Getting Sales Done Using GTD Tactics

3. September 2013 08:52 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

When talking about GTD, most of us think of it as a general productivity system, but today I’m going to share with you how to use the same GTD principles to boost your sales results. This blog post will be especially useful for sales professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs who require a simple, methodical system for processing leads and closing more sales. More...

How To Become a Highly-Skilled GTD Widget Cranker

22. August 2013 08:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

GTD practitioners often refer to the act of completing tasks as "cranking widgets." Psychologically, it's gratifying to think of your work as a box full of unfinished widgets that you crank through a machine, toss into the finished pile, and afterwards, go home to enjoy the rest of your day. It’s psychologically gratifying because there’s no thinking involved when it comes to cranking widgets - the thinking part has already been done. You simply crank widgets, fill a box and then go home. The reality though is that the majority of people struggle to get a good grasp on their workload and how to measure their productivity because the work that they are expected to do requires a lot of thinking and doesn't involve the production of a physical widget, so their work product is also something intangible. In this blog post, we'll examine how to take all your complex office work and convert them into a box of un-finished widgets for you to crank. More...

Understanding GTD’s 6 Horizons of Focus

5. August 2013 08:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

Critics of David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD) methodology often complain that his system adopts too much of a horizontal approach to time management; in other words, his system focuses on managing small day-to-day tasks without any sense of higher purpose or direction. While it's true that the horizontal workflow methodology of GTD has really taken most of the center stage in terms of popularity, the truth is that it's only half of the total GTD equation. The other half of GTD is very much a vertical planning system and David Allen even coined the phrase "horizons of focus" to describe this vertical process. Utilizing both horizontal and vertical time management will make your GTD system more productive.  In this blog post, I’ll explain this less-popular, but still critical component of the GTD methodology.

Horizontal Versus Vertical Planning

GTD can be broken into two distinct parts: 1) horizontal planning and 2) vertical planning. Horizontal planning is the more popular part of GTD, which involves collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing next actions. Horizontal planning is focused with handling all those granular tasks and to-dos that make up our day-to-day lives. More...

7 Ways to Overcome Procrastination

22. May 2013 07:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

ProcrastinationOne of the common complaints about the Getting Things Done (GTD) method is that it teaches you how to get organized, but it doesn’t do much to address the actual "doing" part of getting those next actions done. In this blog post, I'll go into some of the common causes of procrastination and how to overcome them. More...

4 Steps to Getting Projects Done with GTD

13. May 2013 08:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

It’s one thing to write about how to get things done, but what happens when those things are projects? GTD practitioners often get stuck when it comes to projects simply because projects in and of themselves are not actionable, so when projects get lumped together with next actions, it’s like throwing a wrench in the gears of your productivity. In this post, I’ll explain how to make projects work within your GTD system. More...

8 Ways to Capture Information Using Evernote

1. May 2013 08:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

One of the core concepts of GTD is the process of capturing all the bits of information that flow into your daily life and storing them in a trusted system until you can process them later. What complicates the whole situation of capturing information is that you have to deal with both analog and digital information flying at you from both sides. You get post-it notes pasted to your monitor, you get email receipts, you get paper receipts, you get text messages, etc. The fact that you have a ton of information coming in that are in two incompatible formats means that you potentially have more “collection buckets” than you should which only serves to diminish the effectiveness of the GTD process.

Although some GTD’ers are die-hard fans of either analog capturing or digital capturing, my philosophy is to find a system where you can live with both - because let’s face it, paper isn’t going away anytime soon. That capturing system for me is Evernote and in this blog post, I’ll describe some applications on how it can be used in a dual analog/digital environment to collect and manage all the stuff that flows into your life.

1. Capturing Typewritten Notes

This is probably the most simplistic approach to capturing information using Evernote, but it’s still worth mentioning here. Saving a typewritten note in Evernote is as simple as clicking on the “new note” button and typing away. Evernote automatically saves as you go, so there’s no need to worry about having to save your note before you exit. This application is great for when you’re working away at your computer and some random task or thought pops into your mind. You simply create a new note in Evernote and then keep working away. You’re also able to do the same thing on the go with the Evernote smartphone app.

2. Capturing Your Emails

Email capturing is probably the single best Evernote hack that you can set up because it enables you to clean out your inbox, knowing that all your emails are sitting safely in your Evernote software. You can either send emails to your Evernote account manually, or have your email system automatically forward a copy of all incoming emails over to your Evernote account.

