Blog Archives

Screencast: How to Integrate FollowUpThen with your Evernote & GTD setup for productivity bliss!

I’m really excited about showing off my first screencast to all of you! I’ll admit, this was a bit challenging at first! I received about 100 recommendations on different services, and some not so good. But, between PowerPoint, SnagIt, and YouTube editor – I got it done! So, your feedback will be quite helpful!

In this screencast, I highlight a very small and yet very powerful add-on to my Evernote & GTD setup I talk about in my eBook.  It’ll cover two things: first, showing off how I use Evernote’s copy note linking to really ramp up your productivity; and second, leveraging the power of to help you remind yourself on a given day and/or time about a note you have in Evernote. It’s super easy and the best part – there’s no interface to “hack”.  Take a look and let me know what you think!


On writing my first eBook …

I am extremely excited and proud to let you all know that I’ll be publishing my very first eBook  in the near future entitled, “Evernote: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done.”

The cool thing is that this eBook is about you. All of you that subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter, and “circled” me on Google+.  It’s your input and feedback that has given me inspiration to write this eBook.

Even if you’ll never use Evernote, there’s a plethora of ideas in here on how you can make this applicable to all aspects of your life and leveraging the GTD methodology.  So because you all are incredible, I’m wondering how many of you would be even interested in paying a mere $5 for reading my eBook?  If you could become more productive and efficient, would this be worthwhile?  What are some of the things you’d hope for in an eBook such as this?  Let me know and I’ll be sure to include!  Oh, and I’ll be running several giveaway promotions on its launch date.  Something tells me that people who subscribe to the blog will probably be happy! 🙂

So, for now, a tease … the Prologue.


The purpose of this eBook is to help your mind relax, allow you to breathe easier, and allow you to become more productive by being able to make better decisions in the overly saturated productivity apps space. I will objectively overview the most well known and maybe some obscure apps that all claim to make you more productive, give you back control, and adhere to the wildly popular Getting Things DoneⓇ (“GTD”) methodology. The benefit to taking the time reading this eBook is that you will not only be able to make better decisions about how to organize your life in the electronic world, but but this will also be a “living eBook”. In other words, every quarter, you will receive an email notification, letting you know that I’ve added sections, and will let you know exactly what I’ve added. In essence, this is the eBook that keeps on giving! Cheers!

Workflowy: The Need for Speed

Andrew Mckay is a Civil Engineer and Project Manager from the East Coast of South Africa. His interest in on line GTD applications and collaboration is driven by his fascination for managing information and the exciting possibilities that new technologies and on line applications can bring to Africa.

If there was an Olympic gold medal for speed and simplicity Workflowy would be on the  podium. It is lightning fast and we are talking Usain Bolt fast here. Pure effortless speed.

Workflowy is a simple yet powerful outlining tool that has the ability to act as your central task management system within your workflow and integrates with your email, calendar, data management and other applications.

While trying many GTD applications it struck me that anyone developing a GTD or task management application is faced with a daunting task because everyone’s life and circumstances are so different.  How can you create one application that is useful to all?

I really needed something flexible and something that I could adapt into my own set of circumstances. Most applications are basically set up for you. You enter your task here, you add your tags there, you delegate here, you prioritize there; you get the idea. Workflowy is not like that. You make up your own system.

The reason Workflowy works for me is because I spend half my work time in the office and half on the road visiting my projects and clients. I need to manage myself, staff, other consultants and clients.  This, while not technically difficult, involves a lot of different tasks and reminders. I need to keep track of my own work and the work of others.

A lot of my time out of the office was in the past very unproductive. I would arrive at meetings where others would pitch up 2 or 3 hours late or not even pitch up at all; this after travelling 2 to 3 hours to get there. I soon realized that there was a lot of work I could do in these situations.  For instance, I could call people or I could draft hand written work in “The Book”.  I can take a photo of the hand written work and email it via my cell phone to the office for someone to type for me.

