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Reader Workflow in Action: GTD for Freelancers & Managing Multiple Projects

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We like useful tech here at 40Tech, and spend a fair amount of time talking about productivity related apps. We’ve written more than a few posts talking about ways we’ve used tech to make our busy lives a little more sane, and a little while back, we asked people to show us their own workflows. We wanted to see how our readers integrate tech into their daily lives to keep them productive. We received some comments on the post, some notes on Twitter and Facebook, and even had a few email conversations with folks, and have decided to feature a couple of the more involved methods.

Today’s feature, by freelance graphics and web designer Chase Mann, involves a GTD process that includes Evernote, Outlook, Microsoft’s OneNote, and a few other choice bits of technology:

 

Getting Things Done (GTD) with Evernote, Outlook and OneNote

I’m a freelance graphics & web designer that uses a tablet pc. In short, these are the tools that I’ve found work best for me:

  • Moleskin notebook & pen, Smartphone with Evernote app.
  • Dropbox to automatically sync all client files and research folders.
  • Outlook for Contacts, Calendar & Tasks. (connected with Gmail).
  • OneNote as my written-note capture and Working space (on my tablet-pc) with a GTD Notebook for current Projects.
  • Evernote as my magic, portable filing cabinet & reference library.

Reference Material:

I then tweaked all these programs and setups to better fit my workflow needs.

 

The GTD Workflow

I begin my GTD workflow by keeping my Moleskin notebook and Android phone as my immediate capture devices, which I then process into my Evernote Inbox notebook. Because I have design software on both my desktop and my tablet pc, and I’m constantly making changes to client files and gathering research resources, I use Dropbox to have the most updated client files and research folders automatically synced between all of my devices.

My projects tend to be mostly digital so I rely heavily on email communications (and some telephone conversations), but I tell all my clients that I prefer email so we both have documented project conversations. Outlook has quickly become my main communications & scheduling hub. Once I am referred a potential client, I setup a meeting to discuss project needs via whatever medium they prefer. I always take notes during the conversation and then email a copy to the client as my first follow-up step. If the client chooses me for the project, then I make new notebooks in both Evernote and OneNote specifically for that client and that project.

As I have time to sort through my inboxes, I’m able to organize and set tasks up as Projects. All Projects get their own notebook created in OneNote. I also attach that notebook to all possible related contacts in Outlook.

Why the heck would I use Outlook? I love the integration of Outlook and OneNote (2010 versions). I like being able to take an email about a client meeting and actually turn it into a task AND an appointment on my Calendar. I love being able to set reminders on tasks and calendar items too. It’s my tickler system. Easy.

As I process emails, they either get turned into scheduled tasks, flagged with a reminder tickler, sent to Evernote as reference, or sent to OneNote for current working projects. A major benefit of sending an email from Outlook to OneNote is that any attachments on the email show up as attached files in OneNote. How cool is that?!

 

Using Evernote

From the beginning, I had decided that Evernote would be my magical, brain-dump, inbox, filing cabinet. My very own research and records department that I can conveniently carry around in my pocket and access via a variety of mobile options. I setup Evernote using Bobby’s article with some tweaks to better suit my workflow.

Since Evernote came out with sub-notebooks, I find it easier to use those on my Android phone. I created a “Clients” notebook with sub-notebooks for each client by name. “Inbox” is my default notebook and “References” notebook, because I like moving items out of the Inbox notebook as part of my review process. I also created a “Coffee” notebook because I’m heavily involved in the coffee industry.

For all of my own personal projects, I create “@Project-name” tags to easily find them and I created a “!clients” tag for quickly marking items for later processing into the actual client’s sub-notebook.  Since I really don’t use Evernote for my GTD (I prefer Outlook and OneNote for that), the only other tags I used were Bobby’s suggestion of Reference Materials, with a “folder” tag for each letter of the alphabet … which I further break down into actual tags. So A, would also have Apple, Art, Amphibians, etcetera … whatever tags make the most sense to me when I capture the item.

I do most of my project research via the internet and send pages, selections and images to Evernote with the !clients tag into my Inbox notebook for later sorting. Next I sort through my research materials and send selected items over to the project’s notebook in OneNote and create a mood-board page so I can mix and match items organically and scribble notes wherever I feel like it.

 

OneNote

OneNote is my working desktop so I try to keep it tidy by not using it as a reference tool, even though I could. The reason I prefer OneNote over Evernote for projects is because with a tablet PC I have the freedom to scribble hand-written notes anywhere I like in OneNote — then I can right click them and convert them into typed text. I also keep a section called “Scribbles” in each Client’s section group so that I can scribble notes and ideas as they hit me, then I convert them into tasks or reference material during my daily review of projects. I try my best to stay organized as I go so I have less processing to do during reviews.

One extra thing I did with OneNote was to setup a Clients Notebook where I created a section-group for each client with a Projects section that has pages and sub-pages for each active project I have with that client. I have an All Projects section in my GTD Notebook that lists all my currently active projects which has a wiki-style link to the Client’s section-group, and the specific Projects section for that client (and vice versa). This way I’m able to move around quickly within OneNote. I have To Do lists in each Client section-group and have those wiki-linked to a main To Do list in my GTD Notebook. I also set up an Archives section in each of the Client’s section-groups where I send the individual projects when they are totally complete. This way I only have current working projects in the active Projects section of both my GTD Notebook and my Clients Notebook.