One of the prime benefits of storing your emails in Evernote is that you’ll then be able to leverage Evernote’s powerful search features to find what you need. All it really takes is a few choice key words to bring up the email and any other relevant information that you want. Evernote will even save the attachments that come with your emails, so you'll have access to all your documents as well.

3. Capturing Multi-Media Into Evernote

You’re not limited to inputting text by any means in Evernote. The software allows you to capture audio recordings, video from your webcam and digital ink from a stylus. I can’t say that I use these options too much myself, but if you’re more inclined to take notes this way, it’s available for you.

4. Capturing Your Website Clippings

See something on a website that you want to capture? It's pretty easy to do with Evernote's web-clipper plugin. Just install the plug-in and it allows you to clip parts or the entire webpage with a click of your mouse. This is a great option if you're doing research or you're a writer collecting reference material. A somewhat hidden feature that many people aren’t aware of is the fact that Evernote will also allow you to clip images and screenshots which can be useful for people like web designers.

5. Capturing Paper by Scanning it

Getting around paper is virtually impossible these days. You’ll always have receipts and documents that get sent to you in paper format. Generally, you’ll need a high level of resolution with important documents for them to be accepted by organizations like the IRS, so in these cases, the camera on your smartphone won’t suffice. However, migrating your paper documents into Evernote is simple if you have a scanner handy. Most inexpensive multi-function printers these days have a built-in flatbed scanner that is plenty powerful enough to digitize your paper documents. If you’re more of the road warrior type, then a company called Doxie manufactures a cordless scanner that integrates perfectly with Evernote, making document scanning portable and simple.

6. Capturing Paper With

One of the drawbacks about digitizing your own documents is that it can take a tremendous amount of time using standard office equipment if you have a lot of documents to digitize. Let’s face it, productivity isn’t exactly increased if you’re sitting in front of the office scanner all day long. But never fear because there's a great service out there called Shoeboxed that will digitize all your documents for you. Shoeboxed works similar to Netflix. For a monthly fee, they send you pre-paid envelopes to your location. You fill the envelopes with all the documents that you want digitized and send it back to their secure processing facility in North Carolina. They then digitize all your documents with IRS-grade resolution and make those images available to you on their SSL-encrypted website. The nice thing about Shoeboxed is that they integrate directly with Evernote, so as soon as they digitize your documents, they are sent directly to your Evernote account. This is a great time saver if you have a lot of receipts and documents that you need scanned every month. I highly recommend it.

7. Capturing With a Smartphone Camera

Evernote pushes the envelope of what you can do with the 1.0 digital snapshot. Sure, you can take snapshots of friends, family and locations and send it to Evernote, but to limit yourself to just that application would be a mediocre use of a smartphone camera and Evernote.

The game-changer here lies within Evernote’s OCR technology that allows it to read text within digital snapshots. Why is that important? Well, if your images contain text, then that means that they are now searchable just like any text document you have in Evernote without any added tags or notes attached to that photo.

So let's say that you were passing by a restaurant and you wanted to capture their menu for later. Well, so long as the name of the restaurant is legible in the photo, Evernote should be able to read it and you can do a search for that restaurant later on. Or let’s say that you’re taking off in an airplane and have to shut off all your electronic devices, but just at that moment, you get the idea of the century. You write it down on a cocktail napkin to get it out of your head and when you’re allowed to, you snap a photo of that napkin with your Evernote app and not only is it saved, but OCR is also applied to it making your text searchable (granted that you have neat handwriting).

If document quality isn't too much of a concern, then your camera makes for a pretty nifty portable scanner that you have with you wherever you go. This generally works best on smaller documents like notes, journal entries and receipts. There are apps available for your smartphone that will enhance the image of the document by automatically adjusting the contrast so that the text pops out more, but I’ve found that the Evernote widget apps work just fine. This application works great for meetings and conferences where there is group collaboration on a master document or a whiteboard. You can document those collaborative notes with your smart phone and send it to Evernote.

If you need your handwritten notes transcribed into text, then a great service that will do that for you is You simply upload your handwritten document image to their website and a human transcriptionist will transcribe your handwritten notes into text.

