[Book Review] Evernote: The Unofficial Guide To Capturing Everything And Getting Things Done

If you’re a proponent of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system like I am, you’ve probably tried numerous ways to incorporate it into your work flow, from paper and file folders to web and mobile apps, and everything in between. Many of these are complicated, with lots of bells and whistles and a steep learning curve. Others, like plain paper or a Moleskine notebook are simple but for many of us, too limited.

Enter Evernote.

I’d been using Evernote for a long time, first for collecting information and ideas, eventually, for all of my documents. One day, I decided to see if I could also use it to manage my tasks and projects. Although Evernote isn’t designed as a task management application and it is limited in that realm, I found a way to make it work for me, and today I use it every day for exactly that purpose.

I like having one app for almost everything I do. I like having all of my notes and documents in the same place as my tasks and projects. It’s simple, reliable, and flexible and provides me with a complete system for managing my work and my life.

I went looking for others who use Evernote for Getting Things Done, and my search led me to fellow attorney and blogger, Dan Gold. Dan is a maven in the world of technology and productivity and has tried just about every productivity app under the sun. He used Evernote like I did, for collecting information, but was unable to find the right way to use it for GTD. In his quest to achieve a “mind like water,” he finally found the right combination.

The story of his journey is told in his newly published ebook, “Evernote: The Unofficial Guide To Capturing Everything And Getting Things Done,” (aff. link) now featured in Evernote’s Trunk (store). It’s a great read and provides a much needed lesson for using an extraordinary piece of technology in conjunction with a seminal productivity system, to manage your work and your life.

I read the book and found that to a great extent, Dan’s journey paralleled my own. We both liked the power and ubiquity of Evernote but were frustrated with its limitations as a productivity tool. After trying various apps and workarounds, we eventually found the solution.

In his book, Dan credits my blog post about how I use Evernote for GTD (and another blogger’s post on that subject) with providing some of the missing pieces in his set up. I appreciate his saying so but in reality, Dan had most of the pieces already in place. Like I had, he was adding elements–other apps that integrate with Evernote and a more complex arrangement of notebooks and tags. My post and the other blogger he credits simply showed him that Evernote didn’t need anything else, it could be used “as is” for GTD.

The key is not adding elements but subtracting them. Not using more notebooks to organize everything but fewer, and using enough tags, but not too many, to manage everything.

If you are a newcomer to Evernote or GTD, Dan’s book will sell you on why you need to be using them; it won’t tell you everything you need to know about how. What it will do is show you how you can use them together to create a complete system for getting things done.

“Evernote: The Unofficial Guide To Capturing Everything And Getting Things Done,” is a quick read and available for immediate download for just $5. Dan promises free updates and since Evernote is continually being developed, this makes a great value even greater.

How to stay focused when you need to get things done

You’ve got work to do, deadlines to meet, things that must get done, and you know you need to focus but it’s difficult because there are so many interruptions.

How do you cope?

“6 Ways to Minimize Interruptions When You Need to Focus,” offers some ideas:

  1. Close the door while you’re working
  2. Wear headphones to prevent colleagues chatting
  3. Say, “Could you come back in ten minutes?”
  4. Let your phone go to voice-mail
  5. Turn off Skype, Email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. . .
  6. Get into the office early

In short, these tips remind us to, “avoid outside stimuli”. That’s why we went to the library to study for exams, isn’t it?

Interruptions by others are easy to fix, if you want to. But do you really want to? I think we enjoy interruptions–we like the respite they provide from the tedium of our work.

I’ve found that when I really do need to shut off outside stimuli, because of a deadline, for example, I do it. The fear of loss of the looming deadline motivates me to do what we need to do–and I do it.

The greater challenge is not with outside stimuli or interruptions by others, it is with interruptions we impose on ourselves.

When we’re working, we’re also thinking about other things we have to do. Our neurons are firing, reminding us of promises unkept, other tasks that must get done, thinking about the game tonight, and imagining what will happen if we don’t meet our deadline. It is this internal chatter that is so hard to turn off.

So, how do you focus when your brain keeps interrupting you?

One way to do that is by removing all of those tasks and reminders from your brain and putting them into a “trusted system” to be processed and done at a later time. The term “trusted system” comes from the Getting Things Done™ (GTD) system which I’ve written about before.

