How to Get Things Done with Evernote for iPhone and iPad

As many of you may know, I am one of the productivity geeks here at TiPb. I am always looking to use tools to help me be more productive and save time. I have used most of the major task management platforms available for iPhone and iPad, but I have secretly longed to do it in Evernote.

There are many ways use GTD and Evernote and a quick Google search will usher many results. However, I have adopted and tweaked Jeff Kirvin's GTD concept in Evernote. Let me explain how it works. Getting Things Done (GTD) is a methodology for complete task management. Evernote is suited well for this as it has folders, tags and custom searches; this is my setup.

First, I only use one notebook, that's right, only one. I use the ingenious title of "My Notebook" for its title. From here I start to add tasks, articles, whatever- things I need to get done, into my the folder. From there I have an "All" tags category with literally hundreds of sub tags for just about anything I can think of from "Humor" to "Science Fiction". Once I place a note in my notebook, I tag it with as many tags as I feel it needs. Next I determine if the note is actionable; if it is, do I need to do anything with it? If the answer is no, I don't do anything and save the note making it instantly searchable later if I need it. If the answer yes, then I give it a Context. A Context is typically labeled with an "@" (ampersand) and can mean different things, but I equate it to location or state of mind. For example, I use @Home, @Computer to indicate a place to do something. I have contexts like @Internet, @Read and @Evernote that I use to tell me I need to read or write something, but that could really be anywhere. I typically assign the @Evernote or @Read context for schoolwork or articles I send to Evernote that I want to read later or for writing a blog post (like this one).

After I have assigned the context tag, I save the note. If you work on Projects, you can create those too (as a tag) and assign notes as appropriate. However, I use a method similar to Jeff in a sense that I borrow the methodology of the AutoFocus system by Mark Forester and simply pick what I feel is appropriate at the time. If something is date-sensitive, I will add a date to the title so I see the date first, then the action name. Others may add these items to their calendar.

Now at this point you are probably saying to yourself, "That's great Chad, but how do I find something in this big bucket of notes?" Ah, that is where the power of Evernote comes alive.

You see, the secret with Evernote is the Custom Search. You can enter search criteria and Evernote will return the result. So, let's go back and look at my action of @Evernote, Blog Post for GTD. When I complete this task, I add a !Complete tag to the note and remove the"@" context. This will allow me to see that is completed while removing the fact it is an action item. In Evernote there is number that appears next to the context. I use this number to determine the volume of actions I have in any given context. So, by removing the context from a completed note, I am able to keep the number limited to only items I need to get done while having the !Compelte tag allows me to track what I have done.

So If I want to create a search from completed tasks, that is east I use: tag:!Completed -tag:@. This will display every note that is done but that does not include a"@" context. If I want to see how many tasks I have compelted in the last week, I can use this: tag:!Completed -tag:@, created:week-1. This works really well. I use different variables of this logic to architect my Evernote custom searches to only display what I need. For example, if I want to find notes that I haven't tagged (sometimes they slip through!) I created an "!Inbox" search. This criteria is simply -tag:. This tells Evernote to show me everything that doesn't have a tag. I also use an !Active Tasks search to show me all actionable tasks with an "@" context. This search looks like this: tag:@. Since I don't really use dates for my tasks, I also need a way to mark a task as something I want to do today. For this, I use !Today tag and create a custom search like this: tag:@* tag:!Today. The other benefit of these searches is that they sync from platform to platform. Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Web, it appears everywhere. Also, you may be wondering why I am placing an exclamation (!) point in front of my custom searches. Evernote sorts searches, tags and folders by name so adding interesting characters such as an @, !, # and . elevate them to the top of the alphabetical list.

So far I am enjoying this system; its seems to be working well. Sometimes I feel tempted to go back to using OmniFocus or ToDo, but I am about two weeks in and I have little adjustments here and there for the custom searches trying to really nail what I need for retrieval. One of the other main benefits of using Evernote for GTD is that you can email items directly into Evernote. For example, you have some work emails you need to follow up on or some emails with useful attachments. You can send that email with attachments to Evernote for reference or action (attachments beyond images, audio, ink and PDFs require an Evernote Premium account, but it is totally worth it).

If you are looking to learn more about the system I have described, here is Jeff' Kirvin's original post as well as links to David Allen for GTD and Mark Forester for the AutoFocus system.

