Book Recommendation Direct from David Allen



Received book advice from David Allen Friday:

“BTW, if you haven’t got it yet, absolutely get the new book
out – The Organized Mind– by Daniel Levitin. A tome of
research validating GTD principles (amongst a lot
of other stuff).”

To order click here. I’ve ordered but am not very far in yet. I’ll update this post with some sound bites from the book as I make my way through. Another book like THE ORGANIZED MIND that is very good (with an interview of David Allen and an example of Drew Carey implementing GTD) is WILLPOWER by Baumeister and Tierney. 

It *looks* to me like both THE ORGANIZED MIND and WILLPOWER would be ideal to read via That is, install the app on phone and listen while on your commute.


What is GTD? RestartGTD’s GETTING THINGS DONE technology notable



I once worked in Hewlett-Packard future-products-marketing. HP had a tradition of preparing single piece of paper, with writing on both sides, that answered five questions, and calling these documents “Technology Notables.” And while I was at HP, I fell in love with the format.

The technology notable five questions are:

  • What is it?
  • How does it work?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the strategy?
  • What are the objections?

Technology notables translate product features, into benefits for customers. Writing notables was a hated job, so I volunteered. And discovered the power of a simple format, to make complex features into understandable benefits.

I don’t know why I haven’t written a GETTING THINGS DONE notable until now. I just had the idea this morning after 3.5 years of writing But, whatever, NotableGTD01.pdf draft 1 is now downloadable.

For GTD evangelists reading, this is a document that is intended to be an skull-piercing shell. That is, you can send this to your hardened, cynical, anti-GTD friends who need GTD, but don’t want to listen to you talk about GTD. And, … some of your friends may come around.

Cynics are frustrated idealists. The key to overcoming cynicism is to penetrate the skull and reach down to whatever embers of idealism remain, and to feed the embers oxygen in the form of hope.

When I was at HP, I knew that a technology notable was dialed in once I began to get “Thank you!” voice mails from sales people around the world. Always after they had briefed themselves on a technology notable for a sales call, and then closed a sale at the expense of a competitor. Not a bad result for a Ph.D. in marketing! :-)

——————————————————————————————- Uglified HTML Version. Click for pretty PDF

Technology Notable      


What is IT?

A way of looking at your life through the lens of an organization system that accepts and processes work. Developed over 40 years by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done.


How does IT WORK?

  • By applying pre-processing rules:
  • Is there an action needed? If so, what is the next physical thing that needs doing?
  • One-Idea-One Piece of Paper.
  • If you can do it in 2 minutes, just do it.
  • Plan work naturally.
  • Review work weekly.
  • By separating processing work, from doing work:
    Step 1: Get your work into your inbox … everything.
    Step 2: Take one piece of work out of your inbox and process it based on actionability.
    Step 3: Once all work has been processed, decide what to do next.
  • By using simple infrastructure tools: Inbox, Calendar, Reference Filing, Project Files, Contexts.



What are the benefits?

Release of Mental Stress: Having all open-loops processed into project actions, reference files, recycle bin takes an enormous load off your mind. You recover memory until now, wasted with “not forgetting.” And, worry about forgetting stops, adding more mental power. An emergency department doctor who implemented GTD said “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling.” An MBA student who implemented GTD said “I’m not dreaming about work any more.”

Increasing Quality and Quantity of Results … With Reduced Stress: GTD’s system is a container that pre-processes work focusing on actions. GTD distills work to its essence, clarifies tasks, and allows your mind to fully “get around” every work item. Time you spend worrying vanishes, and the mental energy you recover by not worrying and “not forgetting,” shifts via the GTD invisible hand, into closing out projects. You get more done. A lot more if you are prone to over-thinking, and worrying. A spouse of GTD implementer said “Why are you so happy?” More results at less stress will put a GTD smile on your face too.

Death to Guilt: Generalized guilt about work, is the quiet desperation of our time. You achieve the American dream, house, mortgage, cars, kids in evil-and-anti-family team sports (I may be a little bitter about team sports). And you are likely to feel constant guilt over being pulled in many directions. GTD cuts guilt, allowing you to savor blessings, and begin to consciously budget more your life.


What is the strategy?

To build an organizing system that allows you to maximize your brain. GTD gets your unconscious into the game of processing work. If you are disorganized, your unconscious burns enormous work energy, the unconscious is 90% of our cognitive processing power. And the unconscious is obsessive about what it does: put a picture in front of your eyes and the unconscious facial recognition neurons spin up and fire-fire-fire until the picture is out of view. Have an important piece of work come into your life that you don’t process and put in its proper place, and your unconscious will be on you, just before you go to sleep, to review all the things you can’t forget. Do you enjoy dreaming about work? If not, develop a GTD system, and like the MBA student, you’ll say “I’m dreaming again.”


