One of our readers previously wrote about Getting Things Done with 2Do and Toodledo. That great writeup focused on using Toodledo through 2Do, an iOS app. I have been using Toodledo ever since I first was blown away by it, although primarily through the web app (albeit via Fluid, a Mac app that turns a web page into a standalone application). Over time, I’ve developed a system of my own to implement some GTD methodologies within Toodledo. Here it is.
Just over two years ago, I wrote my first post for 40Tech. I had discovered the power of GTD while trying to manage life, new parenthood, and the crazy tech-startup marketing job I was working. I had also become an avid fan of Evernote. The mere idea that I could capture anything, anywhere, and put it in a searchable digital filing cabinet that I could carry in my pocket was mind-blowing for me. Naturally, I spent a large amount of time and effort in marrying together my two new obsessions. They seemed a great fit to me, and they lead to that fateful first post that is still one of the top articles on this blog: GTD in Evernote With Only One Notebook.
I say this post was fateful for two reasons: one, it set me on a path of productivity and tech that has, in many ways, defined my current career path; and two, it brought about a tremendous amount of great conversation and connections with people I likely would never have met, otherwise. One of those people was Daniel Gold, lifestyle and productivity blogger, and author of the eBook this post is really about — an eBook that would have made my life a lot easier if it had been around when I first considered implementing GTD in Evernote.
Daniel’s book, The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done in Evernote, isn’t a step-by-step how-to manual. It’s not a mind-bending piece of literature, and it’s not going to cook you breakfast. What it is, wonderfully, is a straightforward, conversational look at why Evernote is a great tool for productivity in general, and how easily it can be used to apply GTD principles effectively. The book never talks down to you, and it never assumes you know too much or too little — it is simply honest and genuine; experienced, but uncomplicated. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fun and easy read, either.
Daniel starts out by giving you a little background on his own experiences in searching for a productivity tool that would change it all for him. This is a conversation that he is very open about on his blog, and one that he has brought to 40Tech through several insightful and helpful comments. He openly admits that he was just as lost as the rest of us, and that it was his search and his failures in discovering or hacking together the perfect productivity system that ultimately led him back to Evernote. Evernote brought him back to basics — back to simplicity and a straight ahead means of getting things done. This eventually led him to the sense of “mind like water” that inspired his eBook.
He does a good job of breaking down his GTD implementation in Evernote, giving plenty of examples while keeping things light. As I mentioned earlier in the post, the book is not a GTD instruction manual. It does, however, work well as an introductory guide to a system that has been working out very well for him, and is easy to implement.
If I had to pick out a negative — and a review isn’t a review if you don’t — I would say that my only issue is that there are a few rough patches in grammar and a few missed words that might cause you to have to re-read a sentence or two. Even still, the author’s message is always clear, so don’t let the nit-picky things hold you back. Besides, Daniel has stated that his eBook is going to receive quarterly updates — for free — that will include new content and will likely add a few edits in as well.
The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done in Evernote is an easy, informative, and entertaining read of approximately 40 pages. If you are looking for a decent overview of how GTD can be effectively accomplished in Evernote, it’s definitely worth the $5 price tag, especially considering the free updates for life that you get with it. [UPDATE: We now have an affiliate link that you can use to buy the book, which means we get a buck or two from each purchase if you purchase through that link.].
As you probably already know, GTD and Productivity are creatures that live somewhere deep in my bones. They speak to me, manipulate me, and generally run my life. Not in a bad way, you understand — even if they come across as a little obsessive, the little monsters really do have my best interests at heart. They’re the reason I’m always looking for new and inventive ways to refine and apply workflows. They’re also the reason that I’ve met some cool people who have their own little creatures that bitch and nag them into action.
During a recent conversation on Google+, with a circle of those people, we were discussing the benefits of both Producteev and Evernote as GTD tools, and how it would be great if they worked together. We decided to test out a means of making that happen, with Evernote as the ultimate collection tool, and Producteev as the magic task management/Google Calendar integrator.
