I have a tendency toward list-making. The desire to create a list increases in direct proportion to how busy I am and how cluttered my mind feels. I’ll resist but eventually, the need for creating a list becomes overpowering and I just have to get it on paper. Except that, in my efforts to live a paperless lifestyle, I no longer try jotting my lists on paper. Instead, I use Evernote.
I use Evernote for creating two different types of lists: static lists and dynamic lists. Static lists are those lists that don’t change often, like a checklist. These lists can be captured in a single note and can make use of Evernote’s “checkbox” feature. Dynamic lists are lists that either (a) change frequently–for instance my to-do list; or (b) lists that I want to be able to query and manipulate with ease, like my reading lists. For these lists, I use one note per item and combine both notebooks and tags to manipulate the lists. Below, I’ll provide some examples of how I use each of these types of lists.
I used to be a pilot and in training to be a pilot, I learned the value of a checklist. The static lists that I refer to below act as a kind of checklist to make sure I am remembering or doing everything I need to remember or do in a given context. Static lists can be captured in a single note. For my own static lists, I have a fairly simple process:
- Create a note with the list
- Use the list in the proper context
- Review and revise the list from time-to-time to keep it up to date.
Let me provide 2 examples of how I use static lists in Evernote.
The 10-o’clock rule list
If you’ve never heard of the 10 o’clock rule, you should go read about it. Essentially, it is a list of things that you perform at 10pm (or 9pm or 8pm, or whenever is convenient for you) in order to get yourself prepared for the next morning, so that in the morning, everything is set to go. With a 3-year old and 1-year old at home, mornings can be chaotic. Over time, I’ve developed a “10-o’clock rule” checklist that allows me to make my mornings significantly less stressful. Of course, in my case, this is more like the 8-o’clock list, but you get the idea. Here is my list:
I set my alarm for 8:30pm each evening. When that alarm goes off, I drop what I am doing, pull up this checklist, run through it and make sure all of the items are done. Over time, the list has evolved and changed, but the process is still the same. Make the mornings much easier and less chaotic.
Another type of list I keep in Evernote are my travel lists. These are also checklists, like the list above, but they are for times when I travel. I have a several different types of travel checklists, one checklist per note. I have a checklist for traveling with the family, traveling for work, and traveling to science fiction conventions, for instance. Here is an example of the list I use for science fiction conventions:
Travel list templates
Each trip is different, so when I am taking a new trip, I’ll use the main list as a template for the new trip and then create a unique checklist from that. I do this as follows:
- Find the checklist I’m looking for. Let’s say it is my Science Fiction Convention Checklist
- Right-click on the note and select Copy Note
- Give the new note a specific title: “World science fiction convention 2012 checklist”
- Make any changes to the new note that may be specific to that trip.
- Use the new note as my checklist for the trip, checking off boxes as I check off the item or task.
While static lists come in handy for specific things (trips, morning preparation, etc.), they are pretty much the same thing each time I go through them. But I also make use of dynamic lists in Evernote. I use dynamic lists for many things, but I’ll give two examples: my to-do list and my reading list.
I use a modified and very simplified GTD process for managing my to-do list. I don’t keep a single piece of paper (or note) for that matter with a list of everything I need to do. Instead, each time I want to add something to my to-do list, I do the following:
- Create a new note
- Title it with the item that needs to get done (e.g. “Write Going Paperless post”)
- Tag it with “inbox”
- In the body of the note, add any information I need to get the item done (phone numbers, email addresses, notes on the subject, etc.) If the information is in some other note, I’ll create a note link to that note so that I can quickly access the information without having to duplicate it.
Once the note is created, I can review my to-do list by pulling up a Saved Search that I have called “To-do list.” From that saved search, I can see how many things are in my inbox. I can sort it by when they were added. I can click on a note in the search to see the details of the note. When I’ve completed something on my to-do list, I do one of two things:
- If the item is something that can be tossed, I simply delete the note.
- If I want to keep the information in the note, I’ll remove the “inbox” tag and file the note in the appropriate place.
This is a working list and my goal is to keep it as short as possible. But it is convenient to have it all in one place, and to be able to access it from anywhere, my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad.
My reading list
I’ve kept a list of books that I’ve read since January 1, 1996. (For some reason, I’d never thought to keep a list before then.) I manually update this list on the website, but I work off a set of dynamics lists that I keep in Evernote. There is really only one “list” but I can use queries to produce all different kinds of results. Here is how I manage my reading list:
- Each time I read a book, story or article, I create a note with the title and author in the note title (e.g., “Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two by David Remnick”).
- I tag the note with one the type of thing that I am reading (e.g. article, short story, novelette, novella, novel, nonfiction)
- In the body of the note, I indicate where I read the item (e.g. “From Rolling Stone, August 2, 2012″)
- I use the note to capture any other notes about the book, story or article that I find interesting. Sometimes I paste whole passages in that I want. Sometime I make notes for a book review. It is all kept in the note
- I also note the date I finished the book in the body of the note as well.
By doing this, I can produce a variety of lists. I can, for instance, produce a list of all of the books (not articles, but books) that I’ve read. I often post the short fiction I’ve read each month, so I can do a search that will find all of the items tagged “short story”, “novelette”, “novella” during the last 30 days. Ditto the same for non-fiction articles I’ve read in the last 30 days:
I think it has been well over a year now since I’ve had to jot a to-do list down on a piece of paper. I am able to store all of my static checklists in a single place and access them with a few clicks or swipes. And keeping the lists in Evernote, static or dynamic, has allowed me to more easily capture more information in the list so that I feel better-prepared when I tackle my to-do list or write a book review or blog post like this one.