Getting Things Done by David Allen
Via a brilliant app called Blinkist, I’ve just read ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen – a key business title outlining ‘proven principles’ for good personal organisation, on approaching professional and personal tasks and getting control and focus.
One of the main concepts of the book is that in order to devote ourselves fully to our tasks, our minds need space. That’s why we should bundle all important information in a reliable productivity system outside our own heads.
Such ‘collection’ buckets’ as he calls them, include calendars, lists, notebooks and other storage – the key idea being these should be easily accessible anywhere you go and should be used frequently to de-clutter your mind and to organise your time more productively and focus on key tasks.
Fortunately all the ideas he describes I pretty much already do. I’ve always used my calendar to book future time out and section-off set periods to focus on key tasks. That way I ensure the most important tasks get the most attention etc. Outlook Tasks are also wonderful to use and invaluable to remember things, highlight key emails and more.
However none of these have been quite as useful as Evernote, and the purpose of this post is to explain why!
A key tool which I have fallen into using heavily over the last year is the brilliant Evernote.
It’s a tool which over the years I’d always heard great reviews about but never properly tried until recently. So I started trialling the free version in early 2015 and moved over to the premium version later that summer.
It’s really helped organise both my work life and personal life. There’s loads of great features which together add loads of value. I use it every day now for a variety of things.
You can read the Evernote website for a full list of all the features. I just wanted to go through and outline a few real life uses and how I use them to help organise my own time and work. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas to improve the way you organise your own wealth of information!
- Evernote offers Basic, Plus, Premium and Business levels – go here to register and create an account.
Access synced notes, on any device
It sounds simple but the ability to access anything from any device is so powerful.
Add the App to your iPad, add it to your Android phone, plus also to both your work and home PC browsers. All points of access are fully synced, meaning you can access the exact same content immediately from anywhere – simply by refreshing/syncing within the app.
Synced content makes Evernote really useful for:
- Making notes during a meeting on an iPad, then editing and completing them on your PC browser straight afterwards. I always go to my PC to finish notes as the interface is far easier and quicker in which to format notes and make them look good. Hint: if you’re taking notes on a tablet or smartphone in a meeting, download and use a swipe keyboard such as Swiftkey, Swype or Fleksy. They’re brilliant keyboards and will save you loads of time when typing on such a portable device.
- Adding content from your PC so that you can access it quickly and easily on a mobile device. I find this works well when going to a meeting. Beforehand I forward the email or text from a calendar appointment to Evernote. I can then switch to my iPad to use the same note as an agenda during the meeting and flesh out / make notes within that same note during that meeting. After which I switch back to my PC browser to edit the note.
- During Astronomy groups, I can quickly call up key resources about constellations and planets. These are far easier to collate materials via your web browser. By using the Evernote Web-clipper I can save images of constellations and websites directly into Evernote. All fit under an ‘Astronomy’ category in my Evernote profile, so the use of tags i.e. ‘Orion’, ‘Cygnus’, Capricornus’ , ‘Neptune’ etc makes it far easier to quickly access related materials saved into Evernote about that constellation or planet. Incidentally, another app which works really well for this is Flipboard, which presents your curated collections of websites in a much more pleasingly graphical way – see my Astronomy and the night sky Flipboard – flip.it/N2pvd – for an example of what you can do in Flipboard.
For any note you create, you can share the note and via a link you send via email to your recipient, you can set whether that person can just view the note, or even be a contributor and edit that note.
Sharing notes in this way makes Evernote very good for:
- Taking notes during a meeting with a client or work colleague, then forwarding your notes to them afterwards so that they can see notes and actions (for them and ones for you). The ability to insert tick-boxes into notes helps for such actions to stand out. You can also then ‘tick them off’ when these actions have been completed.
- I also find sharing notes easily lets you set out key resources for the other person to be aware of. This includes sharing websites by inserting hyperlinks into notes, or even adding attachments such as PDFs so that they can access a document.
- I also find that the ability to go into and update the shared note works really well too. So for example, if I’ve already shared the note with someone, and then afterwards remembered that there’s something else I needed to add, then that’s fine. I just go into the same shared note and update it. The next time they access it, they see the updated content.
- If they have edit rights, they can update notes, add new content, ‘tick off’ any actions they were assigned to them and more.
