GTD On the Go With Awesome Note and Evernote [Reader Workflow]

Mobile GTD With Awesome Note and Evernote | 40Tech

40Tech has a serious interest in productivity technology, especially as related to GTD (Getting Things Done). We love talking about workflows with our readers, sharing our own techniques as well as learning how you use technology to keep your life on track. As we’ve come to expect, grown-up geeks are fonts of information, and you’ve inspired 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 mobile, and has put together three systems that she has tested extensively, using some of the prettier iPhone and web apps out there as her GTD hub.

First up: GTD in Awesome Note with a side of Evernote!

 

Beauty and Brains: Getting Things Done™ In Style

I have always been a firm believer in the principle of “Form Follows Function”. However, I do not believe that “Ornament is Crime”, as is often extrapolated by proponents of FFF. As long as eye candy isn’t at the expense of functionality I can’t see anything wrong with it. On the contrary, it actually helps me to Get Things Done because a pretty user interface makes me want to look at my to-dos and makes taking care of them fun. If my to-dos look bland or, God forbid, ugly, I avoid looking at them until I forget that they even exist. Thus began my quest to find a to-do system that is as beautiful as it is powerful. As a frequent international traveller, I often rely on my smartphone to keep my life organised, so I needed a system that was built around an iPhone app that stays in sync with the web and/or desktop of my netbook.

 

Part 1: Awesome Note

The first app I explored was Awesome Note, a note-taking-cum-to-do app that syncs with Evernote and Google docs. Notes created with Awesome Note are designed to look like real life paper notes that are kept in colourful manila folders. By default, the app randomly assigns one of fifteen available background patterns and a default font to each new note, but backgrounds and fonts are customisable, as are the colour, icon and default theme of each folder. You are limited to five folders per screen, but you can create as many folders as you like, arrange them in whatever order suits you best and then simply swipe through them from screen to screen. It’s a pity that GTD doesn’t offer more opportunities to sample the neat animation, like “turning pages” while browsing from note to note within a folder.

Being an Evernote front-end, Awesome Note’s functions, are very flexible. Every note can be transformed into a to-do, a check list, a calendar item, a page in a diary or photo album, or a birthday or anniversary reminder, simply by changing the view or type of note or by assigning a due date. You can also tag your notes and to-dos and use the built-in search function to look up tags or keywords. To help you keep on top of all the notes inside your folders, there’s a little notebook at the top of each screen that shows how many notes there are in total, how many to-dos are due today and if there are any unassigned notes waiting to be processed. Next to it, there’s a quick memo pad where you can jot down ideas, via keyboard or handwriting input, or draw a sketch. Lastly, you can share your notes and to-dos via SMS or email, send them to a compatible printer or lock your folders with a passcode. This may sound a bit overwhelming, but everything can be done with just a few quick taps.

Awesome Note by Bridworks - Brilliant Idea

GTD Setup in Awesome Note

Awesome Note comes with pre-installed folders, but they can easily be renamed or replaced and new ones can be created as necessary. For my GTD setup I created ten folders, five for each screen. Since the sync of tags between Awesome Note and Evernote is limited (more on that in a moment), I combined Next Action and Context to create five Action folders that I review daily. I placed those on the first screen, so I can see them as soon as I open the app:

  • 1.1 @Computer
  • 1.2 @Contact
  • 1.3 @Errands
  • 1.4 @Home
  • 1.5 @Waiting

On the second screen I placed the folders I review weekly or less often:

  • 2.1 Projects
  • 2.2 Someday
  • 2.3 Goals
  • 2.4 Reference
  • 2.5 Wishlist

GTD in Awesome Note with Evernote | 40Tech

Working With Evernote

As my back-end I chose Evernote because it has both web and desktop versions and is generally more versatile than Google docs. Sync between the apps is speedy, but due to their different functionalities not really tight enough to use phone, web and desktop interchangeably. For example, Awesome Note’s folders appear in Evernote as notebooks that are easily identifiable by the prefix [aNote], but while Awesome Note allows you to arrange the folders in whatever order you want, Evernote automatically puts the notebooks in alphabetical order.