Another reason I prefer to keep Evernote for reference and OneNote as my Projects organizer is so I can use the power of tags in each program respectively. I like being able to list all my tags across all notebooks in OneNote and know that they are project-related.

When I’m looking for a reference item, I know to just search by tags in Evernote and copy/paste only the necessary bits I need (instead of entire articles or web pages) over into OneNote.

 

Reviewing

I do a daily review each morning so I can make new daily lists, and I do a Sunday morning weekly review. I do mine in the mornings so that I’ve not got a lot on my mind when I’m trying to go to sleep at night.

So that’s my current workflow – thought it is still developing and being refined. I’m curious if someone has done something similar, but with Google apps or other free apps?

 

Chase Mann is the owner of Aim It Media, a creative design and marketing company for entrepreneurs and small businesses. You can connect with him via his many comments on 40Tech, or catch him on Twitter as @AimItMedia, @MyCoffeePro, or @Creativarty

 

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12 Responses to Reader Workflow in Action: GTD for Freelancers & Managing Multiple Projects

  1. Thanks so much guys for posting my first ever “official” guest post. I greatly appreciate it.

    If anyone has these programs and needs further clarification or tips on them, feel free to contact me with them on my website :-)

    Cheers,
    Chase.

    • Thanks for taking the time, Chase! As a freelancer myself, much of your workflow makes a lot of organized sense to me. I think it flows well for anyone who tends to work multiple large projects at one time. I’m very interested in seeing how it plays out for you over time.

      I wonder how easily this model could be adapted to use Google Docs folders. The tight email/task integration isn’t there, but it could be combined with something like Producteev.

      • Thanks Bobby,

        I found that the more programs I have to bring into my workflow, the less I stick to it. If I really wanted to, I could drop Evernote from it and just use OneNote and Outlook … but I actually enjoy the process of moving ONLY relevant snippets of information and/or graphics from Evernote into OneNote for specific projects. It just seems to keep me better organized that way. Plus the mobile version of Evernote is much better and user friendly.

        I would be curious to know if someone can match (or beat) this workflow with Mac products … because I’m tempted to get an iPad. LOL.

        Cheers,
        Chase.

      • I hear you Chase. Sometimes it is nice just to have a piece of software that is so good at one thing actually -do- that thing.

        I have an iPad. I like my iPad. There are definitely some apps out there that will do some of what you want. You will find yourself limited in the design aspects though, and in the ability to use rich text. Awesome for showing things to clients though, and for time management as well.

  2. Thanks for sharing your work flow. I am curious why you use both Onenote and Evernote. I use Evernote, but since I am on multiple devices/OS I have never bought into One note. Between email and Evernote and I can capture and categorize most of what I need. It is too bad Evernote doesn’t have a more robust file sharing capability, then you wouldn’t need to use Dropbox as well.

    • I prefer OneNote because it’s much more “organic” to work in. I can copy and paste photos and text anywhere I want on the page and I can make drawings and scribble notes anywhere as well … even on top of photos.

      I love meeting a web design client with a screen-shot of their current website and scribbling notes all over it of the changes they want … it’s a WOW! factor that I never get tired of seeing :-)

  3. Hey Bobby,

    Do you know anything about OneNote?

    I’m curious if there is an app for the iPad that would have similar functionality?

    I’ve been tempted to get one repeatedly, but my tablet is far more useful for my workflow.

    • I used to use OneNote before I decided to see how well I could get by without the Microsoft Suite — easily, as it turns out.

      There are several apps out there that are good for note taking, annotations, handwritten notes with and without stylus, etc. Some are more minimalist, like Penultimate, but have awesome response for handwriting, others are more complex and allow image, screenshot, and pdf annotation, but are sometimes not so good at handwriting response, or come with a hefty price point (for an app). Do a search on note taking, whiteboard, or annotation apps, and you will get a good list.

      There is also an app called MobileNoter which claims to two-way sync with OneNote and display notebooks exactly, but customer reviews are unhappy with the editing capabilities on existing notes. Could be a good option though, with updates. It says it’s free, but there may be a monthly subscription required to sync with OneNote.

      That’s all I have for you off the top of my head. I don’t thing you will find a single app as powerful as OneNote, but there are definitely a few things out there that might make it worth your while to get an iPad.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Nice description of how you can combine GTD and Evernote. 2 more tips: Coming soon http://www.zendone.com

    Most interesting for Evernote power use is the Evernote Essentials eBook. Have a look here: http://goo.gl/AUb8b (affiliate link)

  5. Rather than using a moleskin notebook, have you tried a Livescribe pen? This way you do not need to write your notes twice (in the moleskin and in EN).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. GTD On the Go With Awesome Note and Evernote [Reader Workflow] | 40Tech - April 27, 2011

    [...] us to invite you to post your genius here on 40Tech. The first to step up was Chase Mann with his combination of OneNote, Evernote, and Outlook for GTD, and now we are pleased to bring you the first of three posts by Nina Kefer. Nina is often [...]

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