Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

SiriI use Siri on my iPhone to capture any idea that comes to me when I am driving. It is fantastic because I don’t have to unlock my phone, launch an app, or type anything that would distract me from driving. All I have to do is hold down the home button on my iPhone and wait for the familiar beep that is Siri. Then I say “text inbox” and whatever I want added to my trusted system. It is that easy!

Here is what you need to do. Set up a contact called Inbox in the Last Name field of your contacts with your Evernote email address. Once you have this you are ready to go.

The reason you use text instead of email is Siri asks for the subject when you email but not when you text. Now, when you go to your default Evernote folder (Unprocessed for me) you will have a “Mailed In Note” with your “stuff” in the body of the note.

This is a simple way to avoid distracted driving while capturing your “stuff” in the car. For most recent cars that have bluetooth integration you can use the cars built in microphone and speakers to truly make it an integrated experience.

Try it, you will be amazed how well it works.

Consuming Audio Content with Audible and Podcasts

With Apple’s release of a dedicated Podcast application for iOS, it reminded me of how much information I am able to consume via audio sources. The spoken word can be a powerful addition to your information consumption portfolio.  I use Apple’s Podcast app to consume podcasts and Audible’s app to consume “books on tape.”

Listening to content connects with your brain in a different way than reading does.  I can tell you from experience that I can, for example, work out on the Precor elliptical machine at the gym and read RSS feeds while listening to upbeat music at the same time.  But, it is impossible for me to listen to a podcast and read at the same time.  Our brains must process both of these content sources with the same part of the brain and therefore they short circuit each other.

Similarly, I can easily listen to music or a podcast while driving but I could never read and listen to a audio book while driving. And that is not just in the “no texting while driving” context of not keeping you attention on the road, it is true when I am the passenger too.  There are two primary use cases where I consume this the of spoken word content – while I am working out (resistance training and stretching as opposed to cardio) and when I am in the car during my commute.  This practice allows me to be productive in what would otherwise be “dead time” from a continual improvement point of view.

Multitasking has scientifically been proven to be a myth over and over.  What we are actually doing is context switching and it is a sub-optimal way to process information.  How then can I read RSS feeds, listen to music and use the elliptical trainer at the same time?  It sounds like multitasking but it is not.  It is called Layering.

Layering, is simultaneously performing several tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, mental or language.  The only time multitasking does work efficiently is when you are layering different channels.  This is why you can listen to music while driving a car with no discernible loss of effectiveness but you can not text while driving (even if you are using Siri to dictate your texts) and not lose  effectiveness.

I also find listening to an Audible book that I have read previously enhances my comprehension over just re-reading it.  Once again, this is because of the layering effect that listening to an audio source is process by your brain in a different region than reading does.  So, get a podcast app and Audible’s app on your smartphone and start listening.

Processing Information in Today’s World

How should a busy CIO get information he or she needs in today’s world?

Gone are the days where the newspaper and monthly industry magazines were the best method to get our news. The Internet has made real-time access to large amounts of news fast and the era of tablets is ushering in ease and portability.

Trying to keep current in today’s sea of information is definitely a challenge. This is especially true for the CIO who’s trying to stay on top of technology trends, many of which are changing every week.

Personally I follow about 60 trusted news sources and blogs every day. I’m likely very similar to you, I want as much relevant information as possible in the shortest amount of time Here are some tactics to help you become more efficient with your time and information processing.

Use RSS to keep up with headlines

If you aren’t an RSS user, you should be. It’s an excellent way to become efficient with your time and a good way to get through a bunch of information to find the important stuff quickly. Here is a previous post on how I process RSS feeds. Only subscribe to sites that inform you directly or entertain you. Try to get a cross section of opinion and analysis. Don’t just consume information that is an echo chamber for your point of view!

According to Clay Johnson in his book “The Information Diet”, we should be consuming information that is as close to the source as possible, then researching if it is something that we need to know. This is a good way to approach the RSS feeds that you follow. Using Feedler Pro on my iPad and iPhone allows me access to my Google Reader feeds which allows me easy access to a nice pool of headlines to scan during the day.