What are the Objections?

  • I can’t implement GTD.

True, but irrelevant.[1] Everyone, even unemployed people, fail in implementing GTD. I started because GTD success means starting, falling off the wagon, then restarting GTD.

The real question is “What is in GTD that I could implement, that would make my work life much better?” And that system for most people is reference filing in Evernote. Full instructions here.

  • I’ve tried other organizing systems, they did not work, so GTD can’t work.

This is fear talking. “I’ve tried B, so A can’t work.” May be convincing emotionally, but not logically. If you really take a look at Getting Things Done (Chapters 1 – 3), you will find that you are using lots of GTD, successfully, right now. Probably, the previous systems you have tried, are working. But, because you have not processed your work all the way to the edges (including personal tasks as well as occupational), you have not experienced the benefits of your subconscious letting go of worry and letting go of “not forgetting.” GTD for you is likely to put in place one or two keystone infrastructure pieces (Evernote reference filing, in my case), and a couple new skills (Next actions, and project lists). C’mon, you in the game, and … you are almost there!

  • Implementing GTD, or reference filing, or the 2-minute-rule will take too much time and I’ll fall behind.

Gilb’s law is that there is always a way to measure, that is superior to not measuring at all. I think “Allen’s law” should be that: “There is always a way to organize, that is superior to organizing unsystematically.” If you can just get the pile of your stuff, processed into “projects” and “other, “ you increase efficiency and effectiveness enough to pay back initial time costs, in one week! After one week you’ll be at break even. Every week after that, you’ll be at a >1 multiple. Productivity increasing over the long term should be the goal.

Validation Test: How many projects are you working on right now? Take a second and think. Fix a number in your head before reading more. OK, got your number? Double it just to be conservative. Now compute 300 – [2x your number]. The average GTD newbie has 300 projects. 300-[2x your number] = worry, guilt, not forgetting and procrastination. Just process all those 300-[2x your number] projects and you’ll feel a lift, a lightness of knowing what is going on. And you will gain a giddy GTD smile.

[1] If you can implement nothing else from GTD, you can implement asking yourself “What is the next action?” from work events, and using the 2-minute-rule. Which is, if you can do it in two minutes, just do it.


Nice post on “just do it” getting started with GTD


Check out EricTheGeek’s great post on Getting Started with Getting Things Done at Life is PERL. Eric takes exception to my 27 Steps to getting started with GTD. And if Eric’s approach works for you, go for it. Don’t look back. Just do it!

I have also written on simple GTD start up methods. And would like the record to show that 27 steps is many fewer steps than in the 11 chapters in the Bible of GTD … GETTING THINGS DONE by David Allen. But I’m evangelizing more than GTD. I think Evernote keeps me on the GTD wagon. And, I’m also evangelizing getting a ScanSnap to help break with the past. And a monitor arm. Wireless keyboard. Wireless mouse. Real Desk. But I digress. All these recommendations in 27 steps here.

bill meade

Quick Index of Most-Read Posts


Getting Started with GETTING THINGS DONE – 2014 – in 28 steps



Getting started with GTD is much easier if you have a buddy. Preferably, two buddies, and experienced GTDer buddy, and someone who is at the same experience level as you in implementing GTD. See GTD buddy system for more details.

How To:

If you asked me how to get started with GTD today (see What is GTD before embarking on this journey), this is the advice I would give. Step zero, take a picture of your desk. If you follow this guide, and get GTD to stick, starting point chaos, will be a valuable data point to refer back to. Here’s my initial desk before embarking on GTD


