How to Build a Productive System with Evernote to Get Things Done

Be more productive to enjoy a stress-free life

In a busy world, it’s important to take charge of your own time to be able to live freely and without stress 🙂. I personally started to work on my productivity 10 years ago, in my first years of college, in order to find a good balance between study, student clubs projects, and parties 😬! I’ve been improving and iterating my own process year after year, first offline, then it got online using Evernote. It’s only 4 years ago that I finally found my perfect productive system!

I’m going to share mine in this post and how to build yours without losing 10 years of your life.

Getting Things Done 📝

Getting Things Done is a time management method, described in the book of the same title by productivity consultant David Allen. The method is often referred to as GTD.

The goal of GTD is to reduce the stress by unloading your mind from things to do by recording them externally.

Before knowing about GTD, I was having post-its in my desks, some tasks in my email box as unread emails, and some to do lists 🤪. Every week I was trying to put these task into an A4 paper sheet divided into 7 columns, one for each day. It worked more or less, except that every day I had some remaining tasks from the previous day that I had to move it to another day! Also when traveling I always had to keep this paper with me to avoid loosing it!

One day a friend of mine told me about The Secret Weapon (TSW). This was the day which changed my life 🙌!

Source: https://thesecretweapon.org

GTD is a method that can be done with any tool and TSW explains how to use Evernote to get things done! This is pretty amazing.

I invite you to check the official website if you want to be a TSW expert:

If you don’t have so much time just read this post, it will give you enough information to get started!

GTD in a nutshell

I actually never read the official GTD book. I only read the TSW manifest and the figures below.

GTD workflow — Source: https://www.slideshare.net/su_vijay/workflow-for-getting-things-done

A few details for better understanding:

  • “Stuff” should come from any sources: your colleagues, friends, emails, post its, basically anything.
  • I personally call tasks actionable items.
  • Short tasks (less than 2 minutes) should be done directly if possible.

Actually, you can stop to read now and start to get things done using a calendar and a notebook but if you continue you can see how to do it with Evernote.

Note that with Evernote you can manage the full workflow (managing projects, tasks and collect information) except the calendar, I personally recommend to use Google Calendar or another alternative.

Evernote for a better productivity 📗

Evernote is a note taking tool. It’s basically a way to replace notebooks. You use Evernote to store text, sounds, images, and documents. Everything is saved in their cloud and synced across all your devices 😎.

Why Evernote for Productivity

There are many note-taking apps such as OneNote from Microsoft, Keep from Google or Notes from Apple but Evernote is powerful mainly for four reasons:

  • It works on many platforms (OSX, Windows, Android, iOS, Web) and the notes are sync across devices.
  • It has many extensions for your browser (to save a website to Evernote for example) and an API to build apps on top.
  • It has an email address you can forward emails to.
  • It uses tags, and notebooks, so you can organize your note as you wish and create powerful saved searches.

You will understand later on why these four reasons make it perfect for productivity 📈.

Get started with your productive system

First thing is to install Evernote in your desktop (and mobile), it’s a lot more convenient than the web version. Then create an account!

Evernote has two different but powerful use cases. Both will improve your productivity.

First use case: collect and store information and documents. For example, you can save your bills and invoices, train tickets, hotel receipt, movies title recommended by your friends, your favourite recipes, business cards, blog posts to read later, or any administrative document. Don’t worry you can put them in dedicated notebooks then you can also find them through the search!

Second use case: using it to manage your tasks, manage your projects!

Let see how to do both! 👍

Get your Evernote email

Every Evernote account has an email address, you can use it to transfer your emails directly to Evernote. You can find more information here.

This address looks like this username.8963c23@m.evernote.com you can find it, after login in, on the bottom of this page: https://www.evernote.com/Settings.action

Save this email, maybe you can give a try!

Set up your Notebooks 📚

Let’s first set up the notebooks. Notebooks are like folders. In Evernote, you can have up to two levels of notebooks (the stack and the notebook).

