Why I use Evernote for my Trusted System

Evernote LogoMany people (either consciously or unconsciously) try to keep track of everything they need to do in their mind, which is a big mistake. Our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not storage.  Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot of stuff going on.

The best way to stop mentally stressing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. David Allan defines “stuff” as: “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.” (page 17 of Getting Things Done) So, when we have stuff in our heads, it causes untold stress and anxiety. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it.

I recently ran across an old friend who uses OmniFocus as the basis of his trusted system and he wanted to know why I used Evernote instead of OmniFocus. Choosing a tool for your trusted system is a personal decision and analog, digital and hybrid systems can work. Many people who are Mac-centric use OmniFocus and are extremely pleased with how it works for them and since it is designed with GTD in mind it makes it easy to follow GTD methodology.

So, what exactly is a trusted system?

We all use trusted systems today and probably don’t know it. Your calendar is a trusted system. Once you put a meeting or appointment into your calendar your brain “lets go of it” and no longer keeps it in your subconscious. Why does your brain “forget” that meeting or birthday?  The reason is your brain “trusts” your “system” (calendar) to remember it for you. Same thing goes for todays Contacts Apps for your names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.

Calendar and Contact apps are specialized trusted systems for specific uses. In GTD you also need a general-purpose trusted system for all the other “stuff” in your life. My trusted system must be 1) easy to use 2) with me at all times 3) on all my devices. It must be able to provide friction-free capture of the incoming stuff that comes to me. It must be able to retrieve the relevant information I need at a moments notice. It must be able to handle digital and analog inputs depending on contexts. And most important, when building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more – and that is why I use Evernote.

Evernote serves as the foundation for my trusted system because of its friction-free input and output of data. It is always available and I can easily access it from whatever device I am using. It syncs across all my devices so it doesn’t matter if I am on my laptop, my home computer, my smartphone or my tablet because I can easily get information in and out of Evernote.

Evernote’s ecosystem of applications allows me to fine-tune how I use it for capture. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to scan all physical paper directly into Evernote. I use Fast Ever to capture text-based stuff in a friction-free manner. I also use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip web pages into Evernote with one-click ease.

This is how my trusted system is set up.

Notebooks

I have 16 “Notebooks” which are the collections of individual notes. I also have two “Stacks” (Next Actions and Reference) that are collections of Notebooks.

  1. Agendas
  2. Areas of Focus
  3. Assistant
  4. Next Actions:  Anywhere, Errands, Home, Office
  5. Projects
  6. Reference: Education, GTD, Information Technology, Receipts, Reference
  7. Waiting For
  8. Someday/Maybe
  9. Stop Doing
  10. Unprocessed
Tags

Some GTD Evernote practitioners use tags extensively to organize their system. I only use tags sparingly and really only use two tags – “Today” for the next actions I am planning on doing today and “Weekend” for next actions I plan on accomplishing over the weekend. Tags are attributes that you can apply to any individual note. You can then view all notes with a specific tag, regardless of which notebook it resides in. This provides for the ultimate in filing flexibility and many people prefer to use tags as the basis for their system instead of notebooks. I do not use tags because of the extra steps (clicks or touches) it takes to tag the item introduces friction into the capture and processing processes.

Do not distinguish between work and personal

I don’t distinguish between work stuff and personal stuff for the same reason I do not use tags – I do not want additional clicks or touches when capturing or processing my stuff. Don’t confuse a context like @home where the next physical action can only be done at home with “personal” as in separating work stuff with personal stuff. In GTD, there is no distinction between business and personal – it is all “stuff” you need to do and it needs to get into your trusted system.

Use Evernote’s email address to easily get email stuff into your trusted system

In today’s world a significant amount tasks, action items, projects and other stuff are going to come to you via email. Fortunately, Evernote has a friction-free way to handle this. Each Evernote account is assigned a unique email address. You can find this in the desktop version of Evernote under Evernote – Account Info. Your email address will look something like this “username.c12345@m.evernote.com” and you should add this address to your contacts. I created a new contact called, “Inbox” and assigned this email address to it. Now when I want to send a message to Evernote, I simply forward it to my Inbox contact.

Set your default Notebook

Set your default notebook in Evernote so when you email something to Evernote, it is automatically filed in your default notebook. Mine goes to a notebook named “Unprocessed.”

Capturing all your stuff

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.

Capturing email

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

Capturing web sites

If I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Capturing RSS Feeds

If I see an actionable item when reading RSS feeds in Feedly, I just click on the send to Evernote icon.

Capturing physical paper

If I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

If I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text.

All of these way to capture stuff end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my Unprocessed folder ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

That’s it. My Trusted System that runs my entire life is in this simple yet powerful tool called Evernote.

Picking Tools for your Trusted System

465515887When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more. So, it is really important you choose the correct tools that provide the least amount of friction capturing and processing your “stuff”.

