How to Implement GTD Using Evernote: The Simpler Way

Most of the GTD implementations using Evernote get complicated given the flexibility of Evernote. But having a complex system of Notebooks and Tags becomes a big task to maintain in the long run.

Here is a simpler way to implement GTD using Evernote. You can use this system without getting overwhelmed: 

Evernote Overview



Evernote is easily world’s best note taking app. Once you start using it, you will realize it’s much more than note-taking. It’s a versatile tool to collect and organize every type of information, right from screenshots, images, to entire web pages and To-Do lists. Evernote’s search is breathtakingly intelligent and help you find stuff in seconds. Another notable feature of Evernote is its instant syncing capabilities across all devices such as iPad, Android Phone, iPhone and Computer.

Getting Started with Evernote

Evernote is free and you can download it from here.

Once you download and install Evernote, you can register for a free account using their default desktop screen as shown below:

register for evernote

Evernote register

It is also recommended to download the Evernote App on your Android/iPhone/Tablets so that you can start using it everywhere.

Implementing GTD using Evernote

When you login to Evernote for the first time, it has already created “First Notebook” by default. You can re-name it as you like but that isn’t necessary.

Now, let’s create some Notes in your “First Notebook” by clicking on the “New Note” link in the File menu shown below:

new note

create new note

Create following Notes (in bold) by writing the name of the note in the Note Title section (it usually says “Untitled Note” before you write down anything):

1. Professional Projects – This Note stores list of all your Professional Projects. Maintaining a separate list of Professional Projects helps you get focused on your professional or business goals.

2. Personal Projects – This Note stores list of all your Personal Projects. Usually you do these projects if time permits or based on the need of the situation.

3. Delegated Projects – This is an optional Note. Sometimes, you don’t work on projects yourself but delegate them to others. If you are managing a team and responsible to oversee multiple delegated projects without directly working on them, you may need this list. But if you are a solo-worker like me, you probably don’t need this list.

4. @Computer – This note will store a list of all your “Next Actions” you will do while working on your Computer. If you have multiple computers and you do different types of work on each computer, it’s better to create a separate context for each computer such as – @Mac or @OfficeComputer

5. @Home – This note will store a list of all your physical actions you can do while at Home.

6. @Office – This note will store all your physical actions you need to take care when at Office.

7. @Call – This note will store all your “Next Actions” related to calling people using your phone (it is optional). I tend to forget calling people often and I use this list frequently. But many people I have seen don’t need it much. Take your own judgement.

8. @People – This note will store Agenda items you want to talk about with people when you meet them (personally, on phone or chat)

9. @Errands – This note stores all items you need to take care when you go out for Errands e.g. grocery shopping, bank visit, laundry etc.

10. @WaitingFor – This note stores all actionable items you have delegated to others.

11. Someday/Maybe – This note stores all your Incubating projects that you do not see in the next one month horizon. As soon as some of these projects mature, they will be a part of your personal or professional projects.

Once you create these Notes, drag each one of them inside the shortcut section of your side bar. At a later stage, these shortcuts will be highly accessible when you have plenty of Notes.

That’s about it. After creating all notes and adding them to shortcuts, Your Evernote should screen should look like the one below:

evernote final

final set-up of evernote

Using Evernote Everyday

You might have noticed, we did not create “Collection” Note in Evernote. I strongly recommend to use physical pen and paper as a collection bucket instead of Evernote. The other collection buckets are – E-mail Inbox, Phone and Physical In-basket. The reason why I do not recommend using Evernote as another collection bucket is because you could easily get overwhelmed with large number of notes and processing them will be time consuming. Anything into Evernote goes after “processing” your stuff, not before.

The idea of “Real Time” processing

Most of the times, we can actually determine what a “Stuff” is – whether actionable or non-actionable. If you are instantly clear about a “Stuff” and Evernote is in front of you, directly process it, don’t collect it. However, sometimes it may happen that some things are not clear. Write those things down in your spiral notebook and process the results in Evernote later. This will save a tonne of time instead of collecting everything in Evernote.

On a Daily Basis

Now that your Evernote GTD set-up is done, here is what you need to do on a daily basis:

  1. Review your Calendar and “@___” list and take actions. Ideal time to review your To-Do lists is once before you check e-mail in the morning and once before finishing your day.
  2. Copy/paste actions from Project List and add any new actions you identify on-the-go.
  3. Define MITs for the day – This step is very critical. Everyday morning or previous night before you go to bed, determine 3 to 5 most important tasks you will complete on a given day. Defining MITs will keep you happy and satisfied with what you are doing or not doing.
  4. Process all your collected stuff at the end of each day and organize it into Projects, Next Actions or Reference material. Do not pile up your collection buckets, otherwise, get prepared to spend more time in processing your stuff during the weekly review.

At the end of Every Week

Perform a weekly review preferably on Friday or Saturday and clean-up your Physical Notes and EverNotes. Review all your Projects. Define new projects, close existing projects and cross out action steps which are done during the week. Clean-up your action lists and ensure that they are clean, clear, current and complete.

Storing Reminders

Evernote does a decent job of storing reminders. But I still prefer to use iCal (configured with Google Calendar) for all my appointments and reminders. Some people I have coached still like to use Evernote for keeping reminders, it’s good either ways. The rational behind my choice of iCal is that, Calendar provides a decent view of time/day slots and it’s easy to send calendar invites to others, as most people use it.