Here is how I personally structured my notebooks to cover both use cases (collecting information and managing tasks):

.
├── Tasks
│ ├── Action pending
│ └── Completed
├── Studies
│ ├── MOOCs
│ └── University
├── Personal
│ ├── Administrative
│ ├── Drawings
│ ├── Emails
│ ├── Movies
│ ├── Music
│ ├── Recipes
│ └── Trips
├── Professional
│ ├── Business cards
│ ├── Entrepreneurship
│ ├── Ideas
│ └── Inspiration
└── Misc

The Tasks notebook contains two notebooks:

  • Action pending — you can add inside this notebook each task to do as a note.
  • Completed — you will drop the tasks there, represented by a note, once it is done.

Then I have 4 other notebooks for collecting information:

  • The information linked to my studies and to the MOOCs I do.
  • Some personal information: invoices for warranties, administrative documents, some emails, movies I was recommended to watch, …
  • Professional information: Business cards, posts about entrepreneurship, every time I have an idea I just write it there, or I also collect design inspiration!

Note that you can save articles/websites very easily with the Evernote Web Clipper extension:

The last notebook is Misc it’s the default notebook where the notes go (the ones that you didn’t specify any notebook to go to or the ones you got from your Evernote email address).

Creating a notebook is pretty simple, in windows, just click on the “+” button next to “Notebooks” (“Carnets de notes” in French).

If you don’t manage, check this documentation.

Set up your Tags 🔖

Tags are used to filter your information/tasks, it is very powerful, you can append as many tags as you wish per note. Also, you can create a very deep hierarchy of tags. For advanced filters.

Here are the tags I use:

.
├── What
│ ├── Portfolio
│ ├── GitNews
│ ├── Blog
│ └── Studies
├── When
│ ├── !Daily
│ ├── 1-Now
│ ├── 2-Next
│ ├── 3-Soon
│ ├── 4-Later
│ └── 5-Someday
├── Where
│ ├── @home
│ ├── @work
│ └── @university
├── Who
│ ├── John
│ ├── Didier
│ ├── Aurelie
│ └── Dad
├── Completion date
│ ├── #2018-10
│ ├── #2018-11
│ ├── #2018-12
│ └── #2019-01
└── Specific tasks
├── To read
├── To watch
├── To listen
└── To visit

The most important tags are the one inside “When”, the rest is pretty optional:

  • !Daily — For the tasks that have to be done every day (for example, for your morning exercises).
  • 1-Now — For the tasks I have to do today.
  • 2-Next— For the tasks I have to do tomorrow.
  • 3-Soon— For the tasks I have to do during this week.
  • 4-Later — For the tasks I have to do during this month.
  • 5-Someday— For the tasks I have to do after this month (or anytime).

The time scope I use is personal, feel free to adjust the one that fits you the most! Thanks to these tags you can filter and see the tasks you have to do today, tomorrow, during this week or later. When you need to move a task from 2-Next to 1-Now you will have to remove the tag and add the other.

Then I have some other tags, that I don’t use very often:

  • What— To filter the tasks related to a specific project.
  • Where— To filter the tasks related to a place, for example, you arrive at home you will filter the one with the tags 1-Now and @home.
  • Who— To filter the tasks you have to do with someone
  • Completion date — To know when you have done a specific task, you will understand why later.
  • Specific tasks — I use these tags to know which of the collected “Movies”, “Books” or “Music”, I still have to watch, read or listen.

Note that I use symbols or number, it’s just to find it faster using the autocomplete of Evernote.

Creating tags is also pretty easy, just click on “+” next to “Tags” (Etiquettes in French), then you can just drag’n’drop them.

If you don’t manage you can check the documentation.

You can filter the notes by going into the notebook you want then the tag you want to filter with. You can also add additional tag pressing “CTRL” on Windows and “COMMAND” on OSX. Also, you can create queries and save them using saved searches.

We are now ready 🎉!

Use your productive system

Here are a few use cases that I do on a daily basis:

  • I receive an email asking me to fill the tax form, I’ll transfer it to my Evernote email. I’ll open Evernote and add a 3-Soon tag and I move it to the Action pending notebook not to forget to do it during the week. Since every morning I check this notebook, I will not forget!
  • I am meeting with my friend and he recommends me to watch the movie First man. I then create a note that I put in the notebook Movies and I append a tag to watch. A few days later I am looking for a movie to watch, I just open Evernote and show only the notes with this tag!

