Feeling a bit disorganized? Looking to take control of your projects? Take a look at Tracks, an open source Web-based application built with Ruby on Rails. Tracks can help you get organized and Get Things Done (GTD) in no time.
You can get Tracks in a couple of ways. Some distributions may offer Tracks packages, and the Tracks project has downloads you can use to set it up.
The easiest way to get Tracks, though, is the BitNami Tracks stack which includes all the dependencies and just takes a few minutes to download and set up. No need to try to set up a database, Ruby on Rails, or anything. (If you’re already using Ruby on Rails for something else, you might want to go for the project downloads, of course.)
I’m running the BitNami stack on one of my Linux systems on my home intranet. BitNami provides installers for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. They also provide pre-built VMs with Tracks pre-configured, so you could fire it up in VirtualBox or VMware if you prefer.
What Tracks Does
Tracks is good for single-user project management. It’s based around the GTD methodology, and helps users organize their to-do list using GTD.
You can use Tracks without employing GTD, but Tracks is an “opinionated” tool. That is, it’s structured around GTD, so it has some artifacts that might not fit into other methodologies quite as well.
Like any other to-do list or organizer, Tracks lets you set up actions. These have a description, notes, tags, due dates, and dependencies.
Dependencies are actions that have to be done before you can complete the current action. So, for instance, if you have a to-do item to deploy Tracks, it might be dependent on installing Ruby on Rails first.
Tracks also has contexts and projects. Projects are just what they sound like. For example, I use separate projects for each site that I write for (Linux.com, ReadWriteWeb, etc.), and also for home, hobbies, etc.
Contexts, on the other hand, are sort of nebulous but can be best defined as groups of actions that can be performed at the same time. You might have a “phone” context for all of the phone calls you need to make, regardless of whether you’re going to be making calls for work or personal reasons. So if you’re already making a few phone calls for one project, you might decide to just get all of your phone calls out of the way rather than switching context and being less effective.
Likewise, you might have a “system administration” context or “errands” context. If you’re already logged into a client’s server, you might want to take care of all the system administration tasks in one sitting rather than switching back and forth between phone calls and system administration. If you’re going to run an errand to buy a new backup drive for a desktop system, you might also go ahead and do grocery shopping while you’re out instead of making two trips.
There’s also a special tickler context that allows you to throw in action items that don’t really relate to other contexts. This is good for items that don’t have specific due dates, or might be “things I kind of want to do, but have no specific plans for yet.” I use the “tickler” context for article/post ideas that I don’t have scheduled or assigned anywhere, as well as for things I want to do someday but aren’t on the immediate horizon. Tickler items can eventually be put into other contexts as they become more important, or you might (yeah, right) finish all your other work and decide to tackle tickler items.
The Tracks Web-based interface is pretty straightforward. You have a Home page with each context and its action items. On the right-hand side you have a form for adding actions.
One thing you’ll like right away is that Tracks will auto-complete actions, contexts and so forth that you already have in the system. If you have a “writing” context, for example, you just have to type a few letters and it’ll offer to auto-complete it for you.
It also will create contexts and projects for you automatically the first time you use them, rather than requiring you to create them first and then use them.
Tracks is easy to get started with and use. It’s not entirely perfect, but it’s darn good if you want a single-user organization system. Give it a shot and see if it works for you!