Number 1 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

False Start in Swimming Competition
S
ource: Corbis

TLDR:

You can do both GTD and Evernote if:

  • You read only chapters 1-3 of GTD, then
  • implement Evernote as your reference filing system,
  • don’t forget to install three Evernote add ons,
  • be well rested when you work (don’t sleep walk) and
  • focus on doing one new GTD skill (reference filing) well, before adding others.

If you don’t do all these steps, you … will … fail and then likely stop using both GTD and Evernote. Failing does not have to happen.

/TLDR:

Reason #1: Too Many Changes At Once

The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen at once.
- Albert Einstein

OK, you’ve picked up GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) and you read the first three chapters. You stopped, considered my explicit instructions (see step 4) not to read the rest of the book for a year. In fact, when I give away GTD (I’ve given away over 50 copies so far) I physically cut the binding at chapter 4, and then do not give the last part of the book … until a year later. iPhoto

But most people do not buy defaced copies of GTD, or cut their books. So, they get excited in the first three chapters, and with boundless (temporary) energy, read the rest of the book. Embarking on a mission to change years of organizing habits, in three days. Prepare thine head … to be pulled off.

Even unemployed people can’t implement GTD in three days, a week, or even a month. I’ve seen them try. Changing everything at once is too much “shaking the jello.”

For example:

  • Gathering work into a reduced number of  inboxes
    =new jello … shaking.
  • pre-processing inboxes without doing the work simultaneously
    =new jello … shaking.
  • Setting up separate project and reference folders
    =new jello … shaking.
  • And in the middle of all this shaking GTD jello, you are becoming tired, overwhelmed while excited, so you are basically sleep walking, while continuing to read and continuing to decide to shake more jello because David Allen has given you hope.
  • Hope is something you have not had about organizing your work in say, 3 years. Hope at this point, inebriates.
  • So, you set up an Evernote account, downloaded Evernote, install Evernote, check that Evernote works. Evernote is (sleep walking) working!

But, implementing GTD is such an overwhelming experience, after you get Evernote installed and running, you sleep-walk back to read GTD chapters 4-13. More jello!!!

Then you take a break. Spontaneously your hope from reading GTD, begins to dissolve in guilt. Wait, what?

Trouble with the GTD editor. 

Captain Awkward calls it JerkBrain. I think of it as my internal editor. In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield calls it resistance, whatever you call it. As soon as you learn some of the tools of GTD, something inside your head will begin to fight against you implementing any of the tools of GTD. An this internal counter-GTD force, will begin piling up guilt in your mind.

A growing sense of guilt, combines with growing exhaustion from trying to reorganize all organizing tools … at once. And it is inevitable. You are going to have to stop implementing GTD and rest. And once you rest, JerkBrain, internal GTD editor, RESISTANCE, whatever you call it, sees its job, as keeping you from going back to GTD, and doing more implementing. One force in your head wants to implement, the other wants you off GTD the wagon.

And in this subconscious battle zone, enters the thought of installing Evernote. Or, … OneNote, … OmniFocus, … Dropbox, … Google Drive, … Google Apps, … maybe even buying a ChromeBook, … whatever. On the left hand side of your head, you have a list of many new GTD tools to implement: inbox, project list, project folders, 2-minute-rule. And on the right hand side, you have a list of many applications programs and systems to implement.

The key to actually implementing GTD is concentration. Concentrate efforts on fully implementing one GTD aspect, an aspect that will get you a big enough payoff, to shut down JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. For me, the one big thing was reference filing.

But, when you are tired, overwhelmed, and barely back to GTD after a night of sleep, or a weekend of family, or the latest big-baby-drama in your life, the automatic thought about reference filing is:

“Reference filing, no big deal.”

This.

Is.

Wrong.

Reference filing, the green box in this image, is a keystone skill of GTD.