8. Capturing Audio on the Go

The Evernote smartphone app gives you two great ways to capture audio. You can either capture straight audio, or you can use the native voice-to-text software on your phone to have your note mechanically transcribed as well. This is great when you don’t have a free hand to type or you want to capture something quickly while you’re on the go.

A pretty neat service called Quicktate integrates directly with Evernote and leverages the accuracy and power of real live transcriptionists to automatically convert your audio files into written text for you. This is a great service if you prefer accurate transcriptions of your words, or if you do quite a bit of dictation. The service is inexpensive and much more accurate than the software on your smartphone can ever be. Quicktate will automatically transcribe any voice audio file uploaded to your Evernote, so it’s also a great option if you do interviews or want to transcribe your recorded meetings.


How to Stay Organized With a Tickler File

19. April 2013 09:06 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

During your quest to become a master of Inbox Zero, you’ll inevitably come across stuff in your inbox that doesn’t seem to have a home of its own. As we already know from experience, any stuff that doesn’t have a home, by default, makes its home right there in your inbox, along with all the other homeless stuff that gets piled up on top of it. 

Usually homeless stuff comes in the form of reminders. Reminders become the vagrants of your inbox simply because there’s unfinished business associated with it that prevents you from filing it away. So how do you deal with reminders?

What if I told you that there actually is a home for all those vagrant reminders? That home is a tickler file! And in this blog post, I’ll describe how this useful tool will ensure that no reminder is ever left forgotten or left sitting there in your inbox.  If I didn’t have this system, I don’t know how I would have grown remembered all the things to do for my toner cartridge business.

What is a Tickler File?

A tickler file is a reminder system that works in conjunction with your calendar and allows you to essentially “mail” physical items, such as bills, notes and paperwork, to yourself on specific future dates. It consists of a physical filing system of 43 folders - 12 folders for each month of the year and 31 folders for each day of the month. 

Let’s say that you get a bill in the mail that you want to handle three weeks from now. Most people would probably leave that bill in their inbox until the time came to handle it. With a tickler file at the ready, you simply drop that bill into the appropriate folder dated three weeks from now and presto!...That bill is now gone from your inbox and into a trusted system that won’t let you down.

And that’s the real beauty of a tickler file system. It’s a great solution for getting things out of your face that you don’t need to spend your precious attention on right now, yet it makes those items “magically” reappear when it’s time to deal with them.

Some Potential Uses of a Tickler File

What are some common applications of a tickler file? Here are a few common uses:

  1. Mailing yourself reports and support materials needed for a future meeting.
  2. Reminding yourself of bills that need to be paid before a certain date. This is great for avoiding late penalties and for maximizing your cash flow situation. 
  3. Revisiting purchases that you were considering on getting. You can either use your tickler file to give yourself a “cooling off” period before you make a large ticket purchase, or you can postpone a purchase and revisit it later when the budget is there to actually buy it.
  4. Keeping event tickets safe until the day you need them.
  5. Reminding yourself about upcoming events. Contemplating going to a conference, seminar or event, but haven’t made up your mind yet? Just throw the event brochure into your tickler file and revisit it later.
  6. Keeping travel information & documents safe. Put your passport, maps and other pertinent travel information in your tickler file for safe-keeping until the day you need it.
  7. Storing your hotel reservations and information.
  8. Mailing yourself coupons that should be used before the expiration date passes.
  9. Storing pre-written birthday cards to be sent on specific dates. This is great if you have a bunch of birthdays spread out across the month. You can batch them all together, get them all done and put each one in the appropriate folder to be mailed out on that particular day so they arrive just in time.
  10. Reminding yourself of items to be mailed off on a specific date. 
  11. Reminding yourself of subscription expirations & renewals.
  12. Reminding yourself about car and house maintenance jobs. 
  13. Giving yourself random moral-boosters. Everyone needs a little dose of positivity every now and then. Take something meaningful like an inspirational quote, a picture of a loved one(s) or even a letter addressed to your future self and “mail” it to yourself with your tickler file. It’ll bring a smile to your face when you receive it.

So Why Not Use a Calendar as a Reminder System?

If you’re a GTD purist, then you probably know that the space on your calendar is sacred and it should only be used for hard commitments and reminders, such as appointments, birthdays and deadlines. Your tasks and loose reminders should remain distinctly separate from your calendar items so that you can glance at your calendar during your daily review and immediately know what your time commitments are for that particular day. 

