Any productivity system is really about growth and learning. You learn how your brain best processes random bits of information in to tasks. That also changes over time, and someone else’s system may not work exactly for you.

As I’ve been reading Getting Things Done again I’ve been realizing that there were components of the system I just wasn’t doing. Maybe I wasn’t ready, life hadn’t become crazy enough yet or maybe I just didn’t read the book with intent.

Whatever the reason is today we’re going to look at Evernote as my reference file for my personal GTD process.

Reference Files

The lack of a good general-reference file can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in implementing an efficient personal action-management system. If filing isn’t easy and fast (and even fun!), you’ll tend to stack things instead of filing them. – David Allen Getting Things Done

For me reference files are things that I want to track, but aren’t really actionable at this time. Like the list of books I want to read in the future. Like the next 5 products I’ve thought about. Like the preschool sign my wife wanted me to grab just in case we wanted to send our kid there.

I can’t read 22 books at once and make any reasonable progress on them, nor can I work on freelancing and 5 different products. Part of my daily NO is deciding that I’m focused on 1 product and 1 ‘business’ book. The rest of that can be stored any way you want.

For a long time I had all my ‘reference’ stuff in OmniFocus and I wrote a bit about changing to text files. Well I changed again about 6 months to Evernote.

Why Evernote and not text files

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 8.39.00 AM

Yes text files are likely to be compatible with whatever computer my grandkids will have. Text file apps open faster than Evernote on my iPhone 4. What they don’t do is deal with all the other stuff I need to reference.

So that picture of the pre-school sign would have to have sat in my iPhone photo app. That PDF I wanted to reference for a client project would have sat in some folder on my hard drive. Those license keys for a client would be sitting in my email.

Evernote provides me with a central storage place for all those items and that reduces my cognitive load.

I don’t have to think about what type of data I’m looking for, I just pop open Evernote (from any of my 4 possible access points) and search for the content I want.

The OCR features on images, the ubiquity of sync and the myriad of data trump the possible future proof properties of text files for me.

My files are still in all those alternate spots as well, but I don’t have to dig through them. No searching through hundreds of emails to find that key but if Evernote goes belly up, I haven’t lost the keys. They’re just less convenient to find.

No this may not work for you, but I hope that it does help you on your journey to a productive and sane life.

2 responses to “Evernote as my GTD reference”

  1. Edward Caissie Avatar

    I’ve been using Evernote for years. I actually have two relatively active accounts. One I use strictly for the “day-job” and the other (Premium account) is for everything else. I agree with it being one of the best information storage and retrieval utilities. Anything important goes into Evernote then I can simply choose my device of convenience and search for the information I need.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I tried Evernote a bunch of times before it stuck. Not sure how I’d do without it now. I’m also on the Premium account and it’s totally worth it.