Doing GTD: On the Bandwagon And The Inevitability of “Off”


I read a very perceptive article on last weekend. The author is Maxim Kotin, and the article “What I’ve learned after 10 years of quantifying myself” had a poignant passage at the end that summed up how I feel about falling off the GTD Bandwagon:

7. Eventually you will give up. It’s inevitable
It doesn’t matter how strong your willpower is. Eventually you will
break. Someday you will feel that you can’t bear the responsibility
for your time [GTD] any more. You will quit — for days and maybe 
weeks if not months. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean that the system is 
bad or ineffective. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong
with you. On the contrary: you are 100% normal. It’s just too 
damn hard to be alert 24 hours a day.

Falling off the GTD bandwagon for me, comes after “sprints.”

A GTD sprint evolves out of work closing in on you, you responding by organizing with more focus (and a bit of desperation) until you reach the point where you as a GTD trotter horse let go of trotting and start to gallop.

Galloping is a GTD sprint. You give up long term maximum productivity, for short term results. I for example, have a boss who is a genius at pushing teams to produce breakthroughs. When my boss starts pushing, it is like hearing a Caterpillar D12 engine in the distance, then the clank clank of the caterpillar drive draws closer, the the cold steel of the blade on my … back.

In a GTD sprint, you go with whatever situational awareness is in your head, for the duration. The key GTD moment comes after finish. Your crisis is averted, the falling sky has   been propped up. Now what?

Now you let your mind unwind a bit and you realize:

  1. Your GTD trusted system is a mess.
  2. You have an expense report that I need to start procrastinating on finishing.
  3. While you were sprinting, your heard of genius cats were generating questions and you have a queue of genius cat questions awaiting your attention.
  4. You are exhausted.

And now it is time to get back on the GTD band wagon. Aw crap!

Work can feel like it is unending. Like it can never get enough of your time. Another perceptive insight from Maxim Kotin’s blog says:

1. You can only count on 5 working hours a day
You probably know a lot of people claiming that they work 10, 
12 and even 16 hours a day. They are fooling you — and maybe 
they are fooling themselves. Because aimlessly surfing the 
Internet is not work. Hanging out on Facebook is not work. 
Chatting with a peer on Skype or at the cooler is not work. 
Smoking outside is not work. Staring out the window is not 
work. Even working with your beautiful to do list for a 
half an hour is not work either, although it definitely may 
look like it.

So face it. You have to do everything, and you can really only do it in 5 hours a day. Work is not unending. It isn’t about how long you work. It is about how smart you work. So the key question to ask when you are off the GTD band wagon is: “How can I maximize how smart I work in the 5 hours a day available?”

And this is an on-ramp to getting back on the wagon. I haven’t found any way to work smarter than I work with GTD.

bill meade

p.s., Ask me a GTD question! [email protected]

Alas Babylon Update: Spoiler = Everything is fine

The story:

Bigfoot letter happened.

In response, I replied with the permission email I received, when I asked David Allen and the CEO of David Allen’s company for permission to use  … before I started

A couple of email exchanges happened over the weekend and early this week.

The VP of legal eagles at David Allen’s company has given me her assurance that she’s good with the current state of … because I had/have permission.


*Aside* I managed the business side of patent litigation back in the day, when I worked at HP. We were burning 7 figures ,,, a month on six *big nasty* lawsuits, and I hope to never again live in litigation la la land.

So I was *philosophical* about whether to close If the GTD powers that be did not want my enthusiasm (which is not for everyone), I was going to let go.

As it stands, will continue to operate as it has.

But, you could help if you would:

  1. Email me some GTD questions!!! My best posts are responses to questions. [email protected] is the place to get your free advice on getting back on the wagon.
  2. Get off your duff and install the Evernote web clipper so you become hopelessly addicted to Evernote for reference filing. Side benefit: web clipper makes Evernote filing reference filing easier to do, than not do.
  3. Buy that ScanSnap iX500 ($413 today) that I’ve failed (so far) to persuade you to invest in. You don’t know what you are missing by being paperless.

Thanks for the kind words and back channel emails! More posts soon! As soon as RestartGTD was in limbo I had a bunch of new ideas. :-(

bill meade


Easy GTD



I’ve discovered something. A way to make Getting Things Done (GTD) easy to do. Three words:




This Post’s Story:

When I finished graduate school in 1992 I read Waldrop’s COMPLEXITY. The book is about the development of chaos theory from lunatic fringe, to the Santa Fe Institute. The book is not available on Kindle, so I can’t cite the passage exactly, but there is a description of John Holland that goes something like ‘Holland is a nice guy, helping a lot of people, doing work he loves, and having a genuinely good time.’

