Evernote 20,000 Note Milestone!!!

I just crossed 20,000 notes in Evernote, so I thought now might be a good time to update my occasional series on Evernote. Early in the life of RestartGTD I used to manually count up Evernote pages and track them.

Unfortunately my original note counting methodology was a hack that did not work accurately. Because Evernote has added monthly note counts, here is an example for my account as of December 25, 2016, look for the red arrows 1/3 of the way from the left, near the top of the page:

So, since I can use these Evernote generated non-hack counts, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and scrape out the monthly totals for the 102 months that I’ve been an evernote subscriber.

Here is the previous total and the more accurate Evernote-generated total note count for 102 months:

The count totals diverge in 2013 where SKITCH started defaulting to saving in Evernote. But I suspect that the convoluted “trick Evernote into counting notes” method that I was using, was in a word “bad”. Anyway, I trust the monthly total that Evernote now generate as it predicts the actual number of notes in my account within 2 notes. All comes back but 2 tablespoons! (notes)

So over the 102 months of Evernote, I’ve increased my usage of evernote month by month from 1 note per month on average, to almost 200 notes per month. Here is the same graph plotted with a rolling average notes per month plotted on a second Y axis in Excel 2016’s “hideous orange”:

I continue to use Evernote as my GTD reference filing system … only. I’ve tried tracking projects in Evernote but prefer OneNote for detailed next action decomposition work. But as a reference filing system, Evernote has definitely achieved “roach motel” lock in of my information. The pattern in the orange average is very “ratchet” like. Jutting up, drifting down, but then jutting up again, and again.

bill meade

2015 ends, Top 10 RestartGTD arguments for 2016


Desk before and after GTD


Introduction: (http://wp.me/p5btlh-urk)

2015 is ending. Tool options for “how” to Get Things Done continue to eclipse my capacity to integrate them year to year. So I will continue to argue:

  1. OneNote and Evernote are complements, not substitutes.
    1. Evernote is THE REFERENCE FILING SYSTEM for the rest of us. Use Evernote Web Clipper to capture your browsing into Evernote, or iX500 scan into Evernote, and … DONE … PAPERLESS + find any note in 15 seconds.
      1. *Note* Evernote, the company, has begun pruning the non-filing system aspects of itself after having quality and other “spreading itself too thin” problems.
    2. OneNote is THE PROCESSING PLACE for the rest of us. When you have an *explosive* next action (i.e., that project that just landed on you by instant message), put it into OneNote and then use the outlining and image pasting to turn a multi-step next action, into a project plan, all on one page.
      1. Microsoft *appears* to remain behind OneNote. Microsoft does not “get” what Evernote does (reference filing) and so OneNote continues to miss one key component of a dominant design (reference filing) to replace Evernote. So use them together, you’ll be happier than with either alone.
    3. The twain never meet.
      1. Capture to Evernote if the answer to “Will there ever be a next action?” is maybe or yes.
      2. Process next action into a project plan in OneNote.
    4. Simple really. (#ThankYouRaleighMuns)
  2. That Evernote’s defects in losing notes, are more than overcome by Evernote’s utility as a document manager for reference files.
    1. *Sigh* as I say this Evernote has lost our family’s recipe for Shepherd’s Pie for Christmas 2015. Fortunately, I have emailed this recipe so I, this once, have recovered the data and put it back into Evernote. Twice. 2011_01_08_12_24_37_pdf_pdf
    2. Defect: Customer Service
      And I too, have been misunderstood by Evernote’s support “geniuses” who like car sales people can’t hear the loud “creek” in your new car after you are off the lot. Customer service people at Evernote do not even have brain resptors for:

      1. The user I’m talking to is knowledgeable about Evernote.
      2. There is a real problem.
        But despite this, after beating my head on the Evernote customer service wall (Andy), Evernote the product *miraculously* started recognizing the 2,000 previously unindexed notes. Perhaps reflecting on conversations after the email gets pissy, does take place at Evernote.
        ***With customer service, you can only tie or lose.*** This was a tie, which means victory!!!
    3. Defect: Security
      I would strongly prefer that Evernote run on my air-gapped Synology NAS at home. And the NAS has a note app. But, with 16,986 notes in Evernote, I’m a bit past being able to migrate. If only because I’m somehow certain that I’ll lose notes in the process.

