Getting things done by getting rid of your to do list

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No matter which method of task management we use, the challenge we all face is having a task lists that has become unmanageable.

Right now, I have over 600 “next” items on my list. (I keep everything in Evernote using tags.) That’s too many.

The “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system requires us to go through our lists once a week, to update our priorities for the following week. But my list is too big and it’s been a long time since I have done a weekly review.

Please don’t tell anyone.

The weekly review is what makes the whole system work. When you stop, you no longer have a task management system, you have a library.

How do I fix this?

I’m thinking about doing something drastic.

I’m thinking about starting over. Clean out the list and start a new one.

Yep, get rid of all of my “next” items and start from scratch.

What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll forgot something I haven’t thought about in months? It couldn’t be that important, could it?

Don’t we pretty much know what’s important? Aren’t we already working on what we need to do right now? Don’t we also know what we’ll probably do after that?

And we’re got our calendars for anything with a deadline.

A clean slate sounds like it would be delightful, doesn’t it? After you add back a handful of “next” tasks you remember or that come up this week, your weekly review will be quick and easy. You won’t avoid it. You’ll start getting things done.

But letting go is hard to do for a lawyer. Too many “what ifs”.

So here’s an safer alternative:

Move all of your tasks to a temporary folder or apply a temporary tag. Then, go through everything one time and decide if it should still be on your next list. If so, add it back. You will probably delete a good portion of your list this way.

Of course the danger with this safer method is indecision. We have too many things we are sure we need to do, and we can’t eliminate them.

Being a lawyer can be a royal pain in the arse.

Okay, if you can’t decide, move those tasks to “someday”. Keep your next list lean and mean.

Yes, we’re also supposed to go through our someday list during our weekly review. But if you don’t, if you go through it every six months, or every once in awhile, I won’t tell anyone. Pinkie swear.

See how I use Evernote to manage tasks and projects. Click here.

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Evernote vs OneNote for Lawyers

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Several years ago, I used OneNote for note taking and organizing information. I loved the digital notebook concept. I loved having nested notebooks and pages and sub-pages where I could organize everything.

Ironically, one thing I wasn’t crazy about was something OneNote is known for: the ability to place notes and graphics anywhere on the page. I was used to a more linear approach to organizing things. I tried to get used to this free-form method of displaying content, but never did.

Another thing I didn’t like is that each page was itself a big graphic (I think) and each element on it was a graphic. I may have the tech wrong but it always felt a bit weird. Maybe I’m just a plain text kinda guy.

As my notes grew, I found that keeping them organized wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had so many notebooks and pages and sub-pages, things got confusing. Tags and search weren’t terribly reliable in the version I was using and I started looking at what others were doing to organize their notes.

I read lots of blogs about OneNote and kept hearing it compared to Evernote. I had Evernote on my hard drive, but used it only on occasion. I saw that many OneNote users had switched to EverNote because of some of the same frustrations I had experienced, so I started using Evernote more and liked it. I made the switch and haven’t looked back.

Evernote is my virtual filing cabinet, my GTD platform, and my universal note taking system. I use it all day, every day, on all my devices and in every part of my work flow. If you’re a lawyer, you can see how I use it in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

Microsoft just made OneNote free for PC and Mac users so I thought I would give it another look. I read an excellent article comparing OneNote vs Evernote. It concluded that Evernote takes the gold, but it also showed how far OneNote has come since I last used it.

I just downloaded OneNote and will take it for a test drive. At first blush, I can see how I might use it for certain projects, but I can’t see making my primary note taking system.

How about you? How do you weigh in on the Evernote vs OneNote for lawyers debate?

Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized and Increasing Productivity is available here

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Getting things done the way that works best for you

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I just read an article about the four different personality types or thinkers and how we each go about getting things done. We make our lists differently and approach them differently.

Structural thinkers create a traditional to-do list every day and check things off as they do them. They take an organized, linear approach to managing their tasks.

Analytical thinkers consider the value of what they might do, and how much time it will take to do it.

Social thinkers seek input from others and consider how different tasks relate to everything else they might do

Conceptual thinkers don’t keep a traditional to-do list; they use an intuitive approach to getting things done

I don’t know how accurate these four types are or which group I fall into. Trying to figure it out made my head hurt. The author acknowledges that we might be a combination of types, and I’m sure that’s true for me.

