Carl's Teaching Blog

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How I Use Evernote To Get Things Done

I’ve used Evernote for the past 3 years as a way to get organized.  After I had a large pile of notes things got hard to read and confusing.  To deal with it I have developed a huge set of notebooks that basically serve as a filing cabinet for my idle thoughts.  Since I saw a few people in the #MTBoS talking about Evernote (and I needed to get a post up) I figured I would detail my approach.

Mind Like Water

My original interest in Evernote came after I listened to an audio version of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.  This book was once insanely popular and is certainly a must read for anyone tired of swimming in half-finished tasks.  I am certainly not an expert in GTD, but I would say you first capture your ideas, then review your ideas them regularly, then set up a sequence of next steps, and then carry those steps out.  If done well, you’ll achieve this “Mind Like Water” state, where you don’t have to worry about what’s next.  It’s sounds pretty cool, or at least it sounds cool if you hear it from the author, David Allen.

GTD has probably crested in popularity, so there is not a lot of new information out there, but there are still plenty of podcasts, blogposts, and online guides that can teach you more about it.

Wait, what does this have to do with Evernote?

Right! So back to Evernote.  I came across Evernote as I was looking for a tool to implement GTD.  One of the cool things about GTD is that it doesn’t have a whole suite of products, refillable binders, and subscription-based apps that you need to use to get it to work.  Naurally, one of the downsides of GTD is that it is completely up to you to piece together apps in order to get it to work.  After I read the book I went through a whole bunch of different on line to-do lists and productivity suites, even some paid ones, but didn’t see anything that felt comfortable.  The strategy that I came across was inspired by THE SECRET WEAPON, a quick, free guide to using Evernote as the central app for GTD.  With it, I am able to to quickly catch any stray thought I may have and put it in a place that I can act on it later.

Craploads Of Notebook

Here is my strategy in a nutshell.

  1. Create an “!N” box notebook – In my Evernote I made a new notebook and called it !N.  I started it with a “!” because the exclamation point will make it rise to the top of the all the other notebooks when sorted alphabetically.  Also, go in to the ‘Properties’ and make this your default notebook so everything goes there.
  2. Create notebooks for all of your projects – All the things that holding real estate in your brain, make a notebook.  If you need to keep track of next steps, make a notebook.  If it’s a goal you want to reach, make a notebook.
  3. Group similar notebooks into stacks – To make your Evernote easy to navigate I’ve had a lot of success with putting things in stacks.  I put the each stack in all caps so they are easy to distinguish.  I also highly recommend making an “Archive” stack so that it can hold projects that are ‘Closed.’
  4. Use it!  – Now you have it all set up start jotting things down. This could be future blog posts, songs you want to download later, names of people who you need to send thank you notes, a detailed plan of your new million dollar venture, whatever!
    On a weekly basis, go through your !N box and make a decision on the items you put in your box.  You’ll usually decide one of 3 things.  a) It’s important and I can act on it right now b) It’s important and I will act on it at a time and place (then you put it in your calendar) c)It’s important for reference and I can store it the appropriate notebook. For things that have next steps, you can tag the note to remind yourself, I use the tag “@NA.” A simple search for the “@NA” tag brings up a to do list from across each of the different project notebooks.

That’s what I do, or at least what I try to do.  What do you guys do with Evernote? How do you stay organized?


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  1. Love this idea! Totally going to try it.
    I use evernote to save files and articles for lessons.what I use most is the tagging feature. When I save something, I tag it right away. That way when I’m looking for an activity on “rationalizing the denominator” (which is never, but you get the point), I can click on that tag and see what I’ve saved.
    Thanks for the tip, Carl!

  2. carloliwitter

    Thanks Megan!
    I think I use my stacks of Notebooks like you use tags. I have a lot of things stored up after 5 years of notes between Evernote and the defunct Google Notebook.

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