As I have talked about before, Backpack by 37 Signals is a crucial part of my personal organization-fu. It is the main tool I have come to rely on for my tasks and projects. Like a lot of tools, it is not always perfect and it took me a little while to figure out how to make it work for me. Here is how I have been using Backpack in my implementation of Getting Things Done along with some tips and tricks I have learned along the way. A lot of the tips and tricks I found in the excellent Backpack Forum. Here is my basic page layout

Today (Home) – The Backpack help page says the following about the Home page: “Your home page should be used to keep track of all the stuff that’s top of mind. Stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Stuff that you need to deal with now.” This is pretty much how I have been using it. I actually have changed the page name to “Today”. While I do look at and accomplish items on my context based lists I use this page to list all of the things I would like to accomplish today. Some of those items might even be duplicated and/or taken from my context based lists, each of which I have a page set up in Backpack. Basically, my page list looks like this:

@Agendas – For items I need to speak with people about. I also keep agenda items for meetings here.

@Bethany – For items I can only accomplish while at Bethany’s house. We are preparing for us all to move into her house so there are a number of task items that can only be done there. We are also keeping a Basecamp project for this as well so I have a link to it here.

@Blog – Not just for things I wish to post but also, I have a link to my Basecamp project for I use it to manage all the “behind the scene” projects items I need to work on (implementing comments for instance).

@Calls – Calls I need to make. I always try to include the phone number with the action item so I never have to go digging for it somewhere else.

@Carleton – This one is pretty obvious. Work items and projects.

@Computer – For things that I can only accomplish while near a computer.

@Errands – Shopping lists and other items I can only accomplish while out and about.

@Home – Home based items and projects

@Projects – Why a separate project page? Well, these are projects that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

@Someday – Someday/Maybe items. Stuff that I would like to get to someday but have not yet become active projects.

Using the @ symbol helps to keep these above other pages in the sidebar. For instance I have a page for work notes, a page for personal notes, a Wish List and Bethany and I have a Registry page where we are starting to list things we would like to put on our wedding registry even though we are not officially engaged yet. Having somewhere to list such stuff gets it out of our psychic RAM.

Formatting Tips & Tricks

Colors – I don’t use colors to prioritize (every item on my list is a priority) instead I use them simply to make certain important things stand out. Using Textile, a simple web formatting language that Backpack can understand, you can color code items using some simple, easy to remember code. For instance, to color an item green simply type:

%{color:green}Process Inbox @ Work%

Substitute any other standard color after the colon to change it. As a matter of fact, textile can be used to do all sorts of styling on your Backpack page

Arrows, Bold and Outlines – Textile in action once again. I actually make project items on my pages bold and then I use a simple outline structure using arrows ( → ) for the action items related to that project beneath. This allows me to visually separate the projects from the single action items and to see the actions associated with it.

Reminders – Here is a neat little Backpack hack that can also act as a tickler file. The reminder feature as the ability to e-mail reminders as well as send them using SMS. Backpack pages each have a unique e-mail address allowing you to send e-mail to any page. Why not combine the two? I use the reminder feature to e-mail reminder items to my Today page at a specified time. With the newly implemented repeating reminders feature, this can be even more powerful. For instance, if I want to make sure I pay a bill on a certain day every month I can create a reminder for the bill and it will show up on the Today page at the specified time. Then I can set that reminder to repeat every month so that, on the specified date and time, not only to I get a reminder for it on my cell phone but it also shows up on my Today page. Very cool.