You can attach up to nine pictures to a note, but they will only sync from Awesome Note to Evernote, not vice versa, and due dates, status, font and background formatting don’t sync at all.

Finally, although both apps use tags, tags added in Evernote don’t sync to Awesome Note and tags added in Awesome Note are merely included as a footnote in Evernote. Fortunately, the powerful Evernote search finds them there, so there’s no need to double-tag. Since I do most of my GTD in Awesome Note and use Evernote web and desktop only for convenient text entry and backup, none of the above was a deal breaker for me. I just numbered my folders so they would appear in the same order on all three platforms and didn’t worry too much about the order of the notes inside.

 

The “No Category” Inbox

The “No Category” folder at the top of the screen is my inbox where I collect emails, tasks and ideas that come to me during the day, things that I need to buy or adverts I see on my way to work and want to follow up later. This is easy since notes that aren’t assigned to a specific folder automatically get dumped in there, no matter what screen you are in when the note is created.

Emails and URLs can be copied/pasted into the body of a note, photos can be attached from the camera roll or taken from within the app, and Google maps can be added. Alternatively, you can forward emails to Evernote and then sync with Awesome Note. Making a note read-only makes URLs, email addresses and phone numbers clickable, but unfortunately there is no option to link notes to contacts in the iPhone’s address book, so they have to be copied over manually. Quick memos that are saved as notes also end up in “No Category” (whatever you scribble down on the memo pad stays there until you either save or clear it). These are great for basic drawing. For example, you can ask someone how to get from A to B and then take the sketch with you or email it to a friend.

I review my inbox daily and process its contents according to David Allen’s GTD methodology:

  • If a task takes less than 2 minutes, I do it right away
  • If it takes longer or I can’t do it where I am I move it to the appropriate Next Action folder
  • If it takes more than two steps to complete I move it to Projects and create a to-do for the Next Action in the appropriate folder

Time sensitive to-dos can be assigned alarms. Awesome Notes uses local alarms, so you will be reminded even if data roaming is disabled or the phone is in airplane mode. If a task should be delegated to someone else it goes into @Waiting with a review date to remind me to check up on and, if necessary, chase the person I have delegated the task to. Lastly, things I may want to do at some point in the future are parked in Someday and anything that doesn’t require action is either archived in Reference or deleted. If a note is moved into one of the Next Action folders it is converted to a to-do and, if possible, assigned a due date. Additionally, while Awesome Note doesn’t sync with any third party calendar, every folder, including “All”, has a calendar view that displays the to-dos within that folder, marked with the folder’s colour.

GTD in Awesome Note | 40Tech GTD in Awesome Note To Do Alarm | 40Tech Awesome Note GTD with Evernote Sync | 40Tech

Next Actions

Next Actions that have been assigned a due date pop up automatically as they become due. A red badge on the app icon shows how many to-dos are due or overdue; within the app this is shown next to the red tick box at the top of the screen. Additionally, I check the Next Action folders whenever I have a spare moment. For example, when I sit down at my PC I check if there’s anything else I could do while I’m at it.

In order to make my tags more prominent in Evernote, I start the title of a to-do that I want to be searchable with the appropriate place, person or project name. This has the added benefit of being able to search tasks alphabetically in Awesome Note. Usually I sort by due date, but if I’m going to contact person ABC I can alpha-sort the to-dos in my @Contact folder to make sure I cover everything “tagged” ABC. One tag per to-do is usually enough for me – a place tag for to-dos in @Errands, a person tag for @Contact, a project tag for @Computer and so on – and it only takes two taps to sort. Awesome Note does have a search function for both tags and keywords, but no saved searches, so this doubles as a quick-and-dirty search.

