Evernote and GTD (1)

Evernote and GTD: Setting up Evernote

I have been thinking about writing about my setup for quite some time now. Now that our building project in our home is almost finished I have time to get started with a series on how to make the best use of Evernote when you are using the Getting Things Done method for organizing your work.

This first post deals with setting up Evernote for best use. I have created a special account for this purpose on the Evernote web site. For now I will explain things from the perspective of the web interface of Evernote. In later posts I will discuss the different clients that are available.

If you have created your free account you are set to go. Because of the nature of the GTD process in most cases the free account which gives you 40MB of bandwidth a month is enough. But if you are a more heavy user you can always upgrade to their premium plan.

To get going all we have to do is creating a set of notebooks. In the picture below you can see what notebooks I have to make Evernote the perfect GTD tool:

The first 5 notebooks resemble the five stages in GTD, Collect, Process, Organize, Review and Do. In Inbox (the default notebook) the collecting takes place. Everything that is added to the system first is stored in Inbox. The Next Actions notebook is a place holder for actions you are going to do during the day, the Do part. In Projects are notes stored about the projects you are doing at the moment. Notes/References contains notes with information you want to have at hand. And Someday/Maybe is for storing actions that you would like to do sometime but not now.

The notebooks with the @ in the name are used for holding actions that are context based. Archive is used for archiving actions and projects that are done. General Reference is just one big notebook for all kinds of info.

TeamProject1 is an example public notebook, in a later post I will explain how you can use Evernote to collaborate with your team members.

Evernote as list manager

My primary use of Evernote is as a list manager. A notebook is just a collection of notes with in most cases just a title. See the example below.

For some information I use one note to collect a number of items. For instance the @Agendas notebook contains notes for every person that I see regular in a work or home setting. On the lists of those persons I keep track of things to ask them, to track actions I have delegated to them and sometimes to hold specific info on that person.

But I also use Evernote as the place to store all kinds of info. Account information from websites. Information on several subjects of interest, business cards and a lot more. More on that in later posts.

You are all invited to share your use of Evernote in a GTD setting in the comments.

This is the first post in a series on GTD with Evernote:

Part 1: Evernote and GTD
Part 2: Collecting
Part 3: Collecting with the iPhone
Part 4: Tags, Saved Searches and Premium
Part 5: Revisited

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://ruudhein.com Ruud Hein

    Nice setup.

    When I was using EN3 for GTD I used tags to set Project, Next Action (by context: Office, Home, etc.) and sometimes client (to separate the weed from the chaff). Then used saved searches to pull things out by @context.

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  • avrum

    Step by step instructions on how I use evernote for GTD and Covey related project management.

  • avrum
  • Dan

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

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  • http://chanceandcary.blogspot.com Chance Evans

    Great write up. I truly enjoy reading how others have used Evernote & GTD. Feel free to view my set up here –> http://chanceandcary.blogspot.com/2008/11/evernote-and-gtd.html

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  • Andrew Kornuta

    Personally, I find it very efficient to put the context (@Home, @Computer, @Agendas, etc) as Tags on items. That way it can change as needed and there can be multiple contexts per note, if needed. When specifically tagging an item as an @Agenda item I also put the persons name so that if I am meeting with that person I can search for everything tagged with “@Agenda AND Mike” and find everything that I needed to discuss with that person.

  • http://www.burlybeef.com/2009/04/28/rezmelts-product-review Lavey

    Awesome info! I was honestly just thinking about something similar to this the other day so, it was almost “weird” when I ran across this. You would be surprised how many people simply have no idea when it comes to this kind of stuff. Anyway, thanks for getting this info out there and I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates you taking the time to post this for the masses.

  • Fokke

    Lavey, thanks for the kind words. If you find out good tips on Evernote and GTD please share them here. I still am very impressed by the simplicity and power of Evernote as GTD tool.

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  • http://examinehealth.com Ben Anderson

    I like your setup. You basically use notebooks like I’ve been using tags. I experimented with a similar setup at first, but I ultimately reverted to an all tags configuration after finding I needed some notes to exist in multiple notebooks. Now I’m down to one notebook, with lots of tags. It seems more complicated, but it works pretty good. I’m still looking for ways to fine tune my system.

    I love the idea of using a team notebook for collaboration purposes, genius!

    If you want to check out my implementation you can see it here:

    http://examinehealth.com/personal-productivity/69-gtd-and-evernote.html

    Take care!

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  • http://www.courses.co.za Darren

    I really cant see how your system can work in evernote.
    A note can’t be a Next Action and @computer, would you like to explain how you get around that?

    thx Darren

  • Chris

    There is some interesting information here, but Darren is correct, the proposed system does NOT work for GTD. Using notebooks for everything means that you can’t have contexts AND information about whether it’s a “next action”, “project”, etc. The proposed approach simply doesn’t work and you will just become confused and think EverNote is a poor GTD tool if you attempt to try it.

