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MKeithley

productivity Using Evernote for GTD

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MKeithley    9

I use Evernote to implement GTD. The first thing you need to do is to set up 11 notebooks in Evernote which will be the basis for your trusted system. In Evernote create the following notebooks:

  • - Unprocessed – the default folder where unprocessed items will go (make sure to add the – )
  • Agendas – lists of things to discuss with individuals
  • Areas of Focus – lists of big picture items that are your “North Star” to guide you
  • Calls – list of the calls you need to make
  • Errands – list of next actions you need to do outside of your home or office
  • Home – list of next actions you have to physically do at home
  • Next Actions – list of the next action you need to do in order to drive your projects towards “done”
  • Projects – list of desired outcomes that require more than one action to complete
  • Reference – list of items that you want to keep for future reference
  • Someday/Maybe – list of ideas that you’d like to work on someday, but not committing to right now
  • Waiting For – list of items that you have delegated or are waiting for someone else to do
    something

Check out my blog GTD for CIOs at www.gtdforcios.com to see how I use Evernote to implement GTD.

How are you using Evernote for GTD?

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davidward    13

Yep, I had the same issues and now use tags instead of notebooks for GTD:

  • !!Today
  • !Next
  • Projects (Empty tag; active projects are nested)
  • @Errands
  • @Read/Review
  • @Someday/Maybe (includes inactive projects and a few special categories, i.e, book ideas)
  • @Waiting
  • Reference (empty; nested tags for anything not actionable)

One default notebook ("Inbox") and one Notebook ("My Notes") for everything once it has been processed.

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Gary O    2

I used your categories; however, I used them as tags, not notebooks. I have only two notebooks, one for Inbox and one for everything else. I empty the Inbox notebook every day, assigning tag(s) to each note. I desire to break away from the "paper-folder system" mentality that I've used. I've have not reach a satisfactory result with the "paper-folder" system.. i'm thinking tags will give much more powerful and flexible system that works better with my thinking, body and tasks. Using the suggested categories as notebooks seems like reverting to the physical "paper-folder" system. The tag approach is a better fit across my three platforms of iPhone, iPad and destop computers. I've had to do some special prefixing of the tags on the desktop so the tags will show up in logical order on my iPhone, allowing me quick access to any tag on my iPhone. The default notebook allows quick entry of any info/ideas during day on my iPhone. One two-hour stretch while feeding and working with the horses, I enter 10 tasks into my iPhone which shows up in my Inbox on my desktop. Then, I process the Inbox on my desktop as it is lot easier to read and enter information. I'm experimenting with tag words in "physical (moving, sitting)" and "energy (hi, low)" as my body requires periodic movement at 68 yrs to function pain free.. The tags allow me to quickly change to another task. I somewhat follow and used ideas from David Ward, Ruud Hein, Bobby Travis, and Daniel Gold articles/entries.

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I use notebooks in a completely different way for GTD. I have notebook stacks for the organizing categories describe best in Making it All Work: inbox, incubating, outcomes, reference, and support. Not everything about GTD is actions. Filing and organization is part of it. So notes move through the process, from inbox, to support, and eventually to reference, where they stay. My tags include tags for areas of focus: family, work, finances, etc. I keep the Action lists elsewhere (Appigo's ToDo app, to be precise) because I find it more convenient than evernote for concentrating on actions alone. But all support material goes into evernote, and the actions get a Note Link. I use the same "area of focus" tags in the ToDo app.

So in ToDo, I can restrict my search to Context:@Computer, AoF:Work" and be completely focused on work I can do at the computer. In Evernote, I restrict to "stack:_support tag:_work", and I have all the support materials at hand.

The distinction between support and reference is VERY important to this way of working.

I have to say, I'm completely with GrumpyMonkey on reducing the number of notebooks.

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MKeithley    9

Fascinating feedback from everyone. I suppose each of us needs to use trial and error to see what works best for how we work and implement GTD. I initially started out using tags and got carried away with them to the point where they were distracting me. It took too long for me to figure out which tag or tags to assign to a note. This is similar to having an elaborate system of folders in email and filing them in the appropriate folder. I abandoned both systems to create a less is more approach.

For email I only have one folder called "Archive." My inbox represents unprocessed emails and then as I process them I 1) delete them, 2) use the 2-minute rule, 3) send them to Evernote. Then if I think I may want the original email for some reason like CYA or to reply to the original or whatever I put it in my Archive folder. Then I use the email program's search capability to find things. All ACTIONABLE items are sitting in my "- Unprocessed" folder in Evernote waiting to be processed.

I used to try to assign tags at that time and it really bogged me down. Similarly to capturing ideas or "stuff" on the go. Now I just click on FastEver type the stuff in and click on save and it end up in my "- Unprocessed" notebook. No tagging, no thinking, just the minimal effort to capture the "stuff" into my trusted system.

