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

ScanSnap GTD Tricks #1: Next Action Stamp


As I was depositing a check with my ScanSnap this morning, I had the idea that I should post a few ScanSnap GTD tricks. Then Joe Terrana posted a comment to the 2014 Getting Started with Getting Things Done post, with a cool *new* trick.



Go to Amazon, then order this custom rubber stamp, and then follow the instructions to “Contact Seller” and send them “Next Action” as the message for the stamp.

Then once the scanner arrives, you can stamp paper with “Next Action” scan the paper into Evernote (Click here to subscribe to Evernote), and then after Evernote does optical character recognition (OCR) on the stamped part of the note, you can search for “Next actions” and find all of your scanned next actions.

Very slick.

Very Simple!

Thank you Joe for the ScanSnap GTD Trick #1.

bill meade

p.s., I had the idea, since Evernote also attempts to recognize hand-written characters, that I could scan a note card with “Next Action” on it, and perhaps achieve the same result as using a custom rubber stamp. Here is what the card looks like:


Expecting Evernote to be able to read my handwriting is not a fair test, I know. But, it seemed like a fun trial. Evernote’s explanation of how OCR works says that it take a “few minutes.” I’ve always assumed that Evernote takes “over night” to complete OCR operations, so we’ll see how long it takes for this note:

  • 1st check on indexing status: 20 minutes later … not indexed.
  • 2nd check on indexing status: 11 hours later … not indexed.
  • 3rd check on indexing status: 23:10 later … not indexed.
  • 4th check on indexing status: 33 hours later … INDEXED!!!!

However long it takes, I’ll update this post after Evernote indexes the card to see if it is possible to simply write “Next Action” and have OCR recover the magic GTD words.

You can tell if an Evernote note has been indexed by clicking on the i at the upper right of the note:


And then looking at “Attachment Status” 3/4 of the way down the dialog box (red arrow).

While it is true that GTD indexing can be measured in minutes 33 * 60 = 1,980 minutes. It is not a safe workflow to depend on Evernote scanning documents immediately.

Success … kind of

After my index card was OCR’d by Evernote, I am able to search for the word “Next” but alas, “action” in my hand writing was not recognized. :-(


I was not able to determine precisely how long it took for Evernote to do the text recognition.

Lesson Learned:

You can buy a self inking stamp, and Evernote will read it. Thanks again Joe Terrana for giving me the stamp idea, so I could have the stepping stone idea of just writing “next action” on the card.

It would be smart to create a sample card for yourself, scan it, and then see if Evernote can recognize your hand writing. In fact, if you’ve already written “next action” on a 3×5 card that you scanned into Evernote, you might be able to test this out today. Just search on the GTD Magic Words! 

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


Best GETTING THINGS DONE Scanner Alternatives


The dominant alternative scanners if you are looking to use Evernote as your GETTING THINGS DONE reference filing system are:

  1. ScanSnap Evernote Edition $495 (*Note* that you get a year of Evernote worth $45)
  2. ScanSnap iX 500 $448
  3. Epson WorkForce DS-510 USB ($279) or WiFi ($399)
  4. Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000 $308
  5. NeatDesk Desktop Scanner $339
  6. HP ScanJet 3000s2 $350
  7. ScanSnaps on Craigslist

Which one should you buy to get GTD off the ground? Any of them! Even though they cost real money, the incredible lightness of being you will get from being paperless will more than compensate. Do it, click a link and order. Do it now!

Having purchased a scanner (ScanSnap iX 500) recently, my fourth Fujitsu ScanSnap, here is the decision process I went through.

Came out just after I purchased. I missed my chance to have all the drugs. This scanner today, is a great first choice for an Evernote person. There is a scanner control panel for the Evernote ScanSnap edition that looks like this on a mac:


When the ScanSnap Evernote Edition came out, it was featured prominently on Evernote’s web site. It is much less prominent today. In fact, I had to Google to find the direct link to it. So this *might* be a white elephant that gets abandoned by the green elephant in the future. Still, it is a ScanSnap so you probably can’t go wrong.

And which routes documents, business cards, receipts, and photos automatically to Evernote notebooks that you specify. If automatic routing of documents to folders is something you are looking for, stop reading and buy the ScanSnap Evernote edition.