  1. Order GETTING THINGS DONE and 1,000 3×5 cards
    a. Buy the unabridged audible version of GTD and listen to it while you are driving.
    b. And, buy a Kindle or paper version so you can highlight passages, when you circle back to re-read GTD.
  2. Order a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
  3. Go to CostCo and get 4 large (free) boxes in which to triage documents
  4. Subscribe to Evernote
    a. Go to and click on “Sign Up”
    b. Get you your credit card and pay the $45 a year
    c. Get your email confirmation that you account is set up. Write down your username and password for evernote on a 3×5 card.
  5. Download Evernote and install the client on the computer you use most
    a. Download Evernote
    b. Install Evernote
    c. Connect the installed software on your computer, to your evernote account (use the username and password you wrote down in Step 4 c.
  6. Install Evernote Clearly into the web browser you use most
    a. Clearly is a browser add-in, separate from the software you installed above. Evernote = database. Browser add-in = on-ramp to database.
    b. Go to a favorite web page of yours, then click Clearly (a Luxo Lamp Icon) and watch as Clearly removes the clutter from the web page, allows you to highlight text. And most importantly, allows you to save the page to Evernote when you highlight or click sae. You are done for day 1. Time to walk your dog. Your dog will feel stress lifting off you as Millie demonstrates in the picture at the top of this post.
  7. Practice with Evernote (open it up, see the pages you have captured, add manual notes, create notebooks, etc.) each day as you wait for GETTING THINGS DONE and your ScanSnap to arrive.
  8. Practice with Clearly every day as you wait for GTD and your scanner. You might want to read the RestartGTD post where the capstone line is: “Clearly all by itself makes Evernote worth it!” towards the bottom. Then go back and play with Clearly and Evernote.
  9. When the ScanSnap arrives, unbox it immediately, and install it on your computer with the included DVD. This will take you about 20 minutes. Do not read GETTING THINGS DONE until instructed to do so in Step 12. If you procrastinate on installing the ScanSnap to save 20 minutes now, it will take you 20 months or never, to get the ScanSnap installed. Do it. Do it now! (31 seconds in)
  10. After the ScanSnap is installed, get it working so you can Scan-To-Evernote with one click.
    a. Start the installed ScanSnap software by clicking on its icon at the bottom of your screen
    b. Left-click once on the ScanSnap software icon after it is running
    c. Look for “Evernote” in the pop-up list, and left-click once on it
    d. Put a page in the ScanSnap, push the blue button, and watch as the page appears in Evernote. Cool!
  11. Once you have steps 1 through 10 accomplished, then …
  12. Read the first three chapters of GTD.
  13. Read only the first three chapters of GTD. Don’t give in to temporary energy and enthusiasm, and read the entire book. Just chapters 1-3.
  14. Energized by your first wave of hope after reading …
    Mark the 4 boxes you brought home from CostCo as
    “To Scan”
    “IN” and
  15. Next put all your papers into the “IN” box. Don’t worry about making a mess. Just put each document in as a document. You will process and re-organize these documents later.
  16. After “IN” is full, then stop. Take the rest of the day off. I know you are eager to sprint to GTD nirvana. But, you need to pace expectations. Expecting to do a single good block of work at a time to implement GTD is a maximum. If you try to do more than a single block of work, you set yourself up for failure, self recrimination, and external ridicule. 83% of people who attempt to implement GTD fail. And they fail because they try to do too many things, too quickly, while tired. You did not make your organization a mess in a day. And you can’t transform it to a masterpiece in a day. One good thing a day is enough. If you want to see an organizational mess, check out the RestartGTD post on GTD Time Lapse at the top for before pictures.
  17. Next day, approach the “IN” CostCo box, and pull the first document from “IN” box, hold it up. Look at it, suppress any feelings about it, and ask yourself:”Will this ever have a next action?”
    a. If the answer is “Yes” put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    b. If the answer is “Maybe” then put the document into “To Scan” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
    c. If the answer is “No” then put the document in “Recycle” and then go back to “IN” and repeat this step.
  18. Once your “IN” box is empty, or your “To Scan” box is full (whichever comes first) then take another rest. At least 90 minutes to let your brain reset.
  19. When you come back, move the “To Scan” box next to your ScanSnap. Take each document out one at a time. Put the document into the ScanSnap, push the blue button. When the document is finished scanning, either put it in the box labeled “Recycle” or the box labeled “Precious” if the document needs to be saved.
    1. Once your “To Scan” box is empty, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day. P-a-c-e yourself.
  20. Go back to Step 15 if you have more papers to process. And repeat Steps 15-20 until all the paper in your life has been recycled or captured in the box marked “Precious”
  21. Take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  22. Once you have all the paper in your life captured in Evernote, the next step is to get your desk clear. Everything off. No pictures. No teddy bears. No momentos. Nothing on your desk in your field of view as you work. In particular, no pictures of faces in front of you where you work. Your brain will work processing faces without ever shutting off. One student has commented to me that this HUGELY reduced her fatigue.
    a. If you don’t have a real desk. Get a real desk. No substitutions, kitchen tables do not count. Floors do not count. You need a big space where you feel pleasure when you work. Go to IKEA’s “As Is” department and buy returned legs, tabletops, panels, conference tables. And modify to taste.
    b. Go to Amazon and get a monitor arm, wireless keyboard, and wireless trackpad or wireless mouse, to transform your desk back from being a giant monitor stand cluttered with paper, into being a brain’s desk that facilitates work. This is the most disregarded step in my instructions. But, it REALLY HELPS. So give yourself a leg up and try investing in your desk.
  23. Once you have a clear desk, and all your paper captured in Evernote, it is time to take your first “After GTD” desk picture. Put the “Before GTD” desk picture into Powerpoint on the left. And the “After GTD” desk picture on the right. Then save the PowerPoint slide where you won’t lose it. Here is my before/after PowerPoint slide:BeforeAfterDesk_pptxBefore/after pictures are important. Before/after pictures are hope. Elephant food if you are a Heath & Heath SWITCH: How to change when change is hard fan.
  24. Next step is time to clear your mind. Most people have 300+ projects in their minds when they start GTD. Sitting down to scrape these out of your head and on to paper, is terrifying. But once you start, you won’t believe how it lightens your mind, and how the time flies.
    a. Sit down and write down every open loop you can think of on 3×5 cards. Go for 100 at your first sitting.
    b. Once you get to 100, take the rest of the day off. Manage your expectations. One block of GTD work. One day.
  25. Repeat step 23 until you don’t have anything else on your mind.
  26. Once your mind is clear, then lay the cards out on your desk. The bigger the desk, the easier this is. Then
    a. group the cards together in clumps of similar stuff.
    b. These clumps are your projects.
    c. Organize each project’s clump into a neat stack on your desk. Once you have all the cards into their natural clumps
    d. put rubber bands around each stack of cards/clump.
    e. Take the rest of the day off. One block of GTD work. One day.
  27. At this point, your mind is clear. You have all your ideas where your brain knows they won’t be lost. Now you have to decide how you want to move forward with GTD.
    a. Whether you will go all analog, using manila folders – one for each project – with 3×5 cards in them, and keeping a master project list by hand.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 2
    Or …
    b. Go digital OneNote to organize your projects. Creating project lists with [[projectname]] and then transcribing your 3×5 card notes for each project, into next actions. *Note* your 3×5 cards are likely not Next Actions in the David Allen sense. The step of taking a thought on your mind that you are feeling guilty about, and then compiling it into next actions as you transcribe the card into OneNote is not wasted effort.
    c. Using Evernote to manage your projects as well as your reference files. Create a “Projects” folder in Evernote. Then, create a sub folder for each project. And then either transcribe your 3×5 card into next actions as in b. above with OneNote. Or, by scanning your 3×5 cards into Evernote.
    d. Using OmniFocus (if you are a Mac person). OmniFocus is powerful … and dangerous. OmniFocus is probably the highest fidelity GTD software system. But you may experience over-organization from OmniFocus with the consequence your brain refuses to use the system … as I did. However, if you are a sales person, think hard (try) OmniFocus because David Allen has refined the GTD system to work for sales people. Nobody works harder than sales people, you will need all the system you can get to do your job well.
    TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4
    e. Some kind of hybrid system. My GTD trusted system is broken up across paper and electronic tools. This is less simple to explain. But, my brain will use it. I tried OmniFocus in a monolithic trusted system (27 d.), but I hated sitting down to my desk. So I had to retreat to paper.