When I read that I was … jealous. And ever since, I’ve wanted to be John Holland.

Along the way, I’ve come across books that have helped me become more like John Holland:

1. The Artist’s Way (TAW) by Julia Cameron

Mary Meade, my artist sister bought me TAW. Julia Cameron is the world’s greatest ninja in getting “stuck” creative people, unstuck. Her formula is “Write three pages every day. Does not matter what. Just write three pages every day.” Kind of like “one idea, one 3×5 card” in GTD. This unsticks writers, sculptors, painters, …

In TAW I learned:

  • About “crazy makers” who prey upon creative minds, giving them busy work and drama. Don’t have an agenda, crazy makers will give you an agenda.
  • That jealousy is a signal. It tells you what you want to be doing.
  • That getting ideas out, is critical. If you don’t get ideas out of your head, you can’t move the ideas forward.

2. Getting Things Done

Ian Watson basically got on my chest and said “I’m not getting off until you promise me you will read GTD.” I’ve tried to document on this blog, the result. If you haven’t seen the progress, start with the before/after post.

From GTD I learned:

  • Organizing is possible, and then fun. Until GTD, my wife said “I have to have a door I can close on Bill’s office.” Since GTD, the opposite is the case.
  • Organization is about figuring out how your brain works, and then structuring your work naturally. Example: I had a book that I knew I needed to write “stuck” in my head. For seven years I would sit down, try to “dump” the book, and fail. After 1.5 years of GTD, my work environment and mind became organized and synchronized to the point, where I sat down and was able to dump the book, in outline format (a first for me), into a computer.
  • When you organize, God comes along beside you and encourages. S/he has you on earth for specific reasons. Organizing is how we can figure out the reaons.

3. & 4. The House That Cleans Itself (THTCI) and 2,000 to 10,000 (2Kto10K)

  • THTCI taught me about the concept of “stations.”Stations are how you organize to eliminate localized clutter. The formula is to let clutter build up in your life, then take pictures of localized clutter storms.

    Then, figure out the clutter storm’s function. Once you “get” that you are manufacturing clutter when you are doing a specific function (ex., creating draft after draft of writing, dealing with multiple projects simultaneously, missing appointments (temporal clutter), or forgetting tasks) you can organize your environment, trusted system, calendar, etc. to focus on the function at a station optimized to slam dunk the function.

    In a way, GTD as a book, is a pre-fabricated system of stations (next actions, one idea one 3×5 card, project list, 2 minute rule, predigesting tasks by context, etc., etc., etc.). Stations are how I evolve GTD.

  • 2Kto10K taught me about matching enthusiasm to work.Rachel Aaron, a novelist and the author of2Kto10K kept a log of how much she wrote each writing session. She then figured out that she wrote faster and better when she:- Knew what she was going to write before sitting down to write (this is what I’m doing when I take 3×5 cards of ideas, rearrange them before doing)
    - Had long blocks of time (1 hour = 500 words/hr, 5 hours = 1,500 words/hr)
    - Was “was in a place other than home” while writing.
    and most importantly
    - Was enthusiastic about what she was writing.

    Being behind in Rachel’s words was “the perfect storm of all my insecurities” … (feel *familiar*)????? But her ninja-nerd writing log helped here avoid perfect storms, by structuring her work naturally. What I got from Rachel, and what provoked this blog post is …

    The importance of enthusiasm. The word roots of “enthusiasm” are en which means “in” and “theos” which means God. Enthusiasm is “the God within.” Work you loves has the God in you coming along side.

So what?

I’m in a job right now, that makes applying GTD easy. This blog post is my attempt to be a Rachel-Aaron-like nerd, to figure out … Why?

For me, it is about dread. Here is what my task completion time looked like while I work in jobs that were, well, … OK.


Dreading a task is 50% mentality, and 50% environment. When I’ve worked in jobs that I don’t love, the phone rings, there is a knock at the door, there is a meeting that pops up. And for me, very often, a crazy maker boss that drops in. So out of 100 minutes I was only getting work done during 40 minutes.

When in a job that I love, I preemptively manage the environment part of dread procrastination. I turn off the phone, close email, log out of Lync, so I can focus. And, the 1/2 of dread procrastination (just about what the task takes to complete), that is mental … evaporates.

