Using Evernote as a ToDo List

Last week, I wrote about how I have started keeping a journal using Evernote and IFTTT. In that post, I mentioned that I’ve tried as many todo list systems as I could find, and never really stuck with one. I think that’s changed, now that I’m using Evernote both for journaling and for todo lists. And as an added bonus, I use IFTTT for this, too.

IFTTT Recipe: Create a pre populated todo list in #Evernote every day at midnight connects date-time to evernote

There are a lot of important criteria for having a todo list system, but the most important is this: being motivated to do something. As I mentioned in the journaling post, recapping my day is providing me with the motivation to get shit done. It took me a long time to realize that a todo list isn’t a motivator, it’s just an organizer for know what to do once you’re motivated.

The best way I’ve found to keep up with a todo list is to keep a list of stuff you want to get done some time, and then a list you expect you can get done today. To this end, I keep a todo list for every single day, and then another one I call “Back Burner.” I start every day by looking at my Back Burner list, and moving everything on it that I think I can actually get done in a single day to a daily todo list named by the day’s date.

As I go about my day, some things get checked off and some things may get struck through; that means I’ve decided they don’t need to be done after all. Rarely do I actually complete my entire daily todo list. At the end of every day, once I’ve done as much as I expect myself to be able to do, I move any uncompleted tasks from that day’s list back onto the Back Burner list. The next day, I’ll start the cycle over again.

As I mentioned above, I use IFTTT to create my daily todo lists every day at midnight. This gives me the added benefit of automating the process of putting daily-recurring items onto my todo list automatically. In my IFTTT rule, I have all my recurring tasks in the body field of the recipe. This means it will be created in the body of the Evernote todo list note.

That covers daily recurring tasks, and normal tasks and how I track them across multiple days if I can’t get something done. That leaves only one important piece left: projects.

I work on a lot of projects in my spare time. In order to keep all of these things straight, I keep separate todo lists for each project in their own Evernote notebooks. However, Evernote now supports internal linking of notebooks. This means that I can add a todo item to my daily list that says “[ ] work on Project X”, and “Project X” will be a link to the “To Do” note in my “Project X” notebook. When I am ready to work on the Project X portion of my daily list, I click over to the Project X list, and work on whatever is the highest priority.

To keep track of priority, I basically just do whatever’s at the top of the list and work my way down. With lots of copy/pasting to maintain daily lists and the Back Burner list, this ordering system gets out of whack very quickly. If something is truely a top priority, I use Evernote’s highlighter to highlight that todo list item. When I need something to work on, I start with anything that’s highlighted first. And when I’m moving items from the Back Burner onto a daily list, I move the highlighted items first.

To see an example of all of this (excluding the linked note), I’ve made a fake sample todo list here. Also, the idea of the Back Burner list, and moving stuff onto and off of it came from Tom Limoncelli’s Time Management for System Administrators. I’ve talked about it before, and if you have a technical job, I can’t recommend it enough.


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