The Goal

The above 28 steps are the process that I’ve seen work the best for the about 200 people I’ve helped boot-up GTD. Personally, I’ve stayed on the GTD wagon because I have a ScanSnap and Evernote. These tools make it easier to capture information correctly, than to live in a mass of disorganized papers. My love of 3×5 cards and manila folders gradually gives way to electronic project organizing as a project lifts off. The cards and folders are early stage capture tools for my projects.

Your mileage will vary. My tools will not be perfect for you. I’ve changed my tools so many times (except Evernote and the ScanSnap) that I’m proof that one size does not fit all.  Single design does not even fit one person all the time. But the point is to build your system gradually, experimenting, testing, reflecting on how it *feels* to your brain. Does it allow you to swing, to stop constantly worrying you’ll forget something? Does it *feel* fun to work with? Does your system cut your procrastination and guilt? Are you trying to do too much, too fast?


This process will not get you 100% to the way David Allen’s system. But, it will get you to the nearest local maxima of GTD productivity and GTD swing. Once you go paperless you will discover what a drag paper is. Your Evernote reference filing system will allow you to find everything … in 15 seconds. Evernote *secret* = Evernote does text recognition on all your documents. All you have to do is think of two words that would only be on the document you need, type them into Evernote and *zap* the document is at your finger tips.

Once you have all your projects in some kind of place (manila folder, OneNote folder, Evernote folder) you will feel release of stress. An emergency department doctor who I dragged kicking and screaming to Evernote and a clear desk said to me “I can’t believe how much less stress I’m feeling now.” After my first week of GTD my wife said “Why are you so happy?”