      1. AmIwrong? Suggest alternatives in the comments below!!!
    4. Defect: Interviewing
      Just for fun, I would like to *note* that I had a job interview with Evernote 2 years ago. And I’m sure that a TWILIGHT ZONE episode could be made out of being interviewed by someone who understood their product vastly less than a thunder-lizard fanboi product fanatic with a low-rated blog.
  3. That the Evernote “false pretender” substitutes:
    1. http://www.fetchnotes.com/
    2. http://realmacsoftware.com/clear/
    3. https://workflowy.com/
    4. http://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt
      are a step backwards from having a REFERENCE FILING SYSTEM in the GTD sense. And WORSE they (a) either mix reference filing with processing next actions, or (b) they baffle your brains by focusing on outlines, and simultaneously leave you without a real reference filing system, assuming you have everything you need.
  4. That Evernote dumping Evernote Clearly (which has been displaced by Evernote Web Clipper) is bad.
    1. Why? Because:
      1. I find that I have to have BOTH Web Clipper and Clearly, to reliably be able to capture web pages. Clipper/Clearly don’t do the same thing. The should, but they don’t. So I’m going to have to capture HTML in 2016 to get all the data I need. Ug.
      2. Evernote by allowing parallel competitive products (web clipper and clearly), and then killing the “losers” off, is shaking the jello of customer confidence. I recently listened to an end user berate Microsoft for doing the same thing. Evernote may want to be the Microsoft of notes. But it is a “unicorn” and desperately needs to be the Southwest Airlines of notes. Focus. Focus. Focus.
      3. I like Evernote Clearly. I used it first. We are Borg.
  5. And Evernote dumping Skitch for Windows (same link as Clearly above) is bad.
    1. Highlighting the “afterthought product management” which in Latin is spelled “E-v-e-r-n-o-t-e”
  6. The first three chapters of GTD is all that a human brain can process in one year.
    1. I taught GTD to 200+ MBAs and even a fanboi unemployed person can’t implement chapters 4-13 of the first edition in one go.
    2. I’ve heard that only 17% of attendees to GTD seminars can implement the system. Getting GTD going is a volatile mix of ambition and disappointment. If you get too ambitious, you will be disappointed. And that can add up.
    3. If you don’t swing for the fences, and “take the walk” of getting reference filing going (Evernote, have I mentioned Evernote yet?), clearing your desk (mind=desk like water), and implementing 1-idea-1-piece of paper, next actions, and call it good. Your GTD survival rate will be 100%.
  7. Uneeda 27″ > 1080p monitor. C’mon, you work at a computer for a living. Why not invest in 2x the productivity? Cost = $300. That’s what, like a 1 hr/day payback?
    1. Personally I use el-cheapo refurbished dual-link DVI monitors (warning dual link is a pain) that Cost $200 (now, … but the price is lower at some times) and then get an Apple Mini MB571Z/A DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter, which makes the total cost $280. 20% savings!
    2. But … I’ve seen the el-cheapo monitors for as little as $100. My boss got me 2 for work, $150 for the first one, and $100 for the second. Stalk and save.
    3. *Note* your status-oriented computing colleagues will accuse you of being happy with “crap” monitors if you follow this path. I find however, that “crap” gets my things done just as fast as $600 monitors would. :-)
  8. Uneeda 2nd 27″ monitor. Don’t argue. Just implement. Thank me later.
  9. Uneeda monitor arm to convert your (desk + monitors) from a giant monitor stand, back into a desk.
  10. We lived through 2015, we should declare victory, and gird ourselves for disciplined optimism in 2016.

Best Regards,

Bill Meade wkmeade@gmail.com

3×5 Cool Tool


Purpose of this post is to share a *find* … of the 3×5 kind. I have started carrying an Oxford hand-note-card case. And, it is FANTASTIC!!!

