How I’m implementing GTD with Todoist, Evernote and Google Calendar (Part 2)

This is the second post about my GTD system. Now that everything is safely captured in Todoist and Evernote, what do I do? It’s time for the organize step – sorting through everything you captured and getting the important things into your agenda – Google Calendar in my case.

I do this during a weekly review, usually on Friday (at work) or Saturday (at home). I am quite strict with not doing personal projects at work and not working during the weekend, but the weekly review – which covers both types of projects – is something I can’t get around. Since my inboxes (Todoist and Evernote) are combined, it’s not logical to go through the process I describe below twice.

Evernote Inbox Zero

The first thing I do is sort through everything in the Evernote inbox, where all notes were captured. The whole structure of my notebooks looks roughly like this:

  • Inbox – notebook where everything goes by default and which will get emptied out in this section
  • Ideas  – “maybe/later” notebook
  • Work – notebook stack
  • Blog – notebook stack
  • Personal – notebook stack
  • Snooze – notebook stack
A few of my Evernote notebooks. I use numbers and dots to make sure the notebooks are sorted the way I want.

Inbox and Ideas are single notebooks, while all others are are notebook stacks, containing several notebooks related to a context or area of responsibility. In Work, I have notebooks for papers and classes I’m teaching (current projects), but also a reference notebook with checklists and templates. In Blog, I have the notebooks “Drafts”, “Published posts” and “Shared content”. The “Drafts” is the only notebook where I actively create notes. The other two are reference notebooks, where I drag and drop other notes to, and which I review if I’m searching for something.

In Work, I have notebooks for papers and classes I’m teaching (current projects), but also a reference notebook with checklists and templates. In Blog, I have the notebooks “Drafts”, “Published posts” and “Shared content”. The “Drafts” is the only notebook where I actually create notes. The other two are reference notebooks, where I drag and drop other notes to, and which I review if I’m searching for something. In Personal, I have a “Mean plan” notebook and notebooks for different types of recipes, with drag-and-drop in between.

The Snooze stack if for notebooks that I don’t use very often. For example long-term projects, such as assembling a portfolio for my teaching qualification. This is something I need to pay attention to, but not every week.  I also have a true Reference notebook, with things like manuals for appliances.

All other notes (“maybe”) go into the giant Ideas notebook
. Since this is a single notebook, I add as many tags as possible, to maximize the chance of finding the note when I might need it. A recent revelation was that I shouldn’t use only topics (academia, health, AI) but also the type of note (article, Twitter thread, website) and what I would use it for (advice to share on Twitter, example to use as inspiration). I fail to do this consistently, but I try not to think about it too much, and use too many tags rather than too few. Over time, patterns in which tags I’m using more are starting to emerge, so I can merge and delete tags as needed.

What this accomplishes is that the things I might want to, but don’t have to do, are out of sight in the Ideas notebook, and I can focus my attention on current projects. But these ideas are not lost forever! For example, if for a blog post I’m looking for content to include, I will search through the Ideas notebook, and process the relevant notes, which I will afterwards move to “Blog: shared content”.

I’ve reorganized my Evernote structure a couple of times now and am still not entirely happy with it. Here are a few other ones I tried and why I changed things again:

  • An identical structure to Todoist. But an Incubator stack in Evernote became too complicated because I wanted to already categorize all notes (now in Ideas notebook) I might need one day. And of course, a Reference project doesn’t really make sense in Todoist.
  • Single notebook for area of responsibility (for example just “Blog”) and using tags more. But, I quite like seeing at a glance how many posts I still want to write vs how any posts I’ve written. Also, I find it much faster to drag and drop posts between notebooks, rather than updating a tag from “draft” to “published”.
  • Organizing my notebook stacks into “Current” (where the drafts go) and “Reference” (where the published posts go), but this wasn’t as convenient for my drag-and-drop process. I also found myself too distracted by all the other, not-blog-related, current projects.

But, I have also decided I have already spent too much time on this, which is not productive. The idea is to use this structure, and update it as I go.

Todoist Inbox Zero

Next I move on to the Todoist inbox. Here the structure looks like this:

  • Inbox
  • Incubator (Work and Personal)
  • Current (Work and Personal)
  • Snooze (Work and Personal)

The inbox is a single task list, and all others have task lists related to different projects. During the capture process, I tried to capture only actions that fit into my projects, and all the lists in Todoist are projects, so achieving inbox zero should be simpler than in Evernote! However, for each todo, I first review whether that is indeed the case, and if not, the todo goes to Evernote. For all remaining todos, I do the following:

  • Add an action verb if it doesn’t already have one (to be a better collaborator to my future self)
  • Add it to a project in Incubator, Current or Snooze
  • Add an (approximate) date
  • (Optional) Add labels

In GTD the idea of labels is to provide context, for example, where you need to be to do the task, which person the task involves, or how much energy you need to do the task. Then you can batch tasks from different projects by context, such as doing all low energy tasks at the end of the day. I don’t use this feature a lot, probably because I don’t have a lot of different contexts, but I’m planning to experiment with this more. The label I do use is “waiting for”, since it involves sending reminders, which lends itself well to batch processing.

Now I look at what Todoist has scheduled for me in the next 7 days and decide what really needs to be done next week, and what I could postpone. I also look at what kind of things I already have scheduled in Google Calendar, and whether it’s realistic to finish all the tasks I approximately planned for myself. I don’t want to divide my attention between too many different projects, so identify clusters / projects of focus for next week, and postpone other todos.

In Todoist, for the projects of focus (usually Current – Work projects), I go through their individual task lists and break up the tasks that I want to work on into smaller, actionable tasks. I then give these smaller tasks  a specific day and hour. I usually schedule high energy tasks like writing in the morning, and everything else in the afternoon.

My calendar after giving a few of my Todoist tasks a specific hour. Not a lot of meetings – it’s summer!

With the recent two-way integration between Todoist and Google Calendar  these tasks now appear as 1-hour events on my calendar. Now I can change the length of the tasks, drag and drop the tasks between days, etc, as I would with calendar events. Tasks which only have a day, but not an hour in Todoist, appear as all-day events in Google Calendar. I try to convert these into scheduled-by-hour tasks as much as possible, as this helps me to get a better overview of how much time I spend and how many things I actually work on.

The integration is very recent, and it’s missing a couple of features I think would be very helpful. Ideally I would like to sync events based on the projects and tags they have. Scheduling a 5-minute task isn’t logical either as an all-day event, or as an hour-event, so I would prefer to have a label (@5min) which is excluded from syncing.

Another functionality I’m missing is the amount of information provided in the task when synced to Calendar. For example, I have a project for a class I’m teaching (8DC00) with high-level tasks for each lecture, like “Lecture Segmentation”, and actionable subtasks like “Outline lecture”. Google Calendar right now only shows “Outline lecture”, which could get confusing if you are responsible for several courses. It would also be helpful to be able to click on the calendar event, and directly go to the corresponding project in Todoist.

Get things done!

If I did all the steps above properly, my next week is already planned. On Monday I can just go to the office, and start on the tasks I’ve queued up for myself, without spending energy on making decisions. And now, it is time for the weekend!

If you have any examples how you or other people set up their organization system, please share below!