New GTD toolkit. Android, cloud and paper.

In in the post from late last year I went through a description of my setup. At that time I was using Onenote and Filofax to manage main pillars of Getting Things Done. Since then things have changed quite drastically.    
The biggest game changer for me was purchase of an android smart-phone. As this is one of the few things that we carry everywhere with us. It was no brainer that I would use it as one of the key elements of my GTD setup.

Tasks.

I’ve looked at number of applications for task management that are available on the PC and Android platform and decided to settle on Rememeber the Milk (RTM).    
The setup I’m using is very simple. I decided to stick with basics and use just a handful of lists. At this moment I have following lists: Next Actons, Projects, Errands, Inbox, Somday, Blog.    
I’ve experimented with various scenarios of using combinations of tags, lists and location. Although having these features can be useful it was not necessary for me. Using those caused my system to become too complex.    
Also I deliberately don’t use contexts because I  try to limit no of things on my lists. The main idea is to put only those actions that I really want to complete in coming week or two.    
It would be great if RTM would allow to better link actions with the projects. It’s not a deal breaker for me as most of my projects are simple and I can easy think of any actions. However If a project is more complex I would create a note in Evernote and list all the actions milestones etc.

Project support, Reference, Storage.

In previous setup the main repository of reference material was Onenote now I’ve replaced it with Evernote.    
Why I’ve chosen Evernote over Onenote? Mainly because of the syncing with Android phone and ability to use it anywhere. For me it’s perfect capture tool. I can get any type of information there text, images, audio, even files. It’s always in sync  once. I’ve captured something on my phone it’s available on my computer in seconds. I don’t need transfer any data, make sure I connect computer etc. All the syncing happens over the air. 
Android client makes capture anytime and anywhere a breeze. It may not be as advanced as the iPhone version but it does the job of capturing very well. I hope that over time new functionality will arrive and match the capabilities existing on other clients. In addition to that I really like the overall integration with Android system. Basically any item that can be shared can also be send to Evernote. This way I can capture tweets, links to pages, emails directly form the smartphone and send them straight to Evernote. Not fiddling with copy paste etc.    
The main purpose of Evernote is to be a single point of reference for all my information needs. At the moment I’m using just 4 notebooks.

Inbox – As I mentioned above I use Evernote on my smartphone but I also on my desktop and in Firefox so any time anything pops into  my head it gets captured and send to this notebook. Then every 2-3 days I review the content of this notebook and make a decision about each of the items. I stick with three choices: save it for later, do it, delete it.

GTD –  This folder has dual purpose. First it serves as place to go to for all my current work. It will contain things like project plans, outlines, drafts etc. Second main purpose is to support my GTD implementation. I will store there my someday/maybe, checklists, agendas etc.

Blogging – This notebook is dedicated to blogging. All the post ideas, ideas for changes on the blog, tips, design changes, cool templates, articles related to blogging and writing all end up here.

Reference – this is catch all notebook. Everything that I want to keep record of end in there, online receipts, productivity tips, business ideas, various thoughts, observations, lessons learned, logs etc.

For the moment this Evernote setup seems to be working very well for me  but no information is useful if you don’t use it or can’t find it.  Every piece of information in Evernote can be tagged however I’ve decided to use only a very limited number of tags just to separate some key categories. I would use @someday or PostIdea tag just to make sure that those types of notes can be easily retrieved. As for the rest I rely o search. This way I don’t clog the tag view and there is no problem with  selecting the most appropriate tag.   
I’ve listened workflow episode with Merlin Mann and decided to stick with his advise that only things that are likely to be used in the future deserve tag, if you use consistent names than any search query will find exact what you want. So asking simple question "do I need this information handy?" helps me to decide whether  to use tags or not.

Paper

Despite proliferation off electronic tools paper has still place in my setup. I think aiming to be completely paperless cannot be achieved unless your are willing to sacrifice some of the productivity and creativity that paper can provide.   
Paper works well for me it’s fast, easy to use, readily available. I like to outline on paper, doodle, draw sketches etc. Although I don’t see it as permanent organisation or storage tool it’s great for conveying ideas fast. To put it simply Paper helps with thinking. Any attempts to go completely paperless were not practical. Trying to cut paper out was like cutting the branch you’re sitting on.

This is my current setup. It works really well as the combination of smartphone, desktop and cloud applications provides me with everything I need everywhere I need it.

What’s your setup? Do you rely on online application or prefer software that sits on your computer?

How I use Onenote

I like to read how people use software and how they come up with various usage scenarios. It allows me to discover new uses, setups and features that I’m not familiar with.

The program that I use the most and that has been storing almost all my ideas, notes, web clippings for the past 3 years is Microsoft’s Onenote.