  • When doing a mind sweep, I do not follow David Allen’s two-minute rule. This is the only time in my GTD life, that I don’t DO anything that can be done in 2 minutes, and instead, just write down the 2 minute tasks. After my mind is empty, it is easy to take the 2 minute pile, and burn through it. And, it gives you quick wins to keep expectations at bay.
  • I’ve found that three steps in the above process are sticking points:
    a. Getting the scanner out of the box and functioning. I’ve had to drive to people’s desks and make the scanner go for them because of this “out of box” sticking point. See RestartGTD post abomination of deskolation for case study.
    b. Getting the desk clear. Again, I’ve found it easier to drive to desks and show people what their desk looks like REALLY EMPTY. If you contact me ( for advice. The first thing I will say is “Tell me about your desk?” and what you need to say back is “I got EVERYTHING off it.”
    c. P-a-c-i-n-g yourself. Manage your own expectations. Do not change everything in your organizing, all at once. Know that change will take t-i-m-e. Match building your GTD system, to when you have blocks of fresh energy. Energy is temporary. Read that sentence again!
  • This step-by-step puts getting your computer infrastructure working as a pre-cursor to reading GTD. If you don’t put infrastructure first, you will try to get Evernote and your ScanSnap working while you are tired. Not a good strategy.  
  • When starting out, keep two separate kinds of files: (a) Project Files, and (b) Reference Files. Consciously separating the two kinds of files can prevents confusion. *Aside* I suspect that I *resist* using Evernote for project files because my brain likes having physically separate project and reference files.
  • Reference filing is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD.
  • Having a real desk is a capstone skill of getting into and staying with GTD. Clutter is the enemy, and there is more clutter on desks than everywhere else in your life. Win the battle against clutter, GTD will work.
  • Managing expectations is a capstone skill of GTD. One block of GTD work. One day. Is the rule.
  • Experimenting with new tools, selectively, is a capstone skill of staying with GTD.

Killer Shortcuts for Evernote Mac



While I was searching for a keyboard shortcut to highlight text in an Evernote note (which is control-command-h on a Mac and ctrl-shift-h on Windows reportedly) I stumbled upon a jewel of an Evernote post at Jeremy Roberts’ 

My 16 Most Commonly Used Evernote Shortcuts

The shortcuts for highlighting text are not in Jeremy’s article, but they are in the comments!


bill meade

Number 3 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote


TLDR: Why people set up and then don’t use Evernote

  1. The first reason is that implementing GTD changes too many things at once.
    So, Evernote, even if it is installed and working, won’t be used. Evernote is a sub-casualty of the 83% failure rate of GTD implementations.
  2. The second reason is because we blow off the GTD weekly reviews, infecting our GTD system with guilt that comes into focus (like a magnifying glass starting a fire) when we sit down to use Evernote. End result is we stop sitting down to our computers and stop using Evernote. *Note* This is also why people stop using Outlook, Omni-Focus, etc. for GTD.
  3. The third reason why GTD people don’t use Evernote after implementing it, that Evernote can be implemented in too many ways. And, … no two ways to implement Evernote agree. Too many choices to an overwhelmed brain = no choice. So, stop web surfing about Evernote, and start experimenting with your own work.

If you too have abandoned Evernote while trying to implement GTD, please share why?

Done! Good! Now go buy something to organize with, on Amazon! Invest in organization.


Why GTD people stop using Evernote is a surprisingly popular topic. So, I’m going to identify a couple more of the big reasons that GTD people stop using Evernote. This post is about reason 3, how the many alternative ways of implementing Evernote, stop people from using Evernote.


Source: .com

The perfect illustration of a GTD user implementing Evernote is not just a deer in headlights. The perfect illustration is a deer in a dozen of the spot lights used in police helicopters to run down fugitives.

User: “I think I’ll try using Evernote”

  • {event} Client installation on an iPad happens
    (10% of users who attempt to install quit here)

    • Wait, what? Why aren’t people installing Evernote on their PCs first? Seems that the PC is passing in influence. See RestartGTD’s Browser De Jure page for GTD viewership. GTD like it or not is becoming an iPad thing.
  • {event} Account setup happens
    (50% of potential users quit here)
  • {event does not happen} Opening Evernote for the first time on iPad
    (25% of potential users quit here)
  • {event} User opens Evernote for the first time

Even if we give Evernote 100% of the loyal users who open Evernote on their iPad for the first time, Evernote has still lost 85% of its users by the time a user opens Evernote for the first time.

Worse success rate than a David Allen GTD seminar!