When I love my job, I look forward to rough organizing, and then slam dunking the next action. When you love your job, you avoid the dread tax and get more done. You begin to be more like John Holland:

  • Help more people.
  • Genuinely enjoy the work.
  • Be nice.
  • Do your job effortlessly.
  • Build momentum.

I worked 75 hours this week. Trip to Mexico, lots of driving around and meeting people. Sharing the gospel of simple models applied to the obvious data, to solve obvious problems. On the flight home I realized “I feel like John Holland in Waldrop’s book!”

A first for me.


  1. If you find GTD “too hard” to do. You might need a different job.
  2. If you need a different job, you probably know it.
  3. If you know you need a different job, if you are like me, you have not:
    1. created a “find a job of destiny” project, then
    2. rough organized the job of destiny project, or
    3. started executing the job of destiny project.
  4. If you don’t execute on finding that job of destiny, you won’t find your job of destiny.
  5. It is easy to shift blame to GTD for being too hard, when the root cause lies elsewhere.
  6. Looking back on jobs that I did not love, GTD was depressing. Keeping track of all the stuff that isn’t fun, is depressing. Unloved jobs truly are “same shit, different day.”
  7. If dread is part and parcel with doing GTD for you, see implication 1 above.

Bill Meade

Great Post on Evernote as Trusted System

Michael Keithley has a great post for those who want to use Evernote as their trusted system. Covers all the basics in just over a page.

Click here to see RestartGTD’s 30+ posts on Evernote.

Bill Meade

Quick Index of Most-Read Posts


In Box Zero Disease: A conversation from RestartGTD Part 4


This post is part 4 of a discussion that evolved out of the observation that when some GTDers get to InBox-Zero, they get sick immediately after.  “InBox-Zero-Disease” is the name we’ve developed for this.  The idea of coming up to, but not all the way through InBox-Zero, to avoid InBox-Zero disease sparked a discussion of self-reprogramming to avoid falling off the GTD wagon.

Dave Findlay’s words are in bold left justified.  Bill Meade’s responses are not-bold and are indented from left by one tab stop.  Hope you enjoy!

From: Bill Meade <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Thanks for blogging on Restart GTD
Date: November 2, 2012 3:33:54 PM PDT
To: Dave Findlay <[email protected]>

On Oct 30, 2012, at 6:18 PM, Dave Findlay <[email protected]> wrote:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for writing back! I wasn’t expecting a comprehensive reply with an essay like that. You’ve raised some interesting thoughts:

The thoughts come naturally from conversations and sharing.  I wish RestartGTD had more sharing (*hint* *hint*).  I love it when readers write in and ask questions (*hint* *hint*).  I don’t have great answers, but I’m willing to look stupid in order to move my GTD implementation forward.

- When you talk about “beating the world for traffic”, I think of crunchy blogs full of “top ten lists” and 400-word click-bait articles that don’t say anything. I’m so glad restartgtd isn’t one of those.

I’m glad that someone thinks it is *not* one of THOSE BLOGS!!!

- Great advice on avoiding the trigger while capturing most of the benefit. I’ll give that a go — an almost-there weekly review in good health is way better than an immaculate review and being unwell.

Getting to the cuttinge edge of “mind like water” has been a very slowly acquired skill for me.  I’m doing a two-step dance between my GTD infrastructure, and how my brain thinks.  Gradually, I’m evolving from a sporatic mind-like-water to episodes in GTD flow that are becoming longer.  GTD is re-programming that takes time.  I advise newbies to GTD to not read chapters 4-end of GTD.  Just to get the basic model, and then get reference filing under control.  I have not been able to reprogram all of my brain subsystems, at once.  So I think one GTD thing is enough to change at a time.

- What we would actually do once we arrived at panic-free work. That’s a fascinating insight. I’d always thought that “If only I could get all this finished …” but I wouldn’t have a clue what to do upon arriving at “finished”, due to the behind-as-normal phenomenon you mentioned. So, we’re conditioned in so many ways to strive for something (getting our work done), and also programmed to self-sabotage our efforts to attain it.

I could really feel the tension between getting my mind cleared, and then allowing old habits to kick in and derail GTD, when I first started trying to implement it.  I think our counter GTD habits are school-driven, work-driven, family-driven, competition-driven, to always be on, always having the distilled essence of our genius flow neatly and continuously from our mouths/fingers/pens/keyboards.  This perpetual trying harder gets in the way of an optimized evolutionary path of increasing organization.

