Time management made really easy #GTD + #Evernote

Time management made really easy #GTD + #Evernote

by on 27/02/2013

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I have tried many of the time management systems out there over the years. I gave up on all of them, usually because I was finding it took me too long to learn them and to maintain them.

What I want a time management system to do easily is:

  • Maintain a list of all my tasks, and would-be tasks
  • Prioritise them without having to score them, rewrite them, etc
  • Maintain a list of all my projects, and where I am with them
  • Start off my day knowing exactly where I am with my appointments, tasks, and projects
  • Know at a glance what I have to do now, and next.
  • Not miss anything or forget anything

The system I am about to tell you about, which I call Timology, allows me to do all this – and easily.

I use a simple combination of the Getting Things Done method of David Allen together with Evernote. You can do it for free, though the paid version of Evernote gives you a little more functionality.

GTD+EN

Since I started using this method – I’ll call it “GTD+EN” for short – I have never looked back. I have found it effective in practice and exceedingly easy to implement. (Being a user of both GTD and Evernote for years helps.)

Getting Things Done…
David Allen’s time management principles are admirable; but his book cannot be considered a simple, instructional guide. It is rather complex. Or at least convoluted. This is not surprising as he is trying to help everyone from the one man band right up to the high-flying executive types who he consults with.

He leaves it so open as to the tools you might use that you can end up not being sure where to start.

That was me, anyway.

…Plus Evernote
Then, years later, I found Daniel Gold’s book on applying GTD by using Evernote. Many of you will have heard of it.

Well, this approach was clearer, but I still found myself reading and re-reading to try to get to the essence of how he organised his tasks and his projects. Again, a little complex; indeed, it was designed for his lawyer practice which was overkill for me, and maybe for you. I still didn’t get it.

Then I saw the light – what made GTD+EN fall into place for me was The Secret Weapon by braintoniq. This described a simple system, combining GTD and Evernote, which is suitable for the small business person.

It has its deficiencies; you do need to be familiar with GTD, and the video series is a bit light on dealing with projects and filing. (And you can probably miss out the video on getting Outlook Exchange to work for you in IMAP mode….)

But the coverage on setting up and prioritising your tasks really fell exactly into place for me.

GTD

In case you are not familiar with or clear about GTD, here are a few fundamentals.

The basic idea with Getting Things Done is that you get all of your tasks, or to-dos, out of your head, intray and inbox, and written down in a trusted system. So you clear all your clutter, maintaining a:

  • clear desk
  • empty intray
  • empty email inbox, and a
  • minimalist diary (only put in what you have to) …
  • …and have all your tasks and projects at your fingertips.

Secondly, with GTD, you only write down specific actions on your task list (which is in Evernote).

So, rather than: “buy a new computer”, which involves several steps, you would just write the first action down, perhaps: “decide on the specification I want for a new computer”.

In this case, “buy a new computer” itself is written down on a separate: “Active projects” list so you don’t lose track of it. Of course, this is a small project: but it still has to be tracked along with the other small projects – and large projects – you may have. Maintaining a list of them which you can review regularly is essential if you are to keep track.

Evernote

Evernote allows you to add notes into “notebooks”, and tag your notes. A note can only be in one notebook. A note can have as many tags as you like. (Fewer is better – you don’t need many tags because Evernote’s search facility is so good.)

My GTD-EN System

Here are the key points of my own GTD + EN system, which takes the bits which are the best for me from Daniel Gold, David Allen, braintoniq, and the other systems I mention in the post and then I add my own slant.

Notebooks

I use three Evernote notebooks – To-do, Filing, and Completed.

Tags

To manage your tasks in GTD+EN you need fewer than 20 tags +1 for each active project you have going on.

Aside from that, I have only around 50 tags – e.g. I have a parent tag Travel with child tags currently being Lake District, Peru, Turkey, Travel ideas and Weekends away. Then I have a parent tag Dining, with child tags Brighton dining, London dining, and Sussex dining.

For these topics I find those tags useful: but, whenever I can, I try to get by without tagging notes, even if that means adding an extra word or two, or an appropriate acronym or synonym when I create a note.

Tasks

The whole point of GTD+EN is to manage your tasks, or To-dos, efficiently. I create one note for each task.

Projects are a combination of tasks. GTD+EN shares David Allen’s definition of a project as being anything with more than one task. You shouldn’t take this to ridiculous extremes, but it does mean that something like: the “buy a new laptop” item I mentioned earlier will go on your project list and not your task list if it actually consists of;

  • determine my laptop budget
  • research laptops online
  • select laptop run it past IT adviser
  • buy laptop

So: “buy a new laptop”, will go on your project list, and: “determine my laptop budget”, and, if you choose: “research laptops online”, will have notes created for them and will become tasks.

GTD+EN Tags

I checked out the tagging systems used by all the sources I give in this post, and I found braintoniq’s to be the best. These are the When tag, What tag, Where tag and Who tag.

Depositphotos_2039184_XL-w250-h250Briefly:

The When tag

Every task definitely needs one tag – the tag indicating the priority of the task. For convenience this is called the When tag. To repeat, this is the only tag which every task MUST have.

The What tag

Every task must also have a second tag IF it relates to a project. This is called the What tag and consists of your name for the project.

The Where tag and the Who tag

The Where tag is used IF it’s helpful for you to identify the location where a task can be done, or must be done. For example, if you want to be able to view all the tasks that you can do at home then you will have a tag Home or, following the GTD convention, @Home.

The Who tag will be one for each of a number – usually a small number – of significant people in your world where, if having a meeting, on a phone call, or chatting to them it would be useful for you to click on that tag and see all tasks tagged with their name.

When, What, Where, Who in more detail

The When Tag

Remember, that each task in Evernote must have one, and only one, When tag. The when tags I like are:

  • Today
  • Tomorrow
  • This-Week
  • This-Month
  • Later
  • Possibly

The Today tag is where you will spend most of your time. It works well for me with 6-8 tasks. As they get depleted add one or two from Tomorrow.