Another technique for increasing focus is to give yourself short segments of time during which you are committed to working on the task at hand. Twenty-five minutes, fifteen, ten, or two, whatever you can handle. No matter how busy your brain may be, it can focus for two minutes. Once those two minutes are up, you are allowed to do something else or think about something else for, say, another two minutes. And then, you return to the work you were doing in the first segment, or onto something else.

It’s called, “The Pomodoro Technique.”

The most common implementation is a twenty-five minute block of time, followed by a five minute break. A timer is set, and when the bell sounds, you take your break. Kinda like prize-fighting. After the break, you return for the next round.

The technique was originally promoted via the use of a kitchen timer resembling a tomato (“pomodoro is Italian for tomato”) , like the one depicted above. I use something a bit more high tech.

On my PC’s desktop is an icon to launch an app that takes the place of a kitchen timer. There are many apps that do the same thing. The one I use is called, “Focus Booster,” and it’s available for free for Mac and PC.

Give it a try. Start with a twenty-five minute pomodoro. When you’re done and you’ve taken a break, go for another. If you can’t stay focused for twenty-five minutes, start with ten. Or one.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? How has it worked for you? Do you have a favorite app or do you use a kitchen timer?

Working smart doesn’t mean sacrificing quality or personal attention

I got an email from an attorney who read my story about the changes I made in my practice that increased my cash flow. (If you’re on my newsletter list, you have or will get the email, promoting my Cash Flow for Attorneys program). One of the things I did was delegate as much of my work as possible, eventually getting to the point where I did “only those things that only I could do.”

In reply, this attorney said,

“The lesson may be that sacrificing quality and personal attention to the clients can raise your bottom line. The moral should be: what client would pick that savvy business owner over the harder working practitioner?”

I understand how one might think that delegating as much as possible and running your practice like a business would lead to a lower level of quality or personal attention. In reality, it is just the opposite.

My clients got a higher level of service and more personal attention because I wasn’t trying to do everything myself. Think about it: attorneys works long hours and are stretched so thin they often don’t have time for lunch. They have less time for clients because they’ve got too many other things to do.

When you delegate work, it frees you up to do the things that really matter. You have time to greet new clients and introduce them to the staff who will take care of the mundane work. You have time and energy to oversee the important legal work, and to perform the work that “only you can do”. And you have time for marketing, so you can bring in more good clients, allowing you to hire more staff to better serve your growing practice.

If you’re trying to do too much yourself, you must find a way to delegate as much as possible. Continue to supervise your employees, to make sure the work is getting done and the clients are getting served, but let go of the notion that just because nobody can do it better than you means nobody but you should do it.

Do the math: you’re worth at least $300 an hour and, arguably, much more. If you continue to do $25 an hour clerical work, you’re working for your practice, not the other way around.

A law practice is first, a business. That business hires you, the professional. As the owner of that practice, you earn for what you do as a professional and you earn a profit on what your business takes in from paying clients. If your business doesn’t bring in clients, you won’t have anyone for whom to practice your profession.

I was a sole practitioner for my entire legal career, and I worked hard. Damn hard. Early on, I worked long hours and was always on the brink of exhaustion. I did my best to serve my clients but my best was limited to what I was able to give them with the limited time and energy at my disposal. It wasn’t until I starting working smart and delegated as much as possible that I was able to achieve the levels of financial success and time freedom I ultimately enjoyed. And because I was “selfish” enough to make that leap, my clients got better service than they ever got when I was doing almost everything myself.

If you’d like to “Crush It!”

I wrote this brief review of “Crush It!” by Gary Vaynerchuck on another blog more than a year ago. My knowledge and use of social media has come a long way since then. I’ll post reviews of other books I’ve read that have more of the “how to’s” but this is the book to read if you want to know “why to”.

I’d heard a lot of good things about “Crush It!” and finally downloaded it (kindle for PC, in case you’re curious). I’m fairly new to the world of social media marketing so I was surprised at how much I already knew and how much I was already doing.

After reading Crush It!, I now know (a) social media marketing is not a passing fad, (b) properly implemented, it’s an incredibly powerful way to build almost any kind of business, and (c) it’s not that complicated. In other words, if you market something on the Internet, or you want to, you need to add social media marketing to your marketing mix and it’s a lot easier than you may have thought.

Now, if you’re looking for a detailed manifesto on social media marketing, this isn’t it. It’s a great story and a compelling look at the power of social media marketing and worth it for that alone. Where it really shines, however, is in driving home the importance of finding your passion, your DNA as Vaynerchuk calls it, and building your brand, and your business, around that.

