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.

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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.

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.

Phone or paper for on-the-go collection of your stuff?

pen paper phoneWhich is better – paper or smartphone – for capturing your “stuff” when you are out and about?  I know many people who successfully use both solutions for the capture phase of their systems.  Truth be told, either will work fine.

I use Evernote on my phone as my ubiquitous capture tool for several reasons. I always have my phone on me and with tools like Fast Ever for iOS or the Evernote Widget for Android adding stuff to my trusted system is fast and easy. Another reason I prefer this method is notes captured on my phone are “born digital” and therefore I do not have to type them into my system from paper which eliminates double entry.

Paper aficionados swear by the simplicity of pen and paper. It is hard to argue with that logic and it has worked for centuries. There are many note-taker solutions designed to be kept with you at all times on the market that work well.

There are two keys to either system – analog or digital.  First, you must always have it with you so you can immediately capture your stuff whenever and wherever your are. Second, you have to have a friction-free system for capturing your stuff. If their is any friction in your capture system you will tend to not capture that idea/task/deliverable/commitment/etc. right there in the moment.

Even though most people always carry their phone, some of the most savvy GTDers also use pen and paper for collection.  The key is to know what methods reduce the friction in your system and will be available at all times. If the device is not easy to use for getting stuff off your mind and into your trusted GTD system, you’ll tend to use it less.

How do you get things off your mind when you are mobile? Phone, paper, or a combination?

Here are some of my previous posts on capturing your stuff:

Using Evernote as the foundation of your GTD system

You must have your capture device with you at all times

Getting Started – The Initial Capture

Use Siri to capture your “stuff” while driving

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!

It’s Not The Tool, It’s How You Use It – Visible Priorities (Part 2)

Part 2 of David Freedman’s excellent guest posts on how to use tools for GTD.

Fundamentally, GTD is simply a method for choosing how to spend ones time. And for us GTDer, we’ve got a trusted system full of projects, next actions and someday/maybes to choose from. Add to that a whole set of inbound phone calls, emails and coworker drive-bys and we literally have hundreds of options at each moment of choice. In the face of all this, we want to organize our next actions in such a way that we are proactive about our priorities. Here’s the problem: proactivity in humans is a myth. We can only react. We can only respond to stimulus. In the moment of choice, we must have the right stimulus, our priorities, come into our attention so that we react to them by doing rather than reacting to something else. I use my Outlook calendar and Evernote for Android to keep my priorities in my face

Schedule Your Priorities

Yes, that’s plagiarized from Steven Covey.  As part of my weekly or morning review, I block time in my calendar to complete my highest priority next actions.  My particular convention is “WT – [name of the next action].”  “WT” stands for “Work Time.”  My calendar is a sure-fire way to get these priorities into my attention because my assistant reviews it with me every morning, I do quick scans of it all day on my Android and my assistant always alerts me of my next meeting, even if it is with myself:

DAF4

Use the Evernote Widget to Keep “Today” Context In Front of Your Face

Unfortunately, this one is only going to work for Android users as the iPhone does not support Widgets at the time of writing.  Most GTDer I know have some sort of “Today” context or items that they’ve picked out of their next actions as priorities.  There is a bunch of debate on various GTD forums as to whether “Today” is a context at all, but I would make the argument that context or not, it’s a pragmatic method for putting one’s attention on one’s priorities.  Here’s the step by step:

1) If you haven’t already. configure a “_Today” notebook or tag in Evernote.  I use the underscore to make it sort to the top of lists.

DAF5

2) Add the 4×2 Evernote Widget Large to your phone’s home screen.

DAF6

3) Select your “Today” context to show your note list.

DAF7

Now, every time you look at your phone, your priorities will be begging you to give them your attention!

It’s Not The Tool, It’s How You Use It – The Evernote Instant Agenda (Part 1)

Another excellent guest post by David Freedman whom I consider a GTD Black Belt.

EvernoteDid the title get your attention? 🙂  We all know it’s not entirely true – the tool does matter and so too does your technique.  Evernote 5 is a crowd favorite here on GTDforCIOs.  In a multipart guest post series I will share some of my favorite Evernote tricks that bring to life some practical GTD magic.

I work in a dynamic corporate environment where we value PEOPLE above all.  From a GTD perspective, PEOPLE are my most important context.  In order to build strong relationships, I want to have meaningful conversations with them at every chance encounter.  I want to talk to them about how I enjoyed the restaurant they recommended, tell them that I haven’t forgotten about the email I owe them or ask them what they are doing for their kid’s birthday next week.  Here’s how I use Evernote 5 to make sure I’m good at internal relationships.

1)  When I PROCESS (recall the steps Capture > Process > Organize > Review > Do) my CAPTURED items from my Evernote inbox, I always tag with a person context unless the item pertains to me and nobody else.  If the item pertains to multiple people, I tag the item with multiple people.  If the item pertains to a project, I still tag the item with the most important people on that project…you’ll see why soon.  I thank the curator of this blog (Michael) for encouraging a shift from my previous nomenclature of “f.Michael” meaning “for Michael” to the more contemporary “@Michael.”

DAF12)  In Evernote 5 for Android, I configure my default view to Sort By Notebook as my Notebooks provide important timing, size and status context.

DAF2

3)  In Evernote 5 for Android, I use the new “Shortcuts” feature to save people context searches for those I want to be most prepared for.

DAF3

4)  Prior to scheduled meetings or when I see someone walking down the hall or at any other opportune moment, I click on the shortcut in Evernote 5 for Android pertaining to people I’m about to encounter and VOILA!…I have an instant agenda.  I quick visual scan of the items tagged to that individual along with the notebook they are stored in and I load in my mind something meaningful to talk to them about.

Note that in Step 1, I mentioned that even when project is the central focus of an item, I always tag by related people.  Being that the “Instant Agenda” is one of my most valuable use cases, the project tag does not help fulfill the goal.