The project folder is reviewed weekly, or more often if I have extra time. Awesome Note doesn’t support sub-tasks or checklists, so I list the sub-tasks of each project in the body of the parent note, e.g. Project XYZ, and then cut/paste them into individual to-dos as I work through that project. I do the same for checklists or shopping lists. Alternatively, if you want to be able to check off each item individually, you can make a dedicated folder and create a to-do for each item.

 

Awesome Note may have been created primarily as a note taking app, but its to-do capabilities are powerful and lend themselves well to GTD. The limited sync with Evernote forces me to keep my setup simple and fuss-free and the cheerful design makes Getting Things Done fun. I just wish that tags would sync properly with Evernote, as they do with Egretlist, and that tasks would sync with the iPhone calendar.

Let me know what you think of Awesome Note’s GTD capabilities in the comments!

Nina lives in the UK and works in Financial Services. A frequent international traveller, she has extensive experience of managing life on the go. A trip to Japan opened her eyes to the possibilities of mobile phone technology and she has been attempting to achieve a similar level of connectivity ever since. This is her first technology article.

Nina’s next iPhone GTD setup: GTD with 2Do and Toodledo.

34 Comments:

  1. This is a fantastic post, Nina!

    I’ve always looked at Awesome Note, but never delved into it. There’s a lot more to it than I figured, and your system is very well thought out. I am curious to give it a shot and see how it works for me.

    I think the one thing that I don’t like about Awesome Note, though, is the lack of a connection with Google Calendar. That could be a killer for me.

  2. Love the level of detail!

    My system is similar to yours in many ways. I primarily use Evernote and Teux Deux to manage projects and tasks. Working on a a pos myself to explain my system in detail. I do have a few screencasts on YouTube about how I use Evernote.

  3. Amazing! It seems this post was actually posted at the same time I was looking for it! Really! I’ve never been here before!

    I’ve been using Evernote for quite a while, and lately I bought Awesome Note and started using it and syncing with Evernote. I didn’t take the time to think of a system up till now, and I googled it and baam! I can’t wait for the next posts!

  4. Darn it Nina … you make me want to buy an iPad and make the switch to Awesome Note so bad!!!

    Thanks for your input Cameron, going to check out Teux Deux now too. I’m taking a greater look at Project Management now since I’ve started to work with multiple freelancers and multiple clients on multiple projects all going on at once.

    Thanks 40tech for always keeping me Productively informed :-)

    • Thank you very much, Chase! I’m using an iPhone, but I agree, it looks even better on iPad. Unfortunately, I have to stick to laptop or netbook as I need a hardware keyboard and full flash support.

      • I hear ya, that’s why I have an HP TouchSmart TM2 tablet and I LOVE it, but it’s not as “lightly portable” as an iPad … but I love that it’s my entire desktop replicated on a mobile device.

        I pretty much have my desktop/tablet totally synced with Dropbox and Evernote now so all my files stay up to date regardless of which device I’m on.

      • Great machine, Chase!

  5. Pingback: GTD With 2Do and Toodledo [Reader Workflow] | 40Tech

  6. Pingback: Review of GTD in Springpad & Which GTD Solution Nena Chose [Reader Workflow] | 40Tech

  7. Though I’m headed in a different app direction I have sent this to my workmate who is gearing up for GTD in Awesome Note and Evernote. Thank you Nina and nice workaround re tags not syncing!

  8. Nina

    I love your system and am very interested in setting something up. I have a few questions. Is Next Action a folder? Is Projects a folder?

    Thank you.

    • Hi Beth,

      Thank you very much!

      Yes, Projects is a folder in Awesome Note, which translates to a notebook in Evernote.

      I don’t have a Next Actions folder. Instead, I have folders 1.1 to 1.5 (@Computer, @Contact, @Errands, @Home, @Waiting). I found that I my tasks depend very much on the context, so I sort them by context right when I create them, i.e. I create next actions as to-dos in @Computer, @Contact, @Errands, and so on. I guess an alternative would be to have a Next Actions folder and tag the to-dos in it by context, but I prefer to see the context at first glance.