I therefore needed to ensure that when I am in the office I must focus on only those tasks that can only be done in the office. Any task that is not critical and that can be done out the office must not be done in the office. Before trying to manage others I needed to mange myself.

How does Workflowy help me here? Well at its most basic level it is just an undemanding application for creating lists. You start with a beautiful and totally blank page. Then, you start entering lists … as many as you want. I have two main lists: work and personal. The work list then has sub lists, and within it, can in turn have more sub lists . You can zoom into any list if it gets too cluttered. It really is that simple. You can either use your mouse or keyboard. It is very easy and when you get the hang of it, very fast.

Well how does this help with your GTD workflow? The image below shows my basic GTD workflow with workflowy integrated as the central task manager . I process my information from my different sources and decide is it Workflowyable?  That is do I capture it on Workflowy or not?

The two minute rule principle is applied but I am flexible on this one, sometimes the task takes longer than 2 minutes but I know I will complete it without forgetting and therefore there is no need to enter it. I try to keep it simple.

My GTD Flowchart

The real power comes in the way you use the tags and the filtering that can be done from the tags and the search box. I have created simple tags based on my GTD workflow. These tags tell me if the work is office dependent or for the road. #NA stands for Next Action but I understand it as office work. Those tasks that I do out the office get either #call or #road task. Other tags I use for the office are #claims which is a reminder that I need to do certain work to raise an invoice or claim. This is normally office work and due to its importance it gets its own tag.

Other tags that I use are #TBD – to be delegated and once delegated I will change it to @someones name. Sometimes there is no need for #TBD as it is simply a matter of talking to the person about the task and assigning it straight away with a @someone tag. #TBD is set aside for more involved tasks and I often  have to gather information and prepare myself before I can actually delegate the task.

Example of Project with sub lists

In fact the search function is so good you could argue that you do not need tags. You just type the key word in the search box and it filters those individual lists with the key word. The only advantage of tags I can see at this stage is you can just click on a tag and it will be filtered without having to type in the search box. Flexibility is the key here. I constantly create and delete different types of tags.

Example using search box and tags

My only rule is does it work and make life simpler?

I keep Workflowy open all the time and as new information is received and needs to be processed my Workflowy is updated and I manually integrate with Outlook emails and Google calendar.

My two main types of tags in Workflowy are closely linked to my method of dealing with Outlook and emails. I follow a simple Zero inbox method. As new emails come in I deal with them in 4 main ways. If it is not actionable and not needed for the future it is deleted. If an item is not to be deleted it is then placed in one of the following “Next Action” , “ @someone “ and “ ready for archiving” folders. All emails in Next Action and @someone folders are what I think of as “work in progress” while those task finished are in the self explanatory folder ready for archiving.

Outlook Inbox Folders

I normally respond to emails as quickly as I can and I will not start the day without getting my inbox down to zero. The emails are dragged to the relevant folder and I will often just copy and paste a simple part of the email to Workflowy and add the necessary tag. Workflowy has an excellent note capturing function where you can attache notes to an item. I will often compose an email in the notes and copy and paste to Outlook or vise versa. So my emails in the folders in Outlook, while not synced with Workflowy, do share a commonality that I have created. This may sound like double work but once you are in the zone  and the speed at which you can move around in Workflowy,  it becomes very  instinctive.

Once a task is completed I delete it from Workflowy and move the email from a work in progress folder to the ready for archiving folder.This is an important part of my processing. Any items that is not relevant or completed must be deleted from Workflowy or if an email it must be dragged to the ready for archiving folder. I cannot afford to have items that are not relevant any more in Workflowy, I have designed it to be only work in progress.

I have only recently discovered how useful and powerful Google calendar is and I am using this now for my method of reminders. Items are first entered in Workflowy and then if needed a copy and paste into Google Calender. If I am using Firefox you can actually just drag and drop the text from Workflowy into Google Calendar. The ability to sync from Outlook to Google Calendar and from my Blackberry to Google Calendar is there and so Workflowy, Outlook and Google Calendar are the three applications always open when I am at the desk.

