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(Archived) GTD in Evernote (Redux) / A Sane Use-case

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Evernote is a great piece of software, but it was never intended to be a Getting Things Done solution. I believe, despite its apparent identity crisis among the productivity community, that Evernote has an important place in any digital GTD system. The caveat here is that Evernotes ideal place happens to be frustratingly specific, so much so that many seem uncertain of what, exactly, that place is. Naturally, no implementation will be perfect, and every implementation will be personalized to some degree, but the vast majority of setups I see online seem- to me- to be missing the mark (making GTD in Evernote more trouble than it's worth). To illustrate this point, a (brief) review of the core concepts of GTD is necessary:

The essentials of a GTD system (as I understand them) are primarily lists of items- actionable, non-actionable, and projects. Evernote excels not at being hacked into a to do list manager or calendar, but at supplementing these existing resources by acting a repository of information that cannot be contained within a single line of text. To make this concept a bit more concrete, say I have a project in my industrial/organizational psychology class. According to GTD as I understand it, the project is recorded in a project list and broken down into a list of simple actions. Next actions are identified, assigned contexts, and due dates (if applicable) are recorded in a calendar or tickler file.

When you're in search of the perfect system, it's sometimes difficult to avoid over-complicating the process to cover all your bases. Existing Evernote tutorials seem to fall into this trap by including features such as: context tags, time/energy tags, tickler tags, etc.. While it's not my intention to criticize a system that's currently working for you (and if it's REALLY working, you probably aren't reading this), the aforementioned "features" inhibit productivity by unnecessarily burdening the user with tagging items in ways which serve no functional purpose. For example:

  • Context tags are extremely useful when examining a list of actionable items; typically though, these items don't have enough related support material to  justify their own notes, each tagged with their own contexts. Contexts are related to physically completing next actions, so unless your only context is @computer, adding them to Evernote instead of a to do list is probably overkill.

  • Tickler tags would be great if calendars didn't exist. Because a tickler file is essentially a complex due-date system, both calendars and to do lists (with due-date functionality) can cover this area, so long as the relevant content is stored properly. Besides, first-hand experience has taught me that managing a tickler tag system in Evernote is a major PITA.

So where does Evernote really shine? Project lists and support/reference material! Evernote specializes not only in organizing support materials, but in organizing and displaying the relationships between various support materials. This automatic contextualization of information in terms of relevance (and by proxy, relative importance) is essential to enhancing goal setting, project management, and task prioritization processes. That said, here is my proposal for a simple single-notebook GTD tag hierarchy (note that in my implementation tags containing subtags do not have any notes assigned to them; ymmv).

  • Tags
    • Next Actions Tag
      • Active:
        • Contains support materials for active tasks and projects. For example, a blog post-in-progress for my mass communication class is tagged as Active (and will be until it is posted).


  • Contains support materials which may be useful in the near-future. For example, study guides for exams are tagged as Deferred (and will be until the week of the exam, which is recorded on my calendar).

  • Contains items assigned to others (optionally subtagged by person) and support information relevant to these items. For example, notes about various wedding services are tagged as Deferred (and my girlfriend's name).

  • Projects Tag:
    • Includes subtags for each active project (at your discretion). All material related to active projects is tagged under its respective project subtag. For example, my I/O psych project, "PSYC 327: Group Project" is a subtag of Projects.

  • Reference Tag:
    • Includes reference-related subtags determined by the user. Most of my tags are here or will wind up here. For example, I have "How To", "Scripts", and "Thoughts" tags under Reference.

  • Someday/Maybe:
    • Includes someday/maybe-related subtags determines by the user.

  • Saved Searches
    • I use saved searches to display particular groups or combinations of tags, mainly to sidestep the need for complex systems of numbers and symbols. For example, I use a saved search to display all my bank statements, avoiding the need for a catch-all "Bank Statements" tag.

tl;dr: GTD is more simple than people are making it. Needless complexity is ruining a usable GTD system and here's a way to fix it.

Comments welcome.

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Hi 'coolhat' ;)

There is already a discussion on GTD within Evernote (viewtopic.php?f=30&t=19128)

I'm quite sure that your "tag" method or other "project based" ones will fit most users needs.

However, a real time due implementation is for me the key to a usuable GTD system in day life.

Such implementation does not exist in EN or other ZohoNotes; this makes the difference between these "notes tool" and GTD applications like Things, RTM or equivalent.

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