The reason to buy this scanner is that it is top rated. It has the highest satisfaction rating in document scanners on When I’m buying a product on I look for as high a proportion of ratings as possible in 5 stars. And, the distribution of ratings has to be at least a triangle. Draw a line from upper right to lower left in the ratings bars, and if there is a bar over the line, I won’t buy that product. Look at the iX 500’s ratings:


The iX 500 has the questions and most answered questions, and it is the best seller. Great machine, neutral price (because it is wicked good), and as you push click, you will think of the machine’s price for the last time. Having four successful ScanSnap purchases, this is what I bought last time around.

I looked at the Epson last time around. But it has less traffic, fewer ratings, fewer answered question. And is 1/2 star lower rated by Amazon customers.


Still, this would be a better buy than the $250 ScanSnap scanner. The automatic document feeder on the lower level Fujitsu scanners is … um … not strong. I’ve owned two of the 300ish ScanSnaps and I’d rather gamble my money on the Epson DS-510 than re-buy a 300ish. Also, I like that there is a USB-only option for $120 less. Wireless connections are demon possessed by definition. I tried wireless on my ScanSnap iX 500 to make sure it works. And even got scan to phone working over wireless. But for everyday trouble free scanning, wireless can’t compete with USB.

If you go for the DS-560, you are just $50 away from the price of the defacto standard iX 500. So knowing I was going to like the iX 500, I just paid the extra money. Buy the best only cry once. But, I bet the DS-510 is a great product.

Like the Epson scanner, the Brother unit looks good. But again, fewer reviews, and less highly rated.


Again I thought hard about this, but for $150 less, the 150 customers giving it 5 stars vs. the 1,070 giving the iX 500 5 stars, might give me pause.  Still, saving $150 bucks could be done. has great return privileges I hear. But I’m old and lazy so I did not go there.

NeatDesk does the most advertising, so many people see this as THE scanner to get. Until they check out the customer ratings:


NeatDesk flunks my “triangle rule” as the number of 5 star reviews is actually lower than the number of 1 star reviews. Too bad, the slots that this scanner has for receipts of different sizes might be a great feature. Anyway, when I looked at the ratings, I knew this was not what I was looking for. Also, NeatDesk has separate versions of the scanner for Mac and PC which is always a bad omen.

Having worked at HP with HP’s Digital Sender 9200, I would like to love this scanner. The 9200 was the first product I ever saw scan to PDF and email the PDF. It was a network only device. An amazing work of art from HP Bergamo (may it rest in peace) and a software artist section manager.

A quick look at the feedback is instructive:


Only eight 5 star ratings. And very few customer reviews. HP’s entry is a poor bet just because there is so much less user information about it.

  • Craigslist ScanSnaps

If you are no-money-down GTD person, Craigslist is for you! Yes, you can find ScanSnap scanners locally. Here are three that are available in Portland OR near me.


I’ve had students buy ScanSnap S1500 scanners for $100 and be very happy with them. I’ve also found ScanSnap S1500 in liquidation shops. New-in-box ready to get you on the GTD wagon for good!

Hope this helps you pull the trigger! Order the scanner of your choice, and then go to my Getting Started with GTD 2014 post and start at the top of the list.


RestartGTD with Evernote Clearly

I’ve Tried Evernote … but I don’t use it

OK, it is possible that I’ve raved about Evernote. Perhaps you installed Evernote and paid for an account based on my recommendation or a step-by-step. But, then … you never reached critical mass with Evernote. And your Evernote account has gone dormant. And, you’ve fallen off the GTD wagon. If so …

This post is for you.

The stumbling block with Evernote is that it comes in two pieces: (1) A database piece that takes care of reference filing, and (2) a web-browser-plug-in that takes care of sweeping all worthwhile internet content into your reference files.

Most people install the database and are so tired after getting their minds around yet-another-software-install, that they don’t go “ALL THE WAY” to having the on-ramp, the web-browser piece, installed. The on-ramp never gets installed, so the database never builds.

If this is you, follow these steps to rejuvenate your Evernote (reference filing) experience.


  • Click “Download for Chrome” or if you are using Safari, you can not install Evernote Clearly. You have to use some other browser. For instance Chrome or Firefox.
  • Or if you are using FireFox you can click “Download for Firefox” like this:


  • Or, if you are using Internet Explorer for Windows, you are in the same boat as Safari users. Sorry. You have to use Chrome, Opera, or Firefox.

Whether you use Chrome or Firefox on Mac or PC, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to install Evernote Clearly into your browser.