Tomorrow may contain 10-12 items. This-Week Soon, maybe 20, and so on. You just have to tweak it to your own purposes. Have you got fewer than 50 tasks? Then you are lucky LOL – you won’t need “Later”: use what you need and what suits you.

I like the tag “Possibly” for ideas you are not quite ready to discard yet, or items which are just very low on your current list of priorities.

I am sure it won’t have escaped your notice that, as every single task is written down, and every one also has one of these five “When” tags, you only have to glance at the tasks tagged “Today”, to get an immediate handle on your current commitments.

You will also probably have guessed that altering the priority of one of your tasks is as simple as changing a “Tomorrow”, or “This-Week” tag for a “Today” tag. Very quick, very easy.

And if a new, urgent task comes in which tag does it get? I’ll leave that one with you 😉  ‘Nuff said – I hope you agree this is simple and elegant.

So that is how you deal with “urgency”, or “priority” in GTD-EN.

When, What and Who – The other three main tags

The What tag

What tags are named after your projects. If it helps you, give the main What tag two children: Active Projects and Inactive Projects to help you track what you are working on currently. Optionally, you can also have Completed Projects. The sub What tags  within Active Projects will be tags named after each project of yours which is currently active.

Every task relating to a project has that project’s tag. If it relates to two projects then I’ll tag it with both of them.

Any support material for a project which you have filed – I would file it in my Filing notebook – will also have the project’s tag.

Tagging in this way, you can go to Evernote and immediately see the data you want relating to any single project. Click on the relevant notebook, click on the relevant tag (eg the project tag) or multiple tags (by holding Ctrl as you click) to display either:

  • All tasks relating to a specific project, or
  • All project support material relating to a specific project, or
  • Everything in Evernote relating to a specific project.

This is brilliant!

The Where tag

The Where tags are all about “context”: where you are, or need to be – at home, at work, in the car, in town, etc – when you do a task.

For many people this tag would be vital. The fact that I hardly use Where tags just shows how flexible this system is.

The reasons I don’t need Where tags is that for me, the @Home, @Work, and @Errands – the most commonly used Where tags – roll into one. That is because I work from home, and 50-100 yards from me are all the shops that I need.

But if you have to travel a mile to get to any shops, then you might want to use the @Errands tag.

So use the Where tags to suit yourself. Other Where tags people use include @Computer, @Phone and @Car (think “listening to podcasts”, or “making calls from carphone”).

One recommendation, though: use as few tags as you can comfortably get away with. I am really pleased that I am saved the trouble – at least currently – of having to tag every task with a Where tag. But if it does help your work flow, use it.

The Who tag

This tag is to make sure you miss nothing when you are meeting with someone, or talking to someone on the phone. For example, I have a tag for the Operations Manager of my herbal business – @Shelley – so that when we have a meeting I can pull up all the notes – tasks or filed items – I want to bring up. Similarly, I have a business coach and when we are on Skype talking together I want to be able to pull up all the things I wanted to talk to him about. So I have the tag @Coach.

Then I have the tag @Karl, my IT guy, and I save tasks to talk to him about when he comes in for his regular visits. And so on.

Another appropriate use for a Who tag is regular meeting you might hold or attend – for example: @Team meeting. Label random ideas for agenda items with this tag, or tasks you need to do yourself before the next meeting.

So, think about the Who tags which would be useful for you, with the usual warning that “fewer is better, other things being equal”.

How tags work :)

Click to see how tags work

Waiting For

The final tag to mention is the Pending tag, which is added to any task which you have delegated or where you have an outstanding commitment to you. For example, you have ordered something and you await delivery. This helps you keep a check on people.

You check this tags contents once every day or two, or as often as makes you comfortable.

My GTD+EN Morning Routine

My own morning routine is now:

  • Check diary and see what I have in it for today/tomorrow.
  • Check email inbox and desk intray and get both down to zero: create to-dos, filed items, delegate, discard, reply as necessary. (Only reply if less than 5 minutes, or if you have time, else create a to-do.)
  • Check my Today and Tomorrow tags and maybe shuffle things around.
  • Check Pending and chase anything I need to.
  • Choose a Now task and get working.

GTD+EN-250

Once a week I check through all my tasks and tweak them, delete them, or move change their tags. I also make any changes of project between active and inactive. I check that every active project has at least one to-do task.

That’s it!

I hope that gives you a flavour of how conveniently Evernote can be combined with GTD. It has been a revelation for me.

I hope that it will entice some of you to consider GTD+EN. Or perhaps some of you, like me, have not found it easy to combine GTD and EN and this has given you fresh hope: I hope so.

Resources

If you want to develop your own system for combining GTD and EN I suggest you research all the following, as they all have something to offer, if you like doing research.

The best known independent author on the topic of Evernote is Daniel Gold. He sells a book which is just $5. To get started with GTD+EN you don’t really need it: but it might be useful once you have got going with it and want some extra tips. I think that for many internet marketers his approach may be overkill: but if you want a really thorough approach, but one which takes a little more time, try it.

http://www.degconsulting.net/evernote.html

Here are some other links to free information, software and discussions related to combining GTD and Evernote:

On HeyMalc I have Top Ten Tips for time management which highlight some additional points which I use together with my use of Evernote and GTD. You might find this helpful.

Go for it – and good luck!

I hope this description is useful and that you follow up on my recommendation of using Evernote plus GTD which is quick to implement, effective in use, and which can give you complete confidence that you are working on the most important thing right now, and that you have overlooked nothing.

I have tried every time management system going over the years and, for me, nothing comes close to the method I have described here. I hope you find it as good as I do, and that it might help you break free of information overload which, I know, plagues many people. Or that in some other way it helps you get better organised.

Please ask me any questions where I have not been clear – and leave comments below.

I’d also appreciate a share using the social sharing buttons. Thanks!