Insidious! No wonder falling off the GTD bandwagon is so common — it’s like we have to get down deep and rewrite some of our internal scripts before we have a hope of staying on it for any length of time. This, then, might be the real work of sticking with GTD: rewriting the scripts that make you fall off (converting away from being a herd animal, like you mentioned).

*Ding* *ding* *ding* this is the kind of insights that I’m after!  Great observation Dave!!!

Yes, we should be talking on RestartGTD about:
• Identifying habits that run us off the GTD wagon.
• Ideas and techniques about how to re-program these habits (i.e., re-write the scripts).
• Philosophical approaches to re-programming.  NLP, wack-a-mole, whatever…

Not sure exactly how to do this, other than maybe to approach it obliquely by asking related questions until we reach the AHA! moment, or introducing ourselves to small GTD wins to prove it’s not so scary.

Stopping bad habits is one piece of the puzzle.  But I think also, that GTD people should be talking about the trial and error changes we make, and why our brains decide to, or not to, adopt the changes.

For example: I’ve talked before about my initial “cut over” from mess to GTD via putting my entire work and thought life into OmniFocus.  After a few days of having my entire world waiting for me when I sat down to my desk, I found that I was avoiding sitting down to my desk.  Then, relistening to GTD I *think* I heard Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”  But, I’ve not been able to put my finger on the page number.

Since then, I’ve evolved my GTD system by:

  • Cutting 100% back to 8.5×11 paper
  • Cutting 100% over to 3×5 cards
  • Dropping the use of contexts for task lists
  • Adding manila folders in “clumps” (i.e., the Target Totes where I keep related folders)
  • Falling REALLY HARD for Salvatore Sanfilippo’s daily, weekly, monthly, task tracking format which I added “eventually” to in lieu of a “someday mabye” bucket. And unlike Salvatore, I don’t use this format in Evernote, instead I’m using it in OmniFocus.

So, I’ve ended up with about a 70% electronic system.  My brain didn’t like 100% electronic 3 years ago, however, it is ok with my 70% electronic system today.  Over time I feel like my brain has aspects of a pendulum swinging first to 100% elctronic and then when it gets some experiece, swinging back to paper, then settling in to the right of middle.

Fitting new infrastructure tools into our GTD routine is a separate function from re-programming bad habits.

As for Task Zero … I’ve never been there. I’ll have to try it and see what happens, although having now framed it like this, observer bias will probably make it much less interesting.

As I said, I’ve had students email me after.  I have friends call me when they were approaching task-zero.  Both kinds of email ask me “What should I do.”  And I think the answer is reflect on what you are feeling mentally, and if you can, why.  This is a great skill taught in INNER PRODUCTIVITY in order to track down reasons for procrastination.  I think reflection *might* allow us to drill into why being caught up makes us uncomfortable.  And then, to what the source habits of the “always behind” mentality are.  This too, we should be talking about on RestartGTD.  But again, the conversation is too one sided.  Help me out anyone?  Please?

- Trying harder as a vestigial function. Haha! It’s true — and we’re in a great place when we realise “trying harder” to handle the constant load of inputs cannot be done. The firehose can’t be switched off, partly because so much stuff is open-ended. You get assigned a project, and nobody has defined what “finished” looks like, so you get all visionary, thinking “I could really go for it and create something world class with this project”, and in so doing we create extra inputs and agreements for ourselves.

In addition to finish-line uncertainty, I’m certain we have too many projects.  I know I do.  In GTD when I saw that the average person has 100 projects, I had a leap of recognition.  But killing projects before they can damage your schedule, energy, and mental work load is a skill I need.  Projects are just easier to accurately cull in retrospect once they have starved to death.

Then the lizard brain tries harder and quickly succumbs to overwhelm.

The lizard brain is the “Limbic system” which is at the top of the spinal cord.  It is the center of self knowledge and the center of emotion (I remember reading this but can’t think of the cite, forgive me please).  Our self knowledge increases reluctantly when we need to learn things about ourselves, that are upsetting.  Like “Why my wife divorced me.”  10 years later the realization “I was an asshole to her.”

Does some of this “upsetting=reluctant learning” apply to our understanding of GTD?

