I’m not the most organized person in the world; I never have been and I never will be. But I’ve usually been able to keep a modicum of organization in my life by using pen and paper and a notebook. Sometimes things would fall through the cracks, as happens to everyone, but I can normally keep up. Lately though, that hasn’t been true. Since moving to the UK and expanding my role there, I have so much on my plate that just keeping up with tasks has been a major issue. So I did what any good security geek does, I asked on Twitter about the tools others are using and how they use it to track their todo list. By some margin, the biggest response I got was Evernote and The Secret Weapon.
Evernote is a free, with upgrade to premium, note taking/scrapbooking/catch-all program that’s been around for a few years. I’d signed up when it first came out, but never really understood how to use it for myself. The Secret Weapon isn’t a piece of software, but instead a way to use Evernote with your email and the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. Basically, there are a set of tutorials on the Secret Weapon site that walk you through how to set up Evernote and your email and how to use the system going forward. In all, you can watch the videos in about an hour, though I’d suggest you watch the first few, let it percolate for a little while, watch one or two more, etc. until you’ve watched them all over a few days. It gives you a very good point to start from for using this system.
Like many people, I’ve had to modify the GTD/TSW methodology to meet my own needs and work style. I’ve been using a number of the GTD principals for some time without realizing it. I’m using Mail.app on OSX which allows me to use Smart Mailboxes to tag and flag emails, but I leave them in my inbox, which acts as my archive folder. And since I’m using Mail, I don’t have the easy integration that would be available if I was using Outlook. But then I’d have to use Outlook, so I consider manually cutting and pasting into tasks in Evernote to be the lesser of two evils.
Once you’ve set up the system, getting hooked on the organization it gives you is incredibly quick. I love that I can tag my todo list by priority, project, people involved and any number of other aspects. I love being able to tell at a glance exactly which projects I should be working on today and knowing that I haven’t forgotten anything major (unless I’ve forgotten to enter it into Evernote). And I’ve started to take more and more of my meeting notes in Evernote as well, though using a keyboard instead of pen and paper can be a bit distracting for me as well as those around me.
And then there’s the downsides. The biggest concern I have by far is the security of Evernote; you can’t encrypt your notes except individually, which is unrealistic if you have dozens or hundreds of notes, which is bound to be the case once you’ve been using it for a while. Evernote does have a two-factor authentication capability, but I have yet to try it and I’m not sure I can use it given the amount of travel I do; I never know how much connectivity I’m going to have on any given day. Evernote has both iOS and Android applications available and I’m starting to dip my toes into them, but quite frankly they both seem to be pretty hard to use, other than for checking the status of your projects. I’m not very satisfied with the user interface with either operating system and don’t know if I have the patience to deal with them.
The other piece of software that several people suggested I try is Omnifocus. It also offers integration with iOS devices, but both the desktop and phone/tablet versions are pay for. And there’s no Android support for the program, which is a pain for me as I have an Android phone and I’m shifting to using my Nexus 7 more than my iPad as time goes by.
The bottom line for me is that TSW and Evernote works well, but I’m very concerned about having my organizational matrix on the Internet in a way that is much less secure than it could be. I’d upgrade to a premium account if that’s what it took me to get that encryption and I may end up upgrading since I’m using it so much anyway. I’m not sending my email to Evernote wholesale as is suggested by TSW tactics, so I feel less uncomfortable than I could be, but I’m still not happy with this security lapse.
Let me know what your experience has been using Evernote and The Secret Weapon.