I do have a few tags that I use for special situations but have really tried to minimize their use.

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jmayson    8

My GTD implementation has been a moving target. Here are three blog posts I wrote on the topic. If I have some downtime at the end of the year I'm going to revisit this. What happened is I came up with the system and have had to tweak it here and there to make it work for me.

http://blog.johnmayson.com/2011/09/setting-up-evernote-as-your-gtd.html

http://blog.johnmayson.com/2011/09/paper-and-evernote.html

http://blog.johnmayson.com/2011/09/its-all-been-tagged.html

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jmayson    8

Fascinating feedback from everyone. I suppose each of us needs to use trial and error to see what works best for how we work and implement GTD. I initially started out using tags and got carried away with them to the point where they were distracting me. It took too long for me to figure out which tag or tags to assign to a note. This is similar to having an elaborate system of folders in email and filing them in the appropriate folder. I abandoned both systems to create a less is more approach.

Everyone is different and I do stray somewhat from the David Allen ideal. What happened to me when I first adopted this was I got carried with the system and wasn't getting anything done because I was too focused on doing everything the David Allen way. I finally had to bend and following his ideas without getting too bogged down if I was doing it right or wrong.

I do have a few tags that I use for special situations but have really tried to minimize their use.

Another mistake I made with Evernote was going tag happy. Today only about 1/3 of my notes even have tags. I only use them when I need to group a concept that isn't easily grouped with a search.

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sjrixon    5

I started with tags and found the same thing.. The search is so powerful that you don't need it!

A couple of key tags. I have one called 'weekly' for my weekly meetings.. It allows me to quick see them all together and make sure they are all up to date.

I also use an external todo manager.. Toodledo.. It's much better for controlling the lists.. I do love the check boxes in Evernote, but I normally use them to manage other people :)

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Everyone, keep in mind that GTD is a great system, but like all systems, in order for it to work best for each person you should customize it to meet your needs. If you like using notebooks, go for it; if you're more of a tagger, try that method instead. Don't feel like you need to use every category in GTD if they don't make sense for you or for how you work. I've been working in the productivity and organizing realm for a long time, and I have yet to find an "off the shelf" system that works for everyone out of the box.

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Tracey Smith    80

Can anyone give me an explanation how to set up and apply tags to my notes and notebooks. I looked it up in the help section and the help on it is NO HELP...just confusing. Sounds like a great idea and I've already got quite a bit of stuff in my EN account I'd like to organize but just not sure how to set up and apply the tags.

Sorry...thanks for helping a newbie!

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Tracey Smith    80

Ok I figured out the tags thing but have a new question I need help with now.

I want to set up the "inbox" notebook that everything intially drops into like someone on here suggested...made the notebook but don't know how to set up everything to go there.

I agree with the other posters about reducing the number of notebooks so would like to do that as much as possible...starting with an inbox for all new notes and emails to drop into until I have processed them...can anyone tell me how to do this?

Thanks! I'm still a newbie and LOVING this tool...just trying to figure out how to best utilize it.

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davidward    13

Tracey,

When you set up a new notebook, there is an option (check box) to make it your "default" notebook.

Ok I figured out the tags thing but have a new question I need help with now.

I want to set up the "inbox" notebook that everything intially drops into like someone on here suggested...made the notebook but don't know how to set up everything to go there.

I agree with the other posters about reducing the number of notebooks so would like to do that as much as possible...starting with an inbox for all new notes and emails to drop into until I have processed them...can anyone tell me how to do this?

Thanks! I'm still a newbie and LOVING this tool...just trying to figure out how to best utilize it.

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Tracey,

When helping clients with Evernote, I generally have them rename the default notebook to "-Inbox" - that way it always appears at the top of the list. Seems to help most folks that I work with keep track of where their new stuff goes.

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braintoniq    11

Mkeithley, at my company, we've been using the GTD/Evernote comination for the past 8 months. We teach it to our staff, too. We're so into it, we decided to put it down on paper and videos so others use it. We just launched it today, it's www.TheSecretWeapon.org

A lot of help videos, which might be helpful to those new to the GTD/Evernote combo.

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danielegold    26

Hi Everyone - I 'm sorry I'm late to adding in my feedback to this post! I very much agree with David, jmayson & Joshua. GTD is amazingly personal. Of all the marvelous feedback from my readers of my book on Evernote + GTD, the one thing that stays fairly consistent is that everyone's workflow is different. Everyone's idea as to how to setup Evernote + GTD together is unique ... and that's the beauty of Evernote. I've helped folks create anything from a skeleton to a complete mimic of my system based off of what I've done in my book. And that again is the beauty of Evernote.

