A place for everything and everything in its place

I just watched a video by a guy who urges viewers to maintain separate apps for tasks, notes, appointments (calendar), and documents. He says it’s important to maintain “hard edges” between our systems because if we don’t, it will lead to confusion.

My opinion? That may be good advice for some people but not for everyone. In fact, some people find that using separate apps is the very thing that causes confusion.

Why force yourself to use separate apps when you don’t need to (or want to)? Why add a layer of complexity to how you manage the information in your life?

I’ve found that the fewer apps I use, the better. Fewer apps mean fewer apps to learn and maintain. It means fewer decisions about what information to put where. It means less time spent finding where I put things.

That’s why I use Evernote for both notes and tasks. I wrote about my system in Evernote for Lawyers.

Over the last few years, as my needs have changed, I’ve experimented with different apps. In particular, I used a separate app for task management and Evernote just for notes. I would link from the task management app to Evernote for details and supporting data.

Two apps instead of one.

All I did was complicate my life and I have come back to using Evernote for everything.

Well, almost everything. I keep a separate calendar for appointments and events. I store documents on my hard drive and in the cloud (Dropbox, Box). But most of the information in my life is managed with Evernote.

I have tinkered with my Evernote setup and work flow, however. I use a different notebook and tagging system today than I did a few years ago. I’ll share my current system with you at some point, but by the time I do that my system may change yet again.

So, how about you?

Do you use an integrated law practice management application to manage client data, calendars, billing, and documents? Do you use separate applications for each function? Do you prefer Onenote to Evernote or use something else? Do you use one app for work and another for personal matters?

Whatever you use, if it’s working for you, don’t change it.

But do experiment. You never know, you might find something that works better.

Evernote for Lawyers

Getting things done by getting rid of your to do list

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.

Evernote vs OneNote for Lawyers

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

Taking inventory and getting organized

Most people have way more “stuff” in their life than they need or want or even know they have. I was reminded of this over the last few days while setting up my new laptop.

I went through the old hard drive, making a list of programs to install on the new drive, and realized I didn’t recognize half of the program, and others I never used. There were many programs I didn’t install on the new drive. I mean, how many pdf makers and readers does one really need?

I’ve organized documents and folders. Put things in a more logical order. The new machine is lean and uncluttered. I can see what I have and find what I need. It feels good to be on top of things.

So now, I’m looking at other things in my life I can inventory and organize. December is a good month to do that. I’ll start with my projects and someday/maybes, so I can make decisions and set goals based on what’s important rather than what happens to be in front of me.

Why not do the same?

An easy place to begin is with your physical environment–closets, drawers, desks, the tool shed, the trunk of your car. What can you get rid of? As you eliminate things you don’t use, you make room for new and better things.

In the office, you might organize forms, form letters, and templates. Get rid of or update the ones that are obsolete or that you don’t use. Do the same for books, email subscriptions, and blog feeds.

How about taking inventory of your clients? Some are more valuable to you than others. Which ones can you ask to find another attorney? Which clients should you give more attention to?

How about your friends? Are there people in your life who enervate you? Cut down on how often you see them, or resolve to not see them at all. Do you have a friend you don’t see often enough? Now you’ll have more time for them.

Do you belong to too many groups? Support too many causes? Have too many hobbies or take too many classes? By cutting down on some, you can do more with the ones that matter.

Take inventory of the people and things in your life and pare things down to a more manageable number. Organize what’s left so you can access it more quickly. You’ll be better able to see what you have, what you need, and what you want to accomplish in the coming year and beyond.

Taking inventory and getting organized is a process of deciding what’s important so you can focus on it. When I’m not sure whether or not to keep something, I ask myself if it can be replaced. If not, I’ll hang onto it and look at it again some time down the road. If it can be replaced, out it goes. Usually.

If you’re too busy to take inventory of everything right now, take inventory of what needs to be inventoried. Make a list of possible areas of your life you’d like to streamline and organize. Then, tackle one area each month. By next year at this time, you’ll be a lean, mean, organized machine. With lots of room for new stuff.

Learn how I organize my digital life in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

163 Getting Things Done Software Options

I admit it. Even though I am committed to Evernote as my getting things done software application, I still like looking at other apps. It’s fun. I get ideas. And yes, I get tempted. But I stay with Evernote, even though it is not a GTD app and does have limitations, because it is simple, powerful, and I can make it do what I want it to do. (I also like having all my tasks and projects in the same place as my notes.)

I chose Evernote because everything else I tried was too complicated to learn and/or use, or didn’t “feel” right for me. I found myself spending too much time managing lists instead of getting things done.

Anyway, if you’re still looking for the perfect app, or like me, you enjoy seeing what else is available, you might want to take a look at this directory of 163 Getting Things Done Software options. I found it by reading a post that summarizes ten popular GTD apps. Of the ten, I have the most experience with Toodledo and Nirvana. They’re both worth a look.

Careful, though. No matter what productivity system you use, trying out new apps can become addicting. You can spend hundreds of hours reading reviews, trying features, and moving information. Been there. Done that.

Of course in the end, the best system is the one that works for you. My wife uses pen and paper and gets way more done than I ever have. It took her about ten seconds to set up her system and she spends zero time looking at other apps.

Check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

How to prioritize your daily tasks

I use my own version of GTD (Getting Things Done) as the backbone of my productivity system. Every day, when I sit down to prioritize my lists and choose what to work on for the day, I choose three “MIT’s” (Most Important Tasks). If I get my MITs done, I call it a good day.

Some people recommend the 1-3-5 system: 1 big thing for the day, 3 medium things, and 5 small things. Others use the 3-2 method: three big things, two small things. And then there’s the ABC/123 method.

For me, “three things” is about right.

Many days, it’s just one or two MITs. The number really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am effective because I’m getting important things done.

But how do you decide what’s important? How do you look at a long list of tasks and projects and select three Most Important Tasks?

I don’t know. I just do it.

Sure, there’s a certain amount of logic in the process. I look at deadlines and appointments and reminders. But more often than not, it’s my gut that tells me what to do.

In “The 4-Hour Work Week,” Tim Ferriss offers a suggestion for deciding what’s important. He says, “Imagine you’ve just suffered a heart attack and are allowed to work only two hours a day. What would you do during those two hours? And if you had another heart attack and were allowed a maximum of two hours of work per week, what would you do?”

Ferriss also says, “. . .requiring a lot of time does not make a task important,” and I agree. He is also a proponent of making a “don’t do list,” ignoring things that aren’t important so you can focus on what is, which I wrote about recently.

I like learning about new productivity systems. But most of them are too complicated and time consuming to learn and use. I like the simplicity of focusing on just “three things”.

If you want to know how to prioritize your daily tasks, start by acknowledging that some things are much more important than others. Think 80/20. A minority of tasks, perhaps 20%, will contribute to the majority of your results.

You’ll never get everything on your list done, and trying to categorize and prioritize hundreds of things that aren’t important, or as important, as your three things, isn’t efficient or effective.

This post is one of my MITs for today. Next for me is to finish another writing project. I’ll get to that right after I check my calendar.

I explain my productivity system in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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

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.

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

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.

Holy shitakes, Evernote adds reminders!

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.

Gmail users now have another way to achieve inbox zero

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