Here’s what I proposed (have a read and tell me what you think):
The Gist of the Idea
The first thing to do is make Evernote able to send email directly to email@example.com. To do this, you need to register the email address that your Evernote uses (to email out a note) in your Producteev workspace(s). Now, any tasks in Evernote that you want to process into Producteev can be done directly from within EN.
The next thing you need to do is make sure your Evernote notes get to the right place in your Producteev setup. Producteev’s email2task functionality is fantastic. It incorporates a lot of simple language that allows you to easily do things like schedule a task from email by writing “Do this task tomorrow at 2pm” in the subject line (more on syntax below). If you are working in the Evernote desktop app, you can easily send out an email by selecting that option under Share, and then changing the subject line to reflect the appropriate email2task syntax. If you are in a mobile app, or unable to change the subject line for some reason, then you can simply change the title of your note to reflect what you want the email subject line to say.
These two steps make it possible to collect information in Evernote and share it with Producteev quickly and easily. Producteev can connect to Google Calendar, as well, for two-way sync (coming first week of February, 2012), which gives you the opportunity to finally connect Evernote to Google Calendar, if only by proxy.
Finally, using the Copy Note Link or Copy URL to Clipboard features found under the Note and Share buttons in Evernote, you can add the note’s own link to the email or note body, and leave an easy to follow link back to Evernote in any Producteev task you create.
GTD Use Cases for a Evernote-Producteev Bridge
- You could manage your GTD system in Evernote, doing everything from collecting to archiving, but use Producteev during processing to set up automated reminders and Google Calendar events. You could also add in email or IM Producteev functionality to easily close and update tasks, including sharing and delegating without ever logging in to the tool itself.
- You could also manage your GTD in Producteev and simply use Evernote as your main collection tool, as well as for keeping all of your reference material and archives in one easily searchable place. Producteev has many ways of inputting tasks, but Evernote can utilize voice, image, and text entry, as well as the clipper, and a crazy number of integrations, to collect and organize information.
- Evernote has superior collection capability but no true task management functionality.
- Producteev’s notes system and ability to add attachments simply can’t compare to Evernote.
- When you send an Evernote item into Producteev, the body is converted to a note. Actually, you end up with several notes, as any images that Evernote uses in the background of the note are added as separate (and useless) note items in Producteev. HTML is stripped out entirely, and this will sometimes leave garbage code in the text of the Producteev note. See the image below (thanks to Daniel Gold for doing the first test run!).
- Even though the Producteev notes are in plain text, the note itself is still in both tools. In Producteev, the notes system can be used to conduct a conversation around the task with others who have access to the workspace, or to leave additional notes for yourself if you are using Producteev as your main management system.
General Workflow & Syntax
- Collect in Evernote
- Process to Producteev via Evernote email-out and Producteev email2task syntax (with scheduled items going to Gcal, as well, for the visual calendar)
- Manage tasks in Evernote with Producteev used only for scheduling and reminders OR
- Manage tasks in Producteev and/or email with Evernote for archival reference
Syntax tips can be found here, but the basics are as follows:
- today, tomorrow, days of the week, next week, specific dates (today 8pm, August 10 8pm, 8pm August 10 when combining date and time)
- done (to register a task as being completed)
- @ to assign a task to a workspace collaborator (@Michael, @Michael Lewis, @Lewis, @ML)
- * to indicate a priority level using our 1-5 starring system (4* or ****)
- # to indicate workspace name (#Personal)
- ## to indicate the appropriate label (##Marketing)
- “” to add task notes (“follow up” or ‘follow up’)
- / to have the beaver run searches for you (/today for a list of all of your tasks due by the end of the day)
So what do you think of the possibilities of integrating Producteev and Evernote into one system that is relatively seamless? Thoughts? Concerns? Is this worthwhile? Let us know in the comments!
Reading about how our readers approach their tech/workflow combinations has been both enlightening and a pleasure. You guys are smart — and we appreciate you taking the time to articulate your personal systems with us. Nina Kefer has already shown us two GTD setups in applications she has experimented with. Her Beauty and Brains: Getting Things Done™ In Style series has put an emphasis on mobility (from the iPhone), a beautiful user interface, and above all, functionality. She wraps up her series today with her own take on and review of GTD in Springpad (Bobby put together a slightly different approach here), and a final conclusion as to which GTD setup ultimately works the best for her – and might for you, too.