Up next, I will be explaining some advanced usage of Evernote in context to your daily productivity. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, feel free write a comment below.

I would love to know your insights and collectively develop a better productivity system. Do write me a line or two below!

7 Productivity Insights and Lessons from my GTD Implementation

GTD feedback and review

GTD review

For those of you who are new to this, GTD stands for Getting Things Done, a revolutionary personal productivity system by David Allen.

1. Here is how my GTD journey started

I implemented GTD using Evernote. I was new to both GTD and Evernote. Initially, I found a bit awkward to keep storing things in Evernote (Probably because I was so much disorganized). However, as I started using it, it became my second nature.

Now that my habit is created, the moment I saw something interesting or worth considering,  I clip it using Evernote shortcut and tag it. I don’t have to divert myself from my current task.

I forward important emails to Evernote, getting to Inbox zero everyday. I also started shifting my paper notes to Evernote (usually daily) and tear off the filled pages, always to see clean and empty pages everyday morning. It was such a relief to be in Zero state, so often!

2. Too much organizing can be Okay

Sometimes, it’s too much of work sorting through so many notes, tossing them in respective folders and removing unnecessary items. It does takes its own time.

But the good part is, once I am done, it feels a lot better. I almost experience that my mind is empty and I can go back to “doing” rather than constantly pondering unnecessarily over things!

The most visible benefit was the amount of new ideas that started flowing in. I have started getting tones of new ideas. Each day, I fill up one to two pages worth of ideas transferred into my Evernote.

Quite surprisingly, even after so much work during a day, I tend to remain in a state of relaxed control. I have also increased my self-awareness and use pen & paper often.

There is a greater sense of peace and relaxed control because I am aware of my world and where I am placed in the grand scheme of things.

3. It does takes some Motivation and Discipline

I realized that even after knowing the system very well and learning how to use it with Evernote, putting it to daily practice wasn’t that easy. I kept forgetting to review my “Next Action” and “Projects” list.

I often went back to doing things based on my default state, without giving any thought to time, energy and priority.

Gradually with some mindfulness, I become more aware of these default behaviors and started replacing them with habit of reviewing as often as I need to. The MIT’s (most important tasks for the day) came to rescue as a good productivity hack.

4. Piled up with Unprocessed “Stuff”

Once in a while, I kept missing reviewing all my notes and processing them. On certain occasions, my collection became so big that it took me almost half day to bring everything in order.

However, once I did it (reaching clear, current and complete state), I started seeing immediate benefits in my productivity. At times, I could literally finish up the same task in “half” the time than I used to because my  mind was clear and focused.

Key lesson learned – “work hard on making things easier so that, you have to do less hard work”

5. Lost in Tags

Just like any new Evernote user, I was quite impressed with it’s tagging feature. I went into the frenzy of creating a large number of tags. Later on, I realized that the overwhelming number of tags were hard to maintain and use.

Subsequently, I started merging tags and reducing the tag list to just about 25. I still need to reduce some more but I think this is manageable for now.

6. Too May Notes to “Read/Review”

This is a potential black hole which I fell into while using GTD. I started creating too many notes. Since I knew that I can toss anything at Evernote, I started feeding a lot of stuff to it. (Evernote can eat anything from pdf, video, and images to calendar and to-do list)

I used to have over 30 to 40 items to “Read/Review” at any point of time. I knew there was no way I am going to read review all of that because it was increasing everyday. I was doing something wrong!

What did I do wrong?

I realized that I had started overusing the e-mail capture feature of Evernote. I was sending every e-mail “worth reading” to Evernote. A majority of such e-mails were blogs subscriptions.

How I fixed it?

The first thing I did was to just cancel 80% of blog subscriptions which I can afford to “read later” and added them to my Feedly subscription list.

This served multiple benefits. First, my e-mail inbox processing time reduced. Second, the amount of “stuff” collected in my Evernote got smaller. At the same time, I can always go to Feedly and read my favorite blogs anytime.

7. Lessons Learnt

  1. Don’t overuse Evernote. Be  mindful about your “Collection” process. Sometimes, in the frenzy of collecting everything, you end up collecting a lot of “information” which may not be immediately useful
  2. Do not bring too may items to “Read/Review” in your Evernote Inbox
  3. Don’t create too many notebooks or too many tags. Keep things simple
  4. Use your physical notebook as your key arsenal
  5. Review as often as your intuition tells you. A good access is to ask yourself “Am I relaxed and focused?”
  6. Don’t focus on system so much. Focus on clearing your mind like “water”

GTD is not a sliver bullet

After fully getting used to GTD, I still think that it is not a sliver bullet. It is just a part of a whole new way of thinking and working productively. My radical personal productivity improvement was a combination of several other practices along with GTD.

GTD is just one piece of the puzzle. In my exploration, I found many more practices which can drastically improve productivity at all levels – mental, spiritual, emotional and physical.

This exploration has resulted in the form of a course and an e-book I am currently writing. Click here to learn about my course on personal productivity.

My upcoming e-book on personal productivity will show you how to live a productive and balanced life, step by step – one day at a time.

Note: I am looking for  “Contributors” for my upcoming e-book. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, click here to learn more and register. The number of people I am going to have contribute is limited, I suggest you to register right away.


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