Mind Like Water – GTD + Evernote

GTD (Getting Things Done) is a framework for streamlining, organizing and tracking your tasks and projects. As opposed to our natural mode of handling “stuff” as it comes and using our minds for its storage, the main purpose is to create a system for noting down all to-dos and projects, and close the loop by doing and reviewing them regularly. All includes something as little as buying a pair of gloves to as large as writing software for automating a vehicle.

The author of GTD himself describes the “stuff” as “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.”

GTD consists of the following five simple steps.

  1. Capture: Collect what has your attention including all little, big, personal and professional tasks to handle or finish.
  2. Clarify: Process what it means by asking: Is it actionable? If no, then trash it, hold it at a particular location for someday review, or file it as a reference. If yes, decide the very next action required.
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs. Create lists and reference systems for tasks and files.
  4. Reflect: Review frequently. Do a weekly review to clean up, update your lists and clear your mind.
  5. Engage: Simply do. Actions that have been noted before.

When I read the GTD book, I found it overly complex and repetitive. It was not until I read about The Secret Weapon (TSW) that I found the concept interesting and practical. The TSW people describe both the problem and solution better than the GTD book itself as:

The Problem:

This collection of stuff—uncompleted to-dos banging around in our brain—are all “Open Loops” which cause very big problems. Not only do lots of things gets forgotten, but more importantly, these undone and unorganized to-dos remain in the finite amount of memory in our mind, creating a background, ongoing noise
that makes us much less productive.

GTD’s basic premise is that if you can get those ideas out of your head, and into a system that you trust, then you become a more calm, more focused, more clearheaded, and a more capable human being. These gains aren’t just useful for business. We suggest that no matter who you are, what age you are, and what you do— a yoga teacher, a mother, a student, a truck driver, a person who’d decided to lose weight or run their first 10k or plant a garden in their backyard—this process of getting all to-dos out of your head and down into a system will create clarity and focus for anyone who has a dream and wants to accomplish it. We further suggest that a big reason these elements are partially missing in many modern-day inhabitants is precisely because we haven’t stopped long enough to recognize that we don’t have a system for tracking our growing list of life’s to-dos.

When you make the decision to use a system that gets *every* idea and action item and to-do out of your brain and into a workable system like the one we’re about to show you, then your mind becomes more freed up to focus 100% on the current task at hand. This seems like an incredibly simple and obvious idea, but once you experience the results of what Allen calls “mind like water,” it feels like nothing short of a revolution. And that’s what we feel TSW is—a revolution in living.

The Solution:

The Secret Weapon is a merging of the GTD concept with a powerful program/service from Evernote, that allows us to re-organize our emails, ideas, and to-do items into one system that stays synchronized across our varied devices, and has the ability to help us capture ideas when we suddenly come up with them. Once you’ve implemented TSW, each to-do in your life—which has some Action Pending—will be safely organized into its proper contexts, waiting its turn to be brought out and processed. Your email Inbox will be empty each day. What’s the result? Controlled, optimized throughput, with “no task left behind.”

Once you install Evernote, create a list of Tags as shown in the figure below (click to enlarge). Different tags are given prefixes to give them a specific order in a sorted list. For example,

  • . for folders (.What, .When, .Where and .Who),
  • $ for projects,
  • numbers for when to do a task,
  • @ for a location,
  • ^ for a person,
  • ++ for additional items (for example, the tag ++What contains several specific tags such as Communication Skills, Parenting, Travel, etc.).

As opposed to TSW, I have separate tags for each project I am working on and divided them into active and inactive categories.

Evernote Tags

One problem I found with the TSW system is an unclear structure for Evernote Notebooks. TSW creates three notebooks: one called Cabinet for all the files and two called Action Pending and Completed for the tasks. As I have a lot of reference files, ideas and summaries of the books I have read, I preferred another structure for the notebooks. My system is shown in the figure below (click to enlarge), where

  • .Inbox is the temporary parking space for an idea or task (for reviewing and sending to appropriate notebook later),
  • Articles are for relevant web articles,
  • Books for the summaries of the read books,
  • Resources for web links of different projects,
  • Scratchpad for project related ideas,
  • Cabinet for everything else.

Evernote Notebooks

The rationale behind Resources and Scratchpad notebooks is to prevent generating too many notes for every single web link and idea related to a particular project, and instead keeping them all in a single place. As far as the title for such notes is concerned (an Evernote requirement for every note), I just chose “…” for all of them to avoid having multiple notes with the same title such as idea or links.

An example of the simplicity of this system is that I want to adopt every positive habit in Dale Carnegie’s book How to win friends and influence people but I keep falling short by forgetting the lessons. For this purpose, I have tagged its summary in Books notebook–which already had a Self-Development tag– with the !!=Daily tag. Now it is included in notes related to Self-Development as well as !!-Daily notes I must see every morning. Imagine how it would have been impossible if such a system was created in regular files and folders of a computer!

I hope that this system will streamline your life as much as it is transforming people’s lives around the world.

1 Comment

  1. Adil Sheikh

    Thanks for the article. Very nicely put!! I have always felt the need to be more organized and your article has given me the extra motivation to make better use of technology in order to “get things done”.

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