Click the download link and take the defaults to the questions that pop up, and then you should see a Luxo Lamp icon in your Mac or PC browser. Look for something like this:


  • Now, you have Clearly downloaded and installed. Let’s go to the world’s ugliest web page: When you arrive the page will look something like this:


Source: = Clutterville in the Firefox web browser

Now, either wait, click the the escape key, or click the circled X in the “Signup now….” pop up box. to bring the web page to the foreground of your browser. Now you’ll see this:


Source: in Firefox

Next, find an article like “AMAZON FIRE PHONE NOW ONLY 99 CENTS” and click on it. If you need help finding the article, follow the red arrow here:


Source: in Firefox

When the article comes up with all its fireworks of flash (thank you IBM!), it will look like this:


Source: in Firefox

Now, click on the Luxo Lamp icon in your browser. and you will see this:


Source: in Firefox, via Evernote Clearly

No flash advertisements. No advertisements of any kind. Just the pictures from the core of the article, and the text. Next, click the Elephant icon. This will save the article into your Evernote database. Don’t worry, you can delete it easily, once you see it in Evernote.

Anyway, when you click on the Elephant icon you will be asked for your Evernote username and password. So get those out if you don’t have them handy, and then fill in the dialog box. The dialog looks like this:


Enter your user name and password. If you have Evernote’s two factor authentication turned on, then you’ll see this additional prompt:


And you just need to fill in the numbers and click “Continue” and then your screen will look like this:


Where now we can have some fun. Click on the highlighter icon underneath the elephant icon at top right. Then, select the title of the article. Your page will look like this:


And if you open Evernote, and then synchronize it with your cloud database, the note will look like this:


And, the note will be editable!

You can use clearly to read notes, highlight them, and after you add new highlights, Evernote Clearly will re-synchronize the new highlights into the note in your Evernote database. Cool!

But … it gets better!

Not only can you strip annoyances from the web page, you can also set the default font size, and page style of the pages you read. To do this, click once on the “Aa” icon at middle right of the Clearly-processed web page:


You can pick the page style from “Newsprint” or “Notable” or “Night Owl” or “Custom” and the fonts as “Small” or “Medium” or “Large” and …

if you mistakenly highlight a passage (Sign of Genius!) you can mouse over the passage and a small circled x will appear that you can click to delete the highlighting. Here is large font size, newsprint, with the circled x appearing on “fire-sale price of 99 cents.”


To highlight notes already in Evernote, select the text and if you are on a mac, type Ctrl + Command + H. If you are on a PC type Ctrl + Shift + H. is constantly working on the highlighting to make it smarter. I’m hoping before long we will be able to highlight in multiple colors. And, that we will be able to insert sticky notes on top of the web pages we capture.


Take the trouble to get Evernote Clearly working, and you will go a long way to restarting your Evernote GTD use. It is SO EASY to capture web pages in Evernote. Then, when you need to send a friend a link, you open Evernote on your computer, type in the two words that will search out the web page you are looking for, and then click the saved link on the page. The saved link is available in the note when you are not editing the note.


Click on the note at left, then click on the link that pops up over the top of the note. This will open the original web page, so you can see the link is still working. Then copy the link, and paste it into an email to your friend. Or tweet. Or Facebook post.

Once you have the most vital source of information (the web) functioning as an on-ramp for your Evernote database, I defy you to not use Evernote. And once you are using Evernote, your reference filing will get better. Better to the point where you are doing GTD reference filing.

Because reference filing is a capstone GTD skill. Evernote will pull you back into GTD and hold you there. Hold you because it is easier to do reference filing in Evernote, than to live in a blizzard of paper, browser book marks, and desk clutter.

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.

GTD Time-Lapse

In the beginning, I was disorganized, no GTD, no Evernote, no OmniFocus, no Dropbox, no OneNote. My desk looked like this:


Then I went from no GTD to GTD via Paper and Evernote:


My desk changed to this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 3

Then, I got really excited, and went to a 100% digital GTD system via Omnifocus:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4

This is the first time I fell off the GTD wagon. I could not stand to sit down at my desk. The feeling of drowning by binary proxy kept me out of my organized office and away from my organized desk. Ugh! But the seeds of were born. Somewhere I’m POSITIVE I heard (via Audible copies of his books) David Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”

I refactored, cut back the role of Omnifocus, got a new job, Evernoted/digitized the 94,000 pages of notes I had from my Ph.D. and went to a hybrid paper and digital system that looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 5

And my four desks looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 6

Then as I experimented with my system and changed jobs I :