These use cases are pretty basic and happen very often, you can also handle more complex use cases with the Who, Where, What, andWhere combined. It personally never happened to me!

Now, you know how to supercharge your life with Evernote, let’s see how to make it simpler using the super secret weapon: Kanbanote.

Bring the Kanban to Evernote ⚡️

As you could read so far, Evernote can do a lot of things, but it can be annoying to use on a daily basis going back and forth between tags filters and notes 🙁.

That is why I decided to bring the Kanban view to Evernote by creating Kanbanote. I use it every day to manage my tasks and it’s an important and essential part of my productive system. Indeed I promote it because I built it, and I encourage you to build your own tool if it doesn't fit you 👍.

You can always give it a try, it’s free: https://www.kanbanote.com

Set up your Kanban

First, login into Kanbanote, you will have to just log in with your Evernote account and provide your email.

Note that if you created your Evernote account with your Google account you will have to click on “Create new account” to be able to login back with the Google account.

Once logged in you will see this page.

Then click on “Create a new List” and chose a Notebook and/or a Filter. In my case I use the following Lists:

  • Done — Notebook: Completed, and (optional) tag: #2019-01 I use a completion date to be able to track how many tasks I’ve done every month.
  • To do Now— Notebook: Action pending, and tag: 1-Now.
  • To do Next— Notebook: Action pending, and tag: 2-Next.
  • To do Soon— Notebook: Action pending, and tag: 3-Soon.
  • To do Someday— Notebook: Action pending, and tag: 4-Someday.

And this is what you will get.

Kanbanote will show in each lists the notes from Evernote that matches the notebook/tag filter.

You can then repeat the action creating new boards and other notebooks or other tags.

Note that Kanbanote respects your privacy 🔐, nothing is saved except the titles of your Lists and Boards. Also, at the moment I am writing this post, it’s not possible to filter with many tags. This feature will be implemented in the future.

Manage your daily life and your projects with Kanbanote

Once your boards are ready, you can use Kanbanote to create, edit, delete and move notes around with drag’n’drop. You will not have to go to Evernote to change the tags or notebooks of your notes. It is very easy and convenient.

I personally start my day checking my tasks and finish the day updating the board moving the tasks around! It’s my productive routine, it works very well for me. Usually, I move the tasks to “Done” as soon as they are done, this bring me a positive reward (to my brain) that motivates me to get things done 🚀

Add color to your life 🎨

You can also change the color of your note by adding one of these “hashtags” to the title of the note: #red #blue #green #yellow #purple #grey #orange

By adding #yellow to the title, the note turns to yellow after saving!

Get the Progressive Web App

A Progressive Web App (PWA) is like a mobile app, but you cannot find it to the store. It’s working very good on Android and not yet very good on iOS. You can install it using Chrome, by going to https://www.kanbanote.com, log in, then click on the menu button (the three dots) and click on “Add to home screen”. Or just wait until you get the following prompt that lets you install it.

If you want to know more about PWA, feel free to read my post about it: https://medium.com/learning-lab/how-i-learnt-progressive-web-apps-in-a-month-and-implemented-it-635448ed1330

Automate your life

Now that you have everything you can move one step further by automating tasks.

You can connect many apps to Evernote using:

  • IFTTT or Zapier — Services to connect any app to Evernote, for example, you can create a note automatically when someone assigns you on a GitHub issue, or you can create a note every time you create a Google Calendar event. The possibilities are limitless!
  • Snoozever — A script that transfers snoozed emails from Gmail to Evernote 😉.

What’s next? 🤔

Now you have everything set up, what can you do?

Believe me, if you built a system that fits you, you will necessarily unlock more free time, which means more time to:

  • Learn new things 🎓
  • Work on side projects 📋
  • Meet your friends and family ✌️
  • Go out 🎉
  • Travel 🌍
  • Enjoy life 🚀

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