I keep the case with 10 or so blank 3×5 cards (stored in the middle pouch so the cards do not get beat up) in my right front pocket. Even the pen holder is useful. I keep a skinny red pen in the case, so I can drag the case out and be ready to capture. Ideas, projects, action items, … whatever. There are also front and back slots to keep cards that have been written. So the case allows me to keep next actions with me, separate from blank cards.

The workflow:

  • Take card case out, and capture the GTD open loop.
  • Slide the open loop into the front or back slot
  • Front slot is for general GTD open loops that can be closed without capture in my digital system. Probably about 50% of the open-loop-cards I capture will be completed without being entered electronically.
  • Back slot is for project related cards that for the most part end up in OneNote or Evernote.

The confession:

  • I lost the first hand note case I purchased, but because it had become indispensable for me, I’ve re-ordered another from Amazon.com


  • How can someone who uses both Evernote and OneNote need 3×5 cards?

Because my brain loves 3×5 cards. The most powerful organizing that I do is to lay out 3×5 cards on a giant table, and then re-organize them by sliding them into columns of related ideas.


When I put my entire trusted system into the MOST EXCELLENT OmniFocus, my brain refused to use the system. I could not bring myself to sit down at my desk. I *think* in Ready for Anything David Allen actually says “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.” Certainly the case for me. So as I’ve documented in the evolution of my trusted system, I use 3×5 cards as my default “one idea, one piece of paper” capture system.

bill meade

Evernote Biggies

This post is the text of an email I wrote to a restartgtd.com reader who asked about Evernote.
/begin email
I’ve written a lot of posts on Evernote:
The biggies with Evernote are:
  • Install Evernote app on your computer
  • Get Evernote app connected to your Evernote account.
  • Install Clearly and Web Clipper in your browsers on all platforms. 
    • In each web browser, Immediately clip a (any)pagetoEvernote
      • From clearly
      • From web clipper
      • You have to authenticate via Clearly and Web Clipper separately. Stupid but necessary.
    • This on-ramps all your net-found materials to Evernote.  
  • Force yourself to use Clearly and Web Clipper religiously for 1 day, capturing notes that “might be useful … ever.”
  • Then useClearly and Web Clipper when you get a *twinge* that you might want to find the web article again. 
    • Default to using Clearly and Web Clipper too much. Or …
  • When you catch yourselflookinginEvernote for something, and you figure out that the document isnotinEvernote. Put a copy of thedocumentinEvernote so your reality is consistent with your expectations.
    • Example: Somewhere I read that “Nipper” the RCA dog was listening to a recording of his (deceased) master’s voice in the famous painting.
      • I said to someone “I can give you a link to the page from my Evernote account.” And then I went into Evernote just to check myself. The article was not there, so, I found the information on the web, and snipped the information into Evernote with Web Clipper, and now I can share it on demand.
    • The more I use Evernote, the more “stuff” that goes into Evernote. I use Evernote as the ultimate single A to Z reference file ala David Allen GTD
  • Get a Scansnap ix500 ($405 today) 
    • In addition to being an Evernote fanboi I’m also a ScanSnap fanboi.  There are quite a few ScanSnap articlesinRestartGTD.
      • ScanSnaps are optimally valuable ingesting paper into Evernote. I converted 94,000 pages of reference files into Evernote in 4 afternoons.
      • But after you have your data into Evernote, you won’t regret the money spent on the scansnap. My scanning backlog is perpetually zero as I can scan anything in a minute.
      • Buy the best, only cry once.
  • Triage all your paper into:
    • To scan. Then scan and put in …
    • Recycle 
    • Precious can’t throw out, scan and file for posterity
  • Don’t worry about Evernote tags
    • I useEvernote tags only on documents that are hard to find using my default “what two words will only be on the document I’m looking for” query.
      • After I eventually find the article I set the tag to whatever concept I was trying to find. And then I also add the concept name into the note (belts+suspenders strategy).
  • Play with Evernote’s notebooks (I think of these as folders). For the most part notebooks hold two species of documents for me:
    • Projects
      • I gather all the reference materials for a big project into a notebook that I can share with people working on the projects. I out-read pretty much everyone on a project, so I’m a natural keeper of the reference materials.
    • Reference files
      • I have a general “Articles” notebook (folder) for PDFs of articles and captured via Clearly/Web Clipper HTML articles. Motto: “I read therefore I am” so I’ve got approximately 15,900 documents in Evernote.
      • I also have a “Data Science” notebook where I put technical documents on R, ggplot2, Azure Machine Learning, etc. that I work with.
      • I also have a “family” notebook with sub notebooks for reference documents for each family member.
  • Use Evernote’s shortcut feature for folders. 
    • My most used shortcut is a notebook I call “cribsheets” which are notes with the distilled essence of stuff that is important to me. For example, Introduction to R, Excel commands I can’t remember, Introduction to Azure Machine Learning for data scientists, what Neal Analytics is looking for in new hires, etc. 
      • Sub idea: I use notesharinginEvernote quite a bit. This is particularly valuable to me as I can edit the note and not have to notify people of the changes.
        • Right click on the note to “copy shared link” and then email the person the link.
    • But I also add notebooks for hot projects to my shortcuts, and that saves a lot of steps in finding and filing
  • Use OneNote to process a project into tasks. 
    • OneNote allows you to re-arrange scanned 3×5 cards in a note. Evernote does not allow re-arranging of graphics within a note. *Note* readers, correct me if I’m missing something about Evernote here.
    • OneNote and Evernote are complements, not substitutes. I work a lot with Microsoft people, and they just don’t “get” OneNote vs. Evernote. Competitive instincts rear up instantly, and die hard in the face of data.
    • I find OneNote to be superior for decomposing a project into next actions. But, I’m biased by my brain’s refusal to use only 1 electronic system.
  • Use Evernote for reference filing only. 
    • Even my “Articles” and “Project” folders are just reference filing.
  • I use Evernote on both Mac and Windows 10 on my Macbook Pro and iMac. I find it easiest to have my Evernote archives kept separately … even though it sucks to have redundant data. It sucks but works flawlessly.
Does this help? Ask again if not! 
Bill Meade