I liken Evernote to a blank canvas for a painter. Each of us has the same colors in our palette, but our work product will be slightly different. In fact, the funny thing about the GTD book, as I've noted many times before, is that he just tells us to use a "trusted system" and then leaves it to all of us to figure out how to apply the principles and philosophies in our own way. That is the biggest reason why we have a completely over-saturated and over-monetized GTD app space.

If I can offer up any wisdom at all is this: do what feels right to you. Do what you believe is right. Because one man's trash is another man's treasure trove. Remember, the ultimate goal here everyone is the "doing" and not the "tinkering" or "hacking" of systems. Pick up some ideas from these forums, make some changes, and be productive!

Cheers!

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bjorke    0
...for it to work best for each person you should customize it to meet your needs.
That.

I've found, for myself, that I need to have dates attached to tasks or they just slip off the radar - especially given that, like many people, I'm not the only one writing items into my task lists! I have both personal lists and calendars and corporate ones crossing departments - some behind firewalls. Merely marking things "today" can be a real chore when definitions of urgency and importance are constantly in flux - maintenance effort grows unduly. Instead I use Google-Calendar tasks for task items (easily dragged-around between calendar dates without having to do any typing) and have been migrating "support" notes into Evernote based on specific projects (or project domains). Google's web interface won't hot-link Evernote URLs, but the mobile clients link them just fine. I used to keep those notes in, of all places, a mix of moleskines and my gmail contacts list... this is a bit cleaner.

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danielegold    26
...for it to work best for each person you should customize it to meet your needs.
That.

I've found, for myself, that I need to have dates attached to tasks or they just slip off the radar - especially given that, like many people, I'm not the only one writing items into my task lists! I have both personal lists and calendars and corporate ones crossing departments - some behind firewalls. Merely marking things "today" can be a real chore when definitions of urgency and importance are constantly in flux - maintenance effort grows unduly. Instead I use Google-Calendar tasks for task items (easily dragged-around between calendar dates without having to do any typing) and have been migrating "support" notes into Evernote based on specific projects (or project domains). Google's web interface won't hot-link Evernote URLs, but the mobile clients link them just fine. I used to keep those notes in, of all places, a mix of moleskines and my gmail contacts list... this is a bit cleaner.

I completely agree with you. The calendar is for appointments with actions with specific due dates and times. Everything else goes in Evernote. That said, I like the idea of creating some other referenceable tags such as "This Week", "Next Week", "This Month". There's definitely maintenace here, but I can see that being possibly easier than having so much in a Today tag. The other school of thought of course is that one would only put in their Today tag 3 to 5 next actions that must absolutely get done during the day. This is a great post, let's keep the ideas coming! Cheers!

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MKeithley    9

I concur that each person's workflow is unique and there is no "one size fits all" version of using Evernote for GTD. In my opinion that is what makes Evernote the perfect solution for implementing GTD. It allows each of us to implement GTDin the way that best suits our lifestyle. It is a blank page that allows us to configure it to fit how we work and live. The best part of it is no mater what device we use we can access Evernote and it is always available to us. This is especially important to the capture phase. Is your tool is not immediately available to you in a frictionless way it will not work long term. That is why I think so many people revert to analog paper-based systems. with Evernote, it is always available to users an I believe this is the big differentiator verses other digital systems.

Please check out my posts for how I implement GTD on Evernote www.gtdforcos.com

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Bojan011    26

I stopped using Evernote for GTD, because I find OmniFocus way more powerfull task manager. Only problem of OmniFocus is that it is platform dependent, so it doesn't make it the best system for everyone.

I found that tags are bringing a lot to the table, way more than contexts in GTD apps, simply, because you can tag freely and you can put several tags on single action task at once.

The lacking part of it, is that you have "checkboxes" that you need to create manually, which can be a drag, and that actually let me to not using the checkboxes at all. Instead every single note, represented a task. I found it to tedious to use checklists, especially, since it was a drag looking for a keyboard shortcut, and no ability to add checkboxes on mobile. Or completely lacking the ability to add checkboxes on mobile.

There are many strenghts of Evernote for GTD, and I miss a bunch of them. I still love global shortcut for "search". And Evernote's search is one of it's highest strengths.

If you stick to Evernote as your main GTD platform, you won't make mistake. I am quite certain it's not the top notch platform for it, but it does a good job at it!

---------------

Update: Daniel Gold's ebook on Evernote GTD is valuable resource in helping you implement GTD strategies inside Evernote, I wrote a review about it, and encourage you to check it out.

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Everyone, keep in mind that GTD is a great system, but like all systems, in order for it to work best for each person you should customize it to meet your needs. If you like using notebooks, go for it; if you're more of a tagger, try that method instead. Don't feel like you need to use every category in GTD if they don't make sense for you or for how you work. I've been working in the productivity and organizing realm for a long time, and I have yet to find an "off the shelf" system that works for everyone out of the box.

