Evernote and Todoist: REALLY Getting Things Done

I am one of those people that bought into the whole GTD (based on the bestselling book Getting Things Done by David Allen) thing. I like the whole concept of mind-as-water. Where things are not lurking at the back of your mind at all times – but are filed in some reliable and accessible system where you can get back to them and address them. Where the context of the task is just as important as the task itself. Where things are never too big because you can create projects and break them down into manageable tasks. Where the deep (oh so sweet) satisfaction of checking off things spurs greater productivity.

But for the longest time, I struggled with this – from an implementation standpoint. The book talks about using cards and folders to manage the system. Which is great if you live in the 1900s. But it seemed primitive to me in today’s world where we are always connected, always online, always digitally enabled. Alright – if you don’t own a smart phone, you might want to get one – you can thank me later.

One of the other things that I do, and recommend to everyone, is to maintain a journal to complement your productivity workflow. The reflective brain dump is a useful process as part of getting things done and I use my journal as a mechanism to reflect on the day and to identify things that I need to get done – and things I have achieved. This leads to clarity of mind, and a capture of actions that would otherwise slip through the cracks. I use Day One Classic (on my iOS devices) and Life Journal (on my Windows PC) to help me with this.

When I was at Dell, I took this course wherein they applied the whole GTD thing to Microsoft’s Outlook. It was absolutely fantastic – because most of us have email open all the time – and it is just easy to create tasks on the fly, schedule tasks and do daily reviews with great ease. And it worked great as long as I was at Dell – and using Microsoft Outlook. When I changed jobs, I was forced to use the abomination that is Lotus Notes (oh how I hate thee – but more on that later). So the whole GTD process broke down for me.

I started looking for ways by which I could get stuff out of my head and get back to GTD via some sort of replacement system. I struggled with various task management tools (at one point even using desktop sticky notes).

The thing is, for the GTD process to work for me, a few things are essential:

  • The tool I use is ALWAYS available (online, offline, web, mobile)
  • It should allow me to create items for follow up from email (UPDATE: this is now a premium feature – which saddens me as this was a critical feature that was downgraded)
  • It should let me set up projects and break those down into tasks
  • It should have the ability to establish due dates and reminders
  • If necessary, it should let me collaborate with others
  • An ability to help me file and tag things and also prioritize tasks
  • Have a safe and reliable sync system across everywhere I used the tool

What really ended up working for me were 2 things – both with their pros and cons, of course – but both effective.

Evernote: If you have not signed up for it, please do yourself a favor and do it. It is a free tool (well – you CAN buy premium subscriptions if you want, but don’t have to) and has SO much value and in SO many different ways, that you’ll be thinking how you lived without it. (If you don’t mind, please use the link at the beginning of the paragraph – it gives both of us free Premium access for a limited period of time). Anyhoo – I am a big Evernote user, and I of course am always looking for ways I can get the most out of it. So I was ecstatic when I came across this web site that helps you GTD using Evernote. It is called The Secret Weapon. I am not going to spend too much time outlining what it does – since the site does a spectacular job of that by using easy to follow videos and the like. Evernote meets all of the criteria I listed above (and then some!) – and it works great to do what I need it to do. I do think that this is one of the (if not THE) best ways to implement GTD digitally for free.

Evernote

Todoist: This is a very cool task list management system – if somewhat lightweight. The free version of the tool meets most of the criteria I listed above – and the rest of the criteria can be met if you sign up for their premium subscription. The ubiquity of the tool – and its sheer simplicity – lets you get up and running with task management in no time. I came across this post (Why I Left iCloud Reminders for Todoist) on Zite – and that’s when I started using it. Oh – and it has this feature called Karma – which is basically gamification of sorts whereby you earn Karma points for using Todoist – it just keeps things interesting. Give it a try – I think you will like it.

UPDATE: I have created a post about how I would implement Getting Things Done using Todoist.

Todoist Screenshots

Both tools have solid offline applications for Windows/Mac, browser plugins for most of the major browsers, and solid apps for iOS (which is what I use – but I think they have apps for Android as well). Like I said – ALWAYS available.