Continuing with our Reader Workflow showcase, we’re proud to present Nina Kefer’s second post in her GTD experiments series, Beauty and Brains: Getting Things Done™ In Style. In her last article, she showed us a particularly awesome GTD setup with Awesome Note and Evernote; focused on the iPhone, overall. This time around, she delves into a mobile frontend for Toodledo. Read on for Nina’s GTD workflow with the iPhone app, 2Do.
For an additional take on Toodledo and GTD, also check out our post on Getting Things Done with Toodledo using pseudo-GTD methodologies.
Beauty & Brains: Getting Things Done™ In Style, Part 2 – 2Do
In my last article I described my GTD system for Awesome Note synced with Evernote. If you prefer a tighter sync between front and back end, however, you’ll want to give 2Do a try. 2Do is an award winning productivity app that syncs with the task management website Toodledo as well as iCal and Outlook (via a sync helper). I use a PC, so iCal is not an option and I don’t use Outlook because it doesn’t doesn’t play well with Gmail, so unfortunately I had to make do without a desktop client.
The sync with Toodledo is pretty tight, albeit with some peculiarities. 2Do’s interface is designed to look like a colourful Filofax and comes with several pre-installed “calendars” or tabs, which are basically to-dos, projects and check lists that are pulled together in the “Today” and “All” tabs. 2Do’s tabs appear in Toodledo as folders and, as with Awesome Note, they can be easily renamed or replaced to suit GTD. They can also be moved up or down and assigned custom colours – I basically think of them as dividers in a lever arch file or personal organiser.
While Toodledo supports contexts, 2Do doesn’t out of the box, but this can easily be set up by creating tags for each context and then searching for each tag using the excellent built-in search function. These searches can be saved as tabs which will then sync to Toodledo as folders. Just like “normal” tabs, they can be moved up or down to whichever position fits best with your GTD setup. Note that tags cannot be created from scratch; you first need to create a task, then you can create the tags to tag it with.
For my to-do system I use a similar setup as in Awesome Note. Since 2Do doesn’t have a dedicated inbox, I first created a new tab called Inbox. I then created a Next Action tab as well as saved searches for all my context tags. That way I can collect all next actions in one tab, but filter them by context using the saved searches. Since these are the folders I check most often I moved them to the top of the list, so they are immediately visible on my screen when I open the app. Alternatively, you can create a dedicated “normal” tab for each context. Finally, I created Project, Someday and Reference tabs and moved all tabs in an order that suited me best. I then manually arranged the corresponding folders in Toodledo in the same order:
- @Waiting (these appear as tags in Toodledo)
- Next Action
2Do offers an almost bewildering array of features, but they are elegantly tucked away in hidden menus, so the interface never looks cluttered. When creating your tasks you have the choice between three different types – to-do, checklist and project – that can be assigned six different actions: call, SMS, email, browse, visit and Google. Call, SMS, email and visit actions can be linked to the contacts in the iPhone’s address book and a tap on a task containing such an action will bring up the contact’s phone number or email address or show the postal address in Google maps. You can then call, text or email them directly from within the app.
A long tap on a task brings up a menu that shows what you can do with that particular task: mark as done, defer to another day, copy, share (via email, SMS or Twitter), delete, add note, take or attach a photo, record and attach an audio file or assign a due date and alarm. There is a choice between email alerts and local alerts, i.e. a notification on the phone lock screen that works even if data roaming is disabled or the phone is in airplane mode. For local alerts, you can choose between receiving a push message only or a message plus sound, with a choice of different alarm sounds. A red badge on the app icon shows how many to-dos are due or overdue and within the app overdue tasks appear in red font instead of black.