Of course, I could be wrong about the percentages above. Still … Evernote is computer (desktop or laptop) first. With its new users swarming in from iPad and iPhone land, there are going to be a lot of wasteful problems (from the perspective of GTD).

For example,

  • once the person who has followed the steps above sees their Evernote account, what will they see? None of their existing information. = #EvernoteProblem
  • how can we fix this?
    • By installing Evernote Web Clipper and Clearly for a week or 10 days, so the user has some web-browsing history built up, that s/he will recognize when Evernote first opens. = #EvernoteProblem
    • By *distracting* the user to next import their paper with a scanner (scroll down to the file cabinet picture) before they open Evernote. Oh, crap, this requires Evernote to be installed on a PC with a scanner. Oops. = #EvernoteProblem
    • By scanning directly from scanner to Evernote on iPad or phone.
    • Without something drastic, can we fix this?


= #EvernoteProblem * #GTD Problem = .15 *.17 = Success Rate of Evernote & GTD

.15*.17=.03 Or, 3%


How can trying to implement Evernote with GTD be a good idea if it kills off an additional 14% of successful GTD users beyond what David Allen’s Company experiences?

  1. Once a GTD user puts their information into Evernote, it becomes easier to do reference filing correctly, than to not do reference filing. Reference filing is a keystone GTD skill. This helps *a lot* with people staying with GTD!
  2. Those 14% of GTD users were going to fade anyway. I *think* this because I talk to people who are “formerly known as GTD users” and they say “I use about 50% of GTD. I was really into it at first, but then it became too much to keep up with.”
    • Why? When I ask, “Do you use Evernote web clipper?” they invariably say “What is Evernote Web Clipper?”
    • Hypothesis: 14% of GTD users would be saved if they tried Evernote for their reference filing.
  3. Evernote is a platform, not a well-known, habitually used product. So what?
    • So … the marketeers at Evernote are clueless at how to help people who have a dozen police helicopter spot lights in their eyes. Platforms give markets new-to-the-world-capabilities, marketing people are trained to more efficiently sell old-to-the-world-capabilities.
    • So … in GTD terms, a new platform allows us to experiment with new degrees of freedom in organizing. The way our brains work with new platforms is trial and error. Our brains will try using the electronic tools, then pull back and compost on how the new platform *feels*. Then, confidence in a new way to use the tool appears from nowhere, and we implement the tool. And iterate improvements from there.


Don’t web surf to figure out how to use Evernote. Experiment with your own next actions, projects, reference filing, and inboxing. See what pleases you and run with that. When you feel *hindered* by Evernote, stop doing that. 

You can start with paper, that worked for me! See GTD Time Lapse for my 5 year history of GTD evolution.

You can go all digital. That did not work for me. I went back to paper + Evernote.

The trick is to start. Don’t think “I can’t start without the perfect system.” Think, what can I improve the most, with the least effort. Or, better, what would be fun to really focus on and improve? After 200+ MBA students, I think getting a ScanSnap and Evernote going as your reference filing system can’t be beat.

Whatever you do, keep evolving your GTD. GTD is like a bicycle. When you stop moving, you fall over.

bill meade

Evernote Two Factor Authentication: Think (again) like an Evernote programmer!! Part 1

Photo Library - 16569Source: Bill Meade taken in Boise ID


The efficiency/security tradeoff has changed! Well for me at least. Until now I’ve deliberately risked using Evernote as my reference filing system, knowing that if someone guessed my password I would be hosed. The “Evernote deal” seemed to be capturing the value of increased efficiency now, at the price of possibly getting hacked later.

This “Everyone has been hacked. Now what?” attitude is calculated. Our IT infrastructure is what it is. I may be hacked and not know it. As long as I can use Evernote to keep track of my stuff, do I really care? If I start obsessing about my net-connected infrastructure too much, the profit of using computers will quickly become a loss. I mean it is pretty clear why all my computers have been so slow all these years: the NSA! Hacking! Botnetting!

Locks were invented to keep honest people honest. Determined criminals find ways in.

So I’m excited to start trying out Evernote’s two-factor authentication: A padlock for Evernote.

What is it?

Two factor authentication is one step up in security, from using username+password protection. In two factor authentication your password is used same as normal (the username+password is factor 1 of 2) and then a second special password is used in addition (the special password is factor 2 of 2).

The idea is that while a criminal can easily guess your username from defaults (Unix “admin” or Windows “Administrator” or your email address), and then either steal or “break” your password. A criminal will need to go to a whole new level of effort in order to get your phone. What makes stealing the phone essential is that the special password changes every few seconds on the phone. But I am digressing into the next question about 2 factor authentication: How does it work?

How does it work?

