Like all business owners I know, I’ve got more to do than time to do it. Without a system to stay productive I would get very little done. I’m often asked to reveal what tools and tactics I use to get more done and that’s what today’s post is all about.

Evernote iPhone AppI use an app called Evernote as my primary productivity tool. I’m not the first to write about Evernote – the techies and hackers have been raving about Evernote since its inception in 2008 and the adoption and growth numbers seen by Evernote speak to its mainstream like acceptance.

But, like so many great tools without a system and logical way to bring them into your everyday reality, they can become just another distraction. So, I want to give you a little of the logic of how I use Evernote.

Like millions of people my thinking on productivity is influenced by David Allen’s Getting Things Done. One of the core premises of the book and teaching is that by getting everything into a system that you know won’t fail, you can relieve a great deal of the stress that comes from trying to make sure you don’t forget something important. Listen to my interview with GTDs David Allen here for a good overview.

Why I use Evernote

I have adopted some the principles of Getting Things Done, but have greatly simplified them and that simplification is where Evernote really shines. Evernote has grown from humble roots of a stripped down note taking tool to powerhouse suite of software services and applications that can be used to run entire organizations, but the simple roots remain.

Evernote is my giant file cabinet for anything I want to capture. It is simple, yet brilliant and most important, perhaps, is that all my activity in Evernote syncs over the air to every device I use. This allows me to work on my laptop, iPad, iPhone or any computer I happen to stumble upon and know that the data is the same everywhere.

In simplest terms what I do for a living is consume, write and share information – oh, and I also delete a lot of email and attend the occasional meeting – so my system is built largely around making it easy for me to discover, retrieve, produce and distribute information.

The function that makes Evernote so easy to adopt for this purpose is the ability to add and capture information in numerous ways.

I can send Evernote an email with content and files attachments

  • I can upload text, voice messages and images
  • I can drag files from my computer to Evernote on my desktop
  • I can save a file to Evernote from the print dialog command
  • I can clip any web page or web content directly to Evernote while I surf
  • I can write text notes directly to Evernote
  • I can add photos directly from a camera
  • I can add scans with ability to search them

So, you see there really isn’t any form of content analog or digital that I can’t capture. By adding tags to items you can file them in folders and make them fully searchable.

Again, just because you can do these things doesn’t mean you will. Evernote won’t be that useful to you unless you devise a system that makes it easy and logical to use and you start using it habitually for a month or so.

Here’s my system for using Evernote

  • I create separate folders for things like blog post ideas, research for my books, and each project I identify and then happily clip, take notes and email ideas to Evernote as I visit my RSS reader, read my email, meet with clients and surf throughout the day so that I know everything gets captured.
  • I use Evernote as a tickler file by creating folders for each month of the year and adding reminders of future actions into each. So, now when I need to file some report quarterly I find a reminder when I review that month and add it to the to do list. Every time I have something that I know I want to follow up with in the future I stick it in that month’s file and add a date to the front of it so it comes up when I review the folder. (We’ve all been asked to follow up with someone in three weeks and this keeps it and the email exchange in the system)
  • Because I can get info into Evernote in so many ways and some many forms I also create and maintain lists of things I want to track of find later, like gift ideas, books to read, vacation ideas, wines and music. If I have a great wine I snap a photo of the label and shove it into that list.
  • I have folders for random thoughts and when I hear, see or read anything that I want to capture I use my iPhone to capture it or a service called Jott to quickly record a voice message that’s transcribed and added to Evernote.

Evernote has become the central nerve center of my work and its usefulness has spilled over into every facet of day to day life.

I check in every morning to create a list of action steps and to dos and then routinely add content throughout the day. The secret (once more for emphasis) is that its so integrated into every tool I use so it is easy to create a routine to use it.

The one thing I don’t put in Evernote

While I could easily create to do lists with check boxes and all in Evernote I choose not too. I fire up Evernote and most days draw up my to do list from a combination of appointment commitments, project commitments and information from inside Evernote folders and then I record them in ink in a Moleskin notebook.

I’ve intentionally kept this step analog as I feel a very strong pull to keep some aspects of my work and life rooted in things that are non digital and offline. While it is easy to get sucked completely into the appeal of an entirely digital world, I can honestly say that I can’t be as creative or inspired unless I employ all of my senses and the act of writing on paper somehow connects and fuses my human particles with those of the digital world in a way that I can feel. (Wow, hope that didn’t scare anyone, but there’s something in my brain that needs paper.)

