In 2012, I was looking for a to do list app for iPhone and I came across the Clear app (for iOS and Mac). I was struck by its simplicity. Clear is a gesture-driven task list application by Realmac Software that has won countless awards. You’ll recognize it for its unmistakable red-to-orange gradient theme on the task list. It’s quite visually appealing and also a bit quirky in a good way.
I gave Clear one of the coveted home spots on my iPhone right away. I instantly loved it but believed it wasn’t as powerful as what I needed for the majority of my tasks in the workplace. It certainly filled a need but I simply used it to manage my shopping lists and personal tasks which naturally had less complexity than my work tasks.
A Clear Decision
In 2014, as my projects at work became larger and more frequent, I realized the getting things done (GTD) applications I was using were great at managing my tasks but often prevented me from actually getting things done. Those applications allowed me to categorize and add detailed contexts to my tasks. They allowed me to add task start dates, due dates, reminders, etc. However, I always found myself managing and reorganizing all of my tasks through the bloated set of features.
It was when I caught myself constantly trying to explore the organizational possibilities of various task management applications that I realized I needed a much more simple tool. Clear has undoubtedly been the answer to maintain my workflow, my sense of productivity, and act as my simple GTD planner.
The Basics of Clear
The first time the app launches you’ll go through a simple tutorial of the gestures. They’re easy and intuitive:
- Pull down – Pull down on the tasks to create a new task. Pull down on the lists to create a new list.
- Swipe right – Swipe a list or task to the right to mark it complete.
- Swipe left – Swipe a list or task to the left to delete it.
- Tap and hold – Tap and hold a list or task to move it. On the iPad you can move tasks between lists by dragging and dropping them.
- Edge swipe (iPad) – Swipe the edge from left to right to reveal the settings menu.
- Edge swipe (iPhone) – Swipe the edge of the screen either way to switch between lists.
- Pull down far (iPhone) – Pull down past the task trigger to navigate up one level in the heirarchy.
Using GTD Principles in Clear
There are plenty of articles on the internet where you can find a getting things done summary. If you’re not familiar with the concepts I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself through blog articles or, even better, by reading the Getting Things Done book by David Allen.
In a nutshell, GTD encourages you to get tasks off your mind and into a trusted system—such as Clear. The process encourages a series of mental steps or questions related to the tasks that help you decide what to do now and what to do later.
This system organizes tasks into a logical flow of lists. To get started, these lists should all be created in Clear:
- Inbox – The inbox list is used to get tasks off your mind without worrying about when, where, or how. This is the “mind-sweep” area where you purge everything from your mind so you can sleep without waking in a panic about a forgotten task.
- Waiting – The waiting list is used to store tasks that you want to follow-up on or have delegated to someone else. A glance through this list daily will prompt you to ask follow-up questions if you haven’t been notified of its completion.
- Next Actions- The next actions list is for tasks that need to be done next. In my workflow this is a working list of items to complete that day.
- Open Actions – There’s no open actions list in GTD but I find it helpful to have one in Clear. This is where I store all open actions that need completion that don’t belong in another list. I look to my open actions throughout the day to determine if something should move to next actions for completion.
- Actions for Later (or Someday) – The actions for later list is for tasks that don’t need to be done right away. This is essentially a filing list so you don’t lose sight of a long-term or low priority task.
On the Clear app for iPad or Mac, the tasks can easily be dragged and dropped into different lists as the tasks move through different statuses in the workflow above.
Contexts in the Real World
GTD encourages the use of contexts which I find only partially useful. Contexts are used as a way to highlight the tasks that are doable at a given moment—typically related to your physical environment.
If you’re next to a phone you can pull up your tasks with a phone context (e.g. call John Smith to schedule appointment) for completion. Now lets say you’re on an airplane, any phone task wouldn’t be able to be completed since you can’t use your phone for a call. So, the contexts are a way to help you view what tasks are applicable now.
In order to find this useful it requires you to decide what contexts are important for you. In a typical GTD installation, the contexts are usually something like…home, work, phone, iMac, Walmart, etc.
The contexts I find useful are related to conversations with certain people. I accomplish this by having a list named for each of my superiors and subordinates with which I regularly speak.
- Superiors – For my superiors this allows me to have a list of talking points, questions, and open items ready for discussion. This allows me to manage up more effectively.
- Subordinates – For my employees it allows me to have the same as above in addition to a list of tasks ready for delegation. This helps tremendously during planned one-on-one meetings and even impromptu conversations. This allows me to manage down more effectively.
If you like the more traditional use of contexts then see the additional information in the “advanced tips” section below.
See Clear in Action
The workflow is very simple in Clear. This is my GTD dashboard where all of my tasks are one click away. You can drag and drop to prioritize or reorganize. Adding, completing, and deleting tasks are simply a swipe away.
The screenshot above shows what the Clear app looks like when all the lists explained have been added. The use of the characters from the emoji keyboard are very useful:
- I use the book icons to signify project lists.
- I use smiley icons to signify my people contexts.
- The options are limitless…
1. Pasting Tasks and Project Templates
Clear allows you to paste tasks from the clipboard by shaking your iPhone or iPad. (Shaking also allows you to undo actions and email the list of tasks.)
I use this feature to create templates in the Notes app for projects that start with the same task list. As the images above show, once you create the template it’s a two-step process to get your tasks imported:
- Copy the template with one line per task.
- Open Clear, shake, and choose the paste tasks option.
2. Recurring Tasks
There’s no built-in option for recurring tasks. Keep in mind that the simplicity of the application is what makes it so usable.
If your recurring tasks follow a simple pattern you can utilize the template idea above to handle them. I have a template for each day of the week that accommodates my weekly (and even biweekly) tasks. At the beginning of the day, I simply paste in the day’s template.
3. Emoji Keyboard Icons for Tags, Categories, or Contexts
One feature that some miss with Clear is the ability to distinguish certain types of tasks from others. I use emoji icons in my list names as well as in the tasks themselves to quickly differentiate one type of task from another. These can be thought of as tags, categories, or contexts.
The emoji keyboard is enabled on an iOS device by going to Settings → General → Keyboard → Keyboards → Add New Keyboard.
One problem with the emoji icons is that you have to switch between keyboards and find the emoji you want. Instead of doing this, utilize the built-in keyboard shortcuts to write the emoji icons for you. The image to the right shows some of the shortcuts I’ve created. For example, when I type <Personal> it adds the boy icon to signify with simply a glance that it’s a personal task.