Malc 🙂

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  • Christopher

    Hi Malc, I’m curious in your system and will try to use it for my work. But, i’m kinda someone who is already looking for quite a long time for the ideal GTD-tool/software/webservice or so. i think this is because of me maybe (I’m probably the most organized person in our office) and because of my job.
    My days are hectic en priorities are changing all the time. Let me explain what i do and how would you handle this ?
    I’m working as operations manager for a recruitment agency specialized in working with freelancers. this means that during the day we receive requests from our clients and we start looking for a freelancer who is able to do the job. next step is proposing a potential candidate to the client – organise a meeting if the client is interested and if both are happy to work together we set-up the contract and organise everything.

    this means that during the day i need to do certain stuff (f.e. make contract ok with a freelancer, contact client X for feedback, reply to a question from our administration etc.. on the otherside, i need to follow-up things: FB from a client, awaiting feedback from our legal department for a certain contract, awaiting an extension of a contract from our clients, … .
    because our our branche, things are changing trough the day. if a client has a new request, this is priority nr. 1 to put it in the system and ask our recruitment department to search for it. if a client is asking for a meeting with a candidate > we need to organize this, …
    besides this i have some ‘longer term’ tasks like evaluation of consultants, review our processes, think out new ideas, … .

    Untill now Trello/meistertask worked a while for me because of the simplicity, but if we have a meeting with our team, i don’t have an overview which task is for which client, what is the status of requests from our client and so on .. .

    how would you handle this in evernote, and honestly, is it capable with evernot ? i don’t use the power of evernote enough (lack of time let’s say) and i’m really curious what the capabilities of evernote as task manager.

    Thanks for your advice 😉

  • Louise Elliott

    Hi Malc,

    I’m just becoming familiar with GTD, although I’ve been an Evernote user for many years. I ran across your GTD+EN program and am going to get started implementing it as my first foray into GTD. I noticed this article was written in early 2013 and as there have been many updates to Evernote since then I was curious whether any of those in your eyes effect this program (either positively or negatively).

    Thanks!
    -Louise

    • Hi Louise – it’s a great question!

      The answer is, that most of the “improvements” Evernote add I don’t use.

      If you read about the politics behind Evernote, you find out they’ve been going in the wrong direction somewhat. This means they been adding loads of extra features – which in my view are of debatable value – whilst neglecting the monetisation of the platform.

      This displeases investors in Evernote – who want to see a return for their money.

      Evernote is a fantastic platform which excels when it’s kept simple.

      Take one example – you can store a PDF in Evernote. However, the downside: you can’t read the darned thing very well! I found this in the past and funnily enough, I found it today when I tested it out again. Evernote just does not handle PDFs very well.

      So, with Evernote, I keep things really simple. That’s all I need. And a nice simple Evernote is absolutely brilliant.

      Try to complicate it and you realises limitations.

      Evernote is not a PDF reader. Evernote is not a spreadsheet. Evernote is not a brilliant store for images. (For example, you can’t currently resize image – a huge disadvantage.)

      It’s a fantastic notetaking app with brilliant filtering capabilities, excellent device syncing, and massive storage capabilities.

      So, I use Evernote for its simple features, mainly. That’s why my use of Evernote has barely changed over the last three or four years.

      It’s a great question – and I hope that answers it 🙂

      Good luck with everything

      Malc

      • Louise Elliott

        Thanks for your answer! This helps set my perspective even more for this program.

        -Louise

  • misinformation

    Hi again,

    I’m afraid that even your simplified system is bogging me down a bit – no doubt it says more about me than you. The details of my own time management process include as many tasks/projects related to ‘home management’ as they do to work.

    I’m hoping that you could clarify a basic example and how it would look in your own system?
    The project is to “Install blackberries in garden”. The tasks are (I’ll simplify it so as not to suck up too much of YOUR time): till area, plant berries, install irrigation, pick up mulch and apply mulch.

    Could you enlighten me as to how this would be filed, tagged, etc, in your own system.

    Many thanks, in advance!

    • Sure – I like nice easy questions!

      In my system I’d call this a “mini project”. For one of these, it’s not worth having separate to dos – it takes too much time. So I’d write those to dos down in one note and tag the note with a “When” tag. This would be the relevant When tag of the item I wanted to do first. (Sometimes I use check boxes – Ctrl+Shift+C)

      So say I tag that: “This week”. When I reviewed that tag, which would probably be during my Weekly review, I might say: “Oh – I think I better get that started on Saturday”. Then, in my calendar, I put an entry on Saturday: “Install blackberries – see Evernote”.

      It probably needs to go in the calendar because it’s time–relevant.

      Another way I could play that is let’s say it’s Friday night, and I notice that blackberry To do in Evernote. Then, if I am certain I will be reviewing my Today tag tomorrow, on Saturday, I could just tag this To do Today.

      The system is very flexible – but it does all depend on how you run your system.

      So, if it’s Friday night, and you know you are not going to look at your Today tag until Monday – because that’s your habit – then it’s obviously no good tagging it Today, hoping you’ll see it on Saturday – because you won’t.

      So, in summary, there are a couple of options. But it really depends on how you run your system. And you might run your system differently now than you will do in 6 months. This is good and it gives you the ultimate flexibility in a time management system. It will change to meet your needs, and your changing ideas – as it should do.

      I hope that clarifies rather than obscures!

      Malc

  • misinformation

    Hi Malc, thanks for the great post. I’ve been ruminating on GTD for a while and only recently downloaded EN. Thus far your systems seems most suitable to me.

    I have not seen this answered (which doesn’t mean it hasn’t been) and perhaps it’s because it’s self-evident somehow but what do you do with regards to non-work related items? For example, if I see a dinner recipe online that I want to clip, my first instinct is to create a ‘Recipes’ NB. If I see a jiu jitsu article or instructional video that I want to see later, send it to my ‘jiu jitsu’ NB. Do you use EN for things of this nature? If so, I’d be curious as to how.

    Many thanks!

    • Hi there and thanks for the thanks 🙂

      I definitely mix work and leisure completely. As for multiple Notebooks, I just don’t see the point. It just can occasionally make things harder to search. So I just plonk everything that’s not a to do in my Filing NB. Recipe – I have a tag “Recipes”. Job done. Jiu Jitsu? Have a tag. If you habitually store vids to watch that tag might get a bit overloaded so it’s worth you having a “Jiu Jitsu vids” tag. Or if you have loads of them, it might even be worth having “Jiu Jitsu vids to watch”, and “Jiu Jitsu vids watched”. Just do whatever makes sense in terms of time saved and utility gained.

