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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about deciding what goes where and when.
Hello and welcome to episode 11 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
One of the most frequent questions I get is about managing apps used to maintain a great productivity system. I recommend you have a calendar, a to-do list manager, a notes app and a cloud storage drive. I’ve been recommending this set up for years and I do so because I know it works. But once you have those apps, managing what goes in them can cause problems, particularly if you have never had a system in place before.
This week’s question is related to this whole area and I think my answer and recommendations can help you if you also suffer with this problem. So, enough of me talking. Let me now hand you over to the recently recovered mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
For this week’s question, Nicola writes from France:
How do you distinguish between what you put in Evernote and what you put in Todoist? I have a really hard time with this and find I have tasks and notes all over the place. Thanks, Nicola
Thank YOU Nicola for an excellent question.
This is a problem I find many people have. Because of the way some of these apps are trying to be a one stop solution for all our needs it can become quite confusing where we should be putting things. Evernote, for example, has the ability to create checklists and reminders and become a to-do list manager. Todoist, my other app of choice, has the ability to store notes and files. Because of this it is very easy to start dumping notes in Todoist and to-dos in Evernote.
The problem I have found when an app tries to be all things is that in order to achieve this, the app has to make compromises. Usually, the interface becomes messy and difficult to read, or in order to get things to work properly, you need to have a doctorate in astro physics, something, most of do not have. I personally, have an allergy to complexity. My brain usually just switches off when faced with anything complex—I lose interest.
Evernote, for example, puts your reminders at the top of your notes list. Now, on a desktop that works okay, not great, but okay. Evernote on a mobile device becomes much more difficult and finding your to-do list for the day, becomes an exercise that is just way to complex, for me.
Todoist again, does not work great with notes. Sure you can add notes to individual tasks, and you can add notes to the project itself. But once you have checked off the task, the notes disappear with it. This means if you want to retrieve your notes at a later date you have to go hunting round in the archive. Not the best use of your time, I can assure you.
This is why I have always maintained what I call hard edges between my apps. My to-do list manager contains the tasks I need or want to do “the whats”. My note taking app contains all the support materials, the “hows” if you like. And my cloud drive, contains the files I am working to make the project happen. This makes it so much easier for me when I come to processing stuff I have collected. If it is something that is telling me what to do, ie. “Call Jennifer about next week’s workshop”, then that goes into my to-do list manager. If I receive an itinerary for the workshop from Jennifer, then that would go into my note taking app. And if I have to prepare a presentation for the workshop, then the Keynote file would be stored in my cloud drive.
Of course, a lot of things can be going on in the background in this scenario. When I talk to Jennifer, she may say: “I’ll email you the itinerary later today”. Okay, now I am waiting for something. I would create a task in Todoist telling me I am waiting for a file from Jennifer and put that under my waiting for label. If I am to prepare a presentation for the workshop, I would have a note in my notes app with my ideas and sketches for slide design and layout. But the thing is, each item has it’s place and each item is labeled or tagged appropriately so I can find what I need, when I need it instantly.
And that’s the goal really. “Everything in its place and a place for everything”.
What I have found is when someone is starting out on the road to greater productivity and organisation, they have to spend time thinking about where something should go. On a Monday morning, after a good night’s sleep making these decisions is easy. But late on a Thursday evening, after a day of back to back meetings and you are exhausted from your efforts, these decisions are not so easy. And that is when things begin to slip.
Your To-do list manager’s inbox is full of tasks and notes. Your cloud drive has files you are working on all over the place and you haven’t touched your note taking app. This is where taking fifteen to twenty minutes out to tidy things up can be a huge help. Maybe you can come back from your lunch a little earlier and get things organised, Or you could come in to work a few minutes early and get the stuff into the right places. Either way, those fifteen to twenty minutes should be considered an investment. Because later in the day they can save you hours of searching and thinking.
I’ve been following this philosophy for years now and the processing takes me very little time. In fact, when I look at my inbox, I just naturally start processing. This is something you will get better and faster at doing over time. But it is a habit you need to develop. At first it will take you more time than you anticipate, that’s normal. You are after all, changing the way you think. But if you stick at it, you will get faster and faster at it.
Another tip here is to have tools for specific purposes. If I am attending a meeting, I always take my notebook with me. I prefer writing meeting notes by hand as it just feels more natural to me. After the meeting, I pull out my todos and enter those into Todoist, cross them off once they are in Todoist and then use Evernote’s scanning app and scan the notes directly into my Evernote inbox. Because the to-dos have been crossed off and entered into my to-do list, I know that what’s left is a note related to the meeting.
Now of course, I do not always have time to pull out the to-dos immediately after the meeting, but I know the note’s not been scanned, so at the next available opportunity I can quickly scan the note for to-dos, enter them in to Todoist and cross them off from the note. This process takes around two minutes to do and I usually find I do this while I am waiting for the next meeting to start anyway.
Part of achieving greater personal productivity is really in having the right system set up and those systems naturally fit in with your personality. This is why I know that there is no perfect system. The way my brain works and processes things is likely to be very different from the way your brain works and processes things. I like things to be in their place and if they are not I feel uncomfortable. My wife on the other hand is the complete opposite and feels very comfortable with things all over the place. Much to my frustration.
But no matter how your brain works, having a system in place that allows you to find what you need with the least effort and time, when you need it should always be your goal. Mixing up your to-dos with you notes and files is a recipe for an unsuccessful attempt at getting yourself better organised. You will spend far too much time looking for stuff and not enough time working on stuff. But if you have a system in place that you know where everything is, you will quickly get so much better at making these decisions with little to no effort at all. It’s just something you need to stick at.
My advice, is don’t be tempted by apps that try to sell you on their ability to be all things for all situations. Those apps, in my experience are far too compromised to work effectively and they don’t have the hard edges between the various roles they are trying to be. Choose separate apps for each part of your productivity system. Make sure those apps can be link to each other and keep your to-dos in your to-do list manager, you events on your calendar, your notes and reference materials in your notes and the files you’re working on in your cloud drive. Doing things this way will give you a much cleaner, more efficient system.
Thank you for listening and if you have a question you would like answering on this show, please get in touch either by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. Lists for all these places are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.