2Do uses two types of tags – word tags and people tags, the latter linked to contacts in the iPhone’s phone book – which make tasks easily traceable via the search function. You can also search by key word and date range, and searches you do frequently can again be saved as new calendar tabs, so in the future you only have to tap on the tab to bring up a search result.
Tasks can be sorted by status, priority (none, low, medium, high, star), due date, note, URL, alphabetical or manually. As in Awesome Note, you can sort each folder in a different way. The Today tab shows all tasks due today and additionally there is a focus button that can filter out to-dos that don’t fulfil certain requirements, e.g. due date or level of priority. Individual tasks can be moved from one tab to another with a few quick taps. Switching to landscape view in any tab brings up a calendar showing all tasks that are due in the current month. Finally, there is a nearby tab that alerts you when you approach a location connected with your task, but I don’t use it since it uses GPS and therefore guzzles battery.
Tasks, Subtasks, and Sync with Toodledo
I Get Things Done in 2Do in pretty much the same way as in Awesome Note: my Inbox and Next Action (and context) tabs are reviewed daily and Project tab weekly. As with Evernote, you send emails to Toodledo to create a task; you can specify folder, priority, due date and time, tag, repeat, and attach the body of the email as a note.
2Do supports subtasks, so there is no need for workaround like there is in Awesome Note. Each subtask can be given its own tag, due date, alarm, action and attachment and can be moved out of the project and into the appropriate Next Action folder, right from within the main task menu (parent and subtask can’t be in different folders). Alternatively, if you have created contexts tabs from saved searches, adding the appropriate context tag (@PC, @Contact, @Errands and so on) will make the subtask appear in that tab, with the project and folder name still visible. Finally, if you assign a due date, the task will eventually pop up in the Today tab. However, be aware that subtasks are a premium feature in Toodledo and in order for them to sync between 2Do and Toodledo together with their parent task you need a (paid) Pro account. In free accounts, subtasks sync separately from the parent task.
Tags, due dates and notes sync to Toodledo, but photos, location maps and audio files remain locally in 2Do as Toodledo only supports notes. However, this has the advantage that these files are available for offline use on the iPhone.
There is a reason why 2Do was voted Best iPhone Productivity app: in combination with Toodledo it offers pretty much everything one could wish for, except the option to sync your tasks with the iPhone calendar. It is quick and easy enough that you barely have to use the web, yet the sync with Toodledo is tight enough to be able to use both apps more or less interchangeably. Don’t be put off by Toodledo’s less than slick appearance either. It is a powerful and highly customisable task manager and there are a number of Stylish and Greasemonkey themes to pretty it up.
What are your thoughts on GTD in 2Do and Toodledo?
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.
Up Next: Part 3 – Springpad
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- I use Outlook Journal for time tracking from this article by Jim Boyce.
- I setup Outlook & OneNote for GTD from this article by Michael Wheatfill.
- I setup Evernote for GTD from this 40Tech article by Bobby Travis.
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?!
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 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.
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
I’m a GTD enthusiast. Rather, I’m a make-tech-work-for-GTD enthusiast, as is evidenced by previous posts showing how to incorporate GTD in Evernote and GTD in Producteev. Springpad always seemed like a good candidate for the GTD treatment as well, but, truth be told, the concept was a bit daunting. Springpad is a powerful tool. Over the last several months, the service has honed its user interface and focused its purpose, but there is still a lot going on under that pretty exterior. As such, a GTD in Springpad method required a certain level of commitment. Time, testing, that sort of thing. Don’t be scared, though — it’s the sort of commitment that tends to lead to really good things.
For those of you unfamiliar with the particulars of GTD, the GTD in Evernote post gives a very thorough breakdown of the concepts and how to use them. I won’t leave you hanging completely, though. If you need or want a quick rundown of GTD basics, read the next two paragraphs. If you already know everything you need to and want to jump right into the Springpad method, skip down a bit to the Springpad Setup section.
David Allen’s GTD — Getting Things Done — methodology is essentially the process of collecting the information that is thrown at you throughout your day and shoving it in a box so you can ignore it until a scheduled processing time. This maximizes your in-the-moment effectiveness. At processing time, everything that takes longer than two minutes to accomplish is broken down into an actionable next step. If an item requires more than one step, it becomes a project, is added to your projects list, and the next reasonable step goes into your next action lists.
