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 is called 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 highflying 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 rereading 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 completely misses out how to deal with projects. (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. (I just had to work out how to deal with projects :-| )

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 acronym, 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 are:

  • Now
  • Next
  • Soon
  • Later, and
  • Someday/Maybe.

The Now tag is where you will spend most of your time. It may well contain 4-6 tasks and, as they get depleted you will add one or two from Next.

Next may contain 10-12 items. 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.

If you are familiar with GTD you will recognise the Someday/Maybe term as a catch-all category either 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 “Now”, 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 “Next”, or “Soon” (or Later or Someday/Maybe) tag for a “Now” 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! (I got carried away with a bit of hyperbole there, but for me this functionality is absolutely blissful.)

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.

For example, if you have to travel a mile to get to any shops, then you might want to use the @Errands tag. (Though internet shopping makes it less essential these days.)

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 Waiting For 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 Now and Next and maybe Soon and shuffle things around.
  • Check Waiting for 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 :-)

  • BeksH

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

    • http://heymalc.com Malcolm Simmonds

      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!

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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

        • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

          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!

          • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

            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 :-)

          • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

            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?

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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

  • http://twitter.com/gtdagenda Gtdagenda

    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.

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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.

      :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marco.lavanna Marco Lavanna

    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?? ;)

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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!

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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.

        • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

          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!

          • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

            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!

          • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

            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. :)

  • http://inglesita08.blogspot.com/ inglesita

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

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      Hi – I have added that to the post :)

      • http://inglesita08.blogspot.com/ inglesita

        Thank you! This helps a lot.

  • 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?

    • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

      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.
      :)

      • http://inglesita08.blogspot.com/ inglesita

        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?

        • http://heymalc.com/ Malcolm Simmonds

          Hi – I use Outlook diary.

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

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