Vaynerchuk makes you think about who you are and what drives you. If you’re going to “crush” anything, it’s going to have to be something you are passionate about, or you won’t do it enough, or well enough, to cut through the noise and clutter that competes for the eyes and ears of your target market. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you aren’t going to make it; if you do, the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.

A friend of mine often says, “if you do what you love and you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.”  No doubt Gary Vaynerchuk would agree.

Create a (free) social media web page about you with about.me

A social media hub page is a virtual business card: a single web page with a brief bio (or link thereto) and links to your websites, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. This allows you to provide a single link in your email signature, your (paper) business card, in an article byline, and anywhere else your name appears in print or online. A single link is clean and professional looking, one reason why virtual business cards are becoming more popular.

I’ve experimented with different options. Recently, I set up an account with about.me. My page was easy to set up and customize. I uploaded a background image (me, looking fierce) but did not include a bio. Instead, I listed my professional roles as attorney, writer, and entrepreneur.

If you click on the doo-hickey at the top of the page, it will take you to a random assortment of other about.me pages, many of which are quite creative. Great for ideas.

About.me is integrated with Klout, a new social media “rating” service that tells you how influential you are in the online world. It also tells you who you influence and who influences you. I’m not sure how useful this is but it’s interesting to watch my klout index increase.

I also set up an account with flavors.me, which allowed me to create an almost identical page. They have a paid version ($20/yr.) with added customization features. Attorney Dan Gold set up a page on flavors.me and took advantage of those upgraded features.

About.me is free; I couldn’t find a paid version. I’d like to see more options for configuring pages, like the paid version of Flavors.me seems to provide, but all in all, this is a great way to quickly set up a virtual business card. Give it (or flavors.me) a try. Send me a link to your page and I’ll feature it in a future blog post.

You’re not thinking big enough. Or are you?

We’ve all heard interviews of massively successful entrepreneurs who say they had no idea their idea or business would grow as big as it has or go in the direction it did. They simply followed their passion and, like Alice chasing the rabbit, one day found themselves in Wonderland.

There is another group of entrepreneurs (professionals, artists, athletes, etc.), undoubtedly a smaller group, who right from the start of their business or career, had big dreams and plans for their future. “I knew right from the beginning where I wanted to take this business,” they say.

Which one are you?

Are you putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where it takes you or do you know exactly where you want to go?

John Jantsch, over at Duct Tape Marketing, says that thinking small rarely leads to greatness and makes a good case for thinking bigger. It’s a well thought out article and I want to say I agree with him, but I’m not sure I do.

Jantsch argues that if you think about growing your business by 10%, you won’t do things that could lead to even bigger growth. If you think about doubling your business this year, however, you will think and act much differently, making bigger growth much more likely.

Logical, isn’t it? But is it true? How do we then explain the success of those who simply followed their muse and wound up rich?

Further, couldn’t we make the case that having big, long term plans, might actually work against you, leading you to do things that seem to be the logical next step towards your goal but that aren’t organic to the passion that drives you?

An attorney friend of mine who does a lot of motivational speaking is fond of saying, “You’re not thinking big enough.” It is exciting to think about a much bigger future. I think we get into trouble, however, when we get too specific about that future.

Donald Trump may not know where his next deal will come from but I don’t think anyone would argue he doesn’t think big enough. He knows what he wants and where he’s going but when an opportunity he never imagined comes knocking at his door, he’s smart enough to answer.

The best way to deal with things you don’t want to do

In “6 Ways to Tackle Boring or Irritating Tasks,” the author presents common sense tips for handling unpleasant tasks. I use several of these tips myself. For example, when I have to make a call I don’t want to make, instead of thinking about it or putting it off (and thinking about it) I simply grab the phone and dial the number. By doing it as soon as possible I avoid unnecessary anxiety and I get the job done.

It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool; the more you think about it, the more anxious you become. Dipping your toes in, trying to acclimate yourself to the change in temperature, often makes things worse (and makes you look like a sissy). Jump in and your anxiety and discomfort will soon be behind you (and you’ll look like a stud).

But while these tips are effective, I’ve found that often, the best way to deal with things you don’t want to do is to not do them at all.

