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Enleiten: A social ‘getting things done’ system

If you have any interest in personal or group productivity, it’s likely that you’ve at least become aware of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system. It’s not only taken the corporate world by storm but also has become the geek method/tool/approach of choice for moving far beyond a simple to-do list. The system has even spawned productivity sites like 43 Folders, an homage to one element of the GTD system, as well as its own blog and news site dedicated to GTD-centric productivity called GTD Times.

Because of the success of Allen’s GTD methodology and the sheer volume of software developers among the ranks of the faithful, tools abound for using the GTD method. From David Allen’s own Microsoft Outlook add-in to dozens of offerings for PC’s and Mac’s (as well as other types of tools), most work well but suffer from an increasingly evident fatal flaw: Using GTD is a problem if all of your data is sitting on a single computer. More and more of us are on multiple devices and mobile … using a laptop, smartphone, desktop at home and the office (and even casually using computers in coffee shops, airports or at a friend’s house) and need to use GTD but be able to access it anywhere we have anIinternet connection.

In 2007, Eric Hedberg, an economics major from Carleton College, worked at Secure Computing and Stockwalk.com (the latter in financial sector software) where Hedberg became aware of the direction applications were taking by being delivered “in the cloud” (i.e., as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) hosted and available to anyone with an Internet connection) and started looking at ways to implement a SaaS data warehousing/workflow management application for the financial services industry.

After some prototyping and user feedback, he and his college friends who’d joined him (Doreen Hartzell, CEO, and Steve Bentley, in charge of interface design) realized that the best part of what they’d built was the project management piece, which delivered collaborative online workspaces using a GTD model. That revelation spawned the current company focus, Enleiten, which is a collaborative GTD application delivered in the cloud and available for single consumer users, small groups or businesses.

I interviewed CEO Doreen Hartzell about Enleiten and their approach on taking the to-do list and project management paradigm to a new level. “To-do lists can be very good for supporting individuals working through and organizing their tasks. They tend to be weaker about the collaborative nature of work — how to delegate and track things without creating a lot of duplicate entries or extra steps to capture things you’re waiting for. In many cases, those are also applications that can support GTD workflows but are not necessarily designed for them.

She continues, “Project management applications, in our experience, are great at presenting things to managers, but not as well designed to handle the actual specific actions that need to be done to move the project forward. The separation of tasks by project can make it difficult for users to extract their tasks and integrate those with the rest of their work. They can also be problematic if it’s difficult to reorganize projects in an iterative workflow. We believe the efficiency of those applications can also break down a bit if members of a project team have different personal systems and then need to do double entry to their own system and the team’s project management application.

When I asked about multiple-device types and access from anywhere there is an Internet connection, Ms. Hartzell touched on several of their roadmap directions, and this is clearly directional for them.

The Pro edition for groups includes all of the current features with these additions appearing in about a month:

  • File upload
  • Creating workgroups to share full projects (vs. individual task delegation in the basic version)
  • Ability to create custom checklist templates to streamline business workflow or commonly used lists

They have a long list of planned features, and prioritization of those will be driven substantially by user feedback. Their goal is to deliver simple software, but they’d like to accomplish that through good user interface, and careful choice on adding features.

Finally, their short list of features to add include:

  • Increased input/output options, including Jott integration, iCal import/export, custom RSS feeds, SMS, and, within a week, daily email task notifications
  • Greater customization of information display by the user (what you want on your Next Actions page, maybe color coding of projects, tasks or contexts, etc.)
  • Mobile and offline versions
  • Establishing a community library of templates to allow users to share them.

My brief exposure to Enleiten has caused me to consider their approach carefully. While admittedly not a left-brain dominant analytical, I do understand enough about myself that I realize I need the analytical as well as both visual and experiential elements in an application to truly and intuitively “get it” and continue using it. While I found the Ajax-y goodness of dragging-‘n’-dropping tasks into other projects compelling, I did find the application to be too transactional and thus mostly left-brain (and I’d buy the upcoming “Pro” account to get rid of the advertisements in the free version, because they’re visually distracting, as they are with most “freemium” versions of other, cloud-based applications).

That said, Enleiten has nailed the workflow and functionality (Projects/People/Contexts) in much the same way that Google nailed search vs. cluttering up the page with lots of ads, upsells and cross selling. They’ve hit the sweet spot of GTD and lightweight project management and coupled it with a group approach — one I’d term a “social GTD” application.

As more of us seek ways to coordinate and orchestrate our activities with an ever-widening number of other always-on, always-connected, and willingly participative people (many of whom have already embraced GTD), Enleiten has significant opportunity to become a preferred and social way to get things done.

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