A tickler file compliments your calendar. It serves to house those items that you’d like to remind yourself of in the future as well as a container to house physical support documents that are necessary for that particular day, such as a spare key, a report or event tickets. Ultimately, your tickler file serves the purpose of de-cluttering your calendar so that it remains an effective time management tool for you.

Setting Up Your Tickler File

GTD tickler system using foldersSetting up your tickler file is both simple and inexpensive. You’ll need the following materials:

  • A narrow file box. Make sure it’s big enough to hold 43 manila folders and avoid getting a large file box because your folders won’t stay upright. You can find a narrow file box at any office supply store. Optionally, you can use the file drawer of your desk if you have one.
  • 12 colored manila folders. These will be used as your monthly folders. Colors are optional, but they do make identification a lot easier. If you’re going to be using your desk filing cabinet as your tickler file, then these should be hanging file folders instead of manila ones.
  • 31 plain manila folders. Make sure you get the manila folders with the tabs all in one spot for easier review. The manila folder packs with the assorted tab placements make a mess of your tickler file system.

Start by labeling each month of the year onto the 12 colored file folders. Then get the 31 day folders and label each one numerically from 1 to 31. Get your file box and place the monthly folders in the box with January facing you and December at the back of the box. Send those monthly folders that have already passed to the back of the file box. The current month should be the closest one to you. Insert the 31 day folders in the current month’s folder. Remove the days that have already passed and send them to the next month's folder. For example, if today is January 10th, then I'd remove day folders 1-9 from the January folder and send them to the February folder. Congratulations, your tickler system is now ready to use!

At the beginning of each day, take the current day's folder out of the tickler file and dump the contents into your inbox for processing. That empty folder then gets inserted at the back of the next month's folder. All the items in that folder then get processed according to standard GTD methodology. At the end of the month, the expired month’s folder gets put at the very back of the tickler file.

If you have an item that needs to be tickled beyond the 31 days, simply place it in the appropriate month’s folder and when you reach that month, empty out the contents for processing and re-assignment to one of the 31 day folders if necessary. The beauty of this system is that you’ve created a perpetual reminder system that never expires.

Analog Versus Digital Tickling

GTD tickler system in EvernoteOn one corner, there’s the GTD purists who stay true to the analog version of the tickler file system originally described by David Allen. On the other corner, are the techies who love to take the philosophy of the tickler system and hack it with the latest technology. Which one is better?

Well, who says that you can’t use both analog and digital tickling systems integrated together? Then you have the best of both worlds. Digital tickling makes it simple to send reminders, notes and emails to yourself. Analog tickling really helps for handling stuff that’s not digital, like files, reports, tickets and small items. I say use whatever you’re most comfortable with, but I’m a digital person that utilizes Evernote with GTD.

One idea for trying out digital tickling without downloading any new software is simply to use your existing email system. Most email systems nowadays allow you to send delayed emails. This is a wonderful feature because it allows you to write emails that can be sent later on to people and it allows you to send messages and forward emails to yourself on specific dates as well. Those emails that seem to linger in your inbox can now get forwarded to yourself on a specific date, allowing you to clear your inbox of those pesky lingering emails.

Getting Into the Habit

While the tickler file is a fantastic and versatile reminder system, it’s main crutch is that you actually have to develop the habit of using it every day otherwise it won’t work as a trusted reminder system. Most people who claim that tickler files don't work simply never got into the habit of regularly using them in the first place and without systematically checking your tickler file daily, the system breaks down. Experts generally agree that it takes about 21 days of unbroken practice to develop a habit, so start today and make tickling a regular productivity practice.

Getting Things Done (GTD) With Context-Based Task Lists

11. April 2013 10:22 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

There was a time not so long ago when I would write down all my tasks on a single master list in my day planner and as I completed my tasks, I would cross them off that list. That worked fine in my earlier days, but when I started my printer supply business, that master list went from being a single page to an entire pad of paper! I quickly realized that I needed a new system for managing my tasks.

That’s when I came across David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, which offered a new way of managing tasks that made a lot of sense to me. Allen said that trying to manage tasks via a master list was mentally-draining and it didn’t adequately address the fact that tasks have inherent dependencies assigned to them that need to be met before they can actually be completed. Allen suggested that it’s better to have your tasks grouped by common dependencies and assigned to one of multiple task lists, which he refers to as contexts. There’s less mental stress involved when you’re dealing with a task list that you can actual get done versus one where you must pick and choose which tasks you can actually get done right now. I quickly adopted this system of context-based task lists and my productivity sky-rocketed.

