Yes, I still use Evernote. Because it’s still the best way to get s**t done.

I have used Evernote for close to 10 years now. In that time, it has helped me accomplish almost every single thing that I am proud of having done. When I got a record deal, signing with Soulmate/EMI, it was using music that I had composed and structured in Evernote, and a marketing campaign that I had planned in Evernote.

When I studied PR, Philosophy, Marketing & eventually my Masters in Communications, I did it with Evernote. That’s how I passed. That’s how I scraped through with the barest minimum effort (I was a shitty student…). When I got into law school it was with a letter that I wrote using Evernote. When I dropped out of law school it was after writing a pros and cons list in Evernote.

When I founded the blog that is Creatomic today, I brainstormed the entire thing in Evernote. I wrote every post. I wrote every interview. I wrote every concept, note and idea. I did what I did because Evernote worked for me.

There have been some things that I wasn’t happy with. Evernote dropped the ball on privacy, and that should never have happened. Their design became pretty complicated and there were too many features I couldn’t get behind — but that seems to be on the mend.

People ask me all the time why I still use the platform when there are hundreds of other note taking apps, and I have to say that it’s because of 3 things:

  • Reliability. No matter what device I buy — even if I picked up a damn Blackberry 10 device — I can install and use Evernote. That’s a big thing for me, because I work on a lot of different systems.
  • Brand loyalty. Is that a dumb reason? I hope not, because it’s what we’re all striving for with the businesses and the brands we create — we want to make something that people like enough to stick with. For me, Evernote has always been that, and it continues to be that.
  • It does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Every time I fire it up, it kills at what I need — a great space to write, ideate and track my tasks and responsibilities.

I wanted to follow this with an updated version of my Evernote workflow. I update this from time to time to keep it current with what I’m planning and doing and the style of work that I’m focused on.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked my ass off at a lot of different things, and the key to it all has been my Evernote workflow. It’s how I manage my whole life.

Every week, I get shit done. I have to. Here’s some of what I have on:

  • CMO for a startup called Speedlancer
  • Founder of Creatomic (blog)
  • Building a small creative design and marketing studio (Opkomend)
  • Publishing up to 5,000 words a week
  • Writing a book
  • Consulting for a financial services firm
  • Enjoying my hobbies and creativity
  • Keeping in touch with my Mum, my 6 brothers and my social life.

That adds up to a massive number of commitments. And to stay on top of all this, I’ve developed a way to work, over the past few years, that keeps me focused and accomplished without wasting time or blowing anything.

Before I get into it though, I want to be clear. What I do might not work for you. There is no golden key to productivity, and this is pretty specifically designed to match my workflow and my personality.

If you want to yell at me because you don’t like productivity posts…

That being said…I hope you find it useful :)

Here’s what I need for a productivity system.

It has to be easy to manage.
For me, the biggest obstacle to using any kind of workflow, process or system, is that if it’s complicated or difficult to use, I’ll drop out fast and I’ll lose track of it. That’s not good.

It has to be flexible enough to work with all my commitments. 
As the range of work that I do is pretty fucking broad, and the variety of stuff that has to get done is growing all the time, it can’t be the perfect system for any one area of my life. I’ve got to be able to manage family info alongside business plans and unit economic worksheets.

It has to be constantly evolving and changing with my tasks.
I need to have freedom to do fucking everything with it, all the time. It can’t be set in stone, it can’t be perfect, it has to work and work consistently.

This is based on an approach to Evernote called The Secret Weapon:

It was developed by the team at Braintoniq and it works an absolute charm.

The Set Up

I have a Notebook called Inbox. Everything that comes into my little world, whether it’s a note, a reminder, a task that needs to be done, an interesting article, it all gets thrown into Inbox.

Right now, I’ve already sorted my Inbox for the day. The only item left there is my Goals card.

I have an integration set up with my Gmail that automatically forwards any emails that I Star into my Evernote Inbox.

At the start of every single day, I go into my Inbox and sort through my tasks. I add a “.” tag to each note that assigns it to one of my open projects (example — “.Creatomic”) and an “@” tag that says who it applies to (example — “@Emily”).

Depending on whether the item has due date, I may or may not add a an automated Reminder to it.

Once that’s done, I’ll move into a notebook called Action Pending and assign a Priority tag:

Things that will be worked on today, or should be at the top of my mind today. Tasks that should get done etc. These apply across all projects and areas of my life.

Things that are important and should be done soon but don’t necessarily need to be done straight away. 
Example: Publish a blog post

Things that aren’t crucial, would be nice to get done, but don’t really have a pressing priority just yet.
Example: Clean out my CRM

The lowest priority of active tasks. 
Example: Buy a going away present for a friend next month

Mostly just ideas and tasks that could eventually happen. 
Example: Startup ideas I don’t have time for right now

Any task in any project of any priority that can’t be accomplished due to incomplete information or waiting on someone else. Tasks are added to this tag throughout my day.