Every moring I spend about 30 minutes scanning the new headlines. If I see something I want to follow up on I use the “send to Evernote” feature to see it to my “unprocessed” notebook in Evernote. This allows me to review it later in the course of my normal processing to determine what, if anything, I want to do with that specific piece of information.

Information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than be a luddite and unplug completely, use RSS to keep up with what is important to you and the things that you need to get done in a more efficient way.

Processing RSS Feeds

I have always been a reader.  I subscribe to numerous magazines and newspapers.  I love to read a good book.  But, it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant breaking news.  Surfing the web to try to keep up is not a viable option as it just takes too much time and it is very easy to get trapped in a rabbit hole of non-productiviity.  I have found using RSS feeds is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments in order to be successful in today’s business and technical world.

By using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world.  I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience.  I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day. I have tried many RSS readers and have settled on the combination of Google Reader and Feedler Pro on my iPhone and iPad.  I do not use any of the “pretty” feed aggregators that try to make a custom magazine because it is just too inefficient for the volume of feeds I process every day.

With Feedler Pro I can quickly scan the headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information.  Once I click on a particular item I get a short synopsis of the article or post and then if I want to actually read it I click on the link and it takes me to the web site where I can read the original article.  If I want to keep the article to read later or for some kind of follow up, I just select the “Send to Evernote” option to process later.  If the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Send to Twitter” option to tweet it.  I usually process my feeds first thing in the morning when I am at the gym on the Precor elliptical trainer.

I currently subscribe to 80 feeds which result in over 1,000 posts per day and I am able to process them in approximately 30 minutes.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my career and life.  I treat my feeds very darwinian in that if a particular feed is not providing revenant information I delete it.  This results in a very fluid OPML file (OPML files are the list of RSS feeds a reader program uses) that is constantly changing.  Frequently I subscribe to a feed to try it out only to decide it does not make the cut and is delete in a week or so.  I also remove feeds that have dedicated iOS apps like CNet News, Boy Genius Report, Engadget, etc. because I prefer to view that content in the native app due to its optimized formatting.

I pride myself on knowing information before others and daily processing of RSS feeds is the key to this.  It gives me a competitive advantage in work and life.  I am extremely impressed when someone on my staff tells me something relevant that I do not already know about.  If it happens once in a while then it is just luck or timing but if they consistently know relevant information before me it shows me they have an effective system for processing information.

Using Evernote as the foundation of your GTD system

EvernoteI use Evernote as the basis of my GTD system and it seems like many others are doing the same.  It is interesting to see how people use it is different ways.  The most obvious is the use of Tags or Notebooks as the primary way to implement their system.  Here is a great example of a tag-based system that leverages Evernote’s Saved Searches feature.

My system is notebook-based and I have separate Evernote Notebooks for each of the analogous folders in my system.  I initially, started with a Tag-based system but abandoned it in the name of simplicity.  I view this as a “less is more” type of thing and have optimized my system for data capture and processing.

Initially, I started out using tags and got carried away with them to the point where they were distracting me. It took too long for me to figure out which tag or tags to assign to a note. This is similar to having an elaborate system of folders in email and filing them in the appropriate folder.

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

I used to try to assign tags at that time and it really bogged me down. Similarly to capturing ideas or “stuff” on the go. Now I just click on FastEver type the stuff in and click on save and it end up in my “- Unprocessed” notebook. No tagging, no thinking, just the minimal effort to capture the “stuff” into my trusted system.  Then, when I am processing I clarify the item to define what done looks like and just switch the notebook from “- Unprocessed” to the appropriate notebook.  That is as simple as I can make my system.

I do have a few tags and saved searches that I use for special situations but have really tried to minimize their use. I suppose each of us needs to use trial and error to see what works best for how we work and implement GTD.

Check out Evernote’s Blog on GTD for a great discussion of how people use Evernote to implement GTD.