  • It can be upsetting when you realize how disorganized your life has been.
  • It can be upsetting to have to re-negotiate your identity not as a spazmodic participant in your own life, but as an active cause of your own life’s evolution.
  • It can be upsetting having to face up to negative criticisms “You would be awesome if you could ever get your mind under control!” we’ve had over our lives.  Especially when these criticisms are true.

- You talked about your next GTD challenge being to create a feedback mechanism to help you regulate the amount of work you handle (really, the volume of inputs you choose to address?).

In thinking about this for a couple days, I think there are two issues: First, having a closed loop feedback signal that indicates when I should turn off.  For example, not having enough time to exercise would be a good signal for me.  Not having enough time to entertain friends.  Not having time to spin down.  I’ve always taught my kids that “Meades need downtime every day.”  but I have not been practicing what I preach.

And in addition to time feedback.  I think I need a second feedback signal directly at “sources of escalation.” For example, jobs are always wringer-cranker-uppers.  I think I need a bright line in the sand agreement to shut down when the job escalates.

So, when I feel an escalation of stress and work (escalation and stress come hand in hand), I need to stop.  Rethink.  Move the fulcrum over.

Is work this kind of stressor for you Dave?

That’s tricky. I guess most people (men, especially) don’t find out they’re doing too much until their wife complains they’re never around, or their kids react/rebel, or they develop a chronic health condition. The only way I could think of to regulate that is indirectly, by putting some external speed-limiting measure in place, like the number of hours you choose to work. That might not create a quantifiable feedback signal (“work left over on Friday afternoon” isn’t useful once you’re tackling bigger projects, and several at a time), but it’d lead to intuitive regulation — over time either you have too much to do so you’re forced to cut back, or you feel like you’ve got extra capacity so you look for areas to expand in. I could be oversimplifying.

This is a great example.  I’ve always had jobs where I was home at the time the kids got out of school.  Then until after dinner when I went back to school to teach in the evening.  I could not have raised a small children while working at HP.  The norms of “be at your desk, always be in a meeting” were overpowering.

Right now, I’m working on never getting to the point where if Beth calls, I say “I’m sorry, can’t do that, too slammed.”  Beth called me on “playing the slammed card” a couple weeks ago, and it was way-useful for me to start attacking the pace at which I’m working.

- Feel free to post the email on your blog. It’d be interesting to see what comes of it. Feel free also to edit for brevity and flow as needed.

You are not the long winded one, … I am.  :-)

- There’s only one winery around here, and no Zinfandel that I’m aware of — but some of that is grown a little further south in the Granite Belt region around Stanthorpe. I’m not well versed on fine wines (coffee is my gourmet drug of choice), so you’d be welcome for a visit if you’re in the area. It’d be an education for me.

That is right, Zinfandel likes to be stressed and grow on rocks.  Gourmet coffee will work just fine!

Mel-bunn. Hehe, it should be renamed according to tech startup naming conventions: Melbn. Then we’d be pronouncing it right.

LOL thanks for the tip!

Thanks again for the correspondence.

It is a pleasure corresponding about GTD!  I hope others (*Hint* RestartGTD readers!) will join in, and that we all benefit from the communion of kindred minds!

bill meade

Warm regards,


Evernote GTD restart!

On the wagon: a great place to start

A general resource for anyone doing GETTING THINGS DONE is Merlin Mann’s  But, for people trying to get back on the wagon, I think Mann’s first year retrospective is a great primer.  It is broken into three parts: (1) The Good Stuff, (2) The Stuff I Wish I were Better At, (3) Future of GTD.  In Part 2, Mann says:

One thing I’ve loved about GTD is how forgiving it can be once you have your basic system in place. It’s relatively easy to get back on track anytime you realize you’re starting to veer off course.

Merlin Mann The Stuff I Wish I were Better At

Preliminaries (skip if you’ve seen these graphics before)

My experience with getting back on the GTD wagon is the same as Mann’s: GTD is forgiving because the system is already in place.  In particular, the general reference filing system (Evernote for me), and some system for tracking next actions (OmniFocus).  Here is my current GTD implementation:


For the first three years of doing GTD, when I fell off the wagon, it was triggered by crisis.  Unfortunately, because my brain did not yet fully trust my system, to get back on the wagon I found that I needed to improve my organization.