Evernote vs. OneNote … Redux



In my current job, I’m working with a lot of people from Microsoft. If I mention “Evernote” I often hear “You mean OneNote … Right!?!”

This post is just a small scream out to the inner Microserfs (The t-shirt with “IBM Weak as a kitten, dumb as a sack of hammers!” alone makes the book worth reading!!!) of my anonymous Microsoft partisans:

OneNote and Evernote are different. Really different.

Let me use a Microserf-ish analogy:

  • OneNote is Excel. Evernote is Power Query.
  • Or, OneNote is Excel, and Evernote is PowerPivot.

Yes, their functionalities overlap. But no, they are not competitors. To a GTD person, they are complements, not substitutes. Oops, another analogy from economics just inserted itself.

There is a healthy humility at Microsoft today. Gone are the arrogant people looking at your extended hand and saying “Do I need to know you?” They’ve been replaced by mortals who worry about being laid off as well as worrying about whether their market share can be *significant*.

My Microserf partisans, embrace this humility!

But, don’t let your healthy humility combine with an unhealthy fear of failure, that will react with humility to produce defensiveness. OneNote is great. OneNote is powerful.

But not as powerful as OneNote+Evernote.

Read that last sentence again!

Bill Meade

Getting Things Done: Reviewing GTD in a complicated organizing program


Source: PixelLight.com


I have an artist friend, Mark VanderSys


Source: BetterLight.com (2/3 down the page)

who runs a small, extremely high-touch graphics business: PixelLight.com. By extremely high-touch I mean: gigapixel pictures with digital scan backs, heavily customized web sites, and seemingly impossible pictures without parallax (i.e., the entire width of the picture is taken at a perfect 90 degree angle to the subject) and …


extremely clean low-retouch photography


New Addition:
The picture at the top of this post is an un-retouched image taken of objects spinning. It was taken with a BetterLight.com digital scan back in a standard 4×5 industrial bellows camera, Mark gave a tutorial at BetterLight where he showed step by step how the picture was taken. Click here for the magic pixie dust demo via an .mov file that shows the process.

Mark and I have been implementing Getting Things Done together for several years. Mark uses a customer requirements planning program, Asana.com, to organize, share, and track his work. Mark and I just spent two hours looking over his implementation of Asana, and reflecting on how GTD lives in very complicated, very powerful systems like Asana.

