BrainForest

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[edit] BrainForest

BrainForest is a hierarchical to-do list manager/outliner from Ultrasoft. Users can have as many trees (lists) as they like, which can contain as many branches and leaves as memory will allow. The only distinction between branches and leaves is that branches contain other items (branches and leaves), while a leaf is simply a branch that doesn't have any sub-items yet.

Trees can contain action items or simple bulleted/numbered items, or a mix of the two. To-dos can be either simple to-dos (done/not done) or project items that show what percent of the tasks is done. Branches/leaves within a tree can have priorities and notes attached to them, as well as start dates and due dates. You can collapse and expand branches to hide or show their sub-items.

Trees can be exported to text, HTML and Palm to-do lists, and imports to-do lists and text files. Starting from version 4, the desktop version of BrainForest also imports OPML outlines, thus providing a method of sharing with OmniOutliner users, for example.

Both the desktop and Palm applications are available as 30-day free trials.

[edit] GTD implementation

I use the standard Palm to-do lists with categories, linked to Microsoft Entourage, for my next-action lists.

My main set of BrainForest trees (Quicklist category) centers on the following three main lists

  • Projects List
  • Someday/Maybe
  • Waiting on...

Within the various project lists are projects, which in turn contain sub-projects, not-yet-next actions and so on.

I also have separate trees for travel packing lists, my Weekly Review checklist, library books I have borrowed, and various notes and ideas for research and other projects for the future. I also use BrainForest to keep track of completed projects and other achievements for longer-term reviews.

[edit] Advantages

BrainForest's strengths are its speed and simplicity. It takes literally no fiddling to be productive with this application. Adding items to lists or creating new trees is quick and easy. The lists can be arranged and re-ordered by tapping and dragging or using menu/shortcut commands, including sorting items within branches or whole trees.

The Mac OS X desktop application is scriptable using AppleScript, and almost all commands have keyboard shortcuts.

[edit] Improvements in version 4, and some remaining shortcomings

The application has been under active development by Ultrasoft, who took it over from the now-defunct Aportis Technologies. The release of version 4 in November eliminated a number of reservations about version 3.

  • The Palm application now takes advantage of hi-res screens and makes better use of colour. Lists now display background shading on every second item. On my Zire, the shading is an attractive pale blue that goes perfectly with the "Sky" color scheme.
  • Trees can have different fonts (although you can't style items within a tree differently).

There has also been some cleaning up of issues like keyboard shortcuts.

However there are a few things that will have to wait till a later version.

  • Trees can have categories assigned to them in the Palm application but these do not carry over to the desktop application. This would be quite useful when using the desktop application to manipulate multiple lists.
  • The lists can be manually exported to the to-do list, but this is a clunky way to integrate with the main Palm calendar.
  • There is no way to alias items from one part of the tree to another, or from one tree to another, which would be ideal for assigning next actions in a project list to context-action @ lists.

For more details about what's new in version 4, refer to Ultrasoft's own site.

[edit] A personal perspective

I had already been using BrainForest for years, long before I heard of GTD. With its help, I was able to integrate GTD principles quickly, especially as I was already using it as (what GTD would call) my primary system, including packing lists, project ideas and so on.

A lot of GTD users swear by Shadowplan, which certainly has more features in its Palm version, especially in terms of formatting. However the OS X desktop interface made me gag. BrainForest's desktop interface could be argued to be TOO minimalistic, but to my mind that makes it ideal for organising your life without needing much fiddling itself.

-elisha b

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