      And make a point of tweaking your tags monthly. Delete those you aren’t using: split tags if it makes sense (eg to watch/watched) and do whatever you think is gonna save you time/make the structure more useful.

      You can always change it back next month.

      But deffo mix biz and leisure.

      Malc 🙂

      • misinformation

        Thanks for the response.

        I definitely have a bad habit of trying to have the entirety of something down before venturing to start on it. I’ll just have to jump into this and tweak as I go.

        • Good move! I suppose you could change your personal rule to: “Start jumping in when I understand things 90%…” or something like that!

          Good luck, M

  • Matthew Lewis

    Hey Malc 🙂 Lovely work on developing your system. I’ve been in EN for about 6-8 months and have had varying success, after finding GTD then researching combining the two I found the TSW thread on evernotes forum and that lead me here!

    I’ve stated to setup EN in a very similar way to you, and/but am a very visual learner, are you teaching your complete system yet and/or able to share some more screen shots of the hierarchy of tags and notes/projects etc?

    Cheers,
    Matt

    • Hi Matthew – thanks! Glad you find it useful. There is a screenshot of tags/projects near the bottom of the article.

      If you are visual, consider making and managing your lists with Evernote, then using a more visual system to action daily to dos. If I want to do that I use a Kanban system – I like Kanbanflow: nice and simple (it’s free). Hope that helps – good luck!

      Malc

  • Marilla Wex

    Hey Malc – further to our previous discussion I’m finding the display of Evernote a bit tedious and trawling through my to-dos list is a bit daunting. Experimenting with using Trello to manage the lists and keeping Evernote for reference materials. I’ll keep you posted with my results!

    • Are you using List View of Evernote? I’d have thought you’d find that very clear. If not, F5 toggles through Evernote’s 3 views.

      And you shouldn’t have to trawl through any to do lists – if you have 6-8 to do’s tagged Today, and 8-12 tagged Tomorrow. And those two are the only ones you should be looking at very often.

      But if you are finding Trello works for you – fair enough! Good luck with it.

      Malc

      • Marilla Wex

        I’ve tried all of the views. I just find it really bland. With Trello I can colour-code everything for urgency (green, yellow, orange, red) and I find it easier to flip through projects than to read a list that’s all one colour. Because I’m a performer my work and personal life get blurred so I’ve been struggling the past few weeks to really enjoy using Evernote in this way. My projects have slipped behind and I’m hoping that creating a slightly different system will help.

        • If the colour’s good for you that’s great 🙂

          Yes, I mix up work and personal completely – after all, one affects the other. Good luck!

          Malc

  • AmpedOC

    Malc,
    Thank you so much for your post! I’ve been using The Secret Weapon (GTD and Evernote) for a short time, and your method is a big improvement to the TSW system. I have two questions:
    1) Can you use your Timology system to create a recurring task (e.g. “Perform weekly review every Friday”)?
    2) Can Timology be used to push off a task to a specific future date (e.g. “Review financial statements on 6/30/16”)?
    Thanks again!

    • Hi AmpedOC – thanks for your compliments: I appreciate them.

      My guiding principle is to “keep it simple” with Evernote. I think that when it tries to be too clever – eg storing pdfs, creating spreadsheets – it tends to be poor. So I use “horses for courses”.

      So for what you suggest I’d use Outlook, not Evernote. Outlooks does stuff like that reliably and brilliantly.

      Evernote, I’d worry about.

      For Timology: Evernote. For diary stuff: outlook every time.

      Hope that helps.

      Malc

      • AmpedOC

        Malc – Thank you for the clarification. That makes sense.

  • Timur

    Hey, Malc!

    Thanks for your thoughts and system about time management. I’ve found them very useful. How do you organize your shopping list (milk, bread, etc)? Do you use Evernote and your system? If so can you give example (what notebook, which tags, etc). Thank you.

    • Hi Timur – ur welcome. Glad you’ve found these ideas useful.

      Shopping is usually organised by “Where” tag. So you might have Where tags: @Home, @Office and @Errands. Get milk, get bread, get dog food etc could all be tagged @Errands. Then, when you are at the shops you just click on the tag @Errands in Evernote on your phone.

      As for which Notebook, you could do either To-dos or Filing NB. I’d consider having these in the Filing NB because anything in the To-dos NB needs a When tag (in the Timology system) so having them in Filing avoids you having to add an extra tag. That works as long as @Errands brings up all your shopping and nothing else – which it probably will. Otherwise, you could choose to put item needed in To dos and give each one a When tag.

      A final option is to have One note called “Shopping” and maybe tagged @Errands. Then list each item needed as you think of it – in the same single Note.

      Now, when you’re shopping, you can either search for “Shopping”, or click on the @Errands tag to find the note listing all your shopping.

      Try out a few ways and see what works for you.

      Cheers!

      Malc

  • Marilla Wex

    Hey Malc

    I’ve just read GTD as a result of going down an Evernote rabbit hole which eventually led me to you (nice to see some references to Brighton and Sussex too) – I’m very interested in implementing GTD+EN from the get-go. Have you made any progress with your beta testing for your Timology training? I’m very interested.

    • Hi Marilla – yes, progress has been made! I’m creating the last lesson of my 8-Week Timology training. It will be on the market in a month or so. In the meantime, ask me any questions resulting from implementing my recommendations in this article. Go for it!
      Cheers, Malc

      • Marilla Wex

        Great – good to know! I’ve already started my system. I’ll be interested to see how it plays out/gets tweaked with use.

        • OK – so what’s working and what’s not working?

          🙂

          • Marilla Wex

            The tagging is working great. I’m experimenting with forwarding emails to my library – can’t decide yet whether opening them and clipping articles is most useful or forwarding….