Snapshot-10412-1030-AM-2.png

Not a mote, reference filing is a board in your eye. A board because if you are going to make the switch to GTD, Step 1 is to get (currently) useless paper out of your face. Going to paperless reference filing with GTD is a HUGE payoff. You will be able to find information in 15 seconds, that you currently are too discouraged to even try to look for.

And once you can find all the paper that your brain knows you should be able to find. JerkBrain/GTD edtior/RESISTANCE will be shut up long enough, to let you get some work done. And, the work will go faster than you are used to, because you can actually bring together ALL the key information you know you should be able to find, and get quick wins.

Did I mention that reference filing is not trivial? Hope I remembered that!

Reference filing setup requires:

Reference filing is a HUGE challenge. But if you can implement Evernote for reference filing and suddenly have all your key information available, you will:

  • Clear your desk of paper (“So there JerkBrain!”)
  • Clear your office of file cabinets (“Hah GTD editor!”)
  • Allow you to find anything in your old paper files in 15 seconds (this is HUGE it allows your subconscious to trust your change to a new system where subconscious does not need to “not-forget” all your important historical materials).
  • Give you a quick win to overcome cynicism in yourself, and in your peers (it is much better to hear “Why are you so happy?” after a week from your spouse, than “You were all diarrhea mouth about GTD, but nothing has changed. What is up with that?”).
  • And set you up to be successful implementing later pieces of shaking GTD jello.

*Note* having an Evernote account, having Evernote installed, and having Evernote running, is not having an Evernote reference filing system.

Installing Evernote while sleep-walking makes you miss three key components of Evernote’s dominant design.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper.
  2. Evernote Clearly. And
  3. Evernote Skitch.

Without all three of these tools your GTD system will leak all your internet information. As the internet is now the largest source of reference materials, this omission is sin. One byte of data about this …

A Clearly Example:

Last weekend I helped a friend who had bought Evernote Pro based on an enthusiastic Evernote demonstration two years ago. But after installing, she did not use Evernote. When I reviewed her Evernote installation, Web Clipper, Clearly, and Skitch, were not installed. So, we installed them  (2 minutes) and then I pointed her to PC Magazine (single most cluttered web site on the internet) and demonstrated Web Clipper and Clearly. When she saw that in one click:

– she could strip all clutter and advertising from web pages, and
– she could highlight passages in web pages, and
– that the web pages automatically save into Evernote, and
– that Evernote automatically put documents in folders where they are wanted,

she said:

“Clearly all by itself makes using Evernote worth it.”

Read that sentence again!

Summary:

I’ve heard that of all the people that attend the $800 GTD seminars, only about 17% actually successfully implement GTD. If there is an 83% failure rate implementing GTD, and in the middle of that failure there is this “Reference filing, no big deal!” trap where you run into:

– a ton of short term setup,
– need-for-un-wavering-attention,
– budgeting time to work while being well-rested, and
– significant costs,

There is no way you can reach Evernote critical mass. Heck, 83% of people don’t reach GTD critical mass! Changing one organizing habit at a time, is a TON of work. 83% of people succumb to JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE.

So, if you want to implement GTD, plan on doing so part time. Budget mental resources in advance to confront JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. But most importantly plan to be patient. Plan to slow down.

And, did I mention, plan to slow down. Organization is a skill like personal training. You got fat over a long period of time. You will not get lean in 3 days. Your physical trainer will manage your expectations for you. But with GTD, you don’t have a personal trainer. You have to manage your own expectations.

Pick the one GTD tool that will give you the highest payoff, implement one tool well, and then move to the next tool.

GTD’s tool payoff precedence for me has been:

  1. Reference filing
  2. Getting a real desk (see Restart GTD’s best-selling-post: Perfect GTD Desk)
  3. Natural project management

Good luck! If you have questions, post them below this post. So far, this is the most read post on RestartGTD. Everyone has questions about reference filing and GTD. Everyone who starts implementing Evernote will run into a roadblock. Roadblocks are the keys to the masterpiece.