When it comes to collaboration in Workflowy you are well covered. You can share one list or a whole encyclopedia of lists. You have a choice of view only and view and edit. I am using the share function with my staff and it is working superbly. I have shared my whole work list with them which has all my work items. To share it is as simple as clicking on the share button, Workflowy then generates a link for that list and you simply forward that link to those you want to share with. The recipients can open the link you send them and they can just type their name in the search box and their tasks are filtered for them. This is especially powerful as I can be out the office for days on end and often end up updating Workflowy at home or from my laptop. They can log in and check if I added new task or reminders for them.

Sharing Link

In fact the best way to show how powerful and simple sharing is, is to actually share a list. Click on the following link and you can go straight to a shared list I created in 5 seconds. I have created this post with editing allowed, so feel free to mess around or leave a message.

Some concerns I have relate mainly to the backup. The delete button is easy to hit and you then have one chance to undo your mistake.I have done it a few times by mistake and there is a nervous few seconds while you wait for Workflowy to bring back your work. I would just like some more control and have my own backup.

You can export to text and it works well but if you import the same text back into Workflowy it does not keep the same structure and sub lists but rather  each item is an individual list with all your sub nests gone.There is then a lot of editing to go back and create the sub lists as before.

Major Workflowy to Ground Control

Today’s work and lifestyle is hectic. The constant battle to manage yourself and keep a clear head and remain focused is an ongoing challenge. Workflowy does not help me actually do the tasks but it is of great help to prioritize and plan the tasks. Once I have a clear plan I am more relaxed and the implementation is easier. I know I am doing the right task at the right time. It is flexible, if need be I adjust my focus and direction.

My work flow above is not classic GTD. I keep it open and add to it all the time. My definition of a project is not the true definition. I break the two-minute rule and make my own rules. I do some double input of work. I constantly check my inbox and process new information as it comes in.

I would encourage anyone who wants to get more organized to give it a go. Make your own rules based on your life and see if Workflowy can help you in creating a live working document that will assist you in prioritising your tasks and managing yourself.

Getting it Together: How I leveraged Evernote + SugarSync to create a productivity workhorse!

Here’s the challenge: we all have documents stored in various disparate places on our PC’s and in the cloud.

Collection is never an issue for us. It’s how we process those documents and produce them when we need to over to colleagues, friends, and clients. To quickly find the documents we need, we typically run to our various places just to find it: PC search tool, Google Desktop, Evernote, etc. This typically leads to wasted time just trying to find something that we’ve collected.

© Yanik Chauvin -

What I discovered is a way to harness the power of Evernote and SugarSync together to create a productivity powerhouse. This whole idea came to me through an incredible conversation I was having with Robert Kok on Google+. (As a footnote, if you’re not already on Google+, you’re definitely missing out on some really great conversations taking place there!) Robert mentioned that he was using Zen to Done to implement GTD and how he switched over from Dropboxto SugarSync (you’re welcome!) and invested the difference in an Evernote premium subscription (also a great idea!). If you missed my post on why I dumped Dropbox, click here).

But Robert’s issue was where to store PDFs: Evernote or SugarSync. Do you tag them in Evernote or do you put them in a folder on your PC, which gets synced with SugarSync? I’ve been having a lot of issues lately in the sheer number of tags I’ve accumulated over the years (notwithstanding my own post on best practices in handling tags).

The question regarding using a tag in a Personal Information Management system such as Evernote versus using a traditional tree structure in Windows or on your gorgeous Mac (or using Outlook folders versus Gmail labels) is actually the subject of a large number of researchers.

If you click here, you can gain access to a note I created in Evernote that puts together all of the really great links Robert sent over to me during our Google+ conversation. (This too was part of my impetus behind my bigger strategy I’ll be laying out below.) In short, I learned that it’s all very personal.

