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

False Start in Swimming Competition
ource: Corbis


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.


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.”




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


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!


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.


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

Analytics of Procrastination and Guilt: Before and After GTD

Snapshot 10 24 12 11 51 AM 10 24 12


The purpose of this post is to share an “aha!” I just had while working with my beloved 3×5 cards. The “aha!” is represented on the graph above under the orange B.  But first, let me share with you my experience with procrastination and guilt.


Writer’s block, cramming, starting projects and throwing them out after one burst of work, impulsive leaps off critical project paths onto distracting tasks (pinball anyone?), failure to launch until every piece is perfectly in place, number of projects building until it seems like the number of projects will inevitably and immovably go up forever,  procrastination has taken many forms in my life.  At root, I have come to believe that procrastination is the reciprocal of organization.  Of course, I may be biased by having experienced GTD for the past four years.

The graph at the start of this blog post is a subjective attempt to weigh how much procrastination I did before and after GTD.  I picked percent numbers vaguely thinking that I could measure procrastination in my memory, by estimating how much time I remember spending procrastinating.  I don’t think I spent 65% of my time procrastinating, but playing with how much I feel I procrastinated before and after GTD, it was the difference between the two levels that had the biggest contribution to the number.  The relief from procrastination has been a big part of the “stress free” productivity of GTD, for me.

As I continue to apply, continue to refine my GTD system, I am procrastinating less every year.  More and more, work that I used to dread sitting down to do, is easy to sit down and do now.  And I’ve noticed that when I’m procrastinating, that this is a signal for me to do a mind sweep and get my mind cleared.  It is like as I try and remember things, the things I’m remembering become a pile, and then a knot, and then a Chicken-Little like voice in my head playing an endless loop of “[: Don’t do it now.  You are too tired.  Maybe tomorrow:]”  GTD has given me the system to organize well enough that I can mind sweep and silence the voice, untie the knot, organize the pile into 3×5 cards, and then sit down and do the work.

In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield talks about resistance in much the same way I’m talking about procrastination:


Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.   Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Pressfield, Steven (2010-08-30). The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle (Kindle Locations 134-138). PREMIERE. Kindle Edition.

And like the ex-marine Pressfield is, his little war manual of creative accomplishment teaches how to confront resistance with frontal assaults, flanking attacks, and interlocking fields of fire:

RESISTANCE AND SEX   Sometimes Resistance takes the form of sex, or an obsessive preoccupation with sex. Why sex? Because sex provides immediate and powerful gratification. When someone sleeps with us, we feel validated and approved of, even loved. Resistance gets a big kick out of that. It knows it has distracted us with a cheap, easy fix and kept us from doing our work.

It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.

Pressfield, Steven (2010-08-30). The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle (Kindle Locations 178-184). PREMIERE. Kindle Edition.

My favorite passage of the book is where Pressfield confesses how resistance almost killed his book:


When I began this book, Resistance almost beat me. This is the form it took. It told me (the voice in my head) that I was a writer of fiction, not nonfiction, and that I shouldn’t be exposing these concepts of Resistance literally and overtly; rather, I should incorporate them metaphorically into a novel. That’s a pretty damn subtle and convincing argument. The rationalization Resistance presented me with was that I should write, say, a war piece in which the principles of Resistance were expressed as the fear a warrior feels.

Resistance also told me I shouldn’t seek to instruct, or put myself forward as a purveyor of wisdom; that this was vain, egotistical, possibly even corrupt, and that it would work harm to me in the end. That scared me. It made a lot of sense.

What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead. I was developing symptoms. As soon as I sat down and began, I was okay.

Pressfield, Steven (2010-08-30). The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle (Kindle Locations 227-234). PREMIERE. Kindle Edition.

If procrastination is a battle you are always fighting, you might want to consider that it is really, a war.  And if it is a war, Pressfield’s WAR OF ART might be *handy* to have around.



Source: Wikipedia

As much as I’ve felt procrastination in my life, I’ve felt guilt, more.  It it isn’t bad enough that we have the Chicken-Little voice telling us to procrastinate.  On top of Chicken-Little we get a siren sucking our energy, distracting us, criticizing constantly.  Siren works to define this second voice for me, because either the Greek idea of sirens as femmes fatale who lure to destruction, or the modern sense of a loud noise that prevents thought is the net result.

And this is a separate issue from procrastination.  When you overcome procrastination and sit down to do the work, you can hit a brick wall if your inner editor/siren is blabbering, stabbing, ridiculing, bargaining, etc. with your creative capacities.  The best antidote I’ve found for the guilt is doing the work despite the voice.  As you get fully into the project, the editor/siren fades.  the second best antidote I’ve found is Natalie Goldberg’s “Trouble with the editor” (p. 33) exercise in WRITING DOWN THE BONES.

Trouble with the Editor

THE MORE CLEARLY you know the editor, the better you can ignore it. After a while, like the jabbering of an old drunk fool, it becomes just prattle in the background. Don’t reinforce its power by listening to its empty words. If the voice says, “You are boring,” and you listen to it and stop your hand from writing, that reinforces and gives credence to your editor. That voice knows that the term boring will stop you dead in your tracks, so you’ll hear yourself saying that a lot about your writing. Hear “You are boring” as distant white laundry flapping in the breeze. Eventually it will dry up and someone miles away will fold it and take it in. Meanwhile you will continue to write.

Goldberg, Natalie (2010-08-31). Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) (Kindle Locations 518-523). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.

We knowledge workers may not have invented guilt, but we sure have perfected it!  But man, has GTD ever cut down on the guilt I feel.  Over the years as I work organization through my life, work has gone from happening in spasms, towards the asymptote happening in flow.

What about the orange B?

Snapshot 10 24 12 11 51 AM 10 24 12 2

Over the past four years I’ve procrastinated much less, but while my guilt level initially was way down, I find that I’m feeling a little more guilty about less procrastination over time.  See the orange A in the figure.  This was disconcerting.  Doing better but not getting my full measure of stress relief!

Recently I was going through my: procrastinate>>”Oh, I need to mind sweep and 3×5 card this”>>now-organized, work cycle.  And as I sat down after organizing, to work, I had the realization that one of the reasons I procrastinate is because I’m subconsciously afraid that if I just do the work, I’ll do the wrong task first.  In English this time:

I procrastinate because I fear doing the wrong task first.

Interesting!  “Fearcrastination!”  Look it up in Google, it won’t exist until this page has been indexed!

What about the orange B?

Well, the experience of realizing that I procrastinate because of possible starting task error, that I “fearcrastinate” gives me a handle to cut down both procrastination and guilt about procrastination.  That is, as I succeed in cutting procrastination and gaining insight into procrastination, I can feel the guilt line bending horizontal at the orange B.

This is the GTD idea that I want to put across in this post.  Organize when procrastinating and then when you work, you will have no more guilt to deal with. Simple really!  Sorry it took 1492 words.  :-)

bill meade