    You should look at what Ben Anderson has described in his link above for a pretty comprehensive idea of how effective tags can be for making Evernote a great GTD tool.

  • Fokke

    @Chris – Thanks for your comment. I have heard more people discussing about the lack of tags in my approach. I still think adding tags is making Evernote as GTD tool too complex to maintain. But your are right, tags add an extra dimension that may be of great value.

  • Chris

    Fokke,

    It’s not an issue of “lack of tags”, so much as that EverNote only allows you to keep an item in one notebook at a time. So your approach, using many notebooks, simply doesn’t work for GTD. You need to be able to assign something to the “Next Action” list, and also indicate that it’s an @errand, as an example.

    If you could have the same item in multiple notebooks in EverNote, your approach would work just fine. Since you can’t, your system won’t work properly. As soon as you stick something in the “@errand” notebook, you lose the information that it’s a “Next Action”, or what project it’s associated with. Tagging means you can have an action item that is associated with a particular project, you know it’s a “Next Action”, and you know it’s something you should be doing when you’re running errands (@errand).

    I agree that tagging is complex to set up initially, but you really need to use it in order to do GTD the way it was intended. Ben’s approach above uses tags exclusively, and is therefore pretty complicated. There are some other approaches out there that use a mixture of notebooks and tagging, which I found somewhat more appealing for my own use.

  • http://mouthsorescauses.com Mouth Sores

    I have no idea about this..From your article I came to know this information.

  • http://www.aimitmedia.com Chase Mann

    I recently found a plethora of articles which helped me to get Evernote organized the way I want it. I finally got GTD to make sense to me too and fit into a workflow that I hope to make a tutorial of and share with everyone.

    I personally use Evernote by myself but on multiple computers so I set the Local Files setting to a folder in my Dropbox account and that lets me keep all my tags and saved searches no matter which machine I’m on.

    I tried pointing everyone to a publicly shared notebook I named EvernotePedia … but the comments system wouldn’t let me :-/
    My Evernote user-name is chasemann if that helps anyone find it.

    Cheers,
    Chase.

    Fokke: Added the link: http://www.evernote.com/pub/chasemann/evernotepedia/

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  • http://mckeehan.homeip.net/ William

    I looked at this article for some potential suggestions on how to use Evernote with my system (which I documented in a post about How I Manage My Time). It sounds like the way you use Evernote would require a lot of manually moving things around and tracking tasks associated with projects. I enjoyed the read, but I don’t think this is the system for me. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your stuff.

  • http://www.jasonowens.com Jason

    Thanks, this was the first post I found on the topic originally and found it helpful. I just wrote this one: http://www.jasonowens.com/evernote-gtd-and-more-to-get-organized/

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  • http://alphaefficiency.com Bojan

    I am certainly going to give this setup a try. I only used Evernote so far as a memory database, but never as an actual GTD application.

    Since I rely on it so much lately I wanna make it my primary GTD application along with ZenDone.com app, which will offer Google Calendar integration.

    Mobile is the key and Evernote is exactly that, MOBILE

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  • scott

    For those interested in further combining Evernote and GTD, you might want to check out a method called The Secret Weapon. Completely free, it’s an organization methodology for those in love with both GTD and Evernote pieces:
    http://www.TheSecretWeapon.org

    A lot of help videos that may aid new people who want weave the GTD way of thinking into Evernote.

  • Fokke

    Thanks Scott, looks like a really good combo!

  • http://Tabletproductive.com Chris

    Great article and discussion. I would have to second the suggestion about thesecretweapon.com. I used a combination of that book along with Daniel e. Gold’s Evernote eBook. Both are great resources that approach the setup differently.

    I wrote about my setup and journey here:
    http://tabletproductive.com/evernote-is-running-my-life-on-my-ipad/

    The point though is that Evernote can be setup in anyway you like given your own tastes and workflows. And this is why Evernote can be better than a pre-defined app or web site.

    – Chris

  • Fokke

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. Couldn’t agree more re: your last remark about Evernote. That’s why I love using Evernote.

    I have TheSecretWeapon on my Someday / Maybe list to try another time. I already followed your blog and got some nice tips from it.

    – Fokke

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  • Jorian Ploegman

    Hi Fokke,

    The notebooks u use in your setup, is this still how you use is? Because i read the ‘Lifehacking with evernote’ and they show another screenshot from you with difrent notebooks.

    http://www.fokkekooistra.com/wp-content/afbeelding-21.png

    Thanks.

    Jorian

  • Fokke

    Hi Jorian,

    Thanks for stopping by. The notebooks on the Lifehacking site are Dutch. It is basically the same setup as from the blog here. Over the years I have added a couple of notebooks.

    Fokke

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  • http://www.lindahoenigsberg.com Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Great ideas, Fokke! Thanks for writing about this subject. Very helpful.

  • Fokke

    Thanks Linda! Feel free to ask questions if you need assistance.

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