Lessons Learned

  • Using Skype to share screens is easy!
    1. Get your Skype session going.
    2. Click on the plus thought bubble at the bottom of the screen
    Skype3. Click share screen in the pop up:
    Fullscreen_2014_09_27__3_49_PM4. Continue your conversation while sharing your screen!
  • Complexity of the tool, Asana, Omni-Focus, whatever, expands like a gas to fill your energy and memory, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. And,
  • … complexity crowds GTD logic out of your mind.
  • When GTD gets crowded out by a tool, we naturally stop managing self-expectations. You are now standing at the top of the GTD off-ramp.

How to implement a new program

  • Get some work into the system. Don’t worry be crappy.
  • Get to know the system, really try to make it work. But, relax. Rome was not built in day.
  • When you get frustrated, talk to your GTD buddy. Getting started with GTD is much easier when you have a buddy. Mark VanderSys is my GTD buddy.

What your GTD buddy will tell you:

  • Slow down.  Rome was not built in a day.
  • Go back to basics. Now that you know a bit about Asana (or OmniFocus, or whatever) it is time to re-read the first three chapters of Getting Things Done. As you go through the chapters s-l-o-w-l-y, write ideas on 3×5 cards, page by page through chapters 1 through 3.
  • Focus on how the program allows each of GTD’s tools to be implemented. Make notes of next actions for doing GTD more fully.

Organizing Work with Hierarchy … and in an Intertwingled World



Source: Preface Intertwingled


  • Organizing tools allow different kinds of organization. In particular, different kinds of project-next action relationships.
    • Paper
      … with a next action focus, manila folders, creates an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. One project, one manila folder, and inside many next actions. All the next actions relate only to the project indicated by the folder’s name.  
    • Outline tools
      … like OmniFocus (built around OmniOutliner), Evernote, and OneNote use an implicit one-to-many work hierarchy. That is, you start with a project, and then create N next actions to complete the project. But advanced tools like OmniFocus go a bit further. Next actions can relate not only to projects in a hierarchical way. Next actions can also relate to contexts. So the simple one-to-many hierarchy of project and actions, begins to fray. GTDers are coached to think of projects and contexts as a kind of matrix organization structure, and then next actions live at the intersection of project and context.
    • CRM (Customer Requirements Management)
      … systems like ASANA however, are not limited to one-to-many work hierarchy. Yes, you can create a project and then a task underneath the project. But in addition, Asana tasks can be related explicitly to multiple projects.

      This is a many-to-many link which CRM systems have evolved so that a next action can be tracked in relation to many projects. With many-to-many relationships, CRM allow GTDers to use “more colors of the rainbow” by tracking multiple projects that a next action relates to, but CRM systems shatter top-down one-to-many work hierarchy that a GTD person is used to seeing, and substitute an extra step of running queries, to see the full status of a next action against its projects. Very disorienting … at first.

  • Ugh, I’m feeling scared. Overwhelmed, dizzy. What can I do if I need to use a CRM system to implement GTD in my intertwingled life?
    • Go back up to what your GTD buddy told you above:
    • Just be aware of what the electronic system can do. And use GTD within that electronic system, as fully as you can. Don’t force yourself to use too much complexity.
    • Wait. Over time, as you keep your eye on GTD inside the system, you’ll have ideas. For example, you might have the idea in Asana, of doing a query that shows you the next actions in the system, that will move the most projects forward. Might be useful to try!
    • Experiment. Let these ideas come, and then experiment with them.

Thanks Mark VanderSys for a fun afternoon of GTD buddy check in!

bill meade

Tunnel Vision

Top 5 Causes of New-Job-Tunnel-Vision

  • Meeting 30 people at once on the “first-day-tour-of-death”

What happens is that you get to see 30 people whose names you instantly forget, and immediately start feeling guilty for not knowing.

  • Asking the new boss for a project list, before accepting the job

What happens is that you get a list of 10 projects that the boss wishes s/he had time to do. This is great except that what is left out is the time-to-come-up-to-speed on the company’s infrastructure. The projects won’t be do-able for at least two months. So they sit on your project list mocking you until you are no longer clueless. The new boss *hopes* you can do these. But, you won’t be able to do them.

