Raymond Sidney-Smith is a fellow productivity enthusiast and avid Evernote users. I invited Ray to write this guest post to show you how Evernote impacts his productivity on a daily basis and how it could work for you as well.
I’m going to walk you through a typical workday of mine, so you can see how Evernote integrates productively in my life. It’s with our similarities in mind of being a fellow working professional that I’m writing to you, and the specifics or differences between our lives and work styles you can rework to your own best uses.
I’m an active (perhaps hyperactive) guy and so my personal productivity system and tools are not only vital to keeping distress limited, but they also serve many times as an exemplar to my audience, my colleagues, and my team. If a tool becomes a part of my productivity arsenal it’s because it has the features espoused by Charlie Gilkey of ProductiveFlourishing.com: simplicity, usefulness, aesthetics, connectedness, and cohesivesness; I would add adaptativity and durability to that list. Evernote is my trusted sidekick as my extended mind in keeping my vitality and sanity intact because it includes all these resiliently productive features. Here, I’d like to explain what I do and, where possible, I will link to published Evernote notes or resources for how-to’s in order to conserve the length of this article.
My mornings are built upon habits so that my success of each day is built upon the mantra I’ve heard many, notably Anthony Robbins, explain as “…small acts done consistently.” The reason for this is that I want my willpower reserves to be saved for the hard, deep work of my workday and not squandered on the trivialities better left to automaticity. Evernote helps in two capacities here for me.
Habit Tracking with Evernote
For one side, I keep a list of checklists for habits I’d like to develop in Evernote as a series of notes grouped by my life categories. One way that I like to keep these habit-tracking lists organized is by creating a Table of Contents note and then cutting and pasting that table of contents into a single “Habit Development” note. I maintain this list by capturing into it each categorical note the habits I’d like to develop when the thought occurs to me, then placing it in the list according to my own personal priorities. I try to keep the number of habits under development within the Goldilocks zone—not too many and not too few; enough to keep me challenged with skill difficulty with the steps outlined for ease. These are all tied together in a series so that they flow naturally from the time I wake up until I start work.
Sharing Notes in Evernote
As you can see in the prior section I linked to a public note from my Evernote note for my life categories. This is just one of several ways that you can share and collaborate using Evernote. In addition to placing a note on a webpage that anyone (with or without Evernote) can see, you can also privately share notes and share entire notebooks (notebooks are basically groups of notes) with others who use Evernote Web, or the mobile or desktop software. These shared notes and notebooks can have read-only or edit/invite access so you have control over who can do what to the notes you share.
Getting My Agenda Right in Evernote
On the other side, I want to review my calendar and tasks and projects for today without primarily looking at my email inboxes first thing in the morning. Again, I don’t want to get tied up in checking and responding to email as my first activity of the day so avoiding my email apps is important to me. Here I employ Evernote to do this easily. I have my calendar and task manager email me a daily list of my events, tasks, and projects. These email messages arrive in my inbox and then are forwarded into Evernote as two separate notes automatically to a specific notebook. Next, I utilize a Gmail inbox filter that tags these two emails with a special tag “todayagenda” and forwards them into Evernote.
Now I know when I awake this is already done and awaiting me in Evernote without needing to be distracted by email. I add my thoughts about various events (e.g., agenda items with Jane) or comment that these projects or tasks must be done on later dates based on my calendar today, merge the notes into one, and move these notes to a shared notebook with my assistant. (As a handy aside, I have an IFTTT recipe that will automatically execute an email notifying her of the fact that I’ve shared and made comments for her review in Evernote.) If anything needs to be moved or if I need to change my project or task priorities for the day they are now delegated accordingly while I focus on my morning routine. (You could easily outsource this to an on-demand virtual assistant service such as Fancy Hands.)
In addition to this automation, under the Evernote Reminders list, I review alongside my agenda my projects’ support notes that have a synchronized reminder in Evernote with my task manager. I want to make sure I have access to project support materials if I need to review them to make an informed decision.
Journalling with Evernote
Finally, I use Evernote for personal daily journaling where I have a “Journal” stack and a journal notebook for each year (i.e., “2014”, “2015”, “2016” and so on) in that Evernote stack. (If you’re feeling secretive about something you’ve written, feel free to encrypt text in the note with a password only you know. But, don’t forget it as no one at Evernote can help you recover that encrypted text!)
Reference-Capturing Anywhere with Evernote
My days tend to be rather sporadic, as I might be training in front of an audience a few workdays of one week and doing coaching, consulting, or training in small or one-to-one sessions the rest of the workdays. So I spend most of it capturing into Evernote, my calendar, or my task manager.
For these capturing moments, I use templates in Evernote to make my life so much easier! I have a Templates notebook. And, in that notebook I keep all the note templates that I utilize throughout the day.
In addition to note templates—where I know specifically which notebook I will move it to once I’ve completed it—I have changed my default notebook in Evernote to be named Inbox. This makes it easy to capture using Quick Note creation options on desktop or mobile, or emailing notes into Evernote. The most-captured content into Evernote for me is project support materials and other reference items; anything questionably actionable goes into my task manager’s inbox for further processing and organizing.
Keeping in Touch with Evernote
One particular way I use Evernote that I feel like most people can benefit is from managing my relationships in Evernote. I keep my personal and professional relationships in dossiers about anyone that I care to stay in touch with in Evernote.
Initially, I wanted a way to keep in touch with friends and family as I moved and traveled for work around the country. There were some applications (such as customer relationship management software, or CRMs) that tout these capabilities in the professional world, but none that have lasted in the personal relationship app space. (I would be remiss to say that if you use LinkedIn, it does have a Profile Reminder feature for keeping in touch with professional relationships, so I’d check it out for those who are on the professional social network.)