My approach varies. It depends on the project, how I’m feeling that day, deadlines, and what I feel drawn to do. Some days, I work through a list and cross things off. Other days, I don’t look at anything, I just go with the flow.

I have a very large list of tasks and projects and someday/maybes, in Evernote, and each has one or more GTD tags that identify and prioritize the task or project. But to be honest, once I’ve assigned those tags to my tasks, I don’t refer to them every day.

I do what’s on my calendar. I do anything I’ve tagged as an “MIT” (most important task). The rest? I usually know what’s “next”.

I get things out of my head and off of scraps of paper and into my “trusted system”. It’s all there for me, in Evernote, so nothing will be lost or forgotten. I can search and find things, by tag, or I can browse. And yet, strangely, I usually don’t. I just know what I’m going to do.

But then my work life is a lot less complicated today than in years past. If I were still practicing, I would undoubtedly have a more structured approach to my day.

I think the big takeaway is that we are all different and we have to do what works best for us. We can use a complicated system, or no system. We can analyze and prioritize, or we can trust our gut. We can manage our lives with GTD, Franklin Covey, Kanban, or Eisenhower, or we can grab a pen and jot down a few things we want to do today.

Use what works best for you, even if it’s just your calendar and a post-it note.

My modified GTD system is detailed in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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The need to read (books)

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If you are a book lover like I am, you know there’s never enough time to read everything. In, “How to read a lot of books,” college student and fellow book lover Dan Shipper shares how he read lots of books.

First, he keeps track of everything he wants to read in Evernote. He always has his list with him so he can pick up books on his “want” list any time he’s in a book store. Of course I keep lists in Evernote, too, but I buy mostly ebooks, now.

Next, he prioritizes his master list (using Trello) so he knows what to read next. I’m more of a shoot from the hip kinda guy, so unless I’m working on a project that calls for me to read a certain book, I just pick something I feel drawn to and read that. If I did prioritize my list, however, I would use Evernote tags instead of another application.

As for actually reading the books, Shipper follows this rule: “I never read more than one book at a time, and I always finish every book I start.” Here, I disagree.

I often read several books “simultaneously”. No, not literally. I start one book, then switch to another before finishing the first. I may go back to the first or go on to another. Why? I like the variety, I guess. When I get tired of hearing one author’s voice, I like to tune into someone else’s.

As for finishing every book, I must ask why? There are a lot of bad books out there. Why continue reading something that’s boring or that doesn’t deliver on it’s promise? Why punish yourself? So you can say you finished what you started? So you can tell yourself you gave the author a fair shot?

Besides, the 80/20 rules tells us that 80% of a book’s value is contained in 20% of the pages. If you can deduce that value by skimming or by skipping chapters, why wouldn’t you do that?

I guess it depends on why you are reading. I read to gain information, mostly. (I don’t read much fiction these days.) When I can get most of the information I need or want without finishing the book, I do.

Not finishing books is one of my top productivity strategies.

Finally, Shipper says he takes notes as he reads and records the page numbers, so he can refer back to those notes in the future. I do that, too. On Kindle, you can highlight passages and add notes and the system will keep track of those highlights and notes, along with the page numbers. (I haven’t figured out how to export them, though. I’d like to save them in Evernote.)

So, that’s what I do to read (or skim) lots of books. What do you do?

Glad I’m done with this post. I’ve got five books I’m planning to start.

If you use Evernote, get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook. If you don’t use Evernote, helloooooo!

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Bullet Journal: A paper based system for recording and managing tasks

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I was browsing the “What’s Popular” category on Youtube and saw a video about Bullet Journal, an analog journaling and note taking system. Basically, it’s a way to use pen and paper (or a Moleskine notebook) to record and manage your tasks, notes, and events.

What I like:

  • Pen and paper and Moleskine notebooks
  • The idea of having everything with me in one book
  • Writing on paper makes you think about what you’re writing
  • Low cost, always on, no batteries needed
  • The website. Great way to show you what it is and how it works
  • The title: Bullet Journal

What I don’t like:

  • Too much writing
  • Too much re-writing
  • Not good for projects (without a lot of re-writing)
  • Not good for recurring tasks (without a lot of re-writing)
  • You can’t move anything (without re-writing)
  • Writing on paper makes you think about what you’re writing (and maybe I just want to get it out of my head and not think about it)
  • I’ve already got a calendar

You probably know that I use Evernote to record my notes, tasks and projects. One place for everything and everything with me everywhere. If I wanted to go analog, however, the concepts behind Bullet Journal are appealing. But watching the video of what it takes to write and re-write tasks makes me glad I don’t use a paper-based system.