The special password generated on your smart phone is dynamic. It changes every  60 seconds. To find your dynamic password, you use the Google Authenticator app on a smart phone.  Here is what Google authenticator looks like on my smart phone:


So when you need to authenticate into Evernote, you start Google Authenticator, and then you see your password of the current moment. Here is what I see on my Google Authenticator:


The red arrows point to countdown timers showing you how much longer the 6 digit passwords will work to authenticate you into Evernote/Google.

So, because the passwords are constantly changing, a casual criminal will have to obtain your phone, and then break into it (you do have your cell phone password protected don’t you :-) to log into your account.

QUESTION: Do I have to authenticate every time that I start Evernote on my computer?

We now come to the how does it work … hands and knees perspective.  In a wonderful BYTE magazine article in 1989 Peter C. Olsen articulated a theory of how to hire programmers: send them to Africa and tell them to hunt elephants, and then watch the algorithm they use.


*Note* that assembly language programmers execute the basic algorithm … on their hands and knees. So in the rest of this article I’m going to emulate an assembly language programmer in trying to go slow, be very careful, to take each step one at a time.

What were we taking about?  Oh yes, authentication. You will have to authenticate to Evernote when:

  • Case 1: Logging into Evernote from the web. Here is the log-in screen you’ll see using evernote web:
    Menubar_and_Enter_CodeNote that you can check the box and not have to re-authenticate for a month on the computers you use to access Evernote web. But, if you log into Evernote from friends computers, you will have to have your phone available from now on.
  • Case 2: Setting up Evernote on a computer for the first time (duh). Here is what the dialogs look like on a Mac:First, the normal dialog asking for factor 1 (Username+Password)
    Blank_Skitch_Document_2Next, a pop up dialog asking for the factor 2 (from Google Authenticator on my phone):
    Edit_Post_‹_RestartGTD_—_WordPress_and_AndroidNote that the new dialog asking for the number gives you a hit with a phone icon with Google Authenticator’s thumbnail graphic. You type your 6 digit number in here and then you enter Evernote as usual.
  • Case 3: After you log out of your Evernote account on your computer. *Note* I had never logged out of my Evernote account before playing with Evernote two factor authentication. So this will likely be no big deal. After enabling two-factor authentication I tried to trick Evernote into annoying me by asking for authentication. I quit Evernote, restarted, re-booted, etc. and Evernote did not ask me to authenticate. *Note* two factor authentication is smart but not paranoid.
  • Case 4: After you log out of Evernote on your spouse’s computer. *Note* anything that can go wrong will. If you turn on two factor authentication and share your evernote account with someone, you will have to authenticate for them on their computer, or they will be locked out of Evernote at the most inconvenient time. Plan on it.

This is all the cases I can see where Evernote users will have to authenticate. Note, if I have missed a case, email and let me know, I’ll add your case to this list.

What is the strategy?

2013 was the year of security on the internet. We are all red queens now, our security skills and infrastructure are going to have to run, in order to keep us in a place where computers remain profitable to use. The strategy of introducing two factor authentication is a step in the direction towards keeping computing profitable for its users. rqueen01

Will computing ever be secure? Probably not. There are too many evil geniuses. In a way the deal of using computers will always be a bet on the value of using technology today, against the eventuality of being hacked. Should this deter us from using two factor authentication? No. We are stupid not to use very slick, very simple tools that at the least, will shift bad hackers to softer targets.

What are the objections?

Objection: “I will have to authenticate every time I use Evernote!”

The reality is no. You will have to authenticate to Evernote every time you change the computing environment where you are using Evernote.

  • When you get a new computer.
  • When you log in to Evernote from a coffee shop or a friend’s computer.
  • Or when you give another person access to your Evernote data store.
  • Or when it has been 30 days since you last authenticated via the web.

*Note* I personally think that Evernote’s marketing communications on this two factor authentication objection, are confusing. If I were Evernote I would have said:

  • “Evernote’s 2 factor authentication works just like Google’s 2 factor authentication.”
  • The average user will authenticate about once a month during the first year they use 2 factor authentication.

Signalling that people can re-use what they learned getting Google authentication working, and that we are all marching into a common, reasonable, computer security future.

Objection: “Evernote two factor authentication is too hard for a normal person to set up!”

Probably false. Two factor authentication is a new use model for end users to learn. But, it is not if we end users will need to learn to set up two factor authentication. It is a when.

My next blog post will be a step-by-step on setting up Evernote two factor authentication on Macintoshes with Android phones (A totally recessive combination I admit!). Take a peek at that next week and see what you think. I’m a marketer, I set up 2 factor authentication. As any enginerd will tell you “If a marketeer can set it up, any user can!”

