A Better Backpack.

I’ve been using 37 signals’ Backpack [disclosure: affiliate link] application for a good year and a half or so, stumbling upon it after many, many hours looking at personal information managers that would (help me) keep on top of my many projects, occasional ideas, and special friends. After a lot of searching, I settled on a few different solutions to keep track of things, but the one I’m starting to like again is Backpack. A few weeks ago, 37 updated both the functionality and interface of the application, fulfilling many user requests such as drag-and-drop between pages and more Ajax-y goodness. More importantly, they added these little things called “dividers,” which are exactly what they sound like: lines that separate out different lists, notes, or writeboards, which are highly usable writing platforms that can be shared with other writers. Dividers, for me, are the killer application. They allow tremendous amounts of simplification, dividing and parsing different components of a page, and doing it without additional fanfare.
Moreover, I’ve learned to finally ditch the idea of contexts, which is the raison d’etre of many in the Getting Things Done community. I refuse to look at project lists more than once per day and if I have to do more work than that by contextualizing where a given job has to get done, I might as well be a secretary instead of a designer. (Does anyone really need to indicate that “Buy bread” is “@store” and not “@computer”?)
The most important breakthrough: individual tasks are useless to me. Whereas I used to list out all relevant and related tasks associated with a specific project, now I just list out the project. In other words, I went from a page of 15 projects and 6 to 12 tasks each to, well, 15 projects. My theory is that if I don’t know what task to do next, I shouldn’t be managing my own projects.
For instance, Client X (a nonprofit in New York) is redesigning a large and important website from the ground up. In traditional Getting Things Done tools, the project would look like this:
Nonprofit Site

  • User interface document 1
  • Feedback
  • User interface document 2
  • Feedback
  • User interface document 3
  • Asset capture
  • Feedback
  • Approval
  • Design stage 1
  • Feedback
  • Design stage 2
  • Feedback
  • Design stage 3
  • Feedback
  • Design stage 4
  • Finalize images
  • Coding and development
  • CSS tweaks
  • Content integration
  • QA 1
  • Content modifications
  • QA 2
  • Launch

Now, the project looks like this:
Nonprofit Site
Needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), this system is new to me but seems to work. It’s not unlike many other systems I’ve read about and liked but, to me, it’s clear and simple and easy to update. In fact, it’s the same system I use on paper on my desk but now it’s available to me anywhere. As always, your mileage may vary.
P.S. When Backpack was initially launched, I tried it out for a few days. It sucked. I hated it. It’s interface was confusing, limited, and lame. I can assure you that, if you have not seen it since its incipience, it’s worth a shot.