Let’s play tag

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I add tags to all my notes and tasks and projects. They help me identify things and find things and organize everything into a workable system.

I have action-related tags, contextual tags (for people and places, etc.), tags for each Area of Focus, e.g., Work, Personal, and reference tags. Each project has it’s own tag.

I use @ and # and other symbols or numbers to group tags together, allowing me to nest tags under top-level categories (in Evernote).

I often experiment with different tags, to see which ones I like best, which ones I use most, and which ones fall into the “it sounded good at the time” category.

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I find myself having too many tags. I create a new tag for something only to discover that I already had it, or something very similar. For this reason, I periodically go on a “tag cleanse” to tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’re into tags like I am, or if you do something similar with labels or notebooks or folders, I thought I’d share a few of the tags I use, or have used, because you might find something you like.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t include reference tags and I’ll use only #hashtag symbol:

  • #incubate (something to think about and come back to)
  • #decide (similar to #incubate)
  • #checklist (#weekly-review, for example)
  • #daily, #weekly, #monthly, #yearly, and #recurring 
  • #emergency (if I get locked out of the car, I can quickly find the number for road service)
  • #needs-reply
  • #remember (things I want to remember–quotes, mantras, habits)
  • #r/r (read/review)
  • #defer-to-do (something I plan to do later and don’t want to look at until then) 
  • #defer-to-review (something I don’t want to consider until later)
  • #wip (work in progress, so I can find things I haven’t finished)
  • #bm (bookmark; external or internal, ie., within the app.–links, sites, phone numbers, etc.)
  • #due, #pay, #buy, #amazon
  • #mit (most important task)
  • #on-hold, #pending, #planned (for projects)

I also use (or have used) some of the usual gtd-type tags:

  • #today or #t 
  • #next or #n
  • #soon
  • #later
  • #now
  • #waiting
  • #s/m (someday/maybe)
  • #errand
  • #call
  • #name (people I know or work with)
  • #computer, #home
  • #tickler and #calendar 
  • #do
  • #doing
  • #done
  • #mon, #tues, #wed, etc. 
  • #jan, #feb, #mar, etc. 
  • #5-min, #15-min, etc.
  • #high, #medium, #low (energy level needed for the task)
  • #1, #2, #3, #A, #B, #C (priority)

So, there you go. I’ve shown you mine, how about showing me yours? Because you can never have too many tags. 

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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I don’t know, stop asking me

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I’m playing around with a “time management” app I used many years ago. It was updated recently and so far I like what I see.

This, after many years of trying more apps than I can count and always coming back to Evernote.

Who knows, I may finally make a “permanent” switch.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking as I transfer tasks from Evernote to the other app.

As I re-create the projects and underlying tasks in the old/new app, I have to make decisions about them.

Lots of decisions–about which projects should be front and center, which tasks should be “next actions,” which tasks should get a due date and what that date should be.

You have to decide what you want to accomplish.
You have to decide what to do next.
You have to decide when you will do it.

You know the routine.

Because you do, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all those decisions.

It’s why we tend to drift away from what we’re doing and look for a better system.

Indecision causes stress and drains energy. In GTD parlance, unmade decisions (or rashly made ones, I suppose), are called “open loops”.

Open loops nag you and call you names. So you keep giving them attention when you should be doing other things.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have a suggestion: Decide not to decide.

Decide that you don’t have to make a decision right now and schedule a future “review” date, where you will review the task or project and decide what to do about it.

Until then, you won’t think about it.

Assign a “start date” instead of a “due date”. When the start date arrives, do your review.

When you decide not to make a decision you are actually making a decision. When you become comfortable postponing decisions, you close open loops, gain clarity, and reduce your stress level.

Don’t let your tasks push you around. Tell them to go away–for now.

Have you seen my free referral course? Check it out

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How I set up a new project

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In sprucing up my Evernote account, I used the new “template” feature to create a new “Project Master Note” template. It helps me flesh out the bones of a new project.

For my first go at this, I used tables and color and channeled my inner designer to make it look pretty. Unfortunately, my inner designer died years ago and it was a hot mess. I went back to my “plain text” roots and now the template is lean (and boring) but functional.

The first line of the template says PROJECT. I give each project a name or title and sometimes a sub-title.

The second line says PURPOSE/OUTCOME. I describe what I want to accomplish and why it’s important.

Knowing the OUTCOME clarifies what I want to do. Knowing the PURPOSE helps me wade through all of my active or planned projects and prioritize what I want to work on today or this week.