Objection: Anyone who steals my phone will have access to my Evernote account.

True … if you do not have your phone password set. :-) But, this is true even without two-factor authentication today! If your phone is wide open, and you have logged into evernote before you lose the phone, whoever has your phone has access to everything in Evernote.

Personally, I find Evernote on my Android to be about .6 of the way to a 1.0 that is compelling to use. My short term security plan with Evernote is to take Evernote off my phone.

Then, if someone steals my phone, they will have access to my special password (authentication factor 2), but will still have to guess/break my Username+Password. My theory is that when I notice my phone is gone (God’s way of telling you to get a new Android phone! :-) I’ll log into Evernote on my computer, change the password, and then log into my remote wipe on Android and zap the phone. Safe! Or at least, safe enough.

See you then!

bill meade

3″x5″ Cards and Manila Folder GTD Startup

IMG 20131230 203033


I had a request after yesterday’s post on clutter, to show the basic 3”x5” card and manila folder system that I urge people to implement GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD hereafter) with. This post’s purpose is to answer any questions about 3”x5” and manila as I implement GTD.

Your mileage will vary on my advice.  In fact, over time, my mileage with 3”x5” cards and manila folders has varied. The goal is to find a natural and expressively powerful way for your brain to work, not to rigidly adopt ideas. Right now I use a hybrid paper and computer (Evernote + Dropbox/Google Drive) GTD system.  But, I reserve the right to go 100% electronic in OmniFocus in the future, or 100% paper. If it feels good, do that!

Cards and Folders:

So, I helped an accountant implement GTD. Before GTD the accountant was very organized, in fact, almost over-organized.  Take a look at the desk before and after the GTD makeover:

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx 13

Accountant Before

And then, we scanned all reference materials into Evernote, recycled the paper, and set up a simple manila folder project system with one folder for each project, and all materials (letter paper, post it notes, etc.) captured within folders.

ALPFAGTDAsPresented pptx

Accountant After

Note the differences in the same cube. By switching note taking 100% to 3”x5” cards, ideas (one idea, one piece of paper) become mobile. Prior to 3”x5” cards, notes were taken in spiral bound notebooks and post it notes.

Spiral bound notebooks trap ideas in random order (see GTD page 30 where David Allen says “written notes need to be corralled and process instead of left lying embedded in stacks”) and post it notes seem like such a good idea when you are capturing the idea, but who knows where they go (with missing socks in the dryer?) when you need to refer back to them.

The basics of a GTD 1.0 makeover:

  • All object cleared from workspace where they can be seen in main working position (usually looking at a monitor). The single worst thing you can have in front of you when you is a picture of a person. Your subconscious can’t stop itself from processing faces. If you must have pictures move them out of view of your main work position.
  • Manila folder system kept outside field of view in main working position. In the after, the manila folders are at far left of the desk.
  • All reference materials scanned and entered into Evernote. All project materials gathered into manila folders. Please stop second guessing yourself and order the ScanSnap iX500 so you can finally get this over with.
  • *Note* Reference folders and project folders are PROFOUNDLY different. David Allen specifies supporting references be kept out of sight (GTD page 38) so having Evernote capture all of your materials is great.  Besides, you don’t have to figure out how to move a filing cabinet into your office. And even better, you can take a filing cabinet out of your office!

And, … that is it.

How It Works:

You have an idea, you write the idea down on a 3”x5” card. One idea, one piece of paper, simple really!

IMG 20131230 212643

Now, where do you put the 3”x5” card? If you don’t have a project that this idea is related to, you need to create a project. To do this I print a folder label on my Brother QL-700 label printer (link to Amazon for convenience but OfficeMax is cheaper). The print dialog looks like this:

IMac27label01 lbx

Then I print the label (2.5 seconds) and attach to the manila folder. Giving me a nice neat folder to hold my project.

IMG 20131230 213221

Next, you can put the 3”x5” card you created inside this folder. But now where do we put the folder? My answer is to buy itso small bins from Target …

IMG 20131230 213627

And then insert a small metal book-end inside …

IMG 20131230 214039

and then accumulate project “clumps” in the itso tote.  Here is an itso tote with my current clump of writing projects.

IMG 20131230 203109

You can see that the book-end prevents folders from becoming bowed.

The Payoff:

For me, the payoff from organizing projects in this way happens once I sit down to do the project.  I take the folder, open it up, and then I can spread out all the ideas I’ve accumulated about the project. When I see that all my ideas are where they should be, I get a subconscious jolt of affirmation. Aaaahhhhhh all the ideas are here. Now, let’s go!

IMG 20131230 213318

bill meade