You may disagree. You may believe that life is a series of unpleasant tasks and ignoring them means shirking responsibility, self-sabotage, or squandering opportunity. I’ll admit that this is sometimes true, but most of the time, it isn’t. Here’s why:

  • Not everything must be done. I find that not doing things rarely leads to permanent and serious harm or the loss of significant opportunity. The 80/20 principle tells us that “most things don’t matter” (the “trivial many”) and by not doing them, we free ourselves to focus on the “precious few” that do.Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen if this doesn’t get done?” Most of the time the answer will be “not that much” and you can safely cross it off your list.
  • Not everything that must be done must be done by you. Just because something needs to be done doesn’t mean you are the one who must do it. Have an employee do it. Or an outside contractor. Or your partner. Whenever possible, do what you are best at and want to do and delegate everything else.
  • If it must be done and it must be done by you, it doesn’t always have to be done immediately. How many times have you put something on your task list only to find that out later that it no longer needs to be done? The problem worked itself out, someone else took care of it, or it really wasn’t as important as you previously thought. I find that happening to me all the time. Therefore, by not doing some things immediately, by intentionally procrastinating on things I don’t want to do, I safely eliminate many unpleasant tasks.
  • Not everything that must be done, by you, and immediately, must be done completely. The 80/20 principle also tells us that 80 percent of the value of a project, for example, comes from 20% of the tasks that comprise it. Therefore, when you have to do something you don’t want to do, look for ways to curtail it. Do only what is essential and of high value and avoid the rest.

There will always be unpleasant tasks in our lives we must do. A eulogy for a loved one, confronting a child who is going down the wrong path, or creating a household budget to drastically reduce expenses come to mind. But most tasks don’t fall into that category and can be avoided, delegated, deferred or reduced in scope.

The negative feeling you get when facing an unpleasant task are there for a reason. Your aversion to doing something is your subconscious mind (higher self, God, instincts, etc.) trying to protect you.

If you’re staring down a lion and facing death, don’t ignore your fear, run. Do it immediately and as completely as you can. But if you have a call to make, perhaps to a client who is behind in payment, and you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Feel the fear and have your secretary do it.

Are you ignoring prospects who don’t have a computer or smart phone?

There are billions of people in the world who aren’t able to read this.

No, not attorneys, although I’m sure there are still a few who haven’t evolved into the 21st century. But they aren’t my target market.

Would I like to communicate with them? Sure. But I’m willing to lose, say, the 5% who aren’t connected, in favor of the economics of reaching the 95% who are.

How about you? Is your target market connected? Do you know how many are not?

If a significant percentage of your target market isn’t online and you do most of your marketing online, you obviously need other ways to communicate.

But what if the bulk of your target market is online? Can you safely ignore the few who aren’t?

If you’re just looking at the numbers, sure. But there are some situations where it makes sense to have other options.

Take business cards, for example. There is a trend today towards the digital business card whereby you collect the other person’s information digitally in your smart phone, via a a “bump” or other method, and they collect yours as well. You don’t need to carry paper business cards, all you need is your phone.

There’s nothing wrong with a digital card, of course; it does save the effort of manually transferring information from paper to your electronic database and it’s kind of cool. But what about the prospect who doesn’t have a smart phone or the right app to collect your information? If all you have is a digital card, you may have squandered an opportunity to make a potentially lucrative new connection.

Whether or not you’ve gone digital, you still need to carry (paper) business cards. And, if you do carry paper cards, you shouldn’t assume the people you give them to can read your QR code. Have your practice areas and other information printed on the card as well.

I love technology and use it extensively; you may, too. But we shouldn’t assume that everyone knows what we know. I’m not saying you have to translate all your marketing documents to print or do a print newsletter in addition to your ezine, unless most of your target market is offline. But with something as inexpensive and effective as a business card, there’s no excuse for not having them.

High tech marketing may be the future but low tech will always work–and you never have to worry about a dead battery.

What I learned in the fourth grade about marketing legal services

After my post, “What to say when someone asks, ‘What do you do?”‘ I read an interesting take on the issue at The Non Billable Hour. In, “The Haiku of What You do,” Matt Homann suggests crafting your answer using Haiku.

As you might recall from fourth grade English, a Haiku is a three line poem consisting of 17 words (or syllables), five on the first line, seven on the second line, and five on the third. Homann suggests structuring your response as follows:

  • Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
  • What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
  • Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

The minimalist nature of Haiku lends itself well to an elevator speech. It forces you to get to the essence of what you do and for whom you do it.

Holmann offers this example for a personal injury attorney:

I help injured accident victims

understand their rights and recover medical expenses

from people who are responsible.

Here’s what I came up with for what I do:

I show attorneys how to

get more clients and increase their income

accomplishing more and working less.

Give it a try and see what you come up with. Post your results in the comments.