  • Dropped Dropbox for Google drive when I bought a ChromeBook. Google drive is not even in the same league as Dropbox as far as reliability goes, but I’ve stayed with Google drive and Google Apps for simplicity’s sake.
  • Added OneNote to keep work notes separate from home notes. This has actually facilitated manila folders as OneNote makes it *trivial* to print all my tabs (virtual manila folders) and put them into real labeled GTD manila folders.
  • Kept 3×5 cards. They are indispensable for organizing. Laying a large number of cards out on a big table, then re-arranging them into thematic clumps, is the most powerful project organization tool that I possess. *Note* to OneNote and Evernote folks, please please please add 3×5 cards and a flexible user interface for re-arranging cards to your programs!!!!!
  • Kept manila folders. In my new job, I can see my boss relax when I pull out a folder that has an updated project plan in it. And once she saw that she could look in one place for my project list and see what is going on, again, I could visibly see her relax.
  • Kept eMail.

So my system now looks like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 7

And my dungeon desk looks like this:


Thoughts on Tools:

  • OmniFocus is an awesome tool. If you are going to implement GTD to the letter, I don’t think there is a better software package. But I learned that implementing GTD to the letter is not for my brain. But there is TREMENDOUS power in OmniFocus if it is for you.
  • Evernote has been with me since the beginning of my GTD journey. I remember listening to David Allen say “the lack of a good general-reference system can be one of the greatest obstacles to implementing a personal management system” (p. 95 Kindle L1500) and realizing “Evernote! I can use Evernote to be my reference filing system!” You see I had Evernote before I read GTD, I just did not have a use model for it, because I did not appreciate how critical reference filing is to GTD.
  • Evernote keeps adding tools. Some of them are wonky (Evernote Hello for example), but Web ClipperClearly, and Skitch have been game changers for me. Evernote has also gradually increased the kinds of files that it indexes (Word for example was a pain before Evernote started indexing it), and the handwriting recognition is slowly improving. The growth of Evernote’s tool set has kept me loyal as I know I don’t need to jump ship for the latest slick tool. Probably, this reticence kept me for too long from trying OneNote again. I was on the beta team for OneNote 1.0 and getting a change made to the program was like trying to teach a pig to sing.
  • Dropbox is also an awesome tool. But it was (a) too expensive and (b) to focused on single users, at the time I adopted it. Dropbox too is adding tools, but unlike Evernote, Dropbox has not added tools at the point of most intense need for me, and built out from there. I’m sure to Dropbox, Evernote’s file replication must look plebeian, a pale copy of Dropbox with a different user interface. But to me, Dropbox is infrastructure first, and OneNote and Evernote are tools first, with backing infrastructure.
  • OneNote has surprised me. The community of kindred minds around OneNote is much larger than Evernote. And OneNote has the same wonderful enthusiasm of Apple products and Evernote, among its users. OneNote has many of the same over-structured limits as Evernote, only 1 level of sub folders, for example. But, the user interface and the integration with Microsoft Office are freeing to my mind. And, I can’t wait to investigate OneNote add-ins. Evernote’s add-ins are a pallid picture of the promise of its API. More on OneNote as I delve deeper.
  • Google Apps and Google Drive have converted me. I’m now keeping my evolving documents (like resume) on Google drive. I’ve had to delete and re-download my stored files three times. And when I look into my Google Drive folders now, I’m often missing files, finding renamed folders that indicate Google Drive has a problem with becoming confused. Dropbox has none of these issues. So I do miss being able to have confidence in my cloud storage. But I’m careful, back up A LOT, and limp through.
  • Google Now. Another fun surprise. Google now reads my emails and then puts notifications on my phone and in my web browser automatically. This is a huge help for my absent mindedness (call me “Dr. Spaz” please).

Where GTDers are on our own.

David Allen does not recommend technology. Technology is too fad-y I suspect. So we are on our own in sharing experiences and frustrations. And, in dealign with providers like Evernote and MicroSoft and OmniGroup in advocating for GTD-helpful features.

GTDers are also on our own figuring out how to separate work and personal trusted systems. “When you’re trying to make a living there ain’t no such thing as pride.” Richard Marx – Don’t Mean Nothing Lyrics | MetroLyrics. And when you are in the middle or the bottom of a big company, keeping separate personal and work trusted system is a key survival skill.

OneNote vs. Evernote vs. Dropbox


I’ve edited this post in light of having gone back through my GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) history, and looking at the different trusted systems I’ve evolved over the four years of using GTD.

