iPhone Life magazine

Evernote — the 'Getting Things Done' Software Solution?

David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) and EvernoteIn iView—my inside, back-cover column in iPhone Life magazine—I discuss David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” organizational and time management scheme in the July/August 2013 issue. In the article, I briefly summarize Allen’s thinking and suggest iPhone, iPad, Mac, and PC software to best implement it. Since writing the article, I’ve settled on Evernote (free), and am quite pleased with it.

Here, I will post much of the article and will add more information about Evernote. If you would like to comment and add knowledge from your experience with the software, that would be great.

Introduction to 'Getting Things Done'

Everything seems to compete for my attention — daily email, voicemail, family obligations, ongoing projects, potential projects, consulting work, meetings, shopping, civic responsibilities, social media, apps to test, books to read, and a messy desk with piles of stuff. How do I deal with this?

Some years back, when I ran this publishing company, I integrated David Allen's Getting Things Done® system into my daily routine. However, as Allen would say, I have, fallen off the wagon.

I am recommitting to using Allen’s proven methodology, making optimal use of my iPhone, iPad, and PC. I do it so I can, as Allen says, “have a mind like water,” which refers to the state of readiness of a still pond that responds precisely to the force and mass of a pebble—neither overreacting nor under reacting—before returning to stillness.

What is Getting Things Done?

The goal of GTD is to get stuff out of your head and into a trusted system, so you can have a clear mind present on the task at hand. To do so, one must gather everything—thoughts, emails, papers, and reminders—that has no place to go. With GTD, each item is either dealt with immediately, or clarified and placed in a trusted system; nothing gets lost or overlooked. You can review the system as often as necessary and determine the next action steps.

The Heart of GTD: Clarifying Clutter

Organizing your tasks with the GTD system requires that you examine each item and quickly determine what to do with it: delete it, delegate it, defer it, file it, do it if it takes less than two minutes, or put it into a next action, someday, or projects list. The key point is that most of our stuff sticks around in our inbox, desks, and minds because we don't take 10-15 seconds to clearly identify what each piece is.

Enter the iPhone

Evernote on the iPhone

The iPhone is the perfect tool for GTD—you can input, organize, and review tasks at any time. If your trusted system is in the cloud, you could access the same data on your iPad, PC, or Mac. The challenge is finding the right software. The image to the left shows Evernote on the iPhone.

Choosing GTD Software

Perhaps because GTD is systematic and algorithmic, it seems to attract technologically inclined individuals. There are literally hundreds of apps people use for GTD. According to online blogs and discussion, these tools can be quite helpful, but they also display some areas of clunkiness. Accordingly, the David Allen Company has teamed up with Intentional Software to develop GTD software from the ground up (intentsoft.com/overview/gtd). Cost and release date have not been announced. I don’t want to wait, so I did quite a bit of research online for the best alternative.

For Mac, iPhone, and iPad users, the consensus seems to be the OmniFocus app ($19.99iPad version: $39.99), or possibly Evernote (free). For those of us who also use a PC, there are several other alternatives. Pocket Informant Pro ($14.99) and MyLifeOrganized ($9.99iPad version $19.99), and particularly Nozbe (free), and Toodledoo ($2.99) were mentioned frequently. For flexibility, comprehensiveness, support, cost, multi-device capability, and synchronization, Evernote (free) may well be the best choice.

Using Evernote

My column ends with the above tease about Evernote. I’ve gone ahead and started using Evernote and am quite pleased. If you are interested in learning about Evernote, even if you don’t use Getting Things Done, here are some tips to get you started.

You Have to Commit to Evernote for Evernote to be Useful

Evernote on PCI’ve heard of Evernote for years. However, I never quite got how it worked and what I would use it for. Basically, it is a blank slate system that allows you to put all your stuff in one place for easy access. So, I have two Evernote “notebooks”, one for reference material and another for my todo’s and projects. Above is a screen shot of Evernote on my PC.

If you prefer to start slowly, you could create a notebook for one project, and have everything having to do with that project in an Evernote notebook. The point is for Evernote to be really useful, it needs to become all encompassing for some universe of content.

Evernote Basics

The main unit of Evernote is a “note.” Notes can be text, PDFs, photos, videos, audio, and they can have file attachments. You can group notes in notebooks. You can also “tag” a note with a label. If you search all notebooks for a tag, the resultant notes with that tag come up across notebooks.

You can search for tags or text in specific notebooks or across notebooks. You can save searches. Many software programs such as web browsers, Outlook and Mindjet have Evernote add-ins, which makes moving content to Evernote fast and easy.

Based on advice I found by Googling, I have only a few notebooks (“Todo” and “Reference”).  I organize and find stuff by tagging and searching.That’s pretty much it. There isn’t a big learning curve, especially if you use getting started material such as mentioned below.

Great Getting Started Material

There is lots of good Evernote tutorials and discussion threads to be found. Here is what I used that got me going quickly.  The following are especially good for PC users, but Mac users will also find them of value.

If you are going to use Getting Things Done (GTD) with Evernote, first stop should be “The Secret Weapon,” which contains about a dozen short video tutorials that will help you get set up. If you are familiar with GTD and want to cut to the chase, I’d recommend starting with “Prepping Evernote for TSW.” 

I also recommend two short Kindle eBooks, Daniel Gold's Evernote: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done ($5), and Brandon Collins' 2 Hour Guide to Mastering Evernote - Including: Tips, Uses, and Evernote Essentials ($2.99). Finally, Brandon Collins has a wonderful YouTube video that accompanies his book.

How Do You Stay on Top of Things?

Readers, if you use Evernote, or another app to help you get things done, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your questions, reference suggestions, great threads, apps, tips, and alternatives in the comments section.

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Hal Goldstein's picture

Hal Goldstein (hal @ iphonelife.com) is the founder, partner, and Senior Editor of  iPhone Life. Hal founded Thaddeus Computing in May 1985, and remains CEO (www.thaddeus.com). Since its inception, Thaddeus Computing has written about, bought, and sold pre-owned mobile computers. Hal lives in Fairfield, Iowa, with his wife and co-founder, Rita.