Optimizing Evernote Workflow

Evernote is a powerful tool for GTD (or getting things done). The more you use it, the better it gets. I’ve been using Evernote for a few years now, but only recently I really focused on finding the best approach that will suite my needs. This article might help you find your own way of using it.

Evernote as a task manager

People usually treat Evernote as container for everything, but I find it very effective as task manager if used properly. If you use any other application (or service for that matter) in you workflow, you end up complicating things. I like it simple. That’s why I wanted to get the most out of Evernote which was finally possible once they implemented reminders.

For me the most powerful feature of Evernote is context, a link between a task and an underlying reference material. If you really think it through, you’ll get the tool, that is hard to beat.

Evernote as a warehouse for everything

There are two types of documents. Those you need to keep in original paper form, like contracts, diplomas, certificates, tickets, etc., and those you don’t need in original paper form, like any kind of brochures, used tickets, lecture papers, simply whatever you know you can print out or send in the form of scanned copy. First type of document should be scanned to Evernote and kept safe in some physical folder in your home or office. Once you scan them, there is hardly any reason to use them again in original form, unless you need to make an officially authenticated copy. Second type of document should be scanned to Evernote and then discarded in shredder.

There are few rules you should stick with, if you really want to get the most out of Evernote as “everything-you-need” tool.

Rule number one

Everything you scan, write or forward from mailbox goes to SORT notebook and stays there until you have time to sort it.

Rule number two

You should have ARCHIVE notebook. If you divide your life between work and home, you should have two archive notebooks, WORK ARCHIVE and HOME ARCHIVE.

Rule number three

You should have tasks notebooks, one for completed tasks, one for active tasks. If you use work and home archives, like I do, it’s a little complicated. I have h:active notebook for active home tasks and h:completed notebook for completed home tasks. The same goes for work, w:active and w:completed.

Rule number four

Use saved searches. You should have a bunch of saved searches in your shortcut list. These will update search results automatically for you based on search criteria. The most important one is active tasks which you can create with this command

-reminderDoneTime:* reminderOrder:*

and save it as t.active in your shortcut list.

Now, you might think it’s redundant to have saved search t.active when you already have h:active and w:active notebooks. Well, maybe someday it will be redundant, but currently it’s not, because Evernote does not allow you to search inside saved searches by tags, while you can easily do that in notebooks.

I personally like it this way. When I need just a quick glance of upcoming tasks, I will check t.active. When I need to find out what’s next in some project, I will check h:active or w:active notebook and filter it by project tag.

Best workflow ever

  • Check SORT notebook regularly and sort stuff.

Everything that is a reference (document, webpage, article) goes to the ARCHIVE notebook. Everything that smells like task goes to the active notebook.

Everything that is actionable at specific date should have date and time reminder set. Everything else should have just reminder (no matter there’s no specific date).

  • Use internal links heavily.

This will save a lot of time. Let’s say you need to work with the document you already archived. Create a new task, write down what you need to do and place there a link to that document, then set a reminder. Done.

  • Check t.active for quick glance of what is going on next.
  • Check h:active and w:active if you need to work on something specific.

Optimization of Evernote workflow and best practices is neverending process. I still try to tweak it from time to time to make it even better, more straightforward and more timesaving. Currently this is the best I’ve got so far.