What is a Context?

You can think of a context as a group of tasks that all share a common constraint. Usually that constraint is either a physical location or it's a required resource. It might also be a specific individual or group of individuals. A typical list of contexts might include:

@Office - for all your business or professional tasks that must be done at the office
@Home - for all the personal tasks that can be done at home
@Town - for the tasks that are done around town
@Computer - for all the tasks that can be done on your computer

GTD'ers usually designate a context by placing an "@" symbol in front of it. The beauty of organizing your tasks by context is the fact that they’re already pre-sorted for you - so all you need to do is to go through each task within your context and get them done without having to worry about priority or having the necessary resources available.

How to Set Up Your Context Lists

In order to build a set of contexts that work well for your situation, it's important that you focus on the core dependency that each task relies on. Buying milk, eggs, salad and juice are dependent on me being at the supermarket in order to get them done, so it would be logical for me to have an @Supermarket context for these. Paying cable and utilities bills for some people might be an @Home context. Since I pay my bills online, this is actually an @Computer context for me. There’s plenty of flexibility built into this system to customize it to your heart’s content, so long as you stick to the criteria for building your context lists.

Creating contexts based on physical location is probably the easiest constraint to define because it’s generally the easiest to identify. The action of buying milk has to be done at the supermarket. The action of submitting a report to your boss has to be done at work. Location-based contexts work well for people who have definite edges around their various roles and responsibilities. Employees working for a company fit well into this profile because they typically have the most separation between their personal space and their professional space. Location-based contexts might be less effective for someone who operates a home-based business or is a freelancer because technically there’s no separation between work and personal environments in so far as physical location is concerned.

In addition to location, you can also set up your contexts based on resources. Having the necessary tools available that will allow you to complete your task is every bit as important as being in the right location to get it done. A common example of this is the @Computer context. If you only own a desktop, then I guess this might be a location-based context for you, but if you’re like me and go everywhere with a laptop in hand, then location is no longer a factor - the dependency lies with having the computer with you. Resource-based contexts are used more frequently by people who travel a lot or who are always on the move, like consultants, attorneys, professional speakers and sales professionals.

I personally would not create contexts based on subjective factors such as priority level or energy level. The problem with this is that 1) they’re not true constraint-based contexts, and 2) they’re prone to avoidance at the sub-conscious level for some people. Let’s face it, we know that high-priority and high-energy level tasks are difficult, so it’s easier to avoid those and pick away at the lesser tasks first and that defeats the whole purpose of GTD.

Beware of Too Many or Too Few Contexts

One of the things that you'll have to be careful of when you're customizing your context lists is not going overboard with building too many of them. It's a common problem amongst GTD'ers and it's something that David Allen warns against. He recommends creating the least amount of contexts necessary to fit your purpose. The problem that arises when you create too many specialized contexts is that now you have too many areas to check for tasks and that defeats the whole workflow model of GTD. An example of this is someone who sub-divides their @Computer context into @Amazon, @Facebook, @Twitter, @Email, etc. While none of these contexts are bad in and of themselves, if you only have one or two tasks per context, or if you fail to regularly check these contexts daily, then it defeats the whole purpose of GTD. It would probably serve you better to combine your specialized lists together into one broad context in order to keep your GTD system clean and efficient.

On the flip side, there might be times when you need to divide your context in order to make it more manageable. Perhaps you have a growing list of 30+ next actions under your @Computer context. Large lists can be difficult to manage and review, so you might want to break it down into a separate context such as @Email to make your review and execution more effective.

When to Place Your Tasks Into Your Context Lists

You should assign your tasks to a specific context when you’re processing your inbox. Remember that in the collection stage of GTD, you’re primary goal is non-evaluative collection of all your “stuff.” Once all your stuff is collected, then you can evaluate what each piece is and assign it to its particular place. When you come across a task during your processing stage, then that’s the point where you can place it onto one of the context lists that you’ve created.

