I’m in love with Things as a to-do-list

I’ve considered Evernote as the best productivity app in all categories for a long time. I’m using Evernote to store all kind of notes, just as it is supposed to be used. But I’ve also used it as a to-do-list-manager for best part of the last 5-6 years.

I know that a lot of people love to use their mailbox as a to-do-list but what does it really means. Anyone sending you an e-mail are putting works on your to-do-list. Anyone sending you e-mails are adding tasks to you agenda and defining what you shall do. I prefer to decide what to do, of course with input from my boss, my wife and the most important clients.

But yesterday I realized that Things 3 is a completely new tool compared to old versions. I’ve tried Things in the past, back in the days where I think it wasn’t even possible to sync between different devices.

What’s really cool and features I live is for example the following:

  • Tags – works pretty much the same way as in Evernote.
  • Works very well with Siri
  • Awesome guide to get started
  • A great user interface with the structure I tend to work with.
  • Nice integration with calendar and reminders.
  • Easy to set up and start using.

Plus the fact that the guide to get started showed me how to drag and drop email to get a link to the mail in mailbox, which improves my work in Evernote too.

So are there no negatives with Things 3? Yes of course. How cool would a tool be if there were no room for improvements? What I’m missing is the following:

  • Possibility to configure the menu at the left hand side to add for example shortcuts to tags.
  • Commands to add for example a start date direct from the title row which would be useful for example when forwarding emails to Things.
  • Do they have a Windows version or a web version? I’m actually not sure as I’m almost only using Mac, but if I have to use a PC once in a while it should be an advantage?
  • You have to pay for the product three times just to be able to test it, once for the computer, once for the iPad and once for the iPhone. It is worth it, but I would prefer if they had the guts to let you try for free for a month or at least bundle iPad/iPhone versions.

Bottom line, I’ve just tried a few hours, but Things 3 is a really awesome tool for productivity nerds and others who wants to improve their productivity and please don’t tell my wife I fell in love so quickly.


2 minutes rule

There is some rules of productivity that might be worth to implement whether you want to follow a complete system or not. One of the most useful rules to Getting Things Done is The 2 minutes rule.

It means that if a task may be done within two minutes, do it directly as you’re aware of it. Of course can the rule only be applied when you’re in the position to perform the task.

If you need to make a phone call and you’re in the middle of a meeting you should still add the task to your inbox or to-do-list. But when you’re back at home and are processing your inbox or to-do-list and find the note about the call do it, rather than adding priority and moving the task to it’s proper folder/tag. It isn’t worth the effort to process those small tasks in the system compared to just perform them.

Are you using a folder for each of your contacts in your mailbox?

There are a lot of you out there archiving their e-mails in different folders for each customer/project or even for each person you’re communicating with. That’s a lot smarter than just leaving them in inbox. But why folder them?

I assume it’s an old habit since e-mail were new and didn’t have (good) search functions. If you’ve got an email from Paul Random, you’ll find it easier if you search for his name in the search box than open up his folder to search.

But even more important. To just hit “archive” button instead of searching for his folder when you’re archiving his email will save you a lot of seconds each time. 20 seconds 50 times a day, it’s more than two hours a week or 100 hours a year. Plus the time you save while you’re searching.

Google Keep vs Evernote

I have just got the opportunity to evaluate Google Keep and it looks like a very interesting tool. It has a good looking and user friendly design. It looks a lot better than Evernote. I would say if you only use Evernote to take notes and review them, Google Keep is a good alternative.

One of my favorite features in Evernote, tags is available which is great compared to One Note and other tools I’ve tried in the past. But if you’d like to add PDF:s and search for them, it doesn’t work.

I thought it might be possible to use Google Drive, which I used many years ago and interact with the two, maybe also with Gmail, so it’s really one source for everything. But that’s not doable. You can’t search in all three Google tools from the same search window. And I realized that Google Drive failed to find at least 3 out of 4 words in scanned PDF:s. Maybe the reason is that the docs are old and was uploaded over 5 years ago.

So that’s the main reason I stick with Evernote. Google Keep might be interesting for me in the future, if they fix the search function – which is the core business for Google – and the integration between the tools so it’s really user friendly. On the other hand. Before that Evernote might have updated their design to be more user friendly and still stays on top. The future will show us.


Why tags are so much better than folders

One really huge feature considering which productivity tools to use is tags.  Still most people are using folders (or Notebooks in Evernote)to organize their stuff. But you can only use one folder for each note. Although some tools gives the opportunity to use shortcuts it’s still the truth. You can only use one folder to each note – but you can use multiple tags.

I will give you a few examples where it makes perfect sense to sort a note under two ore more different tags. Yesterday I was on a call with a partner and we were talking both about client A and client B. We did also talk about his commission and training. My notes from the call will be tagged with bot clients names plus the partners names.

If I were using folders I would have to split the note in three different folders, one for each customer and one for the partner where I save the information about commission and training.

Another example is from the task-list. I typically use different kind of tags on tasks. One tag is always priority. “When” do I have to do something. Another tag I use when applicable is “Where” and the most important tag for me in that category is “@errands” which I review all the time I go out for some errands to make sure that I don’t forget something I might be able to do in the same area at the same time. Another important one is “@phone” where I have all the phone calls I have to do. I might also add a tag to tell me what it is about: “work at computer” or a clients name.

That’s the main reason I’m using Evernote and that every time I’ve tried another tool for all my notes or for just the todo-list I have returned to Evernote. 


Evernote for notes

I have tried different solutions for taking notes but I’m always coming back to Evernote. There are some reasons for that.

First of all Evernote works on all platforms.