How my day works in action…

  1. When my day begins, I sort through my email inbox. It takes about 10 minutes, and I’ll Star any important emails (using an IFTTT integration) so they wind up in my Evernote Inbox. Then I’ll go through the Evernote Inbox and sort everything as above.
  2. I sit down for a quiet 30 minutes to think through my commitments — no phone, no laptop, nothing but me and my weirdo brain and a cup of coffee, down at my local cafe Piato. I use this time to sort out my worries, projects, panic points etc.
  3. After that, I’ll go through 2-Next and decide if anything should be moved into 1-Now and 3-Soon to decide if anything should be moved into 2-Next.
  4. I’ll start work for the day in my 1-Now priority tag, moving through my to do list in order of hardest to easiest. I prefer to get the worst shit done ASAP and leave the easy stuff for the end of the day.
  5. If a task is not able to be completed because I’m waiting on something, I’ll shift it to the 6-Waiting tag.
  6. Every time a task is completed, I remove all tags and pass it into a notebook called Completed.
  7. Throughout the day, if I find an article or something interesting that I want to read, I assign a tag called Read/Review.
  8. At the end of my day, I’ll review the 6-Waiting tag and make sure that I have the info I need to keep working on the task.
  9. I’ll then go through 2-Next and 3-Soon and work out what needs to be reprioritised.
  10. When I get home, I normally sit down for a while and go through my Read/Review tag.
  11. To round everything out, I do a brain dump. This happens either in Evernote or on a physical notepad, and I get anything I’m worried about or nervous about out of my head and onto a page or screen so I can stop thinking about them and enjoy being with people.

That last point is actually super important. It’s fucked up not to spend time with the people you love. We try and sit down for meals together as often as possible, or cook dinner together while listening to our favorite records and drinking wine. It’s…nice :)

It also helps me remember that no amount of productivity means shit if you aren’t enjoying your life.

How I attack individual tasks

I work through my tasks first using the “4 D’s”

  • Do
    If I task must be done by me, it gets done. I’ll go into that note, break down the individual items into a check list and attack them one by one. I use a Burst approach, where I set a 15 minute timer, get stuck into a task, and then evaluate when that 15 minutes is up.
  • Delegate
    Here’s my rule. Does a task need my voice (either in person or in text) for it to be completed? If it doesn’t, it can probably be delegated, either to a freelancer, a contact, or an employee. That’s not a hard and fast rule — there’s a lot of stuff that just generally require my personal attention — but it’s a cool default position.
  • Delay
    If it needs me to do it, and I don’t have time, or it needs to be delegated and I don’t have the resource, I’ll delay it. First by one week, to be re-evaluated when I get there.
  • Delete
    If it’s not important enough for me to Do or Delegate, then guess what. It’s not important. I’ll delete these tasks pretty ruthlessly, and shoot off an email to any stakeholders saying this exactly.
    I don’t feel bad about sending this email, because it’s an honest way of telling people that what they want done can’t be done — rather than going on to disappoint them.
Hey, unfortunately ( Task ) can’t be a priority at this stage.
I’d be happy to circle back on it, but not for the next fortnight.
I’ll leave that with you.
Thanks for your understanding!

How I deal with “people” tasks

“People” tasks means podcast interviews, meetings, consulting sessions, anything that must be done in person. These can sometimes derail me, because they can’t be done on the fly and they have to happen in real time.

I have a rule that I book these in only 3 time periods.

  1. Early morning, between 7:45 and 8:30 AM
  2. Midday, between 1:00 and 2:00 PM
  3. Wrap up, between 6:00 and 7:00

If people aren’t able to work around those three slots, I’m usually not able to chat with them. The few times I’ve gone outside of them have normally left me feeling pretty wiped out, or they’ve done the unthinkable — and crossed over into my family/personal time.

Important! This is how I imagine myself when I use this workflow:

Final notes ‘n stuff

  • I do pay for an Evernote premium subscription. For me, the added benefits of context, smarter search etc. are just worth it.
  • You could do this whole set up in most free apps with no real drama. You could do it in a goddamn word doc if you wanted.

So that’s how I stay on top of shit.

Like I said, it’s not going to work for everyone. Some people reading this are going to hate me for being organised (not sure why, but every time I mention productivity I get at least one threat of violence in my inbox) but I hope the rest of you got something out of it.

I think the key lesson is that you’ll always need to find a way to make your productivity and your work happen around your personality, around something that makes sense for you.

Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear them! :)

If you enjoyed this post, please click that heart to show it. I appreciate it.

This week, Creatomic is sponsored by Opkomend Creative, a tiny studio working in PR, design, marketing and advertising. Founded by Jon Westenberg.