One of the ongoing raging debates in the GTD community is what “tools” should you use?  There are people who swear by analog tools like pen, paper, folders and a physical inbox.  Others swear by digital tools and each has their own preferred software to implement their trusted systems.

Some people use a hybrid approach like using paper or the Moleskin for Evernote where you take notes in a traditional pen and paper approach and then take a picture of your notes and it goes into Evernote. Regardless of what type of system you use, you will need to have a physical inbox to collect all the physical pieces of paper that we all still receive.

Because I am a CIO and technology is my job, I tend towards a digital tool set. Cloud, Mobile and Social technologies are reshaping the Information Technology world in profound ways. This reality drives my choices when it comes to the set of tools I use in my implementation of GTD.

My trusted system must be easy to use and with me at all times on all my devices. It must be able to provide friction-free capture of the stuff that comes to me. It must be able to retrieve the relevant information I need at a moments notice. It must be able to handle digital and analog inputs depending on contexts.

I use the cloud-based consumer service Evernote as the foundation of my implementation. Evernote is free and it syncs my data across all the devices in my life.  I can use it on either my iPhone or Google Nexus smartphones that I carry around everywhere I go. I can also use it on either a Mac or a PC if I happen to be using those devices. I can use it on my iPad or any Android-based tablet if I happen to be in that mode. Or, if I do not have access to any of those devices, I can use it on the web with just a browser. This allows me complete flexibility to switch devices at a moments notice and not miss a beat.

For my own personal trusted system I use Evernote. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to scan all physical paper directly into Evernote. Evernote’s ecosystem of applications allows me to fine tune how I use it for capture. I use Fast Ever to capture text-based stuff in a friction-free manner. I also use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip web pages into Evernote with one-click ease. That’s it. As simple as I could make it.

Einstein Quote

As Alpert Einstein said “things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” and that is critical when choosing what tools you will use to implement your trusted system.

The importance of having a single Trusted System

184804867Recently I received a first hand reminder of the importance of having a single place that your brain trusts will have all your stuff. The reason why this is so important is your brain needs to trust all that stuff is somewhere you can access immediately when necessary or else it will not “let go” of that stuff.

I saw a demonstration of what some people thought was “GTD” and was shocked at how they rationalized their multiple “systems” as a trusted system. Anyone who thinks email is a good place for a trusted system just doesn’t get GTD. They might as well just keep everything in their heads because they didn’t get any of the benefits of a unified trusted system for their stuff.

Many people (either consciously or unconsciously) try to keep track of everything they need to do in their mind or across several different “systems”, which is a big mistake. Our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not storage.  Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot going on.  The best way to stop mentally thrashing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it.

We all use trusted systems today and probably don’t know it.  Your calendar is a trusted system.  Once you put a meeting or appointment into your calendar your brain “lets go of it” and no longer keeps it in your subconscious.  Why does your brain “forget” that meeting?  Because it “trusts” your “system” (calendar) to remember it for you.

Similarly, your Contacts or Rolodex is a trusted system too. Remember back when you used to remember people’s phone numbers?  Not long ago, some people prided themselves on their ability to remember tens or hundreds of phone numbers.  How silly does that seem today?  Why bother taking up long-term memory with that task when you can have a computer, smartphone or physical Rolodex do that job for you?  Your brain trusts your system to remember the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.

When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more. Don’t confuse context like @home where the next physical action can only be done at home with “personal” like separating work stuff with personal stuff. In GTD, there is no distinction between business and personal – it is all “stuff” you need to do and it needs to get into your trusted system.

How I use Evernote to run my life (part 2)

Evernote LogoA few weeks ago I outlined how I set up Evernote to be the basis of my Trusted System that I use to run my life.  Now, I am going to share how I use this system in my daily life.

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.  Almost every morning during the week I go to the gym and alternate between Pilates, cardio  and strength training workouts.

On the cardio days, I use the elliptical trainer and my iPad to read while listening to a up-beat playlist to motivate me to keep my heart rate up.  I start out reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times to catch up on what is going on in the world.  If I find an article that I want to keep, I use the “share” function to email it and I send it to my Evernote email address.

Keeping up with information

RSSThen I go on to process my RSS Feeds via Feedly. I love Feedly as my replacement for Google Reader and Feedler Pro. It works across the web on Mac or PC, iOS and Android so no matter what device I am using, I can process my feeds and it will sync across devices.

Sharing information with the world

BufferIf I find an article that I want to share with the world, I use Buffer to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn.  I highly recommend Buffer because it allows you to schedule your tweets and posts so they don’t all come at the same time. This allows your followers to consume your tweets and posts easier.

Leveraging audio content

PodcastsOn strength training  days, I listen to podcasts on my iPhone with the Apple Podcasts player. I use Fast Ever to add the location of the bookmarks that I place in the podcasts to follow-up on them later in Evernote.

