(IMPORTANT: Evernote calls each new entry a ‘note.’ Since we’re using the application mainly for action items, we generally call each new entry a ‘to-do’ but both note and to-do can be used interchangeably)
For most of us, the FIRST goal with TSW is to get all things out of your email Inbox. The reason why this is generally a good first goal is that so many of our to-dos can be found in our confused Inboxes, and for reasons mentioned earlier in this article, that is exactly the wrong place to track action items.
So let’s start emptying that Inbox. Look at each email and decide if it should be Deleted, Archived, or moved to EN because it has a Pending Action associated with it.
This is the point where many people get that queasy feeling in their stomach, as we are disrupting their tried and true Inbox system. If it makes you feel better, move all the emails to a folder called Old Inbox, and you can always move them back if you want to return to your old ways. If you have more than 100 emails in your Inbox, I’d advise moving everything older than this year into an archive folder. You can then process the newest emails, have your Inbox empty, and make a point to reach back into the archive and process the older emails by each prior month until all is deleted, kept, or moved to EN as pending. Just decide you’ll process 10, 20, or 50 Old Inbox emails per day.
Remember: “processing” these emails doesn’t mean you have to complete them. It simply means you’re putting them into Evernote as an Action/to-do item, a Waiting For item, a Read/Review item, or a Sticky/Archive item.
You can forward batches of emails to EN directly by sending them to your unique Evernote email address. It is accessed under Tools > Account Info.
Another method when on a PC is to select a batch of emails, click the “Send to Evernote” button, and a window pops up to allow you to pre tag them. In this case, just hit OK, as we will add the context to them once in Evernote.
All selected emails will now be copied into your Pending Action notebook in Evernote.
Emails are generally where most people have hundreds of hidden, unaddressed and often unclear Pending Actions. So start your TSW system by transforming each of your emails into Evernote to-dos.
Once copied, those same emails are still in your Inbox, and still selected, and you can just drag them to an archive folder in your email client or on the IMAP server.
A note on Archiving: The best solution to keep emails from the past is to create an archive folder.
Some people develop multiple sub folders for archive, but I have found that one BIG email cabinet for the year, with a sub folder under that for SENT is sufficient. The search algorithm in Outlook these days (both PC and Mac) is really fast, and you can find an email by a key word search in moments even across thousands of items. IMAP email, which has each device viewing ONE copy of the email on a server, is the best method to use, as now all of your archived emails are accessible from any device. IMAP host email providers usually provide 5 to 10 GB of storage. Now your Inbox itself will be empty, which leaves enough space to keep 3-5 years of archived emails handy from anywhere.
I know what you are thinking. Where are my emails?
Don’t worry! They are safely tucked away in archive, but a new copy is now able to be organized, segregated, and grouped in a much more flexible, customizable way, as part of an overall pending action system.
Ok, you’ve slowly chipped away and now your Inbox is empty. Feels good (and really scary somehow). Congratulations.
Your next step is to go to Evernote and start to assign contexts to each and every to-do that you’ve created from your emails. You now have to “process” your new Inbox of items, all of which are so far derived from emails.
Pay attention here, as this is the most important step!
Highlight the first to-do/note, or to highlight multiple emails, hold down the Control key (PC) or Command key (Mac) to select any other email items that will get the same context.
Next, click and “drag” each new to-do (formerly an email) onto the .When tag to which it best belongs. Every to-do should have at the least a .When context/tag, as we always have some notion of what comes first, second etc. The beauty and power here is that it can belong to MULTIPLE contexts. You can drag an item onto 2-Next, and then drag it onto the next context/tag, say @Work.
IMPORTANT: By dragging your to-do onto contexts, you aren’t moving each to-do to a folder, but just adding specific contexts to the to-do, so it doesn’t disappear once it is assigned; it just now has one or more contexts associated with it.
After you attach a .When you want to get this done, you can next add a .What project or role to which it belongs, a .Who it is for, and sometimes a .Where you need to be to do it.
Do this for each and every to-do in your list. Every single to-do (formerly an email that had something that needed an action) needs to have at least the .When context assigned to it.
As an example, one to-do in our company’s list may have three contexts:
So that you can organize and collapse your long vertical list of Contexts (aka Tags), use the .Who, .When, .What, and .Why tags to act solely as folder names.
Keep going with each and every to-do, until all to-dos have one or more contexts.
A note on the .When contexts: 1-Now is reserved for items that are to be executed now— the DO THESE NOW pile. All others are in a deferred context of 2-Next or further out. Time contexts are our way of denoting relative importance and priority; in other words, what gets done first, second, etc., and the 2-Next group of notes are those teed up to go to 1-Now next.
Once you have added context to all your emails, you are almost there.
What about those “Sticky emails” that don’t really have an action, but you don’t want to “lose them”? Anything you want available to you at all times just for reference can be dragged into your digital file cabinet, conveniently called Cabinet. Key word search works for all notes, so by typing a word from the note for which you are looking, you can easily find an item in your cabinet quickly.
Let’s review: we’ve gotten every single email out of our Inbox, and organized them into what, when, where, who. Check.
Your next step is to do some broad thinking about all those little tidbits floating around in your noggin, such as “Fix the door”, “Buy Light Bulbs” etc. Put them directly into EN, and add the appropriate contexts.
Done. Your email Inbox is empty, your to-do items are captured, and all are accessible in a much more controllable format.
This is bigger — and way cooler, and way, way more powerful — than you yet realize, but once you get to using it, you will grow to appreciate why we are excited.
Now it is time to install Evernote on your other devices. Log in, wait a minute for EN to sync with your online account, and boom: your entire system that you’ve just created is there, updated, and ready to use. All contexts you created are there. All your to-dos are there. Add a to-do to your iPhone, and a few seconds later, it’s now on your computer. Organized, up-to-date, and present. It is always where you are.
The main goal of the EN app on a smart phone is to capture all ideas in the field quickly when you think of them, so you don’t have to “remember to remember” an item, or even worse forget it, and to free your mind for the specific task at hand.
Evernote has apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry.
Here at TrueToniqs, we all use the iPhone app, and capture quick notes, photos, and audio of meetings.
This is hugely important, because many of our to-do items are in our brains for a brief moment, and we need to capture them while they are there. (It’s the little things that count). Get in the habit of grabbing that Evernote app in your phone every time you say, “oh yeah, I need to _____.”
As soon as you save the item, it syncs back to your cloud EN account, and appears on your computer once it also syncs. It is captured, and can now get processed with the proper contexts later.
Ok. Time to reap the reward of all this work.