Second, Evernote works with tags and tags are a key feature as you can use different tags on the same note compared to folders/notebooks where you can only put one note in one place. I might for exempel use tags for priority, errands and something about what it is.

Third, Evernote can read PDF:s and even read handwritten notes so they are searchable. That’s another key feature.

It’s free to use Evernote with the basic functionality but to be able to get all the  benefits I do recommend the paid version. The payback for the small fee is huge.

Differens between mailbox and letterbox.

Think about the world 30 years ago, before internet was a part of everybody life. Think of someone walking out to the letterbox, taking out a letter, review it and put it back, then next one and the same thing until finally look at a mail he wanted to bring inside.

Then 30 minutes later the same guy comes out again, following the same procedure. He would have been considered insane. Probably not a bad assessment. But that’s exactly the same behavior that’s very common today, and nobody consider it weird. Well, almost nobody.

You should handle your electronic mailbox the same way as your old letterbox outside. Once taking stuff from there, never put it back.

Because although you have a lot of search opportunities in your mailbox you will never be able to have the control and overview over it if you have thousands of mails there. Sooner or later you will miss something.

Be smart about tasks

There are a lot to think about when it comes to performing tasks. I will come back to that later on, but for now, here are three golden rules for productive task management.

The Two Minutes Rule

If a task takes less then two minutes to perform, do it directly. It is typically not worth the time to postpone or delegate, make a note, follow-up etc if it’s a task that you can do so quickly. The most productive solution is to just do it.

Do you need ot write it down?

The exception from the Two Minutes Rule is of course if you can’t perform the task directly. Let’s say that you’re at work and just remembered that you need to do something at home. Then you’re not able to do it directly and should write it down in you task-manager tool – or maybe not. It might be worth to think twice. Do you need to write it down or would you remember it anyway? You do probably not need to make a note of unlock the door when you get home, if it’s locked you will notice that anyway.

If you know that you’ll have a lamp in the car warning you that you’re running out of gas and you know that you soon will run an errand and have enough time to go to a gas station as well, you might not need to ad a note about it.

If you know that you have no appointments tomorrow morning when you get to office and your desk is a mess, you might not need to make a note of cleaning it. You will notice and fix it without a note. But if you’re planing your day from home. it might be a good idea to make a note anyway, so you’re not planning for other task first thing in the morning.

Which are the three most important tasks today?

When I’m talking about planning your day, I’m thinking of looking in to the calendar, and consider how much time you have to work on you task list. When that’s done, go through your task lists and find the three most important task to perform. That’s what you should focus on. If the tasks are pretty small you can increase the numbers. On the other hand, if the task will take all day it might be enough with just one task although you might should consider to break it down to smaller tasks.

Personal Assistant, not as expensive as you might think.

Outsource work related tasks.

I’ve been using a virtual personal assistant from time to time and the reason is obvious. If I can earn let’s say 50 dollars per hour for performing a task and I can let someone do it for me for 10 dollars, I can perform another task at the same time to be twice as productive, or get some time off. I got the idea for the first time from the book 4 hour work week.

The trick is to get salary or clients in the rich part of the world where you can charge well for your time, and outsource tasks to the poor part of the world where the salaries are low.

Or use the assistant to increase your offer. Let’s say that you want to provide support 24h for a service or a product you’re selling. Let the assistant take car of it, at least during the night shift, and  they can at least ask the FAQ and see if it solves the problem and if not wake you up to solve the problem and at the same time order you pizza and coffee for delivery from a restaurant nearby.

Delegate private tasks

But I’m not only talking about outsourcing work related tasks, you might also outsource some from your private life to help you to solve the life puzzle. Of course it’s difficult to outsource to someone around the world to pick up your kids form school. But you may outsource the task to order a taxi to pick up your kids although I should normally not recommend it, as it takes as much time to describe the task as to perform it (given that you know the number to the taxi company and can arrange payment etc).

If you’re buying some kind of a service and would like to have different proposals for that service and you don’t even know who can provide that service (a plumber for your summer house or a premise for a huge wedding party or whatever). Ask the assistant to do the research and ask for proposals. Or let’s say that you need to check with your mother in law that she’s alive and not have fell and you just can’t stand to talk to her. Let the assistant do the daily call. And why not once in a week order flowers to your wife to make sure she’s not to upset with the fact at you can’t stand her mother.

What to think of before you hire an assistant?

But there are some aspects to consider before you sign up with an assistent:

What kind of tasks will you outsource?

That’s the main question. If you don’t have some really obvious tasks I would sugget that you make a list of at least 5-10 different tasks that you may consider to outsource to an assistant. Do also think of how the task will be performed. Will you be able to describe exactly what you want? Will the task be performed as you would like to have it performed?

Is language an issue?

If you’re doing most of you work in English, there are ton’s of good assistants to pick from. I have positive experience from Get Friday. But they might not handle Spanish, Swedish or German language.

On the other hand, if you’re doing a lot of work in Spanish I’m pretty sure you can find an assistant in Latin America to help you.

Do you need a backup for your assistant?

If you really need to be relying on your assistant, you should use a company with various virtual assistants so someone can take over if your personal assistant is absent for whatever reason.

If you need an assistant physically close to you?

Most of the article is about a virtual assistant to keep cost down. But if you need an assistant to for example take care of your garden. Well look at your neighbors kids. Maybe one of them would like to earn some extra money. Or would you like to do some charity at the same time, how about askind the guy begging outside your closest super market? If you don’t like of these to solutions, well, an virtual assistant can certainly do the research and provide some answers for you, don’t hesitate to ask.