I work through my to do list each day and fuse my actions and sparks of brilliance into Evernote in real time and as they enter my thoughts. The more I put into Evernote the more I focus on being creative, knowing that I come there and find everything that I want to keep.

Some additional resources

So, how are you using Evernote

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Awesome post John and thanks for sharing your system. I LOVE Evernote and quite frankly would be lost without it in my business and personal life.

    I was interested to hear you maintain your ToDo list with ink and paper. I do the exact same thing because I discovered my digital ToDo list was distracting and usually wound up filled with random things just because it’s so easy to add things to it.

    Have you made use of the “shared” notebook features? (I have not)

    • agh3

      The Shared Notebook feature is really pretty cool. I’ve done that with client who wanted access to all the notes I took about their network environment. They just needed the free version and access it over the web interface. Allows me to keep this notebook updated and they have access to it should they need it. They can update it too as well which can help. It’s really pretty seamless.

    • I’m also a big fan of having my to-do list on pen and paper. It helps me step away from the computer for a bit and refocus my flow on planning, etc.

      And I started a “Daily Dozen” a while back that I have laminated so I can just check off the same tasks each day, which is helpful on the days I am disciplined enough to do that!

      • Awesome Tiffany! I do something similar after reading Darren Hardy’s book The Compound Effect. He advocates a “Rhythm Register” with tasks you want to be consistent with. I’ve been using it for 8 weeks with great success.

        • Thanks, Deacon! I actually have a copy of that book but I haven’t read it yet – sounds like I should! Thanks for the link!

          Here’s a link to my specific Daily Dozen for new media professionals and some background on how I created and use it if you’re interested:

          • Thanks – I’ll point this out too!

          • Thanks! I’m thinking of updating this and doing a series on Daily Dozen tasks for different roles in the social/community space. Glad to know the concept is useful!

          • I think you could probably sell that as a deck!

          • That’s a fun idea!

      • Love the daily dozen I’ve written about used what I call marketing scorecards for years – the idea is that you make a list of high payoff activities and even give differing scores based on importance and then people that use the scorecard for their function try to get 25 points every day by doing some mix of the actions no the card.

        • John – I like this idea too. Sounds like an awesome management tool. A good way to triage priorities – always a challenge for the knowledge worker!

    • I have not used the shared notebooks because I’ve tried to keep Evernote as my personal brain organizer and not use it for collaboration. I use Central Desktop for collaboration with both clients and staff.

  • Great insights, John! I love apps like this, but I agree that without a plan, they can be a big time suck. Definitely will consider some of these ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  • John
    • Hey thanks John – let me know if you get hooked

  • Do you find that Evernote becomes more of a task management tool rather than a action list to meet an end goal? I am torn on the product and would love to know whether it is a “freeing” time agent or just a record keeper.

    • not task driven for me, more of an in basket of everything I want to keep track of so I don’t have to keep it in my head. So it’s freeing in two ways for me – once I got the routine down it did free time, but it’s also stress freeing for me because I can keep a lot in my head, but it was killing me – now I process or have a thought and poof it’s put where I know I can find it – that’s the most freeing part for me I think.

  • I’m using evernote to document my latest project from glimmer in my eye to wherever it leads. Instead of a To-Do list, I’ve created a Done list. I do a lot more than I think, and this assists me with focus and self appreciation. Plus it’s damn motivating! Side benefit is that even from documenting the process I can create blogs and useful information for customers.

    • the done list is such a great concept Linda, think about the positive power that list contains.

  • Neicole Crepeau

    Thanks for the post, John! I’ve been using Evernote on my Android phone, but not nearly as extensively as you are. Didn’t even know there was a desktop client and hadn’t thought about putting it on my iPad, too. I’m definitely going to do both and explore using it more extensively, with your post as a guide. Thanks so much!

    • You’ll get so much more out if by having the sync version access on all your devices

  • belgium2

    Helpful! I have a hard time tagging items, in that I don’t know what words to tag them that would have me recall them later. Any tips here?

    • Yes tags can get out of control pretty fast – I keep it pretty simple. I do use notebooks for the things I mentioned in this post and then only a handful of tags that I call top level. then I do create some sublevel tags, but the search function in Evernote is so good I don’t sweat finding stuff as much.