What happens is that your boss-to-be won’t have time to read any of GTD, even if you buy him/her the Audible version of GTD. But, new-boss’s expectations of your performance will be amped up.

  • Taking a job in a “guns-drawn” produce-or-die company

If you are joining a little company that is rapidly becoming a big company, you will be entering a “guns-drawn” environment. You can be optimally organized, but the organization has such intense needs for people it does not yet have, that you will be working constantly to bring definition to work that is inherently beyond the infrastructure of your employer.

Peter Drucker (Two must reads: Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Post Capitalist Society) articulated the essence of knowledge work as defining the work to be done. But, it is possible to work places where there is so much work to be defined, that one GTD person can not succeed on “normal” GTD terms. Be mindful of what you can do. GTD only allows you do maximize what you can do, not to do everything a rapidly growing company needs.

  • Not managing self-expectations

As a GTD person, it is at time, easy to allow expectations creep to exceed your GTD work capacity. Every company will accept every hour you give them. And, demand obedience to a corporate culture. Mature GTD practice requires that you manage your own expectations about what can pragmatically be accomplished.

The hard part of this is is focused on your responses to every-day-emergencies that happen. In the course of accepting and processing incoming work, emergencies happen. The best part of GTD for me personally, is when I am being the greyhound running down the path, and when a rabbit (the emergency) crosses the path, turning on a dime and running down the emergency.

But, … when you have emergencies every day, you will fall behind accepting and processing your work. Your boss will not hold you accountable to getting all the work done. The boss wants the rabbits run down so s/he looks good. You have your weekly meeting, and the boss will focus on the latest rabbit. This is the GTD temptation tipping point. This is where your self-expectations can get out of whack.

Your job as a GTD person, is to accept and process your work. Then, to do the most important work. When you get to the point where you can’t process all the incoming work, say in OneNote (my new favorite work processing tool), you are no longer managing your self expectations.

What is Tunnel-Vision?

I had a tunnel-vision experience recently. I needed to send an email in Outlook to my boss. And I wrote the email, no big deal. But when it came time to send the email, the only send button I could see was “encrypt and send.” I said to myself “Self, where is the normal Outlook send button?” But I could not see it.

When your vision narrows, and you can’t see stuff on the computer screen plainly in front of your eyes. You are over-wrought. And when you are over-wrought. You are done for the day regardless of what time it is.

When your brain can’t process normal stuff in front of it. You need time away from the work, to subconsciously process. To finish getting your head around what you are trying to do. And what you need to do. Like a trotting horse that is driven too fast, when you start galloping, you slow down.

What to do about tunnel vision?

Pull your head out of the oven. The muffins are not going to get done faster by you watching them bake. Your body is keeping the oven door open!

  • Take a bio break. Always acceptable.
  • Take a walk. Preferably with a colleague who you can share your experience with.
  • Go to the Apple store. For some reason, it is easier to get out of being in a feeding frenzy, by watching all the Apple fan bois in their feeding frenzy. Gives *perspective.*
  • Take a laptop and go to a public place, and then log in and focus on processing work, not doing work. There is always something you can do processing work that is superior to working in a tunnel. Getting back on the GTD wagon is therapeutic.

What not to do about tunnel vision?

  • Try harder. Sitting at your desk.
  • Talk to the boss. Instinctively s/he wants you to be a uniform plastic person with an unlimited appetite for doing. Any words you say that threaten this stereotype can and will be held against you.
  • Force things to happen.

Remember the game

New jobs seem like sprints. But they are marathons. Remember the marathon. Don’t burn yourself out early. Think “What would David Allen do?” and do that. Repeat. You can only do the best you can do. If you can’t silence fear in a new job. You need another new job. Life imposes limits, unless you manage your own limits. Reflect. Refactor your expectations. Manage your expectations.


Use OneNote and Snipping Tool for your Excel GTD Crib Sheet


I’m teaching a remedial Excel class this week, and so I’ve developed a tutorial to get people going using OneNote to capture crib sheets in Excel. I store my GTD crib sheets in Evernote (Example, Click here to subscribe). But OneNote is a great program too and if you have Microsoft’s Office, you have OneNote for free.