Next actions are where GTD actually happens, as they are broken down into contexts that relate to where you are and what you need to do — @home, @work, @computer, @errands, @meetings, @calls, etc. These contexts allow you to “set it and forget it,” freeing your mind to focus on what you are doing now, not what you need to do later. Anything that is not a next action is either something you are waiting for, something that you need to be tickled about at a later date, a reference item, a someday/maybe, or useless junk that should be expunged from your reality. Following these concepts with a little discipline, and a weekly review to check the status of your projects and tie up loose ends, can potentially bring your entire life into a smooth, much less stressful sort of harmony.
Now that the background’s out of the way, we get into the meat of how to make GTD work in Springpad. Depending on how you work best, there are several ways you could go about adapting the service to suit you. Daniel Gold, a frequent and very helpful commenter here at 40Tech, put together a system that does most of the processing right in the “All My Stuff” area of Springpad, utilizing the built in task items and their categories, as well as flags to highlight his next actions — check it out on his blog. He’s also written a Springpad E-Book [affiliate link]. Another system, by Marcel Chaudron, takes Dan’s method and expands upon it, opening several notebooks to get a clearer visual of where items need to go. Both systems are viable and will work well, depending on your needs and the way you process information.
I had to take things in a slightly different direction for four reasons:
- A lot of what I need to get done comes in from various sources, including the camera on my iPhone, the web clipper bookmarklet/extension, manual entry, and especially email.
- There is currently no way to change a type (note, task, event, bookmark, etc.) in Springpad.
- Springpad does not allow filtering by the categories functionality built into the task item.
- I use Springpad, at times, for many different things that I’m interested in or researching, and find that too many things in the All My Stuff area is overwhelming. For me, any system that involves visual overwhelm is a system that I conveniently forget about — in a hurry.
GTD Notebooks & Context Tags
To solve these problems, I opened four notebooks: Get It Done, Follow Ups, Reference, and Someday. I then did away with task categories completely and started to creatively use the nuances of Springpad’s dynamic tagging system.
Tags start out in alphabetical order, but the ones with the largest number of items bubble up to the top of the list. This makes any sort of alphabetic reference system impossible — but when the tags are used for contexts, you suddenly have a means to see, at a glance, which context has the most tasks, and therefore requires the most attention! It also helps that, aside from in the All My Stuff area, tags only appear in the notebook(s) that the tagged item belongs to. The downside of this is that you have to be careful when attaching items to multiple notebooks.
Once your notebooks are created, open up Get It Done (or whatever you decide to call it) and create the contexts that best suit your particular needs (mine were @home, @computer (the equivalent of @work for me), @anywhere, @call, @meeting, @errand). The Get It Done notebook will serve as both your inbox and next action area.
Note: If there is nothing in a tag, the tag ceases to exist. To create a list of tags that never dies, use a dummy item in your notebook — I chose one with an inspirational message — and add every tag that you plan to use to that one note.
Getting the information into the Get It Done inbox is as easy as the click of a button in most cases; sending by email is currently the exception, as all emails go directly to All My Stuff. This will change in the next couple weeks, when Springpad adds the ability to set type and notebook (and possibly tags) when you send an email into the web app. In the meantime, take advantage of the “sort by date added” feature in All My Stuff.
This next step is completely optional, but I recommend it if you are like me and freak out when you see long task lists. Create a tag called something like [untagged] and attach it to all incoming items. This will allow one-click access to sort your GTD notebook into inbox only items. This step works well for me because I like things in one spot as much as possible. If that’s not your thing, create a separate notebook for next actions, using the tags, and create one that is just meant to be an inbox. Springpad makes it very easy to move items from notebook to notebook, so the extra step will hardly be noticeable.
As you process your items into their respective contexts, you will to use some of the other functions of Springpad:
- Reminders – Great way to set up an alert for a time-sensitive item. These can be configured to send to multiple email addresses and SMS. At this time, however, reminders can only be set in the web app, and on Android devices.
