How to (and Why You Should) Use Evernote for Task Management
I have now been using Evernote as a task manager instead of just a place for document/idea storage for a few weeks and it’s going so well that I’m ready to blog my method and share how it works.
This method is great for people who:
- have multiple projects on the go
- feel overwhelmed by long and intimidating to-do lists
- want to continue being productive without going overboard
- don’t want to see their future to-do’s until they actually need to
Of course, it helps if you’re already using Evernote as a place to store your project documents but if you’re looking for an application that can do both task management and document storage, I’d recommend you give this a shot.
What counts as a “project”?
When I say “project,” I mean an ongoing set of tasks relating to one specific thing OR a set of tasks relating to one thing that has an end date. Two examples of two separate projects from my own Evernote:
- I write freelance blog articles on an ongoing basis.
- I’m freelance editing a book for a client but this book/project obviously has an end date.
Should my project be a note, notebook or a notebook stack?
This depends on how much information you need to keep for this project. For the novel I’m writing, I use a notebook stack because I have so many different notebooks for all my research.
I’ve seen a few people keep everything related to a project in a single note and that blows my mind. It seems to me this would make it hard to find things quickly and easily, so I don’t recommend it.
My freelance writing clients go into a notebook stack called “FREELANCE” but this is optional for our purposes.
How should I label my notes?
Make sure your notes within your project notebooks are clearly labelled. It’s easy to be lazy and just plunk documents into a notebook but future you will thank you for taking a minute to label the note. When naming these notes, be specific; take a guess at what future you might use when searching for this information later.
What kind of notes should I keep in my project notebook/stack?
This really depends on the project but everything related to that project should stay in that notebook or notebook/stack. Here are a few examples from my own Evernote system:
Book editing project notebook:
- a checklist of book editing tasks with a link to the associated Google Doc at the top (learn more about this integration)
- a note containing the client’s contact info
- emails between the client and myself
Freelance blogging project notebook:
- drafts of all posts I’ve written and submitted to the client
- a note containing the client’s contact info
- our email correspondence
Jilly.ca project notebook stack:
- Evergreen Post Ideas: blog post ideas that are not timely (I like to make each idea a note)
- Timely Blog Posts: again, each idea gets its own note while I gather ideas, resources and start writing the post
- Post Drafts: once a post is developed a little beyond an idea, I move it from one of the above notebooks into this one
- Miscellaneous: everything else (newsletter tasks, checklists, etc.)
Once your projects are organized, it’s time to get cozy with some tags and reminders.
You: But I don’t use tags and/or reminders in Evernote!
Neither did I until recently. These four tags are my important ones for task management:
todo: all tasks currently on the go live here. If a task is tagged as “todo,” it’s active. Because it’s the most important tag, it’s the only one I keep in my sidebar shortcuts.
waiting: tasks/projects currently on hold because I’m waiting for a client to get back to me.
backlog: projects and tasks I want to get to eventually go here. None of my paying freelance work goes here; it’s mostly all blog post ideas I want to write next and tasks that are important but not a must-do-right-now thing.
promotional: tasks related to the marketing of my books, blog, and freelance writing services
The three most important tasks of my new task management system are TODO, WAITING, and BACKLOG. Because I only see TODO tasks on a regular basis, I get to put WAITING and BACKLOG out of my mind completely until my current/TODO tasks start dwindling.
Then I review my BACKLOG and see which tasks I want to bring forward—and I consider this part carefully because I have a lot of stuff in BACKLOG. I have to ask myself:
- Which of these tasks is important to me and why?
- Do I have time for this right now?
- Which tasks will improve my business?
I even have a notebook stack for projects that are for much, much later down the road. Those don’t even get tagged with BACKLOG because I don’t want to even risk seeing those notes yet. They’re not important right now! However, I have at least one note in there set to remind me of its existence in September—six months from now.
It’s important to keep your tags up to date. If you get an email back from your client and forget to move something from WAITING to TODO, you could forget to do the task or reply to them.
Which notes get tags and reminders?
I use two methods, depending on the project.
- For projects with an end (example: the book I’m editing), I use a checklist as a primary note. This is the only note in this project that will have tags and reminders on it as it keeps things cleaner and easier to maintain.
- For ongoing projects (example: freelance blogging client), I just tag and add reminders on whatever notes need them. (The last email I received from my client is a blog post idea we agreed on and it’s tagged as TODO because, obviously, I need to do it. It’s also got a reminder for April 1st because that’s when I need to do it.)
Two tips for using reminders:
- subscribe to Evernote’s reminder email and get a list of everything marked as due on that day.
- make sure you have notification alerts turned on for Evernote on your phone (nothing gets my attention like that little red circle staring at me on my screen)
So, which is it: checklists or separate notes for tasks?
I didn’t actually “get” Evernote as a task manager until someone on Reddit suggested individual notes as tasks. It was a real a-ha moment. Each method has its own perks.
Checklists for Tasks
- Better for projects with a clear end
- Lets you see what you have done on the project so far
- Tasks stay put unless you delete them
- Keeps things organized since you don’t have multiple task notes floating around your project notebook
Separate Notes for Tasks
- Better for ongoing projects
- You can delete tasks/notes once they’re done if you want
- Allows you to tag and set reminders for individual tasks
What do you do with a project notebook/stack once the project is complete?
Completed project notebooks go in a stack called z_Archives. If the project is a stack, I break its contents down to a single notebook before archiving it.
I hope this explanation of my system wasn’t too confusing. It’s so simple once you start using it. I’m annoyed with myself for not using this system ages ago. Having a separate to-do list app outside of Evernote just doesn’t make sense.
Leave some stress behind while still being a productivity genius!
If you have any questions about my new system, please let me know in the comments. I want to make sure this is as clear as possible for everyone who might also be dealing with task overwhelm.
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Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a freelance blogger, a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.