          • Sounds good Marilla

            As for forwarding/clipping, I use both in different circumstances. Eg if reading a web page on your device and the app/browser doesn’t have “Add to Evernote” icon in its Share feature you might have no choice but to email it to your EN account.

            You can add Tags and specify a Notebook by typing in special codes to an email you send to EN, but I don’t do that because: A. learning the codes – which I’d only use rarely anyway – would be a pain and B. It would be easy to make a tiny error in the code which could stop you finding the Note later.

            Whereas the Evernote Clipper – in browsers, or Outlook, for example – is handy because it lets you easily add Tags and choose a Notebook by clicking on the ones you want as you are adding the Note which is handy.

            Good luck – keep it up 🙂

          • Marilla Wex

            Yeah – I’ve stopped trying to use the codes because the results were spotty. But I managed to clear my Outlook Inbox for the first time in years….now to tackle other folders! And all the rest…..

          • Hey – result!! Clear Outlook Inbox! Make sure you keep that clear while working on the other email backlogs. Now you’ve got there – keep it there!

  • WOW

    Is there any way to hide annoying bar to the left thatr keeps following me around? Seriously this looks like a nice bog but there is not way I can take that thing any more. I’ve been in application development over 20 years and this is the most annoying thing I;ve ever seen in a a soft application. WOW

    • Errrr… these floating bars are quite common now. You are the first in 2 years to say it’s annoying. If I get a second I may consider removing it 😐

      • KiAAA

        I’m the second. It’s very annoying.

        • OK thanks

          • demonkoryu

            Third, it’s distracting as hell.

          • OK, opinions noted. I’ll get onto it. Thanks. 🙂

    • Eric

      @WOW, add AdBlock Plus to your browser. Then select “block element”, move the mouse until the offending bar is highlighted, and click. That element of the webpage is now blocked.

  • Hi Charlotte – That’s good to hear 🙂 Timology is the ONLY simple time management system I have found after 35 years of searching. And it’s all thanks to taking advantage of today’s technology – computer, Evernote, smartphone. That’s all you need.

    (Oh, to be fair, I did have to think a few things through too 😉 )

    Good luck – hit me back with any questions 🙂

  • Charlotte C

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve struggled with EN and GTD for a good while, but your way sounds so effective and straightforward 🙂 🙂

  • Excellent, Malc. You have clarified one of my most critical points. I will continue to follow you. Thanks a lot
    Ermes

    • Hi Ermes. It ends up working fine. 🙂

      I have over 7000 notes in Evernote and it holds up perfectly 🙂

      Let me know any further questions .

      Malc

  • Hi Ermes – Glad you like the post. I recommend you have two Notebooks in Evernote – To-dos and Filing. The pieces of information you are talking about you just keep in your Filing notebook. If they contain information you know you will search on you may not need to tag them. Otherwise you tag them as you wish.

    The To-dos Notebook contains only your to dos which can be tagged with some of your general tags, but also are tagged with specific “Timology” tags.

    I’m about to start beta testing my first Timology training – 5 Steps to Perfect Task Management, so keep an eye open for that for more detail on the Timology method.

    All the best, Malc

  • Hi Malc, great post. It was just what I was looking for how to organize work with Evernote. Thanks a lot.

    One question: if I have to save something that is not a task or a project, but it’s just a web page or a “piece of information” taken from the web that I want to keep in a swipe file, which is the best way to store it in evernote without confusing when these “pieces of information” are beginning to be many? Using Notebook? How to tag them?

    Thanks a lot
    Ermes

  • Hey Peter – kind words – thanks!

    Yes, I think how I feel about GTD now is “clunky”, too. Excellent, but clunky.

    It really sounds as if Timology has fallen into place for you – as it did for me. Great.

    Asterisks is a good way to sort “Today” tasks if you have a lot – and if you don’t want to retag some “Tomorrow”.

    If you’d like to be a beta tester for my fast developing training: “Timology: 5 Steps to Perfect Task Management”, do give me a shout at malc (at) heymalc.com and I’ll keep you in touch.

    Many thanks – and “keep being efficient”!

    Malc

  • Peter in Bangkok

    Malc:

    I read GTD about three years ago and about two years ago started implementing the GTD system proposed by David Allen’s team using Evernote. I found it a bit clunky. Then I used the GTD plugin for Outkook for about 6 months. While it was very handy to be able to turn all emails into tasks, I found it difficult to find the right views for the Outlook tasks and gave up after a while. About a month ago, I reread part of GTD and decided I really needed to clear my inbox and focus on next steps. I found that the GTD plugin for Outlook doesn’t work for the 64 bit version. Lucky for me!

    That led me to do a lot of reading and research over one weekend into GTD and Evernote and after finding TheSecretWeapon (which is a great system), I ended up with your variation on this, Timology. Your Timology approach is AWEsome. It works simply and perfectly.

    All of my emails or things I flag turn into an Evernote Note that is tagged either as a reference (in Reference notebook) or as a task (in To-Do notebook).
    All of my tasks are tagged with a What (i.e Project-related) tag.
    Every task also has a When tag (I use today, tomorrow, this week, later, possibly, and pending)
    Sometimes the Today list gets pretty full, and I manage by using asterisks to prioritize the things I MUST do and SHOULD do today.
    But it is all quite manageable now. Things don’t get lost. And my head is much clearer.

    This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. I feel like I’ve found the Holy Grail for personal task management. It works, it’s simple, I can view it multiple ways, I can easily review things by project (What tag) or by person (Who tag) or follow up on things (Pending tag).

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, and if you ever come to Bangkok, Id’ be honored to have the chance to meet you.

    Peter in Bangkok

  • Kathleen Carr

    So glad I found this- thanks so much for sharing your system, the sw/gtd/en stuff I’ve been reading is starting to come together in my brain!!

    Some ?s- in your example, the “buy a computer” project becomes a tag, correct? What kind of criteria do you use to determine what’s a task vs a project? I have some vague goals I’d like to capture but I haven’t yet determined the individual tasks that would live under this project. Do you think I should just create a tag for the project anyway?

    I’m glad to see the “where” functionality isn’t crucial- seems like it wouldn’t be helpful to me either. Do you ever retire tags when projects are complete? Again, thanks!!

