Basecamp: New GTD Implementation Ideas

I have been using Basecamp for some time to implement larger multi-tiered and ongoing projects. Lately, I have been using it even more to manage projects for the team I lead at work. While I am using Basecamp mostly in the fashion it was intended for, since proposing my ideas about changes to my GTD implementation in Backpack, I have been pondering how some of those same changes (as well as some other useful hacks) could be applied to using Basecamp for GTD as well.
The Setup
Basecamp is designed so that, on paying accounts, one can manage multiple projects. A “project” in their definition assumes a y large one with the need for multiple sub-projects, messaging, colaboration, milestones, etc. – in other words, a lot like most people’s daily lives. The free version only allows for one project which is just fine for one’s life so this setup assumes that you are going to use one project for your GTD implementation.

Basecamp, like Backpack, allows you to create multiple lists under the To-Do tab for a project. For a GTD implementation one could have one list for single action items (i.e. projects with only one action) and then a list for each project (i.e. anything which requires two or more steps). You can see in the picture above an example of this setup. That part is pretty straight forward and pretty much inline with my @Projects setup in Backpack.
The Context Hack
I am sure you also notice in the picture above that I have set contexts for items in bold. I also bet you are wondering how that was achieved. Here is how…
People. That’s right – People.
Basecamp allows one to add people to a project and assign To-Do list items to those people responsible for them. Therefore, I thought, if people were actually contexts, then you could just as easily make the person’s name the context you want, give them an e-mail address (I just used the dummy Gmail account I have for such nonsense purposes), an equally nonsense password, and… um… tada! You have contexts which you can assign to those list items.
Another advantage to this is that Basecamp allows one to view just To-do items assigned to a specific person. Therefore, if your person is a context, you can use this hack to just list specific contexts:

Of course, one can use all of the other features of Basecamp as well. For instance, you can use the Messages section for notes, set Milestones for important projects, etc.
Basically, with a little outside of the box thinking and repurposing, one could easily use a free Basecamp account as a real and effective GTD solution with the ability to organize actions as well as viewing and printing by both context and individual project lists.

11 thoughts on “Basecamp: New GTD Implementation Ideas”

  1. Patrick… you da man. This is pretty cool. I’ll have to try. I’ve been using KGTD and recently started using Basecamp so I can keep some clients in the loop. I like the idea of having my GTD action closely tied together.
    Question… are you still using Backpack? If so, why?

  2. I am using Backpack because I still feel that it is better suited to my GTD system. That is not to say that Basecamp can’t be used (as I have shown here) or that I don’t use Basecamp for larger projects (which I do). That being said, I find Backpack a bit more flexible and free form for GTD needs.

  3. I’ve been playing around with a free Basecamp account before (but didn’t get the *brilliant* idea to use “persons” as contexts, although I already did use “persons” as categories, which didn’t prove too useful). Your post made me have another look.
    It’s just that I can’t find the “‘s to-do items across all projects” you show in the screenshot. That’s what would really make the system work. Are you sure that this view is available in a free one-project account as well (as I understand you tried this from a paid account)?

  4. It is there – even in the free account (and I used a free account for this example).
    The trick is you can’t be “in” your project. Just click on the Dashboard link and _then_ click on the “To-Dos” Tab and you should see the drop down list to view all the to-dos for a specific “person”.
    Hope this helps.

  5. Yes, thanks, now I see it. But one problem remains: Choosing “anyone” doesn’t show all to-dos (as one might guess), but none at all.
    And I still can’t get too excited about Basecamp overall: I’d really like to be able to assign due dates and priorities to to-dos and I want sub-projects (more than one level), and not always having the (IMO) stupid concept of “lists” in the way (like, I want to have to-dos assigned to milestones directly, and view *to-dos* assigned to milestones, not only lists).
    For me, all 37s’ apps are all a little bit too over-simplified (and they’r obsessed with lists).

  6. Hey that’s AWESOME. I’ve been trying to figure out how to use basecamp with more luck for GTD and this may be the missing piece.
    I’ve added one more thing to the ‘contexts as people’ approach and given each person my gmail address with a ‘context flag’ using the + email hack. (see https://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=12096&topic=1564)
    So I’ve added a filter to each different ‘context account’ email ie. myemailaddress+errands@gmail.com goes into an @errands label in gmail, just in case I want to use the ‘Notify by email?’ option in basecamp to remind me. Further to that, I could use another gmail filter to forward all of my @phone todos to my sms account on my phone…
    Endless possibilities if you ask me.

  7. Okay, by now I realized that my above-mentioned problem is the exact opposite of the former problem: You *have* to be in your project to see a list of “anyone’s” to-dos (with the dropdown menu of your “people” at the right side, not at the top.
    Can be confusing at times, this simplicity 😉

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