Getting Things Done + Evernote
I love Evernote enough to pay fifty bucks to keep it year after year, but I never really felt like I was using it to its full potential until I picked up and read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a great little read that you can blaze through in a few days, and is well worth the time you spend on it. Briefly summarized - Allen’s central thesis is that it’s absolutely crucial to get your workflow out of your head and into a system you refer to consistently.
When the system you use to keep track of everything is Evernote - well, my friends, you’ve stumbled very close into a condition I call “Weapons Grade Productivity”.
GTD stresses the importance of having a concrete “Next Action” for every thing that comes onto your plate. Since Evernote makes it easy to sort all of your notes into overarching themes (I think they call them “Notebooks”), I have a notebook dedicated just to what I need to do next. I call this my “Actions” notebook. One note = one action. The title is what you need to do; the body of the note is reference material or subordinate questions to the title. The title can change as the situation evolves; I generally just add notes on top of notes as the situation evolves. Can’t think of a title? Then it’s not worth recording. If you can’t put a name to the next concrete thing you gotta do, then you don’t gotta do nothin’!
The Actions folder gets even radder when you start applying tagging to it. That makes it extra easy to see what’s going on, what’s been taken care of, and what you’ve got coming up. I have two sets of tags I use in my actions folder: “Scheduled” and “WFR”. “Scheduled” is just what it sounds like - an action I haven’t taken yet that I have set to go off at a prearranged time. “WFR” is short for “Waiting For Response” - these are emails I’ve sent or calls I’ve made that I’m waiting to hear back on. If something is in my “Actions” folder and hasn’t had either of these tags applied to it yet, my immediate task is to get it into one of those two categories, either by setting a time to do it, or by getting in touch with the people I need to talk to. (GTD has a few great means for figuring out how to decide what falls into what category here.)
Evernote has a sweet reminder function built into it. You can easily click a little button to set a time to check up on certain actions. I use it to tell me when a calendar appointment for an action is coming up, or when I need to give an action that I’m waiting for a response another little prod to set it in motion.
I’d love to write out a little script that would set an appointment in my Outlook calendar whenever I set an Evernote reminder. That’s probably the weakest link I see in the system - that I’ll get sick of dual-ledger timetabling and stop Outlook calendaring.
Other than that, though, I’m pretty happy with the system as a whole. It’s gotten me through some sticky situations to date.
Any hints on what I could be doing better? Got a workflow that beats the pants off of this one? Drop me a line on Twitter.