Contexts and Evernote

I mentioned in a prior post that I use Evernote as my GTD software of choice. Contexts are tailor-made for Evernote. I simply set up a group of tags in Evernote with the “@” symbol in front of it and Evernote automatically bumps those tags to the top of my list for easy sorting. I use both the desktop version and the mobile version of Evernote as my universal collection tool and when I process all my tasks in my Evernote Inbox, I simply assign it a context tag. When I’m ready to get work done, I just click on the appropriate context tag and it pulls up all the tasks that are pending within that context. It’s a wonderful system that’s allowed me to be highly productive.

How I became more productive with Getting Things Done (GTD) and Evernote

27. March 2013 03:00 by Calvin Yu in Productivity  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

One of my secrets of running a successful business is staying organized. When I started my printer supply business,, I quickly realized that I needed a process and set of tools to help me stay organized; otherwise, I would have been completely overwhelmed. Being a technology geek, the solution that worked best for me was the Getting Things Done ® (GTD®) methodology by David Allen integrated with the cloud service Evernote®. Using this system, I was able to keep my inbox clean; capture all my actionable and non-actionable items into a one centralized bucket; file away important reference documents such as receipts; and systematically get all my daily tasks done.

In this blog post, I’ll share with you what this system is and I’ll offer some ways that I personally use GTD and Evernote to increase my productivity as a business owner. However, if you want to cut to the chase, you can learn the system that I use over at The Secret Weapon website.

GTD plus Evernote

What is GTD?

GTD is a task management methodology developed by productivity expert and best-selling author David Allen. It’s designed to reduce stress and improve clarity on actionable outcomes. One of the benefits of GTD is that it’s not dependent on any particular type of day planner or software program, but instead focuses on the workflow model of capturing and processing tasks in a systematic way. GTD can be equally effectively whether you prefer low-tech or hi-tech planning tools. As I said before, I’m a technology geek, so I prefer high-tech paperless planning tools. For this reason, I’ve found Evernote to be a match made in heaven for implementing GTD.

GTD Concepts In A Nutshell

I’ll only cover the essential concepts of GTD here in this blog post. If you want to fully understand the GTD system, then I highly recommend reading David Allen’s book. The GTD system follows a set of core principles:

Purge your brain and get all your “stuff” captured into a trusted system.

The brain is a wonderful machine, but unfortunately, it’s not the best tool for keeping track of all the tasks, projects, due dates and other bits of “stuff” that flow into your mind throughout the day. Trying to manage all this stuff in our mental RAM is a key cause of stress because your brain is not a trusted system for capturing and managing all of your incoming information. I use Evernote as my capturing tool because I’m comfortable with technology and Evernote enables me to capture my thoughts, email, website clippings, audio and pretty much anything else wherever I am.

Putting your stuff in the right buckets.

Once you’ve captured all the stuff that has come your way, it becomes necessary to clearly identify what each item actually is, and more importantly, where it should go. There are six “buckets” that your collected stuff can go:

  • The next action bucket: These are the tasks that can be acted on and that have concrete outcomes once completed. Next actions are what drives productivity and are at the heart of the GTD system.
  • The project bucket: These are a series of multiple next actions that, when completed, achieve an intended outcome. Projects themselves are not actionable until they are broken down to their granular level of next actions.
  • The reminder bucket: These are items that may or may not be actionable, but they do have concrete edges defined by solid dates and/or times. Appointments, birthdays and plane flights would fall in this bucket. These items get placed on a calendar and/or a tickler file.
  • The reference bucket: These are items that are not actionable, but are used as support material for a next action or project.
  • The waiting bucket: These are tasks that have been delegated to other people to complete and that need to be checked-up on so that they don’t fall victim to the delegation “black hole.”
  • The trash bucket: These are items that are neither actionable, nor worth saving as future reference and can be thrown away.

Productivity hinges on focusing and clarifying “next actions.”

One of the core concepts of the GTD method is distilling all your tasks into next actions. A next action is basically the indivisible unit of activity that can be completed in one session and that has a concrete outcome once completed. Next actions can either be stand alone, or they can be the building blocks to a larger project. GTD stresses clarifying next actions with specific action verbs and context on the basis that specificity breeds productivity. There should not be any confusion on what to do when reading a next action. Typically when there’s confusion about how to perform a next action, it’s because that next action either wasn’t properly clarified, or it’s actually a project and needs to be broken down into even more granular action steps.

Contextualize your next actions.