Processing email to zero

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

  Processing web sites

web clipperIf I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Processing physical paper

scansnapIf I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

Fast EverIf I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text or use Sound Ever to record it as a voice memo.

Capturing ideas or actionable items while driving

Siri

Similarly, If I am driving, I use Siri to do a voice to text conversion to send it to Evernote.  Try it. It works surprisingly well.

All of these processes end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my -Unprocessed folder in Evernote ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

How I use Evernote to run my life

Evernote LogoEvernote serves as the foundation for my trusted system.  It is always available and I can easily access it from whatever device I am using. It syncs across all my devices so it doesn’t matter if I am on my laptop, my smartphone or my tablet because I can easily get information in and out of Evernote.

This is how my trusted system is set up.

Notebooks

I have 16 “Notebooks” which are the collections of individual notes. I also have two “Stacks” (Next Actions and Reference) which are collections of Notebooks.

  1. -Unprocessed
  2. Agendas
  3. Areas of Focus
  4. Next Actions:  Anywhere, Errands, Home, Office
  5. Projects
  6. Reference:  Bay Area, Education, GTD, Information Technology, Receipts, Reference
  7. Waiting For
  8. Someday/Maybe

Tags

I use “Tags” sparingly and really only use two tags – Today and Weekend. Tags are attributes that you can apply to any individual note. You can then view all notes with a specific tag, regardless of which notebook it resides in. This provides for the ultimate in filing flexibility and many people prefer to use tags as the basis for their system instead of notebooks.

Evernote email address

Each Evernote account is assigned a unique email address. You can find this in the desktop version of Evernote under Evernote – Account Info. Your email address will look like this “username.c12345@m.evernote.com” and you should add this address to your contacts. I created a new contact called, “Evernote” and assigned this email address to it. Now when I want to send a message to Evernote, I simply send it to my new Evernote contact.

Default Notebook

Set your default notebook in Evernote so when you email something to Evernote, it is automatically filed in your default notebook. Mine goes to a notebook named “-Unprocessed.” (I start it with a dash, so that it appears at the top of the sorted list of notebooks.) However, you can set this to anything you want. You can do this in the desktop version of Evernote under Preferences – Clipping.

That’s it. My Trusted System that runs my entire life is in this simple yet powerful tool called Evernote. Next, I show how I use this system to manage everything.

Why you should get stuff out of your head

Get stuff out of your headOne of the key tenants of GTD is getting stuff out of your head.

Many people do not understand why this is so important.

The reason is our minds are not built to remember all of the little “commitments” we make every day. Our subconscious knows we have some kind of commitment and it “worries” in the background or subconsciously that we will forget something important. This leads to stress.

So, the way out of this is to put the “stuff” (appointments, numbers, tasks, ideas, notes, worries, promises, deadlines, reminders, projects, maybes, etc.) in a Trusted System.

Think about life before electronic “contacts” applications.

You had to memorize things like people’s address and phone numbers. How well did that work out?  Sure, some people could memorize lots of phone numbers and were very proud of this fact. But, most people had no way of memorizing lots of phone numbers and needed a way to “get them out of their head” and into a Trusted System.

Initially, people used pencil and paper to store people’s addresses and phone numbers. Then the trusted system was a physical “Rolodex” or some kind of a journal with all your contact info. Then, as technology advanced, for most people it was “Contacts” in Outlook that served as our trusted system. Finally, the concept of contacts became universal and today our mobile devices make our contacts available to us anytime, anywhere on earth.  What a great trusted system! Calendars followed a similar path.

When we trust a system to store our “stuff” our brain let’s go of that little background task that is worried you will forget about the commitment.  If there is one thing that technology is great at, it’s remembering things. The biggest instant benefit of capturing your “stuff” is that once you capture it, you feel relief instantly. The is because once you have captured your “stuff” you can forget about it. You know where to find it if/when you need it.  And this reduces stress.

Don’t store things in your head. Put them in a trusted system. You will be rewarded with relief and increased mental capacity. You will almost immediately feel better.  By capturing your “stuff”, you will increase your mental capacity. It’s like an upgrade for your brain.

Once you start doing this, you might be shocked how clearly you can think and how efficiently you can function. It’s almost like magic.

Tell me about your trusted system.

Evernote adds reminders!

Evernote LogoAwesome update to Evernote for Mac and iOS with the ability to “tag” things with a reminder time and receive an email to remind you. The update also creates a “checklist” with all the reminders for the day that can be checked off. Significant enhancement for my  use of Evernote for GTD.

I have been waiting for reminders in Evernote to close the loop on many items of my GTD system. This is especially true for the “Waiting For” and the “Projects Delegated” Notebooks.

Thank you Evernote!

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