  1. Title graphic has been recomposed to put GTD at the center. Ouch! When I realized I missed this in the original post. Ouch I say!
  2. Last graphic has been recomposed dropping Google Drive (unreliable) and swapping back in Dropbox. This will take some work as I have to squeeze down from 30 gigabytes of storage to 20 (the most storage I can have for free on Dropbox).
  3. Last paragraph has been edited to put both OneNote and Dropbox into project management (I use them both for project files).
  4. Added a fourth like about OneNote (Read on!).


This is not a full on review, but I’ve been using OneNote daily for a month, so I thought I’d *reflect* a little on how I like OneNote, and how it compares with Evernote. Just rule of three likes, dislikes and reflections in this post.

What I like about OneNote:

  • The tabs. OneNote lets you have tabs on the top or right side of your notebook. This is a clear win over Evernote where notebooks (the equivalent of OneNote tabs the way I use both programs) are rigidly stuck in a list at the side of your screen, or in a rigid grid of notebooks in the main window.
  • Sub notes. If you create a tab for a project, you can insert notes underneath the project and indented from the parent tab. Again, a clean kill improvement over Evernote. From a GTD perspective this has helped me to focus more on the work, and less on the housekeeping of organizing the work.
  • Linking. You create [[aroundwhatyouwanttolink]] and the note is automatically linked to the parent project list. For GTD people this allows you to have each project on a tab that you start from the master list of all projects. Just create [[NewProject]] on your master list of projects, and *poof* you magically have a new tab named NewProject, now, get to work!
  • After a couple days, I have to add one more thing I like about OneNote … the connection between Microsoft Outlook and OneNote. I can drag an email into OneNote and choose either to have a PDF of it (printing to OneNote) or just an embedded copy of the email. This is not a clear win over Evernote as I can also capture email to Evernote from outlook. But, the thing is, because OneNote is a “family of Office” product, I intuitively knew that the link would be there. Evernote’s linking to email has to be discovered separately. My impression is that both OneNote and Evernote are improving their linking over time.

What I don’t like about OneNote

  • The canvas. Evernote’s canvas is static, text-based, and more intuitively appealing to me. In OneNote, whenever you click the mouse too far away from what you’ve already typed, you create a new text window. Which does automatically scroll down when you type something in any other text window. This is an example of too much flexibility for me. I find myself creating only one text window per note, and then being sure to add new thoughts to that single window. Static canvas, clear win for Evernote.
  • Too narrow a focus. OneNote focuses on you, your keyboard, and your projects. So it does not *feel* like a document management (or reference filing) system. Another clear kill for Evernote. I am forever adding a note to Evernote, and then much later taking that note out of my GRAPHICS or INBOXNOTEBOOK (the two big capture notebooks in my Evernote use) and either moving it to a project notebook, or copying the contents, pasting the contents into another note, and deleting the first note. OneNote is more narrowly focused than Evernote. I would not think about putting 14,000 articles and clippings into OneNote, for example.
  • Adding new text after a pasted-in graphic. I can’t figure out how to get OneNote to allow me to create new bullet lines in an outline, from clicking on the clip, hitting right arrow, and then either return or shift return as needed.


  • OneNote vs. Evernote, like Evernote vs. Dropbox is not a choice of one tool OR the other. They overlap in functionality. But OneNote is a lot more competition for Evernote, than it is for Dropbox. Here is what the overlap *feels* like to me. Recovered_File_1
  • Both OneNote and Evernote are (to my liking) overly rigid. I’m still looking to be able to re-arrange virtual note cards on a virtual desk top. And, to be able to arrange notebooks in relation to one another. But OneNote and Evernote allow note arranging little if at all.
  • Project focus is an area that OneNote excels in, and where Evernote is weak. I applied for a project management job at Evernote this year, and won the opportunity to work a test problem in new products. But, alas, no job was forthcoming despite my ENTHUSIASM and ranting and railing about Evernote as a platform. But, OneNote, if it shows nothing else, indicates how Evernote could up its game in the project management sphere.
  • Evernote is a platform. OneNote is an application. OneNote feels like Excel or PowerPoint, a point-focused app that captures and structures analytical thinking. Evernote with its open API, back end infrastructure, and plug ins for browsers that make ripping just the information you want out of a web page, easy, feels like a platform.


In David Allen speak, OneNote lives in the land of projects and project plans. Evernote lives in the land of reference filing, and Dropbox and OneNote live in the land of project organizing infrastructure.