    • Hi Kathleen – sorry for the delayed response. I didn’t see a message from Disqus 😐 Glad you like the time management stuff I’ve shared here. Yes, it does take a while to click!

      Your questions: you have the option to create a ‘What tag’ for any project. It’s really only worth it for “projects” that have more than a few To dos associated with them. Otherwise, it’s more time effective to put the several To dos in one note and tag that with a When tag.

      You want to avoid having tags which aren’t really useful to you. So in your “vague goals” question it might be better for you to have either a note called “brainstorming”, or something like that, in which you capture your ideas. Or you could have a note “check my brainstorming mind map” and then the name of that mind map, or even a hyperlink to it, then give that note an appropriate When tag – for example, Weekly. This is because flat notes aren’t the best things for brainstorming – and for most people some sort of visual tool is better – I like mind maps or flow charts, depending on the structure of my brainstorming. Sometimes I start with one method, then swap to the other: (mind maps are more radial, flow charts more linear!) So, don’t create a What tag (project tag) until you are clear about it. Another tip is to always have at least one To do associated with any project. So, another guide, don’t create a project until you are ready to create some To dos relating to it.

      Retiring What tags (the project tags) – oh, definitely: I take an extra step to those described here and under the What tag I have two sub- tags – Active projects, and Inactive projects. During my Weekly Review I will “retire” any projects appropriately. Sometimes, they even go back the other way – from inactive to active.

      Look out for my training which is coming up which teaches my whole system. It’s called Timology. At the heart of the programme is a simple four step approach – C.O.R.E. – Collect, Organise, Review, Execute.

      Cheers

      Malc

  • Jim Straughan

    2 of my fav appsapproaches
    Can you let me know who you got to update your thesis theme ?

    • Hi Jim – glad you like these as much as I do.

      On the Thesis front – I’ve got a techie in Delhi who does whatever I want with the thesis theme.

      I’ve actually fallen out of love with thesis and I’m swapping it, when I get time, to the Imprezza theme from Theme Forest.

      Thesis is just too darned complicated and after learning how to deal with version 1 – to some extent – version 2 then added a whole different type of complexity. Frustrating!

      I’m sure it’s good in theory, but Bootstrap allows a ton of design flexibility – in a modern way – and how it works is invisible. You can get this functionality with Visual Composer and its associated plug-ins.

  • Alvaro

    Hi Malc, this is a great post. I am not new to GTD but I’m new with Evernote. I have a couple of questions (simple I hope) and a reflection about Tags.
    On other posts and even David Allen suggest creating an Agenda tag or notebook to keep track of things to talk or follow up. Is there a reason why you don’t include an Agenda tag nested on the .When tag? I have many people who report to me. Since all are mutually exclusive I suppose I can set this up as an Agendas Stack containing one notebooks per person. Have you tried this before?
    My reflection about tags is that the use of some prefixes is not necessary. It is useful to put a dot before the When and other W tags to avoid using those for notes. But the other prefixes are not necessary at all (@ as in @home, 1- as in 1-now or P01 for projects). It is supposed to help to order the Tags in your desired and logical order but you can achieve the same result by reordering in the shortcuts list. The advantage is that you don’t have to remember the prefixes, you just need to start typing the name of the tag.
    Look forward to receiving your comments.

    Best regards,

    Alvaro

    • Hi Alvaro, and thanks for your
      comments and questions

      I think you are mixing up the tags a bit.

      If you want to keep track of an agenda – for example, a team
      meeting, or a meeting you have regularly with an associate – then you’d create
      a “Who” tag for them. Then if you have saved, say, a webpage to
      Evernote and you want to discuss the contents with somebody then you’d tag that
      note with their Who tag.

      If you are waiting for a deliverable from somebody then if
      you have a Who tag for them you tag it with this but you’d also tag it with the
      “Waiting For” tag – one of the When tags. And you check through every
      item in your Waiting For category as often as was appropriate for you.

      I don’t see any benefit of having one notebook per person
      when you can draw out everything related to that person by just filtering by
      their tag. I think you may just be adding more complexity that’s unnecessary.

      Of course, by all means try out different ideas and see what
      works for you – that is the main thing. And your arrangement of Evernote to
      apply Getting Things Done – which I now call Timology – will be tweaked
      repeatedly as you find better ways to suit your working style.

      I, myself, don’t find it useful to have tons of notebooks.

      The special characters I use as prefixes are especially
      useful when using Evernote on devices. It’s a little awkward applying tags to
      Notes on devices at the best of times, and if you know that all your When tags,
      for example, begin with “!” Then that really does help to filter them
      down and save time.

      In fact, it even saves time on the desktop just being able
      to do this.

      The same with typing in an asterisk filtering out all your projects in one go –
      that’s really helpful.

      So, I think you’ll find that in use, it’s good to have the
      special characters – and different ones – at the beginning of the different
      groups of tags.

      Do let me know any more thoughts you have.

      All the best, Malc

  • Hi Zack – Glad you are liking it.

    The tag for a project is your “What” tag. Within that you have items in your filing notebook which will be to support the project and items within your To-do notebook which are the actions associated with it. You might have one, two, three, or four actions or so. Each of these actions has a “When” tag. That tells you the urgency or importance of that item.

    Every week you review each project and the ones you have decided not to proceed with you delete the tag. Or you move it to be a sub tag of the tag “Inactive projects”, ready for later activation – when you are ready.

    Let me know how you get on.

    All the best

    Malc

  • Zack

    Hey Malc — Great post, I’m going to start implementing this TODAY. Quick question: if you create a tag for a project, and then complete that project, do you still keep that tag or delete it? I see potential for tag accumulation here, and as you said, less is more in this case.

  • BeksH

    Thank you, I appreciate your genuine sharing of good ideas! Very helpful.

    • Sorry Rebecca – I missed your comment. Thanks for the compliment and I’m glad you found this helpful. For me, I’ve never looked back since I started combining Evernote and GTD. It’s a life-changing combination.