Evernote for iPhone and iPad is available in the App Store. [iTunes link]

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Chad Garrett

Software trainer, blogger and mobile technology enthusiast living in the suburban Midwest.

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There are 23 comments. Add yours.

Eric says:

One could argue that all that time you spend looking for ways to be more productive and save time actually takes away from your productivity.

happiicamper says:

Evernote is AWESOME, i have used it since the beginning...
The only thing i wish they would do is add passwords...
I found a workaround where i can password individual notes.

cardfan says:

I think you went over most people's heads with this. In this Apple world of "it just works" or "make it simple stupid", I don't see a mad dash to adopt this.

fastlane says:

I'd never get anything done by messing with this all day. Way too much babysitting required. :roll:

DriverL says:

Did anybody proofread this post?

Trevor says:

Very good article. I don't know that I will adopt it because I can't stomach paying ~$45 a year just to access my notes when I'm not online. Any way to cheapen the cost of Evernote? I know the basic is free. You might also mention there are apps out there for the quick entry of notes into Evernote, such as FastEver.
Related to this, I've got a question for you iChadman- what app or apps to you use to write with? iPad I'm going to guess, do you use the onscreen keyboard or a BT? Also, what sort of case setup do you use to keep it propped up? Thanks for the post.

Chad Garrett says:

@Trevor
Thanks man. I use Evernote to write everything in draft, then copy/paste to the web or Word/Pages depending on my needs. This way my article is still searchable and available everywhere.
I use the Apple dock/Keyboard combo. I almost got the BT keyboard since I already have a dock. But, the value of having iPad specific buttons on the combo made it worth my while; I like it a lot.
When I am typing without the kb and dock, I just type flat, no propping.

Michael says:

I love Evernote, but this write-up only reconfirmed my love of Toodledo. :)
To each his own productivity practices. GTD FTW!

Matt says:

@Eric I totally agree.
I love Evernote and couldn't live without it. I tried getting GTD to work with it but yet to find an effective workflow. I do use it for my collection bucket.

Marcy says:

Trevor-- I use the Evernote app on my iPod touch and any notes that I label as "favorites" stay accessible to me even off-line (I have the free account, NOT the one you pay extra for). It's not everything, but nice to know that if I think I'll need a note when out and about I can "star" it and have it accessible.

Eric says:

I find Evernote very opaque compared with OmniFocus, which on the iPad is one of the best apps I've ever used.

Angie says:

Can you set the custom searches so that they look for "any" of the words and not "all" of the words?

Becky says:

I have found Everynote to be really useful. I don't use it to the degree mentioned above, but its like an online scrapbook.

Pharmd930 says:

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Mist_1 says:

Interesting concept.
For me the integration of calendar and to-do in Pocket Informant is the killer feature.

Glenn#IM says:

Been using Evernote since the early days. Excellent program. When I bought my iPod Touch, it was the first app I downloaded. It works well gor any need. You can use it for free, and that may be enough for you. The 45 bucks a year is not bad. There are more, and more apps that have Evernote integration. I have never had problems with keeping certain notes, and notebook secured, and encrypted. The only con is lack of templates. Wish they would come back.

Jerry Rocteur says:

I think having to pay for storage is a bit much when you already have 20GB on your iDisk plus most people also have Google Docs ! But I do like the application, it would be much more useful to me if it had the ability to set up reminders with alarms!

MILE says:

A bit off-topic, but anyway: the @ symbol is not an ampersand, that's the & (and) symbol…

mike powert says:

this is another off app question but where did you get that Evernote theme?

lexmirnov says:

I'm a premium user of Evernote, but use it as a database of my whole life. IMO, it lacks reminding, repeating tasks and linking one note to another to be considered as a GTD manager. I use NirvanaHQ - both simple and convenient.

Neal says:

Thanks for a great post. I do have a question whether this would work with an Evernote account that is loaded with thousands of other things as a database. I have several thousand notes.
Any thoughts?

JenniferColleman says:

I'm a huge EN fan but using it for a task management and files storage at once was a bit confusing . That's why I was looking for some app to help me improve productivity with EN and my choice is smartTM app. Since the day one I started tagging all my todo's as @smarttm and they're automatically sinced with the app! just awesome, and makes EN GTD much easier