- You can communicate and discuss with those that you have shared notes with using the work chat function within Evernote. So for example, comment on notes you’ve shared, provide advice and talk to them within Evernote instead of switching to your email.
To do lists
A big part of Evernote is the ability to create and easily manage lists, such as to-do lists.
You can either do this by:
- adding a Reminder to a note. This means that the particular note rises to the top and is visible above all other notes. You can tick off whole notes, edit them, or amend the reminder so that an alert pops-up at a relevant time.
- inserting ‘tick-able boxes’ into notes. For example, create a shopping list full of items, then tick the content off as you go round the supermarket – another really great app for tick-able list is the amazing Wunderlist, which I highly recommend you also look into.
Plus of course you can update them on any device or share them and collaborate with others to complete lists.
I find that if I’m on holiday I make a list of what I want to additionally achieve in my life when I get back – like look into a qualification, go swimming more, try certain sports or clubs etc. You can then keep this list and tick them off as you achieve them.
Capture ideas whenever and wherever
The ability to create or update notes whenever and wherever, also helps to capture those ideas or moments of inspiration that pop into your mind whenever they hit you.
For example, if you’re reading a book, or walking to the car, or out on a bike ride, you can stop and via a widget on your smart phone, you can easily:
- type quick notes
- set reminders
- create hand-written notes ie. using the screen as a pad of paper
- record and capture spoken notes (this is really quick) OR even record speech and convert into text
- capture photos
- scan documents – it auto captures and scans pages. You can scan several pages into a single note and delete/retake any pages before saving. Another effective alternative is Microsoft’s Office Lens, which offers more options and formats for saving content.
- scan business cards – this is handy as it links with your contacts on your phone and converts a business card into a contact
When back at your PC or on your tablet, you can then decide what to do with these ideas and take action.
Capture everything else
Evernote Web Clipper
As well as easily capturing the above via the widget on your phone, you can add the Evernote Web Clipper extension to Chrome or to Firefox which enables you to clip whole pages or articles from the web and save them in Evernote. The best way to do this is to clip them as a ‘Simplified Article’, which strips out the webpage’s surrounding menu, adverts, widgets etc and saves it an easy to read article.
This works really well for saving interesting articles and content for later reading. It is very similar to using Pocket (another really fab web service and app to know about) – however Pocket is far better at saving condensed versions of web pages for reading offline on any device. The build in audio function within Pocket for reading content to you is very good too.
After using the Web Clipper to clip webpages, you can then annotate them:
- If you’ve clipped the webpage as a screenshot, you can add text, shapes, arrows, and stamps, or use the highlighter to draw attention to particular text. This is great for explaining to someone how to perform an action, or to explain something further on a web page – like in this example where I’ve provided tips on how to use Lynda.com to another colleague. This was so easy to create.
- If you’ve clipped it as a simplified article you can edit the webpage text, perhaps rephrase it or add your own further content and notes to the webpage. This is really useful if you’re learning something new, or if the web page is particularly content/text heavy, or needs amending. One thing that does work really well is then to share the Evernote notebook that you’ve clipped these articles to, such as in these examples – eLearning articles or HE Sector articles.
Email your Evernote account
As already mentioned, the ability to email directly to Evernote so that it creates a note is brilliantly useful too. Use this to save key emails, including attachments and more.
To find out what your individual Evernote email is, access settings within the app or go to www.evernote.com/Settings.action and log in.
Search and find anything you need easily
For anything added to Evernote, you can categorise it by adding it to a Notebook – for example ‘work’, ‘personal’, ‘interesting to read’, ‘Reminders’, ‘Holidays’ etc. This lets you add structure to all your notes.
Additionally you can also add tags to any note. Use tags like keywords so that you can draw and create links between notes that share the same topic but which sit in different notebooks.
Notebooks and tags can be easily used to find content. Alternatively simply use the inbuilt search function to quickly call up notes.
You’ll quickly find that Evernote will fill up with all sorts of useful information. In order to help you manage this mass of information (and it will quickly start to feel unwieldy), try these tips:
- tag all notes with at least 2-3 tags – as well as making information generally easier to find, you’re also creating links between information. This can be really useful down the line as it helps you to notice and therefore make use of other related content, which you may not have thought to find and use.