      Keep an eye open – I’m creating a comprehensive training for this, called Timology 🙂

      Malc

  • mj

    I’m loving GTD + EN! I notice that the EN ‘interface’ is different now than in your video/examples. I think the old interface may have been faster – the new one doesn’t allow me to use ‘tab’ to move from field to field (unless I’m missing something). Is there a set of quick keys you use to quickly and smoothly move through the process of inputting notes, etc? Thanks!

    • MJ. I am so glad I am so glad you are liking GTD + EN.

      I use it to pretty much run my life including managing 20 or so active projects. If you can crack managing your tasks alongside managing your projects you’ve got your time management nailed. 🙂

      Tab on Evernote for PC does move from field to field for me – so I’m not sure what’s happened to your tabbing 😐

      Although I’m a lover of shortcut keys in general I don’t need a ton of Evernote’s shortcut keys that often.

      Ones I do use are:

      – In Evernote, Ctrl +N gives me a new note
      – If not in Evernote, Ctrl + alt + N – jumps to Evernote and creates a new note
      – From anywhere, Win +Sh +F starts an EN search – that is brilliant.

      A couple of other shortcuts on the PC you might like are:
      Ctrl + alt + V – paste clipboard to Evernote as a new note, and
      Win A – paste selection to Evernote in a new note.

      These are interesting, but I must say I prefer to SEE my data actually going into a new note – so I prefer to paste in manually. I am pretty quick alt alt-tabbing to Evernote.

      A full list of EN shortcuts for Mac/PC are here on the Evernote support page:

      http://evernote.com/contact/support/kb/#/search?query=keyboard%20shortcuts

      You probably have to be logged in to see this page.

      All the best – and keep getting organised!

      Malc

      • mj

        Malc,

        1) Thanks for the info on shortcuts! I tried several, but many either don’t work or have an unintended result.

        Win + Shift + F = no result
        Ctrl + N = new Firefox window (not a new EN note)
        etc.

        Here is a screenshot (with some info covered for privacy):

        http://screencast.com/t/7VQiQexX

        I’m using FireFox – maybe that is the issue. What browser do you use?

        Any other suggestions on how I can get around this issue and use shortcuts?

        2) Have you used Trello with EN? Results?

        3) Have you used Hojoki with EN? Results?

        Thanks!

        MJ

        • Hi MJ – for me, Windows key +Sh +F switches to Evernote with the cursor in the Find window. Evernote does have to be open for this to happen.

          Ctrl +N opens a new window/tab/document in any Windows application – including Firefox, which I use.

          But **Ctrl +ALT +N** is the hotkey combination for switching to Evernote and creating a new note – don’t forget the alt.

          Trello and Hojoki – I think these are great tools especially for collaborative working. I woudn’t use these for myself because EN provides all the control and project and task management I need. So it would just be extra work for me. But if I had a team of outsourcers, for example, I might consider these at some point – possibly Trello.

          But currently what really work for me is to use Evernote for project and task planning, then manage outsourcers by paying them through Odesk on hourly rate (in which case Odesk tracks their work), and using Basecamp to set them tasks which they cross off when done.

          That works really well.

          🙂

          • mj

            Thx again – always good info!

            1) For some reason, I’m just not getting these hot keys to work. Please see if this screenshot (below) of my EN in Firefox looks correct to you – I must be missing something. When I looked at your training materials, it showed a different display format for EN – that’s why I’m asking. (Maybe EN has changed their display format since then, don’t know).

            http://screencast.com/t/7VQiQexX

            2) For Trello, I’m liking the ‘card’ function and how easy it is to move around the boards. Although, it makes collaboration easier, it falls well short of EN in functionality.

            3) For Basecamp type functions, I use Teambox.com with my outsourcer. However, I know a lot of outsourcers and VAs use Basecamp. Is there any good instruction videos that you have found for Basecamp?

            Ciao!

          • Hi again MJ – the shortcut keys are for Evernote desktop for Windows 🙂 This then syncs with your web version. The desktop version is much easier to use if you have the choice. 🙂

            Basecamp I found tremendously easy to use after 5 minutes use. I must have used their own training, plus a bit of practice and it really was easy. A nice bit of design – very user friendly.

            M

          • mj

            ah, yeah … it really helps to download the desktop version 🙂

          • Haha! I should have realised from the first screenshot you sent! Yeah,
            you’ll find the desktop version MUCH easier to use than the browser
            version. If you have to be out and about the web or iPad version is
            pretty good: but useability is nothing like as good as the desktop
            version. 🙂

            Have fun!

  • Martin

    What do you do when you complete a task? Do you just delete the note?

    • Hi Martin – sorry for delay, I have been in Peru for two weeks:)

      Once a task is finished it no longer needs the tag 1-Now, or 2- Next, etc, so this can be removed. Then, if the task contains no relevant info for reference it can be deleted: else if it does, it can be moved to a different notebook – called “Completed”.

      All this is tweakable, depending on how you want to work the system.

      Cheers, Malc

  • For implementing GTD you can use this application:

    Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

    • Hi – I’ve had a look and GTDAgenda looks too complex to me!

      What I like about my GTD + Evernote system is nice and simple. I have used so many complex solutions – and they take too much brain time just to manage the system.

      So I will be sticking with my system. But I’ll leave in your link so other folk can check out your offering.

      🙂

  • Hello, great post and perfect timing as I JUST finished reading the David Allen book and now all set to implement it and gettnig overwhelmed with information and tools. The secret weapon awas very useful for me too, but can you share how do you handle projects, please??
    😉

    • Hi Marco

      I post above as to how I handle projects – see under: “The What tag: What tags are named after your projects…”. It’s all in there.

      Keep checking back as I plan a 10-video training here on how to manage your time – including your projects.

      And post any further questions.

      BTW I am glad the post is good timing for you. David Allen’s book is terrific: but it took me 5 years from reading it to being able to implement it – as I describe here. When I found this method it took me 3 hours.

      Remember – that book is 12 years old. We have technology now haha! Keep in touch.

      Malc

      🙂

  • Pam

    THANK YOU Malc!