Here is the GTD implementation life cycle process I went through for the first three years:


With my first try at GTD, my brain trusted my system maybe 50%, and I got my desk clear.  With my second GTD try, my brain trust of system went up to maybe 60%, and I got my filing system so that it really worked.  With my third try, my brain trust of system went to 70%, and I got next actions electronically tracked so that they were *just* *enough* automated (too much automation was a turn off for me).  Next, at maybe 80% trust, my office was transformed (“When I organize, I feel His pleasure!“).  The we moved to Portland, then I lived with an “undead GTD” system where my brain trust went from 80% in January of 2011 to maybe 60% by December 2011.  How does your brain’s trust go from 80% to 60%?  One overwhelming day at a time.  It was an ugly year.

In the last week of December 2011 I started to get back on the wagon.  My brain’s trust of my GTD system was at 60% when I started, and in the three break weeks I’ve spent working on my office and getting organized, my brain’s trust is back up to maybe 85%.  What took me from 60% to 85% was doing mind sweeps, getting current on all archival data being stored in Evernote, and rebuilding my paper folder organization.  All this in a context where I did not use todo lists, push, or try to force anything.  I got back on the wagon by letting the ideas come, not making them come.

I don’t think my GTD off/on wagon experience is atypical.  The good news is that when you come back to your GTD system, it is still there. And if, like me, you continue to refactor, refine, retry, then GTD becomes a ratchet.  You gradually get better.  You can feel your progress, you can feel your subconscious selves observing success and getting on board.  You can feel your brain’s trust of your system going up.

The off-the-wagon stress and guilt don’t come from stuff your brain knows is organized, it comes from the stuff your brain knows is not organized.  My GTD brain follows the principle of least organization in allocating its attention.  The least organized stuff is a recurrent trauma of iterative rumination.

The Evernote thing:

*Note* David Allen is leery of technologies, he’s concerned with the logical processes of GTD, not the technically instantiated processes. But, I’m not above loving technology just because it is helping me today. I may switch away from Evernote, but for now, general reference filing is Evernote’s game to loose in my GTD system.

Loose, because I think Evernote is a H-U-G-E deal for GTDers. Evernote provides weak and strong forms of gravity to keep us in the GTD orbit. In the weak form of attraction, being able to clip internet resources keeps one using Evernote every day, growing the gravity of Evernote in the information solar system. The gravity is the strong form of GTD attraction. Once you have the “Aha!” that you can find everything you need, rapidly, via Evernote, you are changed.

a. What to put in Evernote?

In the beginning, I would put documents in Evernote if the answer to “Will this ever have a next action?” was yes or maybe.  In the four years I’ve been using Evernote (I say four years because I just had to pay for my fourth year!), the quality bar on what I scan, has gradually gone down.  Today, if something “might be useful” it goes into Evernote.  For example, while in grad school in 1989 I wrote thousands of 4″x6″ cards.  Thoughts on articles, passages of articles, doodlings, I wrote it all down and reviewed the cards before my Ph.D. prelims.  These cards have emotional resonance.  Too much to throw away.  But, scanning 1,000 of them into Evernote in 20 minutes, gave me the release I needed to recycle the paper.  Now my heirs won’t have to dump paper.  They’ll just dump my Evernote account!  Once it is in Evernote, life is a bit!  :-)

b. How to find it in Evernote?

There are three tools to find things in evernote: search, notebooks, and tags.  Search is 90% of my use of Evernote, with notebooks being 15% and tagging only 5%.  Note, I’ve got 320 tags and less than 100 notebooks.  Tags are a crutch to prompt recall, I’m finding.  I forget what is in Evernote so I find myself occasionally looking through tags an exploring what is there.


Evernote has recently added “Stacks” which are groups of folders.  Why Evernote is avoiding tree structure directories or some even better M-to-N way to organize files escapes me.  Stacks look and feel like a compromise solution.  I’ve got two stack groups, but their only benefit is to reduce the number of notebooks that can be seen.  They add nothing to searching, tagging, or for that matter, organizing notebooks.  For example, I found that searching ignores stacks, so to know what notebook something came from, the notebook still has to have the stack name appended to the notebook name.

c. What is your history with Evernote?



d. How did you get all that crap into Evernote?

Note: As a Mac user I love my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (PC version), I first owned a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M but it just was not well suited to getting started with getting things done.  The models lower in number than the 1500 haver 12 page paper feeds.  The 50 page paper feed on the 1500 is much better suited to getting through a bow wave of paper in setting up your GTD filing system in Evernote.  Buy the best, only cry once!