  • If you have a Mac Office, you probably don’t have OneNote but you can get OneNote for free.
  • If you have an older version of Office for windows you can get OneNote for free here.


To create your OneNote Excel crib sheet do this:


When OneNote opens, then create a top Tab titled “Crib Sheets:


Then add an Excel page:


Then copy the first entry from the image at the top of this blog post.

  • To enter A1 + B1 = C1 do this
    • With the pinky finger on your right hand, push the = 
      sign on the keyboard


Now, start Excel so we can get some practice using our Excel crib sheet!

Next question: How do I snip from Excel?









You have created an Excel crib sheet, and made your first entry!!!



Use GTD to become an Excel guru

The Big Secret of Excel

Is that everyone who uses Excel uses this use model:



Excel is complicated. It is easy to remember the functions I use every day, but, the functions that I don’t use every day, I forget. Whenever someone, say Chris at 4:30 pm on Friday asks me to solve an Excel problem. Say with the boss’s boss’s boss standing behind us waiting for the distilled essence of our genius to flow neatly through our wrists into Excel. This kind of pressure means I can’t remember anything I was not doing earlier on Friday. I call this pressure-forgetting.

What Excel Gurus Do

Excel gurus do one thing that non-gurus do not do. Gurus keep Excel notes in Crib Sheets:


One excellent way to do this is to use Evernote (Click here to sign up). Here is my Evernote crib sheet set up:


I created an Excel notebook named “CribSheets” and dragged CribSheets to the top-left-hand corner of Evernote (top left red arrow).  At present, I have 25 crib sheets on R, ggplot2, SAS, MySQL, etc. The tools of my trade. At the top of my list (2nd red arrow) is my Excel crib sheet.

Excel’s Paradox

Excel functions are easy to learn, but hard to remember. And they are even harder to remember when the boss’s boss’s boss is standing behind you while you work. The GTD connection here is that because I have an Excel crib sheet in Evernote, no matter where I am, I can log in to Evernote, and access my crib sheet. My brain knows this. And, knowing that I have the answer on a crib sheet gives me GTD confidence. GTD confidence is a countervailing force to pressure-forgetting.

The Save

On Friday, sitting in front of Chris’s computer, with the boss’s boss’s boss waiting for the worksheet, my subconscious floated me a lifeline. It said “What about a helper column?” Helper columns are an Excel *trick* that I have stored away in my Excel CribSheet. And helper columns solved the immediate problem.

I did not open my crib sheet. Just knowing that my subconscious thought it would be worth a try was enough. I tried a helper column, and *it worked.* Then Chris said “Oh, yeah, I forgot, can we subtract the rows from this other tab?” No problem. A second helper column did that. Life is good.

Life and Excel


Richard Feynman “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” p. 26

What a contrast Excel life is. The boss’s boss’s boss gets a clean worksheet and the pantry workers are fighting an epic battle between pressure-forgetting, organization, and the typical Excel problems of “The worksheet is done, but it will not let me save it!” which also happened. “Damn deez doilies!”

But no worries, the *trick* is to use helper columns to filter the data with Vlookup. I’ll rebuild the worksheet from scratch, starting by saving the empty worksheet. 2 minutes.

Crib Sheets

From a GTD perspective, crib sheets seem to fall between a reference file and a project file. Because I don’t know when I’ll need the crib sheet, it is not really a project. So I prefer to keep Crib Sheets in Evernote, my reference filing default.

However, I will post a step-by-step on how to set OneNote up to house Crib Sheets. They can live in OneNote just fine.

The requirements for crib sheets are two:

  1. Crib Sheets must be available (synched) on all your computers. And …
  2. Crib Sheets must allow you to insert screen snap shots (jpg) files in-line with the text you type.

The tool you use does not matter. Many tools will do that meets the above two requirements:


The key to becoming an Excel guru is not forgetting. And to not forget, a crib sheet is 100% effective. Try a crib sheet. See if your brain likes the taste of it. See if your brain will give you GTD Confidence when the boss’s boss’s boss is waiting.


Quick Index of Most-Read Posts