      I hope this was helpful. :)

  9. Hi I need to set a task to repeat on the first Saturday of each month.   Can you do that on awesome note?

    • Hi Antonia!

      You can set every Saturday or every month, but unfortunately I don’t think you can set every 1st Saturday of the month. As a workaround, you could perhaps set the repeat for every Saturday and if it isn’t the 1st Saturday of the month simply tick it as complete. That way you won’t accidentally miss a Saturday; you may if you set it for every month. If you have a lot of such repeats, perhaps add a note in the body of the to-do that it only needs to be done on every 1st Saturday of the month.

      However, you can set every 1st Saturday of the month in 2Do.

  10. Hi Nina,

    Thank you so much for your speedy reply!!! After using both of these apps which do you personally prefer? I find that 2Do involves a lot of steps, you know? Although it is magnificent in its way. Very detailed.

    Your compromise about setting the repeat to every Saturday is a good one so I don’t miss a Saturday. I shall do that!!!

    Wishing you the brightest of blessings!!!!

    • Hi Antonia!

      I agree; 2Do has a lot of options, but it does require quite a few steps to add a new to-do with all its necessary details. Awesome Note’s scheduling options are a bit more limited (although not as limited as many dedicated to-do apps, to my surprise) but adding a to-do is easy and fast.

      So which do I prefer? In my original article I wrote that I chose 2Do over AN and at the time that was true. 2Do does have more options and I love that you can link to-dos to contacts in your address book, so if your to-do is to email or phone someone, all you need to do is tap on the link in the to-do.

      However, as I started to use Evernote as a digital filing system in its own right, rather than just backup for my to-dos, it seemed silly to use Toodledo for GTD when I can do it all directly in EN where I’m most of the time anyway. I also like that I can set my default folder in EN to be my “No Category” inbox in AN. Whether I’m on my phone or on my PC, I can just dump new stuff in there and as soon as I sync it shows up in the right place in other application, ready to be processed.

      Moreover, when EN introduced rich text formatting in iOS I found that if I edit notes on my phone, which I do a lot, often the text no longer wraps after sync or I end up with huge spaces between lines. Several updates of the iPhone app have not fixed this problem; it can only be corrected on the PC. However, if I create or edit a note in AN and then sync it to EN the formatting remains rock solid. A lot of my to-dos involve updating text files/notes, so rather than keeping them in my EN filing system, I pasted them into the body of the to-do in AN. That way I can edit them wherever I am, on my phone or at my PC (since all AN folders are visible and editable in EN). I also added a “Draft” folder to AN where I can draft stuff that isn’t time sensitive, e.g. letters. When I’m done I open EN, go to the note and simply change the folder, add the necessary tags and save. Bingo, the letter is now filed under “Correspondence” in EN with the formatting still intact and with the next AN sync it will disappear from the “Draft” folder on my phone. (I should add that my notes are plain text; AN isn’t able to handle rich text formatting, e.g. from a clipped web page.)

      So now I’m back on Awesome Note. I’d still like tags to sync between AN and EN, an option to send to-dos to my calendar (which 2Do doesn’t do either) and link to-dos to contacts in my address book, but the convenience of being able to access my to-dos from right within EN and being able to edit them on the go is more important to me.

      I hope that was helpful. :)

  11. Hi again Nina,

    Thank you so much for describing your method of organization. I love to hear about how others organize their time and productivity. I am training to be a nurse and am a writer as well so my time is my most valuable commodity…and the thing that I always seem short of!!! I know you know what I mean! After playing around with AwesomeNote today I finally decided that it is not quite fitted to my style as 2Do. Besides, 2Do has a note capacity too. I have Evernote on my phone as well as some other note apps so I will be trying them out to see which ones are best with 2Do for school and my ideas for writing.

    I am glad I found your blog. I know you’re busy so again, thank you for taking the time to reply.

    Antonia.