But, to get your documents into Evernote, you are not limited to buying a desk top scanner.  You can use scan-to-file, scan-to-email, or scan-to-desktop on your office copier.  Most modern devices have this capability.  Evernote accounts come with email addresses you can use to send material.  To see what your Evernote email account is log in to Evernote:


Then go to settings:


Then scroll down and look at the email in the lower left-hand corner.  You can even reset this address if you find that you are getting spam sent to your Evernote account.


In the old days (one year ago) if you scanned a bunch of documents and wanted to upload more than your monthly Evernote quota, This is the answer you got from John McGeachieVP Group Accounts Evernote (source email to Bill Meade from 12/1/2010):

All Mailboxes  Found 2 matches for search

This year, however, you can buy as many gigabytes of upload as you need for $5 each.  While last year I had to feed PDFs into Evernote 20 by 20 at the end of every month in order to avoid disabling my Evernote account, this year, we can upload to our heart’s content and then buy more space if we need it.  The link to buy more upload space is hidden in plain sight.  Step 1: Log in to your Evernote account on the web, Step 2: Believe that “Increase upload allowance” is on the task bar of your browser Window, Step 3: Click on the button and follow instructions.  You can read more about this feature here.



e. What is your Evernote advice for people who got on the bucking bronco of GTD and got violently thrown off

Paul Hawken in GROWING A BUSINESS says “The market gives you permission to do one thing well.”   When I think back to my own falling off the GTD wagon, when I observe my students falling off and then grappling with what went wrong, and how to get back on, for some reason I think of “The market gives you permission to do one thing well.”

I think the reason is, that our brains give us permission to do ONE NEW THING well at a time.  When you read GTD, you learn that you need to do several things well:

  • Capture one idea, one piece of paper.
  • Boil down stuff into next actions.
  • Boot-up a general reference filing system.
  • Sweep multiple in-boxes.
  • Review everything once a week.

And on top of this we get distracted with ancillary goals like eliminating clutter and implementing new scanners.  The fact is, one thing is a lot to change and have the change work.  Most people  are not going to change five things at once and have all five stick.

This comes back to Evernote and getting back on to the GTD wagon because I think that getting Evernote really working well, is the one most powerful change most people can make, in order to keep themselves benefitting from GTD over a long period of time.  The more stuff you have in Evernote, the more your brain will trust your system.

f. How do I get Evernote working smoothly?

There are two ways to use Evernote: (1) Primarily as a general reference filing system, (2) As a next actions tracking system as Michael Keithley advocates on his blog.  So, the first step is to decide what you want to do with Evernote.  My implementation is to use Evernote as a general reference filing system.

The second step is to look at barriers between information and Evernote.  If most of the information you need to move into Evernote is electronic, then you need to streamline your data flow.  For example, I have a lot of PDFs that I move into Evernote.  I could email them, except that they are often too large to email.  So, I’ve gotten into the habit of opening Evernote on the left hand side of my screen, and my PDF folders on the right hand side of the screen and then dragging and dropping PDF files directly on notebooks.


Another method to move small electronic documents to Evernote, is to forward the document via email.  This is perfect for small eMail messages that you suspect will generate or support next actions in the future.

Wherever your reference information is, focus on the barrier between where the information is now, and Evernote notebooks.  Whatever it takes to move that information sideways, that is what you need to focus on to get Evernote working smoothly.  The process that I see work for my students is as follows:

  • Pre-sort the documents.  Get the “next action” documents into banker’s boxes.
  • Immediately recycle all the documents that will not be scanned (80% of documents usually).
  • Find a way to scan.  Borrow a scanner, use the work copier, buy a scanner, whatever.  Just get the files into PDF.
  • Import documents into Evernote.  *Note* Put a repeating appointment 5 days before the end of your Evernote monthly cycle, to give you time to review any documents you have (for example, pictures) that you can use up your monthly capacity on capturing.

Once you pre-sort your documents, you’ll have more space in your office, and the wisdom of buying the cheaper Fujitsu Scanner will be highly suspect as you look at 3 or 4 banker’s boxes, and 3x the time to scan your documents because you saved $150.  *Again* I bought the cheap one first, then the expensive one.  The expensive (S1500) one is more than worth the difference!  Buy the best, only cry once!

Space is hope, especially when after you have the paper in Evernote, you will have access to your memories bound up in that paper, for the first time since you filed the paper.  At least that is how it worked for me.

Hope this helps Dave, thanks for asking for the Evernote guide!

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