So, I created a Personal Relationships notebook. Each person I care about gets a separate note eponymously named. In each note, I keep contact information and other pertinent details (e.g., favorite color is kelly green, hates sushi, and dog’s name is Pippin), and then I set a Reminder for the next time I’d like to be in touch with each person. Mind you, this is rather arbitrary for some people but not so for others. If I know I’m going to be in San Francisco in two months, I’ll likely set the reminder for a month before my trip and that way I can make plans to see my friend while I’m there. I’ll also frequently identify the best times of day and ways (SMS text message, phone call, Google Hangouts chat, or Skype; all of these are mostly synchronous, real-time communication modes) to reach the person
Would you like to have this template for your Evernote system? You can get it here.
As well, if it’s someone like a close friend that I will likely spend a good amount of time on the phone with catching up, I’ll make sure to set that reminder for when I’m next going on a long drive, waiting at an airport, waiting for an oil change for my car, or other such potentially open times alone.
And, when do I set that reminder, you ask? Good question. I set it as soon as I have spoken to that person. Whenever I connect with anyone in my Personal Relationships notebook, I finish the exchange and then immediately click the Reminders (clock) icon and set a new date and time. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s now habit and reduces friends and former colleagues falling through the cracks because “life got too busy.” Another benefit of having these is that if you start to see too many personal or professional contacts in your notebook, you know it’s not manageable. I try to stay within 150 contacts because I know that’s all I can manage in my life.
How about everyone else? Well, I try to connect on Social Media and via email when they come to mind and serendipity takes hold. You can’t please everyone!
End of Workday Routine in Evernote
Back in 2012, I read 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman. I had already practiced my own set of productivity routines throughout the day, but Bregman helped to corral these disparate routines into a cohesive string—a meta-routine that I practice to this day. Below is an amalgam of Bregman’s evening routine questions and my adaptations that is part of my Evernote note template:
REFLECT ON YOUR DAY
- How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
- What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do differently or the same tomorrow?
- Whom did I interact with? (Actions: And who do I need to update? Or, thank? Or, ask a question? Or, share feedback? Or forgive, even if you don’t say it to them?)
- What has your attention? Capture it.
Journal: How do you feel about the professional circumstances of your day? What things did you do today that really brought happiness to your work?
Accomplishments: iDoneThis (app/website)
Personal Thoughts: Journal (Moleskine notebook, which is then image-captured into my Evernote journal notebook (which I mentioned above), or I’ll type in the note directly below my morning journal entry)
This takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes and has meant all the world to me in the way I’ve been able to improve my professional relationships and correct course on projects over time. I highly recommend it.
Meal Planning in Evernote
After I’ve come home, I am faced with the toughest part of my day: dinner! Coming to a consensus on what everyone wants to eat for dinner is tougher than sanctions negotiations at the United Nations.
That said, Evernote definitely eases my pain. I’m an avid collector of New York Times Cooking recipes, which has a handy integration with Evernote; whenever I see a recipe that looks appealing I click “Save” and it’s automagically saved to my preferred Evernote notebook (which is called Recipes). I can then tag it with a variety of pertinent tags: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dessert, drink, hotmeal, coldmeal, springsummer, fallwinter, vegetarian, pork, and/or seafood. Now, when debating dinner choices, I can quickly search. In August, I might do a search similar to “notebook:Recipes tag:dinner tag:springsummer -tag:fallwinter -tag:pork -tag:seafood chicken rice” (which you can create a base Saved Search, “Spring and Summer Dinner Recipes,” then add the search terms “chicken and rice”) to see what kinds of warm-weather chicken and rice recipes I can make tonight.
Get Started Today
I read recently an article about how similar we all are. This isn’t to say you should enter some existential crisis of life purpose, start dying your hair purple to match your purple polka dot-colored socks, or decide to go all Steve Jobs on us all and wear the same clothes every day for the rest of your life. My point is that while people want to be so different in ways that don’t matter that we end up forgetting the ways in which we are so similar that matter most. We love, we feel pain, we smile, we share the same 24 hours per day on this planet, we eat to sustain our energy, and we share 99.9 percent of the same genes.
It’s with this sentiment in mind that I write this article about living a workday in my life with Evernote (which comes in three flavors: Basic, Plus, and Premium), the powerful note-taking software available on every major mobile, computer and browser platform. I hope by reading this you’ve seen some possibilities to make your workdays better with Evernote.
There are so many other ways that I use Evernote throughout my workday. My hope here was to offer some more universal use cases and that you can relate to and adapt for your own. Think about every area of your life that needs a bit more organization, then think about what information, template or other resource you would want at hand to make it easier, more consistent, and at-hand. These are the items that belong in or linked from Evernote. It reduces the energy to remember and the barrier to capture when thinking, where is that information? Or where should I keep this? Evernote is moldable in so many ways to the needs and wants of your personal and professional life. I hope Evernote fills those productivity gaps, so here’s to your productive life!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through a workday in Ray Sidney-Smith’s life with Evernote. I want to tell you a little bit more about him in case you want to reach out to him beyond the blog comments here. Ray Sidney-Smith is the productivity enthusiast who organizes and facilitates the two largest, monthly Getting Things Done-inspired Personal Productivity Meetups in the US (in DC and NYC) for the past eight years, and hosts several other productivity-themed podcasts, blogs, and activities you may find useful.
In addition, Ray’s professional life focuses on helping Small Business entrepreneurs with marketing and managing their companies using Web, Mobile, Social Media and new, burgeoning technologies. He consults, coaches, trains, and speaks to hundreds of professionals, owners, stakeholders, and executives every month about productivity, technology, psychology, marketing, and management. He happens also to be an Evernote Certified Consultant, Pacific Community Ventures BusinessAdvising.org Mentor, and Google Small Business Advisor (Productivity).