    • Hi Antonia,

      I’m glad you found my responses helpful and good luck with designing your own system!

      (I’m only a guest writer, though; the editors of 40Tech are Evan and Bobby.)

      Best regards!

  12. Still not there.

    I like AN and I love EN. I wish the integration went further… Trying to get in to the all GTD thing, but not there yet. Thanks for your reviews. Trying to implement it as well. It’s been 6 months now that you wrote this review, do you still use AN?

    Thanks

    • Dear Max,

      Thank you very much for your comment. I agree; I wish the integration between AN and EN would go further.

      Actually, it has been a year and 6 months since I wrote the reviews and all the aps have been updated several times since then. :) I don’t use AN anymore because of the formatting issues that crept into EN since they introduced rich text formatting on iOS (this is one reason why I wish the integration with AN went further, I never had formatting issues with AN). One of the attractions for me, apart from the aesthetics, was the ability to do everything in EN, from GTD to scanning bills to note taking. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible, so I started to look for EN alternatives. For GTD I moved on to Pocket Informant and, most recently, Omnifocus, but I understand that AN recently introduced calendar integration, so I may check it out again!

  13. Thanks for a superb set of articles. I am new to GTD, have read the book and want to start gearing up. I’m starting afresh and have no experience of any of this software. Having read your article and Feb comment about returning to AN/EN, I thought I would go that route, but note now that you’ve moved away from this. Omnifocus looks great for GTD, although this is OSX/iOS only. I want a system for my iphone, but also that I can use conveniently when at the office which means on a Windows computer. Does this mean you exclusively use macs, or do you have a workaround?

    Looking at the app store, it seems that AN now has iphone calendar integration and with ver.6.10: “Provide the Auto-Sync with Evernote; Developed the sync speed with Evernote; Support the Evernote Tag Synchronization.” No mention of linking to-dos with contacts though.

    I don’t understand the formatting issue as have never used EN.

    Do you have an updated recommendation please, before I dive into this?

    Incidentally I also found this, which seems a pretty good round up of GTD apps:
    http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?12882-A-Review-of-Stylish-GTD-Apps

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Jenn,

      I can’t speak for, Nina, our guest poster, but I also made the switch to a predominantly Mac setup, except for Windows at the office. I did write a post for how I enter items into OmniFocus from my Windows machine:

      http://www.40tech.com/2012/02/26/how-mac-only-omnifocus-can-accept-tasks-via-a-quick-entry-dialog-box-on-your-windows-pc/

      I then keep OmniFocus up on my desk on my iPad or my MacBook Air. It’s not as seamless as an app that runs on my Windows machine, but it has worked for me.

    • Hi Jenn,

      I haven’t used AN for quite a while so I’m afraid I’m not up to date with its capabilities now. It didn’t link to contacts when I was using it, but I do believe that it now links to the calendar, which it didn’t do either when I was using it. Evernote doesn’t link to either contacts or calendar.

      As for Omnifocus, it’s rock solid and the most powerful task manager I’ve come across so far but yes, it is Mac/iOS only. I have found though that I use it almost exclusively on my iPhone and iPad, so the fact that there’s no native Windows support has been less of an issue for me than I had anticipated; what bothers me more is that it doesn’t link to contacts and doesn’t have time zone support. You may have come across it already, but David Sparks has made some very good Omnifocus video tutorials:

      http://macsparky.com/omnifocus-screencasts/

      If you’re looking for a totally seamless Mac/Windows/phone integration, perhaps Toodledo would work for you. The system is web based, so accessible from any computer, the Pro version is almost as powerful as Omnifocus and there are a number of very good iOS clients, e.g. 2Do, Appigo Todo or Pocket Informant. Many of them link to the iOS address book and Pocket Informant also has excellent calendar integration, including time zone support. I used PI for quite a while and only switched to OF because PI tended to crash too often (I never lost data though) and I couldn’t get alarms to work.

      I hope that was helpful. :)

      Nina

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