- Events – Events allow you to sync an item from your Springpad to Google Calendar. You can’t change item types, so events will need to be created from scratch as you process the items in your inbox.
- Tasks – In this GTD system, everything added to a context tag is treated as a task, so the Task item is somewhat redundant. If you like the task item’s format, and the ability to check a big checkbox when you are done makes you happy, then add tasks as you see fit. They will likely need to be created from scratch until Springpad implements type-switching (no ETA).
- Checklists – Another way to satisfy the need to check off check boxes, checklists are a great way to maintain your projects list. As your small and large projects are completed, check them off. Remember, anything that takes more than one step to accomplish is considered a project. Checklists are also a good place to track your goals and other listable things.
- Flagged Stuff – Clicking the little flag button in the web app (the command is in the upper right dropdown menu on the iPad and iPhone) will add the item to the Flagged Stuff area. This is a perfect way to highlight those next actions that need special attention.
If an item doesn’t fit any of the contexts, it will either go into the Follow Ups notebook, which has tags for Waiting For and Tickler items, the Someday notebook (tag it as suits you), be deleted entirely, or sent to the Reference notebook. In the GTD in Evernote post, Evernote had a tag set up that used tags for every letter of the alphabet. This doesn’t work in Springpad due to the dynamic nature of the tags. If you plan to keep reference notes and items in Springpad then I suggest you use category tags to group those items. You can also use specific keywords in subject lines or elsewhere and take advantage of Springpad’s search function. Notebooks that are specific to subjects or large projects are also a good idea. In fact, I encourage you to keep notebooks for large projects, as you can have next actions that ride in more than one notebook. This allows you to not only keep track of next actions that are specific to large projects, but also gives you use of the Board for those items, which may help you in your planning processes.
Another option for reference items is to export them individually by email. You could send them to whatever email-enabled organization tool you have, including Evernote and your email client. Each email contains a link back to the original Springpad item, making it easy to get right to it, and it also has a link for people to spring it into their own Springpad account. That last is fantastic for collaboration and backup purposes — though you can also collaborate by sending out a share link, or simply making the item or notebook public and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter.
The strength of Springpad as a GTD system is its flexibility. It is so easy to get information into Springpad and to change an item from one context or GTD state to another, including jumping around from notebook to notebook or even keeping one item in multiple notebooks. Combine that with the ability to access the app offline from all platforms, to bulk-edit items, enhance information on items that are related to products (mostly in the US at this point), and add events to Google Calendar — one place where Springpad will always have it over Evernote for me — and you can create and use a very solid GTD system.
I do wish that Springpad allowed for changing types, as that would cut out a step at times and just make things easier. I also wish that the iOS apps had the ability to add and edit reminders — Android does, as I understand it. With the way Springpad has been updating lately, though, I’m sure these features are only a matter of time.
UPDATE: Springpad adds autosave, backup, and export features! You can also add Types, Notebooks, and Tags directly to subject lines when sending in items via email. Oh, and viewing Springpad via RSS readers and full API access are also available. Check out the Springpad Blog for details!
Tell us about your experiences with GTD in Springpad.
David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) has developed a cult-like following, and for good reason. GTD helps you to be more efficient, and to, well, get things done. At the same time, tech is supposed to make your life easier, but at times it seems that it only drowns you with more and more information. Twitter, RSS, Facebook . . . how to stay on top of it all? Why not use GTD concepts to help you manage your digital streams?
If you have read 40Tech over the past year, you may have discovered my minor obsession with productivity apps and methods. It’s a journey that began with my first post here: GTD in Evernote with Only One Notebook (posted a year and a week ago ), and continued through reviews of Action Method Online and on into my latest experiment, Producteev 2. I have really been enjoying Producteev, and have been using it exclusively for some time now — so I decided it was time to attempt a full GTD implementation, and see how it would work. After some trial and error, I’m satisfied. Check out a walkthrough of my method for GTD in Producteev, below.