Oh – and if you want to kick it up another notch – check out IFTTT which allows you to do some super cool things with these tools. I might even do a dedicated post on this later…

So – tell me – how do you get things done? Do you have any other tools or systems that you use that you are so excited about that you would want to tell everyone about it? Let me know in the comments…

11 thoughts on “Evernote and Todoist: REALLY Getting Things Done

  1. Pingback: Getting Things Done with Todoist – My GTD Setup | Nebulous

  2. Marcus

    Hello,

    Nice introductory post about these tools. I have checked out The Secret Weapon previously, as I have been an avid Evernote user for years already.

    However, to me it seems real counterproductive sending all e-mails to Evernote, due to the fact there really is not an easy way to reply to any messages then.

    For me it would be real interesting to hear from you about how you used to do GTD in Outlook.
    It is surprisingly scarce with articles about that.

    Best regards, Marcus

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    1. Rohit Post author

      Marcus – thanks for stopping by – glad you found the post useful.

      In general, Outlook is a great tool to implement the GTD framework. Every email that is deferred can be managed as a task – simply by dragging the email to your task pane (wherein it creates the task and maintains the original email as an attachment). That way, you can open the task and action the email directly. Tasks can also be dragged and dropped on the calendar – so you can schedule time to wok on tasks. By creating views in your task list, you can manage tasks quite efficiently. I know I am giving you a very brief treatment of the capabilities. The course that I took at Dell was provided by a presenter from Effective Edge (http://effectiveedge.com/). It was an excellent course and I would recommend it highly if you are looking to implement GTD using Outlook.

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  3. Michael

    Hello,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I was using outlook and GTD intensively. It ended when the phones became smarter. And after checking Android I went to iOS.
    Now I’m somewhere in between. I use Evernote for notes. I continued using Google tasks and recently I felt the limitations because OSX outlook is not integrating the tasks as Windows outlook does.
    So I started to find out about how others are coping.

    My question now is: why did you start with todoist? What are the pros and cons that made you have both vehicles getting your things done?

    Cheers

    Michael

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    1. Rohit Post author

      Good question – it’s a bit of a long story but I will try to be brief.

      I personally felt that Outlook was best suited for GTD since I lived in the tool.

      Then I changed jobs and the company used Lotus Notes (which is not well suited to my GTD workflow). So I started looking at alternative ways to do things and came across the secret weapon web site which had a great model to implement GTD using Evernote. And this worked perfectly for me with the exception of having to email inbox items to Evernote, and then not having a way to respond to the email from Evernote. Given that Evernote was also mobile enabled, it overcame an Outlook shortcoming of having the tool being omnipresent.

      I started trying out Todoist and love it for its simplicity – it focuses on tasks (not a repository for everything), it meets all of my criteria for a GTD tool and has great integration with the other tools I use (e.g. GMail, Sunrise).

      Now in my own company, I have gotten back on using Outlook, but am still using Todoist since it has a great Outlook plugin as well. I still use Evernote, but mostly as a content repository for non transient content (things I want to retain). For transient content I use Pocket.

      I hope this helps…

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  4. Steven Zhang

    So what do you use now for GTD – TSW or todoist?

    I use a combination of both- todoist for my “small quick tasks” and as my inbox, Evernote for large projects

    In my mind:

    Biggest pro for evernote / against todoist:

    Having the entire canvas of a note to write tasks makes for managing complicated tasks very easily- you can have the necesary reference material right there!

    Biggest con against TSW/evernote:

    Add notes is cumbersome, saved searches work in mobile, but changing notebooks from “pending action” to “completed” doesn’t compare to swipe and complete in todoist mobile

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    1. Rohit Post author

      Thanks for your note Steven. These days I use Todoist primarily for task management. I use Evernote mostly for management of content and the like.

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      1. Steven Zhang

        I’m curious how you deal with these problems I face with Todoist.

        1. Inability to easily create subtasks
        2. Inability to sort by date created/updated (essential for huge tasks list/filters I have no way of prioiritizing)

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        1. Rohit Post author

          You can create sub tasks in Todoist – just drag the task to the right under another task and it gets indented under the task.

          As for sorting, there is a tools option at the top right (looks like an X made up of a spanner and pencil) – if you click on it, you can sort tasks by Date/priority/name.

          Hope this helps…

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          1. Rohit Post author

            I generally do not care about date created – as the key for me is the scheduled date to get it done. Yes, I see that sorting is available in some filtered views – not all…

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