© Alliance -

The benefit to tagging a document is that it can reside in multiple different locations, or in the case of Evernote, in notebooks. Having the tags gives you greater control over your document because you’re adding metadata. The problem with tagging is that without a true taxonomy for your tags, it can get unwieldy – like it is for me in Evernote right now. It can also be cumbersome to add tags every time as opposed to just throwing it into a folder.

The benefit to just a traditional folder structure is that you know exactly where the document was placed. The downside to folders is that you can create so many nested folders that it may be impossible to remember where exactly you placed that document.

Let me draw out a problem for you I just recently ran into, which coincidentally happened at the exact time I was carrying on this conversation with Robert. I was recently looking for PDFs on some of the software my company sells to lawyers. Here’s what happened:

  • On my PC, I have a folder called “Literature”. Inside that folder contains folders for each of the products my company sells. Within each of those folders are the PDFs and possibly some subfolders with additional information.
  • I also have a folder called “Presentations” where I house the documents I use as handouts for afterward (remember: never give a copy of your presentations! Always give them a document. For more on my presentation tips, click here).
  • I also have another folder that is for internal use only that contains competitive information for each of these products. In Outlook, I know that I’ve stashed some emails away that have PDFs I may not have stored on my PC.
  • On my browser, I’ve got multiple bookmarks for these products, as well as recorded webinars, and other useful information I typically provide to clients and colleagues.
  • In Evernote, I also have useful information I typically like to provide to clients or colleagues when asked.

Well, I hit the wall! I was so tired of going to multiple disparate places all of the time just to send one e-mail. It became so difficult and I was wasting so much time. Having this conversation on Google+ helped me figure out a way to streamline this process once and for all by leveraging Evernote and SugarSync.

So, here’s how I did it:

First, I created a new note in Evernote. Name it whatever you like. In my note, I began typing out a bulleted list of all of the resources I know I’ve been asked for. For websites, I just highlighted the text and inserted the hyperlink (CTRL+K).

But, here’s where it got to be a lot of fun: leveraging SugarySync’s public links, I simply right-clicked on the file in SugarSync manager and selected “Get Public Link”. Back in Evernote, I then highlighted the text, and inserted the hyperlink of that document! I just went down the list of every single document I know I’ve traditionally shared, and inserted the SugarSync URL for that document.

Now, here comes an even cooler part: thanks to Evernote sharing, I can click on the “share” button on the Evernote toolbar and either copy the note’s URL to the clipboard and insert it into my e-mail or in the alternative, e-mail the note to whomever. What’s more, I can also decide to put these 3 notes I created for each of the products in a notebook and share it out with others! The genius of it all is that I can now share these resource files with clients and colleagues!

Here’s the note I created: “The Ultimate Collection of [insert product name here] Resources.” (Feel free to click on it – unless you’re a legal professional, you may not have much interest, but you’ll for sure understand exactly what I’ve done!)

What got me so excited about this approach is that I now bypassed the endless searching, opening of folders, looking through Evernote, possibly Outlook archive folders, etc. I just recouped so much lost time doing mindless searching just to find documents spread all over various repositories, both on the desktop and in cloud storage! Here’s an added bonus: any time you update your note, anyone whom you’ve shared your note with and has bookmarked it, they will always benefit from your work product. In essence, you’ve created a “living”, dynamic note for them to go back to all the time and benefit from your work product & expertise! I was able to do this simply by leveraging two best-of-breed solutions available to us! It became this incredible Eureka! moment when it happened!

Imagine that: one note in Evernote that serves as the central hub to everything I’d ever want to share. This is truly productivity & efficiency at its best.

Now it’s your turn: would this approach work for you? How do you handle the multiple disparate locations of all of your documents? Do you prefer folders or tags or a combination of the two?

Simplify Your Life – 2011 Edition

Last year, I created this presentation, Simplify Your Life. I was humbled by the thousands of views, incredible comments, downloads, and even having SlideShare feature it on their website. Since I’ve been asked to present on this recently, I went through and updated, redesigned, added new content, and refreshed the deck. I hope you all like it as much as you did last year! Cheers!

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