52, and the bulk of those are social media icons that got ingested when I forwarded an e-mail message to OF.]

Bottom line, I’ll experiment with some of the excellent ideas all of you have presented here. Keep ‘em coming. :)

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I am relatively new to OF3 but have adopted a similar strategy (but I haven’t read tested it like you. What I have done is linked the “Standby” project to a database within DEVONthink which means that I don’t over burden OF3 but still retail the access to the detailed files.

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