    I have been away from my work and home for more than a month and I really wasn’t sure how I’d manage to get back in the flow of work. I believe this post was written for me!

    I will start applying your ideas first thing!

    • Hi Pam – that’s fantastic! Good timing. Let me know how you get on and if you have any questions.

      BTW, those transcripts I promised are now in the members area of Get Organised Now – I’ve been meaning to let you know. Hope they are useful.

      🙂

      • Pam

        Excellent! Thanks for the effort in getting those transcripts done. You have been so faithful to follow up with me.

        I have changed a bit of my Evernote account to follow your instructions. It’s always been good for me to use a product for a time and then make revisions as I learn new things. (It follows the thinking that we should just do something even if it’s imperfect.) I’m installing my long TO-DO list into Evernote and I will be adding the proper tags as I go along. My biggest challenge may come in the form of wanting to tag everything as NOW. I have a difficult time choosing. I’m open for suggestions on that kind of idea. I know there are tasks that must be done but my problems start when I have two or three tasks scheduled and for various reasons the first task takes too much time so the second task rarely gets addressed and the third task never gets a moment of attention which starts the next day on a bit of sour note.

        • Hi Pam. That’s easy – we all get less done than we’d hoped. lol

          The thing is to manage your “When” tags, which are your prioritiies (see the post). You need to review “Now”, and “Next” quite often, and move things around as you need to.

          Your NOW – which you have difficulty with, only wants to have 5-6 items in it. Hey – be realistic!!!

          You might also need to time your tasks. If you let things overrun, then give yourself a time limit after which you have to stop. Then you have to accept 95% as ok…

          The important thing is the review. Review religiously every night. and get ready for the next day.

          🙂

          • PamT

            Thank you Malc. I believe the review is going to be the ticket for me. I tend to note things and list things and then I dont go back and revisit them. I will focus on this one word for a time and see what develops. review, Review, REVIEW….. 🙂

            And I love the transcripts! I can skim through them in half the time it takes to watch a video- highlighting the two or three items that I find MOST important. I’m sorry you had trouble with them but I SO appreciate your efforts!

          • Yep review !! 🙂

            UR welcome for the transcripts – it was no trouble getting them done: but we could not upload the darned things. Next time I will make sure the membership site is on my own web host. You live and learn!

            Cheers, M

          • Pam

            Another thing I have been learning over time is to read about what I am practicing. I started a TO-DO Daily note. It is a list of items that I wish to include in each day. For me it is as important to take some time to do personal reading in the day along with money making tasks. When I am working on Time Management skills I might come here and read this blog. If I am working on something to do with marketing, I may read a pdf or book on marketing. Whenver I do this, I have a MUCH better day. It’s as if that’s what it takes for me to get my head in the game. And it doesn’t have to take a long time. I might just read one or two pages in a book. I can always move forward later but this time is designed for me to get a boost for the beginning of my day and it never fails me when I do it!

          • It’s good to included some study in your daily schedule, Pam. Just as long as you limit yourself: as there’s so much interesting stuff out there!

            But a portion of learning in every day is really great. 🙂

  • Would you mind showing an example hierarchy of how the system looks in EN?

  • Tom

    How do you handle tasks that are due on a specific days, and/or at a specific time? Or tasks that reoccur at some specified time interval?

    I imagine that you can somehow set a date in the “When” tag, but how do you make sure it gets triggered on the correct date? And how do you get reminded at the correct time?

    • Hi Tom – good question. If it’s an appointment, I just put it in my diary. If I need warning, eg: “prepare for meeting on Thursday”, then I put that in my diary a few days before the meeting. Or give myself however long I need to prepare.

      Recurring arrangements – I use the diary features again.

      Then there are tasks I want to “train” myself to do. I have an extra “When” tag called “Today”. I didn’t mention this, for clarity. In there go things I want to look at every day. I look at that tag first in the day.

      That could be a new keyboard shortcut I want to remember. After reading 4 or 5 times I will remember it. Or it could be something like: “Take a backup of my data offsite every Friday”. Yes, I could diarise that. But reading it every day for a couple of weeks helps to make it habit.

      Apart from that the “Today” tag is for things that MUST get done today.

      Then, I often set alarms on my phone. When I get immersed in a project it’s easy for 2-3 hours to fly by. So setting an alarm or two for myself is sometimes useful.

      I hope that clarifies – if not, ask another question.

      🙂

      • What “diary” do you use? Do you ever use the “stacks” feature? I was considering using a “stack” for context (@work, @home, @computer, @car) and using notebooks for projects and notes as tasks. Ideas?

        • Hi – I use Outlook diary.

          I find that using tags for @work etc is fine.

          🙂

          • Richard Hiers

            I know this thread has been inactive for quite a while, but I’ve found it quite useful and I would like to know more about this “diary”. I don’t recall any mention of it in GTD, and you mention the outlook diary (journal?), but that seems to just keep track of office document events. I the thread there is also a discussion of recurring tasks, or ones that have a date associated with them. You again suggested the diary. Why not the calendar? Thanks a lot!

          • Hi Richard – confusion over terms: I use diary/calendar interchangeably. So where I’ve put “diary”, you can safely substitute “calendar”.

            What have made the best changes for you in applying the ideas in this article?

            M 🙂

          • Richard Hiers

            Thanks for the clarification. I’m currently transitioning back to EN for GTD after using Trello for a while. I like kanban, but I think EN will work better for me. Thanks for the tips.

          • Hi again Richard

            I have turned “Timology” into a system I will be selling and it used EN to apply GTD, basically. Except, after trying to apply GTD twice, very seriously, it fell short for me in various ways. But when I started using EN plus GTD it fell into place for me brilliantly within 2-3 weeks.

            When I sell Timology I will have three in depth training which will be free, so you might want to sign up to HeyMalc, if you haven’t, so you get the heads up when that happens. I’ll be giving lots of my ideas out for free so it will help you either way. It’ll be a pleasure if my ideas take you a bit further towards brilliant time management: something I chased for decades before finally finding it!

            Best wishes Malc

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