My productivity arsenal has included Getting Things Done since what seems like the beginning of time. In the past few months I’ve also become dependent upon Evernote for keeping track of projects, contacts, and all of the miscellanea floating around in my head. Now there’s The Secret Weapon, a system for combining the two effectively. It’s free, and consists of a website filled with videos, blog posts, and a forum all filled with tips, tricks, and advice.
I had originally set up Evernote with a separate notebook for each project I’m working on (or will work on eventually), every group I’m in, committee I sit on, and so on. I also had a notebook named #Schedule (the hashtag forcing it to the top alphabetically) where I had a note containing my immediate next steps, a note filled with upcoming appointments, and assorted other notes. To round this out, I also had a notebooks called #Contacts, with a separate note for each person or group containing contact phone numbers, email, and websites. It was a bit clunky, but it worked because everything was in one place. For the worst case scenario, Evernote does have a search function, so if I misfiled something I could locate it.
Part of what The Secret Weapon (or TSW for short) does is move to a tag-based approach, encompassing who, what, when, and where. There are only three notebooks, one for open items (Action Pending), one for reference (Cabinet), and one for archives (Completed). It was fairly simple to convert things over to this system. All I needed to do was create the tags, drag-and-drop the notes onto the tags to tag them (that is an awesome feature), drag the note into the appropriate new notebook, and delete the old ones.
Here’s how it works, now. I have a piece of a project that needs to be worked on now. I create a note in the Action Pending notebook. If I want to overwhelm myself, I can look in that notebook and see everything currently in process. fortunately, with tags, there’s no need to go in there.
Under What I have a tag for the project name, so I tag it with that; when I want to look at all of the notes for that project, I pull up that tag and can see everything pending, all the reference notes, and all the completed and closed portions.
Under When, I tag it with Now, because it’s a priority task; when I look at things I need to do immediately, I can pull up the Now tag and see the most urgent notes. There are other time-based tags, including a Daily tag for ongoing tasks, a Soon tag for upcoming events, a Someday tag for the projects I’m pulling together thoughts and research on but haven’t put on my active schedule yet, and Waiting, tasks that are on hold until something else happens (usually an action required by someone else).
For Where, I have options. I tag it with Office, where I work on it. I also tag it with Online, because I need to do some research and send an email; this rocks when I’m trying to bundle my online time, so I don’t have the interent always open and email and social media providing distractions. When I need to go online, I can pull up the Online tag and see all of the notes about things to look up, email to be sent, and so on.
Under Who, I tag the editor I’m on the project working for. The next time I’m talking to her, I can pull up her name as a tag and see all of the notes I’ve made with questions to ask and things we need to discuss. I also have a note with her contact information (filed in the Cabinet notebook, for reference).
It takes some getting used to, but within a day I was seeing the wisdom and utility of it. I can find things multiple ways, and so long as I’m tagging things correctly nothing gets lost and things come back to my attention organically. My major problem with Evernote has always been a lack of a calendar, and this system does address that. Now I need to consider whether I want to incorporate some form of 43 Folders into this setup.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Eat the Elephant is an irregular column on productivity and project management. You can read more articles in the series here, or subscribe to the RSS feed for the series here.