- merge notes – sadly you can only do this with the Evernote desktop app, which is a shame, as the ability to combine notes together can really help to organise an de-clutter. I would recommend you download and use the Windows Desktop app where you can as it’s really very good – it has more administrative functions and the general user experience is better.
- periodically revisit your categories and tags – delete unused tags, convert categories to tags and vice versa, restructure content to make it fit better, rename categories and tags.
- delete or merge notes – get rid of anything out of date, or merge notes together (this is find really useful for merging notes taken during project meetings after the project has finished).
The kind of stuff you can save in Evernote
To give you an idea, here’s the kind of stuff I save in Evernote, all which is easily accessible:
- Key websites – either bookmarks them, or save them as a ‘simplified article’ which you can then add your own notes and make alterations. See an example of three pages saved and joined together, with notes added on top – Trends Influencing Learning and Teaching: 2016, 2015 and 2014.
- Meeting minutes – take notes during a meeting, add tick lists etc for where actions are required. After the event improve notes on your work PC, plus share them if you need to. Use them to remember what you need to do and chase actions. See an example of notes taken at a conference.
- Important emails – usually I merge these, makes notes in them, add attachments and more.
- P60s, Insurance docs etc – all that kind of legal stuff which is usually filed away in some forgotten place. Read their security policy – evernote.com/security – if you have any queries or concerns about saving secure information in Evernote. Disclaimer: it’s really up to you though if you want to use Evernote to save confidential info. If you’re concerned, don’t save any personal information in there. Don’t save any confidential UN info in Evernote as this would be against UN policies.
- Instruction manuals or guides – as well as saving PDF guides, snap any physical manuals (which usually have the same instructions in several different languages so are always far bigger than you actually need), then you can throw the paper manual away, rather than it sitting in a drawer being hidden and forgotten about. See an example.
- Any CPD content – you’re probably using web page content for any learning and development you’re undertaking, so clip it to Evernote, make notes within it, link it to other content and more. All will help make your learning stick.
- Brand documents and strategy – that way you have strategy, operational plans, competencies, behaviours, values, marketing docs, brand guidelines etc all easily to hand.
- Reminders – set reminders on key notes. Or create ideas in Evernote first, then use a simpler, more focused task management app such as the brilliant Wunderlist or Trello and add links to Evernote notes in there. This is good for home projects too.
- Key files – I have loads of training materials and project documents backed up in Evernote, should I ever need to retrieve them quickly. Either that or simply links to Google Drive documents or OneDrive documents or folders. As they’re tagged, I can easily retrieve links and access contently quickly without fuss.
- Menus for restaurants and takeaways – That way you can discard the paper version.
- Family stuff – Kids homework tips, or generally just photos of fun stuff they’ve created, or their achievements. Great for saving all the lovely materials from life.
- Presents and gifts – Groupon vouchers or presents I must use by a certain date etc.
- Highlighted content from Blinkist – this is automatically saved in Evernote and helps me to remember and recall key information learnt in books.
- Misc. lists, lists, lists – Lists of books to read, videos to watch, Spotify music to download, apps to try, piano or guitar songs to learn, a wishlist for your dream car garage etc etc – the possibilities are endless…
Fancy giving Evernote a try?
- Evernote offers Basic, Plus, Premium and Business levels – go here to register and create an account.
- evernote.com/download – to view all options to download the Evernote Android or iOS app to your tablet or smartphone. You could even download the Windows Desktop programme. Failing that you can always simply access Evernote via any browser. Also, if you use Chrome on your PC, remember to add the Evernote Web Clipper, or if you use Firefox, the Firefox Evernote Web Clipper (sadly doesn’t work as well in my experience).
- evernote.com/evernote/guide/windows/ – use the top drop-down to change the guide depending on where you’re using Evernote (Windows Desktop, Web, Android, iPad etc.)
- Apps for Productivity Google+ community – see comments from others, plus info on lots of other useful apps. Alternatively just ask any questions via the comments box below within this post.
- View the Lynda.com training video for UN staff – 2h, 27m – Learn how Evernote for Windows can help you keep track of your busy life and all the details in it.
Have I missed anything?
If you use Evernote, what do you find most useful? Please say below.