In a typical to-do list, you combine all your tasks onto one master list and work your way down the list. The problem with this approach is that you may not have the adequate resources available or be in the proper location to effectively complete that particular task. Having a list of tasks that you can’t complete is neither productive nor helpful on reducing stress. One defining characteristic of the GTD system is the concept of contextual task lists in which you have multiple tasks lists based on physical location and/or resources available. Common contexts include: @Home, @Office, @Town, @Grocery Store, etc. Placing your next actions into a context makes your task lists more efficient and effective by allowing you to focus in on only the tasks where the present resources and the ability to actually complete those tasks are available.

Reviewing your agenda.

GTD recommends a daily and weekly review to make sure all your actions and projects are moving forward towards completion. Daily reviews are intended to give you a top-down view on your daily work load and projects, while weekly reviews are intended to ensure that your projects are moving forward towards your higher goals and long-term objectives. Since GTD is a bottom-up approach to task management, the daily and weekly reviews are an important part of the methodology to ensure that all those daily actions have a higher purpose.

So What Is Evernote?

Evernote is a popular note-taking software and service that allows you to capture email, notes, pictures, webpages, audio and pretty much everything into its system. Once it's captured, you can tag, annotate and categorize your notes for easy finding and retrieval later on. Evernote has a very powerful search engine that allows your notes to be found very quickly. It also has OCR technology built into it so that you can search for text within PDF and image files.

Since GTD focuses on the premise that ideas flow into your mind organically no matter where you might be, it’s important to have a trusted capturing tool that is able to follow you everywhere as well. That’s one of the benefits of using Evernote with GTD. The software can be accessed by your computer desktop, on the web and on your smartphone, providing you with a very powerful capturing system to be used with GTD.

Another great benefit about using Evernote is that the company gives you a healthy portion of free service to use for as long as you want. I know plenty of people who have all their GTD needs met using the free version of Evernote’s service. Of course, if you really get into using Evernote as your GTD system, eventually you’ll want to get their $5 per month premium service to access more storage space and greater search capabilities. Trust me, the small investment is worth it.

Achieving Inbox Zero

Like most business owners, I get more emails flooding into my inbox than I know what to do with. A major contributor to the problem of email clutter is the tendency to use the inbox as a catch-all list for all of our to-dos, follow-ups, reminders and reference materials. Managing our activities through our email inbox inhibits productivity, causes added stress and slowly spirals out of control. It’s not uncommon for some people to have a 1,000 or more emails sitting in their inbox.

Evernote helps me achieve an "inbox zero" status daily. I set up my Evernote system so that I can forward all my incoming emails to Evernote for archiving and I use subject line tagging to contextually tag actionable and important reference emails appropriately so that I can find them later on. The beauty of this system is that all my emails are archived on Evernote, so I don’t have to keep them sitting in my inbox and any emails that are actionable or that are reminders can be tagged in Evernote so that I can take action on them later. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to leave work with a completely empty email inbox every day.

Keeping Receipts In Order

Running a business means that I need to keep track of all my business receipts. Evernote helps me organize all my receipts digitally, without the hassle of trying to organize bits and pieces of paper everywhere. All my email receipts get forwarded to Evernote and tagged twice with the tag labels: “receipts” and “to enter.” Paper receipts get scanned and uploaded to Evernote with the same tags. This allows me to instantly retrieve all my business receipts and my bookkeeper knows exactly which ones to enter into QuickBooks. Having everything in one place in my Evernote account makes maintaining the books a breeze.

Keeping Track of Follow-Ups

As many of us can attest to, one of the many black holes when it comes to delegated tasks is following up with people and holding them accountable for completing those assigned tasks. Typically, most people use their email inboxes as their reminder system by keeping their latest correspondence as a marker for them to remember to follow up with the person on a future date. Over time though, this system breaks down as more and more emails get piled on top of it. Evernote helps me know which tasks I’m waiting on others for while keeping my inbox squeaky clean. I created a “waiting on” tag for items that I’m waiting on others to complete and I simply apply this tag to emails and notes that reference delegated tasks. When I perform my daily review, I simply review what items under this tag category are pending and when I expect them to be completed. What used to be a black hole for unfinished business is now an air-tight system for me.


I’ve only briefly touched on how I stay productive as a business owner using GTD and Evernote. If you want to learn how to implement this system for yourself, I recommend reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and then educate yourself on how to integrate it with Evernote by visiting this gem of a website called The Secret Weapon.

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