How about you? Do you use a paper based system? What do you think of Bullet Journal?

If you use Evernote, get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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The Productive Life Show interviews me about productivity, Evernote, and GTD

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I was interviewed recently for The Productive Life Show, a podcast hosted by Andy Traub and Daniel Gold. We talked about productivity, Evernote, and GTD (Getting Things Done).

You can listen to the podcast, download the audio, and read a transcript here.

During the show, I mentioned that I also use Workflowy, primarily for outlining. I said I hoped it would someday allow links to be clickable so that it would integrate better with Evernote (and other apps). I was just notified that this is possible, although I’m not sure when it became so.

What this means is that you can use Worflowy as the front end of your productivity system, managing lists of tasks and projects, and link therefrom to notes in Evernote where you have stored more detailed information such as webclips, articles, and documents (i.e., Word, Excel, images, etc.)

Of course you can also link to websites or other cloud based apps. This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

I’ll do a in depth post about Workflowy at a later date.

I had a lot of fun on the podcast and want to thank Andy and Dan for inviting me. I’d love to get your feedback about the podcast or any questions you might have about the subjects discussed.

The ebook: Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized & Increasing Productivity

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What do you do when you have too much to do?

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I’ve got lists. Lots of tasks and projects. Things I’m working on and things I plan to work on. Everything is organized in Evernote. I follow my own version of GTD. Every task or project has at least one tag to identify it as something I plan to do Now, Next, or Someday.

But while everything is organized and tagged, I still have too much to do. It’s overwhelming. So I find myself avoiding my lists and doing what is nagging at my brain, which defeats the entire purpose of having a task management system.

Currently I have 54 Now tasks, 531 tagged for Next. I’m supposed to look at everything during my weekly review, but with that many tasks on my list, I find myself procrastinating.

What do you do when you have too much to do and your weekly review isn’t working?

You declare task bankruptcy.

You get rid of everything and start over. A fresh start with your tasks.

While I had never heard the term “task bankruptcy” before, I’ve done it before. I did it to achieve inbox zero with my email. I did it when I stopped using one online task management app and started using another and there was no way to export/import my tasks. I can attest to how good it feels to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Starting over doesn’t mean throwing out everything. I will refer to my lists in the process of creating new ones. But every task will be scrutinized and will have to earn it’s way back onto my lists.

First, I will move all of my tasks and projects into a temporary notebook. My main notebook, where I keep all of my tasks and projects will then be empty.

(NB: In Evernote, I use one notebook for all of my notes. I use tags to identify when I will do something (Now, Next, etc.) and for reference purposes. Multiple notebooks leads to confusion–Which notebook should I file this note in? Which notebook DID I file that note in?)

Next, I will go through all of my tasks and projects in the temporary notebook. Anything I know I want to do (or have to do) will get moved back into my main notebook. Anything I’m not sure of, that doesn’t call out to me and inspire me, will go.

The objective is to have a lean and mean Now and Next list. I will still have my Someday/Maybe list, but I will be ruthless in paring this as well.

I guess you could describe this as a periodic review. You go through everything and make decisions about whether you still want to do something and if so, when. That’s what should be done during the weekly review. But when the whole system gets bloated, it makes sense to periodically re-boot.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, if you find yourself procrastinating on your weekly review, you might want to declare task bankruptcy and get a fresh start.

But be careful. Once you have zeroed out your task obligations and created new lists, those tasks might start accumulating again. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait seven years before declaring task bankruptcy again. You can do it any time you want.

If you want to see how I organize everything, check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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Holy shitakes, Evernote adds reminders!

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Evernote announced today the addition of reminders on Mac, iOS, and their webapp, and promises to soon roll out the feature to Windows, Android, and other platforms.

This is big!

This long awaited feature is the missing piece of the puzzle for those of us who use Evernote for tracking our tasks and projects. We can now add a reminder to any note, include a date and time, and receive notifications via the app and email. For the first time, we can schedule future due dates (or “start dates”), without having to use a funky workaround.

If you have a document due in 60 days but don’t want to work on it right now, for example, you can set a reminder for, say, 45 days and forget about it. On the 45th day, you will be notified that it’s time to work on that document.