-bill

And these three tools take at least a year to master. After you implement these three, I deputize you to read chapters 4-13 in GTD. But, … not until then.

bill meade

13 thoughts on “Number 1 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

  1. Pingback: Quick Index of Most-Read Posts | Get (back) on the book that David Allen wrote's band wagon!

  2. The thing that I can not manage to successfully attempt to comprehend is how to manage projects in Evernote. Next Actions yes. Opening a Projects notebook to get a clear view of the work to be done makes my brain malfunction. However, I have been using Evernote for gtd for an entire year without quitting. Still do weekly reviews weekly. It takes me about three hours. Even though I wanted to at times because it feels like i am spending more time getting organized than actually doing what i need to progress the project forward. Advice? Help? Tips? Suggestions?
    Btw, thank you for taking the time to get this stuff on the web. ;)

    • Greg,
      1. You are a GTD black belt. Just to be able to stay with weekly reviews in ANY tool for a year means you are made of GTD steel!
      2. The more time we spend getting organized, the less we have to do, and the more important are the things that we do. Don’t forget that a key function of organizing is eliminating drone work. As you eliminate drone work, the shrink in work hours required may *feel* a little awkward. But, it is a natural and good result of working smarter.
      3. I don’t organize projects in Evernote. I organize projects in OneNote now. Evernote is my reference filing system. So again, my hat is off to you that you can organize in Evernote.

      bill meade

  3. Pingback: Quick Index of Most Read Posts | RestartGTD

  4. Pingback: Getting Started with GETTING THINGS DONE – 2014 – in 27 steps | RestartGTD

  5. Pingback: GTD Time-Lapse | RestartGTD

  6. Pingback: Number 3 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote | RestartGTD

  7. Pingback: Evernote abandonment poll | RestartGTD

  8. I’ve just recently purchased GTD and have yet to begin reading it. The 1-3 recommendation is a very sound one since I was concerned about truly implementing the process. I’ve already downloaded the three tools and can see the benefits of each. Thanks!

    • Allen,

      You are welcome! I’m glad someone is enjoying the un-asked-for-advice! This post has long-percolated, it felt great to write it out. Even better that others find it useful!

      I think the best way to read the first three chapters of GTD is to buy the Audible unabridged version of GTD (http://goo.gl/g1S2P0) and get on a bicycle, and ride for 10 or 20 miles while listening. Seriously, don’t hold yourself to implementing GTD from the start. Start by understanding as fully as you can, what David Allen is describing.

      Listening to GTD is how (inadvertently) I read the beginning of GTD. Being on a bicycle means you won’t have the temptation to stop absorbing Allen’s bullion cube, and (prematurely) start trying to implement it. Hard to have a laptop on a bicycle. And, you won’t be distracted by trying to highlight the key passages as you read. Consciously absorb the GTD bullion cube, and then let your subconscious dissolve the bullion cube over time.

      Listen patiently to the first three chapters. If your bike ride goes longer than 3 chapters, then go back to chapter 1 and re-listen to chapters 1-3. GTD is sandpaper on the brain. It REALLY helps to re-read, re-listen to Allen. He is the magister ludi (master of the game) and close attention to every word, pays dividends all through the journey.

      bill

  9. Timely and relevant. Bill, I feel like you were writing this about me. I jumped right in to Evernote as my total GTD system and it worked fabulously…for about a week. I struggled on vainly for a few weeks, but couldn’t salvage the attempt. I took a step back to only use it as a reference file and that’s working for me now (and that’s huge), but I haven’t progressed beyond that stage.

    • Having taught GTD to MBA students my observation is that students who don’t get reference filing under control, can’t progress to the rest of the skills and tools.

      I had the same experience as you when I started GTD, only instead of Evernote, I was using OmniFocus to over-organize.

      I’m delighted that you identified with this blog post! Glad to know I’m not just talking to myself! :-)

      bill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *