One of the core principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD™) approach to task management is that you need a ‘trusted system’ for capturing all the information, ideas and tasks that come your way. Evernote is eminently well-suited for the ‘collect’ phase of the GTD process: it provides an intuitive, versatile and robust repository for every shred of information that you may wish to collect, whether that be a business card, a recipe or a web page. You can sort your information in folders, tag individual items and retrieve your information thanks to a lightning-fast search function. Evernote is zenlike in its simplicity, but can it be adapted to support the more complex phases of a GTD workflow? Will it help you process all this information, organise tasks and review priorities? Can it help you to get things done? Or are you better off co-opting a custom-built application like Zendone, which was designed to provide a task management overlay to help you work with the information stored in Evernote?
While Evernote can be used as a task manager, it was not designed to be one. This means that you will have to do some preparatory work to set it up for that purpose. The good news here is that all the hard work has already been done: the Secret Weapon (TSW) website provides a series of very clear and attractive short videos that explain how to set up Evernote for a GTD workflow. I think it took me about an hour to watch all the videos and to tweak Evernote.
That tweaking consists primarily of setting up stacks of tags in Evernote that can serve as contexts in your GTD workflow. You can create stacks in Evernote by dragging tags (or notebooks) on top of each other. The groups of tags suggested by TSW are ‘what’ (to capture projects), ‘when’ (to flag urgency/priority), ‘who’ and ‘where’ (to capture person- and place-specific contexts). The screenshot below shows some of these tag stacks.
The Secret Weapon videos then explain how you can use Evernote and the GTD methodology to manage your email and to implement daily and weekly reviews. The five-minute video about the weekly review is my favourite of the series. It reminds us that being productive is ultimately not about completing tasks, but about achieving our work and life goals. It explores why some tasks never seem to get done and suggests some approaches for resolving these blockages. Well worth watching, irrespective of the productivity app you decide to use.
The Secret Weapon makes a compelling case that Evernote can be used as a GTD task manager and I have come across several testimonials on user forums by people who would not want to work any other way. Much as I love Evernote – and I use the app every day – I would be reluctant to use it as my task manager because it does not provide any level of automation. I would have to drag tasks into the completed folder manually. I would have to remove all tags from completed tasks manually to avoid them reappearing in searches and my planning would not be supported by a reminder function.
My preference therefore would be to use a task manager that provides integration with Evernote. I have written about this topic in a previous post, where I singled out Zendone as offering the greatest level of integration with Evernote, as well as GTD compatibility. Tasks can be entered using either Evernote or Zendone; and notes can be edited in either app and are synched across the two quickly and reliably. There is no other app that nails Evernote integration this well, though Nozbe comes close.
At the time of my first Zendone review, I pointed out that the lack of a mobile version was a serious limitation, particularly since the browser version did not run on Safari on an iPad. I was delighted to read on the Zendone blog that this has now been remedied and that a native iPad version is on the way. I immediately tried out Zendone on my iPad (see screenshot below) and while the browser version worked rather haltingly, I was able to add and complete tasks, change due dates and contexts and edit notes.
Zendone is still under development but it is clear on the basis of what has been achieved so far that it will join the ranks of leading GTD apps as soon as it comes out of beta. While the app is stylish and well-designed, the greatest part of its appeal for me comes from the multiplier effect that it provides to the already formidable Evernote app.