Making Evernote Useful

It took me a long time to get Evernote. I felt like with Simplenote and Notational Velocity, why would I need to complicate my note taking with yet another app. Two things made me revisit Evernote, Tim Falls uses it religiously and he is one of the most productive people I know and SimpleNote sync had started to become slow and unreliable for me. In this post I’ll share three key use cases that have made Evernote a welcome part of my workflow.

Attending Events

In particular, the offline notebook feature (this requires a premium subscription) is what makes using Evernote valuable for managing events. As a Developer Evangelist with SendGrid, I attend a ton of events and managing them all is non-trivial; especially, while at the event. It’s a given that for portions of any event, Internet access will be flaky at best.

Prior to each event I store all the key details about the event into an offline notebook, such as:

  • Agendas and schedules
  • Maps from my hotel to the venue and surrounding areas
  • List of people I want to meet and their contact information.
  • Hotel & Airline information.
  • Key pieces of information from the website, or sometimes I’ll just store the entire website in Evernote.

Managing Business Cards

I dislike carrying around any type of paper, even business cards. Yet, I don’t always have time to input all the business cards into digital format, especially while attending the event. As a compromise, I used take pictures of the business cards with the iPhone camera, but the problem is that then I have a bunch of business cards mixed in with my other pictures and it becomes easy to lose any sense of organization. So instead, I’ll create a note in Evernote for that event and take the photo from within the app, adding any relevant notes.

Managing Receipts

In the same way I manage the business cards, I do the same with receipts.

I also found the Mac Power Users Podcast episode dedicated to Evernote to be valuable in discovering the virtues of Evernote.


Quick Focus Tip: Turn off Notifications in Mountain Lion with One Click

Just option-click the notifications icon in the upper right corner. The icon will dim, signifying that it’s off. Option-click once more to turn it back on.

I also use Vitamin-R for focus when working on my Mac. The app allows me to follow the Pomodoro Technique, but with time increments I define, as well as shut down unnecessary distractions. I also like how it allows you to define the focus of the moment for easy reference in case you get distracted.

In addition, consider creating a new account on your Mac called Focus, where you customize that profile to contain no distractions (e.g. don’t connect your email or social media accounts in that profile). This concept is also useful if you give presentations or demonstrations in public. You can create a streamlined Demo account to ensure your presentation is not disrupted by random interruptions from your Calendar, Email, Task management app, etc.



In an attempt to motivate myself to complete all my weekend chores, I turn to Benjamin Franklin:

Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Of course, keeping everything clean appears to be a never ending task that can consume your whole life if you let it. Where is the limit? I’m not sure, but I do find that the time spent (at least once a week) creating order in your life, through ordinary household chores and GTD weekly reviews, definitely helps keep my world flowing smoother.

If you need some motivation to get you going, check out “Everything in its Place, Finally and Forever” and “I Don’t Want Stuff Any More, Only Things” from one of my favorite blogs,


Make a Decision

I’ve been putting off blogging for quite a while now, with a growing list of reasons to procrastinate. Along with some other commitments, which I’ll share later in this post, I’ve decided to once again attempt to achieve my greater goal of spreading the most positive energy to the greatest number of people possible. Writing is a scalable way to achieve that goal.

Because of a bout of food poisening ( there is an opportunity in every set back 🙂 ) I’ve had some time to spend thinking and reading. After reading some technical books like RESTful Web Services and Javascript: From Novice to Ninja, I turned to a oldie but goodie that has been neglected on my virtual bookshelf, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

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Beyond Checklists: Automation and Outsourcing

So you’ve already made checklists for all of your routines and acquired the habit of using them consistently. What’s the next step?

Go through each item on your checklist and ask these questions:

  • Can I automate this?
  • Can I outsource this?

Take a step back and look at the entire checklist and ask: Can I create a system or process to simplify (including outsourcing the entire checklist)?

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Personal Productivity: GTD + Agile and Priorities

Currently, I practice GTD using Omnifocus [pdf link] as the execution tool. I believe this system to be the best out of all the systems I’ve tried thus far, yet I still struggle with prioritization. After completing a few weeks of agile training with our awesome Rally coach Ann, I began to think of how I can apply agile principles, particularly the prioritization methods, to help solve the priority issue.

The first major difference that struck me is the prioritized backlog that is central to agile vs. the list of next actions split by context that is key to GTD. In trying to follow the non-prioritization ethos of GTD, I always have this feeling in the back of my mind that perhaps I’m working on the wrong thing at a given time. My work around has been using due dates and flags within Omnifocus. Specifically, due dates are for items that have some consequence if I fail to deliver on that date and flags are action items I’d like to complete that day.

Here are some initial thoughts of how to apply concepts from both GTD and Agile within the framework of the GTD weekly review in order to achieve some level of prioritization.

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Use Your Feed Reader to Quickly View All Your Unread Google Apps GMail

Part of my daily email routine involves logging into my Google Apps GMail accounts and applying the label:unread filter, which allows me to review any emails that I did not read throughout the day (since I filter my emails aggressively).

Now, I have found an even easier way to do this via my feed reader (which is currently NetNewsWire on Mac OSX and Reeder on the iPhone). Simply, use the following magical URL in your feed reader and enjoy:[your domain name]/feed/atom/unread

Note that you will need to authenticate your feed using your Google Apps username and login, where the username is your full email address.


What is in your GTD Weekly Review Checklist?

I’m in the process of evaluating my GTD weekly review process, as I feel like I’ve entered into the trap of executing the checklist without concern whether I am doing so productively. Following is the current checklist I am using:

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Extracting Action Items from Notational Velocity or SimpleNote

Ever since I read the article on Notational Velocity syncing with Simplenote by Merlin Mann combined with the wonder of Markdown, I’ve re-discovered the joy of working with text files. So now I’m using either Simplenote (when traveling with my iPhone) or Notational Velocity when I’m on my Laptop in most cases for taking notes. The following simple tip will give you an idea of how you can use these program’s powerful search mechanism to help you get things done.

Whenever I am taking notes and I realize that the item I’m writing down will end up being an action item, I add [A] to the beginning of the text. Then when I do inbox processing, I open up Notational Velocity and type [A] into the search box and then all notes that have pending action items appear. When I click on the note, all the instances of [A] are conveniently highlighted. Then I take each item and process through my GTD system (OmniFocus) deleting the [A] as I go along. For those with less complex task management needs, this could be the only system you ever need. Very simple, scalable, programmable and no vendor lock.

Do you manage notes using simple text files? What is your method?


Choosing What To Do Next

With GTD, it is not uncommon to be faced with a list of 100+ next actions all within the same context, especially if most of your day is spent within a certain context (such as @computer). David Allen suggest that the context, time needed and energy required should be used to determine what to do next. But when your list is100+ items long, it can be a daunting proposition to actually make that choice over and over throughout a hectic day. Following are some techniques I have developed to help with this problem.

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