Which means you won’t have to put a reminder on your calendar or in any other reminder applications.

We are told they are working on many more features. I hope that includes multiple reminders. If so, then you can schedule the due date for 60 days hence, and a start date for 45 days. Recurring reminders would also be welcome.

I’ve just started using this feature but I can already say this is a very exciting addition to my number one productivity app. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Want to see my Evernote set up? Get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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Gmail users now have another way to achieve inbox zero

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In my Evernote For Lawyers ebook, I described how I (finally) achieved “inbox zero”. In case you don’t know, that means my email inbox is empty. The short version of how I did it: I identified the important emails that needed a reply or further action or that I needed to save and then archived everything else.

If you’ve never experienced an inbox zero, you should try it. Looking at an empty inbox and knowing that you have everything under control is a great feeling.

Now, what about the important emails? No surprises. I forward them to Evernote where I tag them for further action or assign them to a project. This allows me to keep my email inbox empty.

But there is a niggling issue. To reply to the original email I have saved to Evernote, rather than starting a new email, I have to find the original email in my Gmail archive. Not terribly difficult, but I just leaned something that makes it so much easier.

It turns out that Gmail allows you to bookmark your emails. Every email has a unique URL that you can access from your browser address bar. By copying and pasting that URL into an Evernote note or other note taking app, you can retrieve that email by clicking on the url. If you are logged into your Gmail account, the bookmarked email will open, ready for your reply.

Gmail gives you other options for curating and retrieving emails. Labels, filters, and stars are all helpful. But there’s nothing faster or more accurate than clicking on a URL to find a specific email.

You can also use this function to bookmark emails you need for an upcoming meeting or event. Paste the URL into your todo app or calendar and everything you need is just one click away.

Do you bookmark your email URLs? How has this helped you become more productive?

Evernote for Lawyers shows you how to get organized and increase your productivity

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Post Google calendar events to Evernote with KanMeet extension for Chrome

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In Evernote for Lawyers I wrote about how I use Evernote with my calendar, specifically, to track future events and tickler items. Until Evernote comes out with a native solution, I use a manual workaround–posting “note links” on my calendar that allow me to call up the note that corresponds to the calendared event.

I said I expected we would see various third party tools for coordinating calendars with Evernote. I’ve tried Tusk Tools, a Windows app, and Zendone, a web and iOS app. Both connect your Google calendars to your Evernote account, and do this well.

Yesterday, I discovered KanMeet, an extension for Chrome. It does not offer two way synchronization between calendar and Evernote, but simply sends newly created calendar events to Evernote as a new note. Not a perfect solution, but what it does it does well.

When you install the extension, it adds an option to the new event creation page to “Post to Evernote.” Events are sent to your designated Evernote notebook when you click, “Create Event,” or “Save.”

After installing the extension and restarting my browser, I created a new event, filled in the details, and saved. A new note appeared in my default Evernote notebook with the details of the event. I can then add additional details, documents, checklists, or anything else that might be needed for the appointment or event.

Very handy.

But because KanMeet does not offer two-way synchronization, on the day of the event, you have to find the note manually. Here are three ways I can think of for making this easier:

  1. You can record the “creation date” of the note (the date you created the event) in the details section of the event. Then, you can search for the note in Evernote by creation date, with or without additional key words.
  2. A second method is to add an “Event” tag to the note and click on that tag to find all of your event-related notes. They will, however, be listed in the order you created them, not the order of the event date, so you would also want to use key words or other tags in your search. Alternatively, you can put all event-related notes in an Event notebook.
  3. The most accurate way to find the note is to paste the Evernote “note link” into the details section of the event detail on your calendar. This is what I currently do. On the day of the event, that link will call up the corresponding note. However, the note link is not clickable (Google’s limitation) and you have to copy/paste the link into a new browser window to launch the Evernote note. It’s a clumsy extra step but it works. (NB: on iOS, the note link is clickable in the calendar apps I’ve tried.)

Despite its limitations, KanMeet works well and does save time. Until Evernote provides us with another option, such as the long awaited “Due Date” field which will allow us to add future dates to notes and sort by those dates, this allows me to quickly create notes from calendared events.

To use KanMeet, you must use Google Calendar and Chrome. You can find it in the Chrome store.

Have you found other ways to coordinate your calendar with Evernote? Please share in the comments.

Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized & Increasing Productivity is available here.

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