Springpad and Evernote – My Guide to Getting Things Done
UPDATE: The new Springpad is here … And I’m thrilled to be have worked directly with the Springpad Team to be the Author of the Official Springpad eBook entitled Smarter Notebooks. Smarter Sharing. A Smarter Way to Get Things Done. Click here to buy it for just $5!
Choices, choices, choices. There are so many apps out there to help you get organized that you can literally spend more time searching and setting up your so-called perfect setup that you will actually end up spending less time getting things done. I’ve spoken before about how the vast sea of productivity tools can actually make you less productive.
Being a productivity junkie though, I can appreciate the need to get things done. Reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done changed my life. Yet, while it sounds somewhat paradoxical, it also made my life more complicated. When I saw the errors in my unproductive pre-GTD live, I realized I needed to change. So I setup 43 folders and bought a half-dozen Moleskine notebooks (which I have professed my love for here), post-it notes, index cards, and a Fisher Space Pen. I read here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here to learn how others setup their context, projects and next actions. All of this was fine and good – and frankly, what I think I needed to best understand how to leverage the most out of the GTD methodology. However, I knew something was missing – the ability to quickly search by context and area of focus quickly no matter where I was or what device I had handy. Enter digital GTD.
After much research, I found Remember the Milk for my tasks. Then Toodledo. Then Nozbe. Then Todosit. Then Hi-Task. Then … well, you get the point. However, using these apps were only effective for tasks – not for my reference files. That’s when Evernote came along and changed everything for me. I read dozens of blog posts and forums on how to setup Evernote as your one and only GTD resource for tasks and reference folders. My good virtual friends at 40-tech have a great post about using just 1 notebook for Evernote for everything. I also played with Nozbe and Evernote and loved that marriage between the two as they play in the GTD sandbox rather nicely. Then I found a way to leverage the tags in Evernote with Egretlist for a really efficient way of managing tasks and reference files. Then, it occurred to me that Evernote was becoming ever so un-useful to me. I was creating so many tags and I was trying to figure out why. I kept tagging and made new tags and I felt no real sense of understanding why I had the tags I did. Since I couldn’t create nested notebooks (which you can now), I was creating parent and child tags; with the parent tags mirroring the notebook of the same name so I knew which tags were associated with that notebook. And on…and on…and on…
But you see, all of this playing made me have to take a rather large step back and I had to figure out a way to get back on task – which spurred a quite a viral buzz with that post. It also made me realize that I needed to simplify my life, and leveraging my presentation skills, created that presentation. I came really closed to having GTD burnout – if such a thing is possible. Then, I took another look at Springpad after it revamped everything they were doing from the ground up and realized … holy cow … this is what I’ve been missing. It was as if a burst of blinding light was shining in front of me, the heavens opened up and Handel’s Messiah played from the heavens.
With that all being said, I thought I’d share, since I’ve been asked many times on Twitter, how I use Springpad (and how I have used Evernote) in all of my areas of focus in my life. I’ve organized this by showing the pros and cons of both setups. Of course, this is just my humble view of the digital GTD world – I’m happy to hear your feedback in the comments below.
The Evernote Setup
In both programs you start off with a blank canvas. You create notebooks for each of your areas of focus. From there, you add your notes and tag accordingly. Evernote is plain. There’s no escaping that the web app is boring and everyone knows it. The desktop app is frankly not that exciting either. It’s essentially the same interface as Outlook, which is good because it makes it easier to understand.
In the beginning, I focused on two major areas of focus – work and my personal life. So, in Evernote I created a notebook that said Work and a notebook that said Home. For my tags, I created a parent tag that said Clients and child tags for the names of all of my clients. I created another parent tag called Products and the child tags listed each of these products I oversee. In Home, it was sort of all over the place. I had tags for each of my kids, my blog, bookmarks, movies, coffee, beer I like, etc. Once of the main advantages to Evernote - which it still has over Springpad – is the ability to e-mail any file whatsoever. So, I can add a PDF and it’ll search its contents. I can add a picture and with its unique built-in image viewer, it’ll read the text on the pictures I took. Then, I started e-mailing my e-mails I received at work and began e-mailing them with the tags and notebook in the subject line. With Evernote’s incredible search engine, I could find any note I wanted while I was on the phone with a colleague or a client. I even ran into ways to build some very complex search strings and then save them so that you could re-run them whenever you needed. Evernote became my virtual file folder so that I could quickly access what I needed and whenever I needed it … after all, isn’t that the point?
When I began leveraging Egretlist, I created another parent tag called GTD. It’s children tags included: @contexts and Names (folks I spoke to on a daily/weekly basis). Its’ children tags included @contact, @computer, waiting for, someday/maybe. So, on any given note in Evernote, I’d have something that looked like this: “10/12/10 Follow-up call with Joe Smith” Tag: ABC Firm, XYZ product, .EFG Project, #Sally, waiting for. Then, if the task within the note was completed, I had to remember to delete the tag. I’m not joking.
Here’s the problem – with well over 1,000 notes in Evernote, e-mailing my e-mails, uploading PDFs, creating more tags, etc – its usefulness was falling to the wayside. It became too much. Not only that, but searching on the go on my DROID and the iPad became a bit burdensome as well. For projects, I tried only copying/pasting excerpts out of e-mails and see if I that would help keep it in just one note as opposed to multiple notes, but I think it was too late … I hit the Evernote wall. I realized that my call to simplify your life should apply to myself as well. Re-enter Springpad.
How Springpad Changed Everything
Springpad allows you to take that blank canvas and decorate it with beautiful wallpaper. It is gorgeous. No, really, it is beautiful. Shy of sounding like Steve Jobs, it’s eye candy and it makes it more exciting for an end user. With all of its latest updates, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the web, iPad, iPhone or DROID, it all looks the same. That’s just genius.
When it comes to my GTD setup, here’s what I do in Springpad:
- I create context categories for each of my tasks – i.e., @contact, @computer, waiting for, someday/maybe
- I create tasks whenever I’m in that particular area of focus (old house, new house, work, blog, etc)
- I create reminders if I need to get it done by a certain date (if its actionable on a specific day, I’ll create an event)
- To focus on Next Actions, I flag those items I want to focus in on. I can then click on “Flagged Stuff” to focus my time and attention on my Next Action items. When I’m done, I simply click the flag again to take it out of my Flagged Stuff.
- I can then get a dashboard view if I wanted to of everything that needs to get done in all my areas of focus by context when I go to the “All my Stuff” view. This allows me to handle everything I need to under @contact or @computer depending upon the time and energy I have to complete those tasks!
- Sort tags my alphabetical and/or by number of tags
- Sort tasks my category in name order (i.e., why is it that my “waiting for” tasks show up before the @ sign in @contact??)
- Sort notes by type
- Sorting subnotes by date
- Complex search strings such as “tag:ABC firm”
- E-mail PDF files
- E-mail notes to a certain tag/notebook
- E-mail notes as a note/task/event