How to Get Things Done in Linux with Zanshin

Many, many “productivityists” are followers of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. Commonly called “GTD,” it aims to teach its users a process by which they can trust a set of tools to handle the “remembering” and “organizing” of their everyday work, leaving their brain free to focus on the things that really matter. The methodology itself doesn’t rely on a specific tool or application, but that hasn’t stopped fans from trying to develop the perfect one. Let’s take a look at one, Zanshin, which is part of the KDE Software Collection.

Installing and Configuring

First, Zanshin will need a calendar resource to hold Actions (to-do’s) you capture with it. If you already have a calendar resource that holds tasks (which can either be a locally-stored iCal file, a groupware account, or – yes, finally as of the latest Kubuntu release – Google Tasks), you’ll be able to use that, but if not, let’s create one now:

Right-click on the AkonadiTray icon (if you can’t find it, try the arrow to expand the system tray, or run “akonaditray” if it’s not running), and select “Configure.”



On the “Akonadi Resources Configuration” screen, click the “Add” button.


In this case, I want to use a local iCal file to hold my data. A local file will be a text file with the “.ics” extension.


The next dialog will ask you to point to the name of the file (it will create this file if it doesn’t exist), and give it a name to display within Akonadi. Other resources, such as the aforementioned Google Tasks, will ask for things like your username and password.


Click OK, and you’re ready to install Zanshin. For Ubuntu users, installation is as simple as selecting the application from Muon, or executing the following at a prompt:

sudo apt-get install zanshin

Now you can launch Zanshin by selecting *”Applications -> Utilities -> TODO Management Application” from the “K” menu, or entering “zanshin” in KRunner.


On first launch, Zanshin will ask which Akonadi resource to use to store its Actions, presenting a list of calendar resources. Select the one you created earlier, if that’s the one you want.


The main screen for Zanshin is mercifully austere. There’s just three main buttons:

  • Project View: In GTD-speak, a “project” is anything that takes more than one step to do. You can store all these steps as actions within a Project.
  • Context View: GTD also separates to-do’s by “Context,” or “where you are and/or what you have available.” These typically start with an “@” symbol, e.g. for any to-do’s you need to be at your workplace to complete, you can place in the “@Work” Context.
  • New Action: This button creates to-do’s.

While going too deeply into the entire GTD system is beyond the scope of this article, it can be summarized by it’s focus on:

  1. capturing any and all ideas, information, or tasks on the spot in an “inbox” of some sort,
  2. processing the inbox(es) regularly, until they are empty, either completing quick tasks or re-directing them in some way (such as placing them on a Project and/or Context List), and
  3. reviewing these lists regularly.


So the first item of business is to get an inbox in place. Surprise! Zanshin has one for you already, called “Inbox.”


As you diligently capture all your ideas, tasks, etc…, your Inbox will begin to fill up. You’ll want to start organizing them. Let’s start by assigning all of the new items to a Context. First, click on the “Context View”:


All of the new items will be under “No Context.” ¬†For each item in the list, drag it to the appropriate item under the “Contexts” list to the left (you can create new ones using the “File > New Context” menu item) that apply to it.


Now, when you switch back to the “Project View,” all of the items in the Inbox will have Contexts. You should create at least one new Project (“File -> New Project” in this view) to hold everything you’ve looked at already (again, nothing should remain in your inbox once you’ve processed it). You can then drag the items into the appropriate project as you did with Contexts.


Lastly, you can assign tasks a deadline by clicking in the “Due Date” column in either view. Now, by switching between the Project and Context views, you can use Zanshin to help manage your to-do’s in two important, GTD-like ways:

  • Context View: GTD states that contexts can help you decide what to do when you have some time, depending where you are and what you have around you. For example, if you’re stuck waiting for a train, you could take a look at an “@phone” context, and send out some e-mail responses or make some follow-up calls.
  • Project View: GTD is very focused on the “next action,” or what’s the very next thing that needs to happen in order to make a project succeed. If you assign tasks to Projects and assign them due dates, you should be able to easily browse through your projects for the task with the closest upcoming deadline and check in on it.

While there are certainly more in-depth and automated solutions available, Zanshin is very nice GTD-focused to-do manager for the KDE desktop. Try it as a component of Kontact too!

Aaron Peters

Aaron is an interactive business analyst, information architect, and project manager who has been using Linux since the days of Caldera. A KDE and Android fanboy, he'll sit down and install anything at any time, just to see if he can make it work. He has a special interest in integration of Linux desktops with other systems, such as Android, small business applications and webapps, and even paper.

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