Getting started – the “Initial Capture”

Now that you have set up your trusted system and have your capture devices, the first thing you must do to get started with GTD is to capture all your “stuff.”  Stuff is literally anything and everything that you need to do something about.  It may not be something you are going to do soon.  You may not even be sure if it something you actually will commit to doing now but you might want to do it at a future time. If so, you must capture it.  Capturing all your stuff is extremely important because once you do you will feel a great sense of relief once you get it out of your head and into your trusted system.

If you are just getting started with GTD, you will have to do a onetime initial capture of all your stuff.  After this initial capture you will only need to capture the new stuff that has come into your life since the initial capture.  Please resist the temptation to get right to it and skip this initial capture.

For your initial capture I recommend taking your smartphone and literally walk around your home and office to capture everything.  Say you start in your garage and you see something that needs to be dealt with like organize garden tools or inventory your tool chest or wash the car.  You need to capture all of these things. Don’t worry about making judgments about the stuff or what list it needs to go on.  Your goal is to just capture it at this point.  You will process it into the appropriate category and decide exactly what to do about the stuff later.

Walk around your home from room to room, front yard to back yard and capture everything that has your attention.  Then go to your office and capture everything there.  Go to each physical place you spend time and capture everything.  There are three easy ways to do this with Evernote and your smartphone.

  1. Select Snapshot and take a picture of the stuff
  2. Select Voice and record a voice note about the stuff
  3. Select the Untitled Note field and type in the description of the stuff

For an even simpler way to capture into Evernote using an iPhone, try FastEver and FastEver Snap.  These apps are designed to capture text and photos into Evernote with the minimal amount of clicks.  I highly recommend spending the $1.99 for each of these applications.

I cannot emphasize how important it is to resist the urge to make judgments about your stuff during this initial capture.  All you are trying to do is to capture everything into your trusted system.  You will process your stuff later.  This initial capture will not take as long as you think it will and the payoff is huge so get started.  You will be amazed the sense of relief you will experience just by capturing everything.

The “initial capture” is a critical part of a successful GTD practice

You must have your “Capture Device” with you at all times

It is critical that you equip yourself with tools that support you whether you are; at home, the office, the gym, the car or on-the-go.  We all spend at least some part of our work day “out and about” and you need a way to keep your GTD lists and related information with you so that you can work from your lists, and manage your work no matter where you are.  This is a critical point.  You need to be able to capture “stuff” wherever you are so it is important to make it easy to capture your “stuff” at the moment it comes to you.  This can be a pad of paper, index cards or just about anything as long as you have it with you at all times.

I used to use Outlook Tasks to capture my “stuff” but now I have found Evernote to be the perfect place to capture and process my “stuff” because it is available on all the devices I use (iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC) and it automatically syncs to all my devices.

Since we all carry our mobile phones with us at all times, your phone is the logical capture device when you pair it with Evernote.  Whenever you have an idea or make a commitment, it’s easy to capture it in Evernote on your phone.  If you reduce the friction you experience when capturing ideas, actions items and commitments, you’ll naturally capture more of them.

I use my iPhone as my capture device

Setting up Evernote to create your Trusted System

Now that you have created your Evernote account, you need to set it up to be your trusted system.  The first thing you need to do is to set up 11 notebooks in Evernote which will be the basis for your trusted system.  In Evernote create the following notebooks:

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

The combination of my Calendar, Contacts and Evernote  make up my trusted system.


One of the 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 tools.  Some people use a hybrid approach.

I love being a CIO because it requires me to be good at several roles.  I must be a great manager, leader, strategic thinker and technologist.  I must embrace fast innovation, understand what is next, and be out in front of waves of change in order to lead everyone into the future.

We are now entering the post-PC world and the consumer is fully driving the cloud and IT.  This reality drives my set of tools I use in my implementation of GTD.

I use the cloud-based consumer services Evernote and Dropbox as the foundation of my implementation.  These services are free and are available on multiple devices.  I can use them on a Blackberry, iPhone or Android-based smartphone.  I can use them from a Mac or a PC.  I can use them from an iPad or Android-based tablet.  This allows me complete flexibility to switch devices at a moments notice and not miss a beat.