To clarify - GTD is an approach to productivity and not in itself a system. A GTD system refers to a specific implementation that might include tools like Evernote - though it could also include pen and paper. This is a subtle, but important distinction.

I completely agree that there's no "off the shelf" system that works for everyone. In my case, my GTD system consists of OmniFocus for keeping track of tasks and projects and Evernote and folders synced through Dropbox are used for project support information. My system also includes a filing cabinet with actual folders and paper…though most of the paper that comes into my life ends up getting scanned and stored in either Evernote or Dropbox.

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funkiestj    3

I'm new to GTD but I've been using tags to implement my lists.

What I would find helpful is if I could build on top of tags.

My inbox in EN is "any untagged note". When I complete a task I clear the various GTD tags (@context, area, !next or ~waiting) and tag it #done (any tag will do -- just so it doesn't show up in my untagged inbox.

If I move a task from !next to ~waiting, I usually clear the @context tag too so when I look at @pc I don't see waiting tasks. This is tedious ...

alternatively I could use queries but that is also tedious. Currently I view lists simply by looking at a single tag.

Also, while I love evernote, I also wish it had a bit of an note edit audit trail so I could look back and reconstruct a timeline of events associated with a note by looking at its audit trail. I am clearly getting by without this now but it would be nice to have. Currently I occassionally insert dates into notes next to sentences or paragraphs to account for the lack of timestamped edit audit trail.

All in all, EN is pretty cool. It would be great if siri (or something else) could provide quicker access to note creation and capture methods (photo or audio notes).

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anjoschu    67

Evernote is about my third candidate to find a "trusted system" for implementing GTD (after Outlook and OmniFocus -- GTD with OmniFocus was a complete failure because I need information and tasks in the same system, OF manages actions well, but not the information that belongs to or is needed to carry out the actions).

To me, it's natural to first of all dump all information into Evernote (inbox). Actions may be a byproduct of this information. That's why I track actions with the very same "information" notes most of the time. I don't branch out separate "action/project" notes, unless several very different and/or complex actionables stem from the same original note (this may be the case with the minutes of a big meeting, for example).

I try to do as little formal GTD as possible, only as much as needed. As a consequence, I don't always use tags other than context.

I use very few notebooks and do everything with tags (I'm even in the "all notebooks" view most of the time).

I don't spread GTD-"projects" out into individual "action" notes. About 95% of the time, it's not worth the trouble. I use the contents of a note to keep track of the next action(s), what/who I might be waiting for, and the action history with dates (very useful).

Notebooks:

_Inbox (default)

Work

Personal

Tag hierarchy:

Context:

@@MIT (1-2 most important task(s) for the day)

@Desk

@[boss's name]

@Home

@Read

@WaitingForSomeone (Work)

@WaitingForSomeone (Personal)

_Someday/Maybe

ScheduledInCalendar (when I have sth scheduled and cannot do sth about it right now, I replace the @context tag with this one)

Done (when sth is done, I replace the @context tag with this one)

IsAProject (just as a quick way to find the more complex multi-action notes)

Tickler:

01-January

...

12-December

Kind of communication/Information:

Received

Sent

Receipt

[spouse's name] (things I'm doing/archiving in behalf of my spouse)

Reference (used for stuff I copied from somewhere else)

Self (stuff I made up myself)

Categorization:

… some subject matter tags like financial, hobby, etc.

Structure within notes (fictitious example):

Note Title: Find Bla tool solution --> schedule requirements/demo session [this is the next action which I copy from the note body]

Note Tags: @Desk, @@MIT

Note Contents:

- schedule requirements/demo session

- Elicit requirements (moscow)

- Compare tool candidates with requirements --> shortlist

- make cost/tradeoff chart for shortlist

- confront req src with shortlist (demo)

- let boss choose with req favorite (& shortlist, cost/tradeoff chart)

… pilot?

… implementation & documentation (schedule?)

---------------------Done 11-12

- Get >=2 requirements sources from [xx]

--> John Doe, Jane Doe (on holiday from 20-12-2011

---------------------Done 9-12-2011

- Longlist tool candidates with technical stakeholders (constraints).

--------------------------------------

[initial note/idea/description/mail/blurb, fleshed out with information from a little initial analysis or research. Pursued physical outcome of the whole thing stands here.

As actionables can come out anywhere, this is mostly the "original" note. When I have actionables in regular (new) notes, I mark them with exclamation marks as first character in the line, and tag them with appropriate contexts later, when I clean up my inbox.]

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MKeithley    9

I agree using Siri to add to Evernote would be awesome. I have tried the work around hacks but they are not effective enough. I know Apple has not added a API for developers to tap into yet but the thought of using Siri to add notes to my GTD Trusted System seems like the perfect solution.

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