The third line is for the due date. I usually leave this blank or write n/a, but sometimes there is a due date or at least a target date.

The fourth line heading is STATUS. This is followed by checkboxes for Idea, Planned, Active, On Hold, Cancelled and Completed.

Next is DESCRIPTION. I write a one or two sentence summary of what I plan to do.

Then, NOTES/BRAINSTORMING. I use bullet points to record ideas, problems, features, benefits, and other thoughts about the project.

The next line says NEXT ACTIONS. Under this heading, I use checkboxes to indicate what to do first, what to do after that, and so on.

Finally, RESOURCES. Here I put links to websites, other notes in Evernote, shortcuts to files and documents on my hard drive, and so on.

Between each of these sections is a horizontal rule to visually separate things.

Unlike my first go at this, my template takes up very little room and allows me to see everything with minimal scrolling.

I’ve used this for a couple of months and I’m happy with it. But like most things, it is a work in progress and will likely change.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing (and why). How about you?

Do you use a new project template or master note? What do you include (and why)?

My ebook: Evernote for Lawyers

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A place for everything and everything in its place

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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

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Do you keep a reading list?

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I download Kindle books nearly every day. Some for research, some for fun, and some on subjects I later ask myself, “What were you thinking?”

What can I tell you, I like books.

Most of these books were free but I also buy a fair number. Right now, there are 4663 books in my account, and that doesn’t include the ones I’ve read and deleted.

Is that a library in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

Sometimes I go to read a book only to discover I’ve already read it. Many of these are books that offered no value and I tell myself I need to delete them. But that requires logging into my account and finding the book through the search mechanism and doing that one at a time is not a good use of my time.

So, I’ve started keeping a text file on my desktop: “Kindle books to delete”. When the list has five or ten titles on it, I log in and do the deed. I hope that one day Amazon gives us another way to delete a book (not just remove it from the device we’re using to read it). Until then, my system will have to do.

Now, what about books we’d like to read? A reading list of books we’ve heard good things about but haven’t had time to buy or look into?

For that, Amazon gives us an easy solution: wish lists. We can use them to identify products we’re interested in, including books. I use a wish list as my reading list.

But that’s too simple for many people. This morning I saw an article about the many ways people keep their reading lists. Some use a text file, some use a spreadsheet, and some use apps like Trello or Evernote. And there are many other options.

The article describes how some people organize their lists, update them, and add notes and other meta data. Too complicated, if you ask me. How much time do these folks spend organizing their lists?

I feel the same way about to-do lists.

Some people spend more time making and organizing lists than they do getting things done (or read).

When I hear about a book I want to read, I either buy it or put it on my Amazon wishlist to consider at a later time.

As Sgt. Rick Hunter (Fred Dryer) on the 80’s detective show “Hunter” used to say, “Works for me”.

How I use Evernote to organize my work

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Where to find inspiration when you need it

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In Evernote, I have a tag for “quotes”. As I browse websites, read books, and hear presentations, I look for statements or quotations that resonate with me and record them, and then use them in my writing and presentations. They give color and contour to my words and help readers or listeners understand and remember my message.

I also use quotations as an idea starter for creating new content.

When I’m scheduled to write something but I don’t have a subject, or I know what I want to say but I need an inspiring way to say it, I skim through my collection of quotes or visit websites that curate quotes, and find something that grabs my attention.

Sometimes, I use a quote as the basis for an entire post. Let me give you an example.

Yesterday I read an ebook that contained a quote from Erma Bombeck. She was best known for her humor but she was also an incisive observer of the world condition. The author of the book sought to inspire readers to go “all in” in our chosen work and he used Bombeck’s words to make his point. She said:

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”

That spoke to me, as I hope it speaks to you. It prompted me to remind you, and myself, that we owe it to ourselves, our family, our employees, and our clients, to use our God-given talents to their fullest. To do less than we are capable dishonors our maker.

Whatever you do, do it with gusto. Don’t hold back, don’t phone it in. Give it everything you’ve got.

If you can’t do that, or you can no longer do that, go do something else.

Many successful people in the world once practiced law. When they lost their passion for the job, or they discovered a different calling, they pivoted and began a new chapter in their life.

If being a lawyer makes you happy, use every ounce of talent God gave you to be the best lawyer you can be. If you’re not happy, if you find the job enervating instead of energizing, the best thing you can do for yourself and those who depend on you is to begin a new chapter in your life.

How I use tags and notebooks in Evernote

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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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