This is one of the first and few products that I have paid for. I started with version 2003 then moved to 2007 and now thanks to beta testing I enjoy Onenote 2010.

I’m planning to write more about Onenote as this is fantastic application but for now I want to focus on my current setup and the way I use it.

The general principle behind Onenote is to resemble a paper notebook although in digital form. So the main building blocks are notebooks, sections(tabs) and pages.

For a while I’ve struggled with getting my setup the way I liked. It was either too many notebooks or too many sections. Just recently I’ve gone through a simplification process and I cut down on the number of notebooks and sections and keep things to minimum. Also I’ve stopped sweating about perfect cataloguing of information and take advantage of wonderful search capabilities and tagging options that are provided.

So how do I use Onenote?

Notebooks & Sections

"Unfiled Notes" is special section. This is a place where everything goes for the first time. I’ve set up Onenote to send all the prints, web clippings, quick notes, screenshots into this section. If you know Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen the "Unfiled Notes" section is my inbox. I review it every other day or so.

Every clipping becomes a separate page. For some reason I get the feeling that it’s wasted space so in most cases I will put the relevant notes onto one page and then file in one of the notebooks.

Main – this is my main notebook, which stores pretty much everything I use on a daily basis. I divided it into handful of sections only. I’ve created a dsktop and keyboard shortcuts so I can access from anywhere.  My most important sections are:

Task list – Since I use Onenote daily it became obvious to use it for tracking tasks. This section contains mostly single tasks that are not related with any project. I have couple pages here and each is dedicated to different context. To mark current weeks or active tasks I review them regularly and tag them. I intend to make this section one of the central point of my GTD setup so I’ll be writing more about this later.

Projects – My projects tend to be small I perfectly fine with pages. This place is mostly designed for keeping some notes on the project, brainstorming, further actions etc.

Someday – this is dedicated to storing all the ideas that I would like to do at some point. Things that I would like to buy, get, books to read, gift ideas etc. Each page is dedicated to a different area.

Reading – This section contains various web clippings and articles that I would like to read at some point. I used to use Firefox extension called Scrapbook, which is fantastic for quick capture of website content, but decided to move to Onenote strictly for consistency reasons and ease of search. I prefer to keep things in as few locations as possible in order to make finding information most effective.

MemoLists – this is a section dedicated to storing some checklists, some small things that I like to keep handy. Like router password, list of people whom we send Christmas cards. Etc.

[Current year] This is a diary/journal/catch all section. Basically I try to create a page every day and that I fill as the day goes by. I put there links to websites, some quotes, thoughts and other bits and pieces. Once I process all that and decide if there are any actions I file it into that section. It works as running reference library.

Archive – This is a Section group which essentially is a folder with various sections. It contains previous years notes, completed projects.

Blog – This notebook is dedicated to my blogging efforts. I store here ideas for posts, posts that I’m currently working on, blogging tips and some other things like design ideas, code snippets for various page elements, potential things to do on the blog.

Reference – as you can tell this is my reference notebook, I mostly put here articles that I would like to keep for future. (I could keep links only but some of them are too important to trust the web for permanent storage). I also keep here notes on the books I’ve read, some computer tips and triathlon related info like, training plans, training tips, observations etc. One of my current projects is to move articles that I saved using Firefox extension called Scrapbook and move them into this notebook so I have one big database with reference material.

Search & Tagging

Above I walked you through the manual process of organizing information and the structure I created.
No information is helpful unless you use it or able to find it when need it. Onenote offers powerful search features which returns results from text, pictures and audio. Because search features are so good I can easily limit the overhead of creating extensive structure of notebooks, groups and sections. It makes things simple which I like a lot.

Tags. I’ve for a while I couldn’t figure out a good way for them. They seemed useful but somewhat I didn’t stick with them. Using search and keywords was easier. That was until recently when I began using them again. I found a dual functionality for them:

First I use them to support my GTD system. At the moment my system is split between action listed in Onenote and in my Filofax. Because most of my actions are at the computer I decided to move them into OneNote and use tags like: Process, @Computer, @Home to track my to do items. This way I can work in slate and laptop modes on my tablet pc with out cluttering space with extra items. For things to do on the go i input relevant data into Filofax.

Second set of tags which I use are dedicated to marking important information. Things I want to remember for later, some ideas I come across, lessons learned and so on. This is useful if you are looking for something but not sure what by pulling all my tagged notes I can look through them and see what jumps out.

I try to stick with 6-7 tags mostly because they will have keyboard shortcuts (CTRL+1-9) which makes assigning them a breeze.

This is my setup, it’s not finished yet and I  tweak it a bit whenever I discover some new features. Hope you will find it useful for your own setup.