      The key to creating levels is to come up with some soft of system top level tags are @tag and sublevel for me are $tag

  • My boss just introduced me to Evernote and I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it sooner. The fact that I can push notes between my phone, desktop and laptop make it expotentially easier to remember key things.

    I recommend Evernote to everyone I know, because really, everyone needs to take notes at some point. Students, industry leaders etc.

  • I have been using Evernote for well over a year and when you add this to your desktop, laptop, and PDA (Chrome browser) you are always in sync. With the Premium version being only $45 per yr, it is truly a great buy. John good review of a great product. PS:The free version works exceptional.

    • Thanks Bill – worth every penny to me – in fact once you get all your stuff in there they could come to me and I would have to pay hundreds if they made me 🙂

  • Russell Bishop

    Hey John:

    Great post, to be sure. I’d love to share a couple more ideas that you and your readers may find useful (and as David’s partner for 15 years in the early days of creating this thought-ware, I know the bruises of trying to juggle the analog-digital divide!):

    when I do my weekly review (on Fridays or Sundays, depending on travel), I scan my goals, projects and actions lists for items that I’m pretty sure I want to handle “next week” and drag them to a list labeled “This Week.” Then, each morning, I review the calendar along with “This Week,” and drag some items to “Today.” I know this violates some purity of GTD thinking, but it sure helps me get things done! I also process everything, as in EVERYTHING, by asking “what value shows up if I get this done” before dragging it to “This Week” or “Today” – that way I catch items that have lost some of their value luster and reroute them to “delete” or “someday maybe.”

    Lot of other suggestions, but here’s one of my favorites: create a “Mind Like Mush” list – the only things that go here are things you can do when your brain cells aren’t firing all that well. I find that going to this list when I’m brain challenged, helps me get some things done, which in turn reignites the spark somehow, and I can then turn to more important tasks with a sharper brain.

    Hope this helps!


    Russell Bishop (; russell(at)

    • Wow thanks for stopping by Russell and making such a great addition to this conversation. I’ve always had the “Mind Like Mush” file but never called it such – I call it Stuck and when I’m stuck I go there for inspiration.

  • Brian Basch

    Hi John,

    Evernote for me is like that really cool new shirt that you got for Christmas, but haven’t gotten around to wearing it yet, so it’s not in the regular shirt rotation.

    More and more people I know are using evernote in various ways, your description of your integration was helpful and probably the most integrated approach I have personally seen so far.

    You may have pushed me over the edge. I guess it’s time to try Evernote on and get it into the rotation.

    Brian B

  • Thanks for sharing how you’ve optimized Evernote, John. It’s one of those tools I’ve looked at and tried out off and on but just hadn’t fully unleashed. I’ve been using delicious as my in basket for a while now, but I like that Evernote can capture so many different inputs.

    I love the times we live in, but sometimes all the functionality can drive me nuts, and I find myself longing for simplicity. It’s really a matter of learning how to optimize tools like Evernote so that they create more simplicity instead of adding to the “overwhelmedness” and chaos. You’ve given me some tips to try out.

    • I think the key Jay is that you commit to a system and stick with it for a while, I have to admit that it took me a couple tries before I got hooked.

  • Thank you for this post! This is the first time I have ever heard about Evernote and I’m excited to check it out. I actually downloaded it just now! I also find it easier to maintain a list on actual paper than on a digital device. I hope Evernote is as great as everyone says it is!

    • Of course it’s only as great as the way you use it – take the time to learn about it and set it up so you make it easy to use.

      • Thanks. I subscribed to your blog recently and I forgot to add I’m studying Internet Marketing with @dr4ward. #mkt3730 Thanks again for the post!

  • Nice post, Most interesting for Evernote power use is the Evernote Essentials eBook. Have a look here: (affiliate link)

  • the e-Book of Brett is indeed a very good resource… (affiliate link)

  • tim

    Great post, John. I live in Evernote, too, though I really like the idea of using monthly tickler files within Evernote. Another idea that I like is using Markdown syntax within my notes. While Evernote offers rich formatting, I can easily copy and paste notes from within Evernote to my blog editor or text editor and convert to HTML, rich text or PDF’s while still maintaining readability within the individual notes.

  • I love Evernote, but I am with you I also put my todos on paper. I just like to list some things on paper.