Saturday, 14 January 2012

Using Evernote for GTD

Warning! This post contains content that is going to bore the pants of you unless you're interesting in GTD® -- it might bore you even if you are. You've been warned.

I've been playing around for a few days to see if I can use  Evernote as a system for GTD. Well after a bit of playing, I reckon I've got it working pretty well; it's still a bit volatile as I keep tweaking my contexts, but the fundamentals seem pretty sound. If you're interested -- really? :) -- I've detailed my method below.

The system doesn't use any particular notebooks so you can use notebooks in whatever way you feel fit. My approach relies only on tags which works nicely on the Android app as well as the web and desktop versions of Evernote.

For the GTD collection phase the task is just added as a note. It can be added to any folder I think is appropriate. The key here is that if it is not tagged with one of my GTD tags  it is regarded as unprocessed. Tags, the key to the system, are added during processing.

My Evernote GTD system uses the following special tags:

  • !!tickler
  • !delegated
  • !done
  • !note
  • !personal
  • !somedayMaybe
  • !waitingFor
  • !work

The tags all begin with ! so they stay together at the top of my list of tags and away from any others I might use for non-GTD stuff. The tickler begins with !!; I'll get to that later.

Processing is done by using a saved search called Processing. The search simply looks for -tag:!* which returns all the new notes that have no GTD tags. That's the first way the system I use works; every note I add has to be given at least one GTD tag. No special tags means it needs processing.

So in the GTD way, every day I check the documents returned by the Processing search.
If it isn't a task at all I tag it !note. If you're wondering why I don't tag it as a task, it's simply because there tend to be more tasks than notes so I work on the assumption that if it's not a note then it's a task; less tagging that way.

  • If I delegate it I tag it !delegated.
  • If it's one of those someday/maybe tasks that I might never do, I tag it !somedayMaybe.
  • If it's waiting on someone, it's tagged !waitingFor.
  • If it's a task that is going to take place on a specific day, I tag it !!tickler and change the subject to begin with the due date in the format YYYY-MM-DD. That ensures it sorts nicely in the view. More on ticklers at the end.
  • So I can differentiate between work and personal stuff I tag the notes either !work or !personal.
  • Finally, each task is tagged with the context tags. You know the ones: @work, @home etc. My context tags are all fairly conventional: @home, @work etc. Because my GTD tags begin with ! and the context tags with @, they are always at the top of the tag list; that makes it really easy to use them on the Android app.

Now I've processed everything, they are no longer returned by the Processing search because they all have at least one tag.

Next actions
Okay, what about my next action list? This is done by another couple of searches: Next action personal and Next action work. The searches are defined as follows:

Next action personal: tag:!* -tag:!done -tag:!somedayMaybe -tag:!!tickler -tag:!waitingFor -tag:!note -tag:!work
Next action work: tag:!* -tag:!done -tag:!somedayMaybe -tag:!!tickler -tag:!waitingFor -tag:!note -tag:!personal

The personal actions picks up notes without the work tag; i.e. -tag:!work. I do it this way rather than looking for the personal tag because it ensures I don't miss items that I forgot to tag. The same approach is used for the work version. I also don't bother to tag items as next actions. If it's not a note (-tag:!note) and it's not tagged !somedayMaybe, !!tickler, !waitingFor or !done, then it must be actionable.

Once the task is done, it gets the !done tag and drops out of the Next action searches.

I've also got a few refined versions of the searches that have the contexts added. e.g.
Next action personal @home:  tag:"@home" tag:!* -tag:!done -tag:!somedayMaybe -tag:!!tickler -tag:!waitingFor -tag:!note -tag:!work
As you can see it's the same search but with the @home tag added.

Reviews require a check on tasks in the !waitingFor and !somedayMaybe lists so I have a couple of searches for those:
Review waiting for: tag:!waitingFor -tag:!done -tag:!note
Review someday/maybe: tag:!somedayMaybe -tag:!done -tag:!note

The only problem with Evernote is that is doesn't have any scheduling. I reckoned that was going to be a problem but I've managed to work around it. Any task that has to be done on a particular date gets the !!tickler tag. The subject is also modified to have the date in ISO format (YYYY-MM-DD) at the beginning. e.g. 2012-01-06 Sort out my GTD notes. The ISO date format ensures the ASCII sort in the list puts the most current at the top;  I just need the discipline to look at the items under the !!tickler tag each day. Once the item is at the top of the list, it should get done and the !!tickler tag gets replaced by !done; that's the theory anyway.

And that's the end. You were warned.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of David Allen & Co.

1 comment:

  1. For implementing GTD you can use this this application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.