Evernote: at last, the perfect to-do list tool

Here’s the funny thing about to-do lists: they won’t save you if you forget to add an item to your to-do list. Back on April 29, for example, I said this in a post about getting to inbox zero:

For me, after years of trying and failing to find the perfect to-do list, I use Evernote. I’ll explain why in a new post next week.

Well, the aforementioned “last week” came and went, and I never wrote that post*. I could cite a lot of reasons why it didn’t happen–mainly, I was busy–but there was one thing that ensured it would fall through the cracks: I didn’t have it on my to-do list.

I’ve read a few posts lately that say to-do lists don’t work (here’s another one), and that may be true for some people. However, years of experience have convinced me that I just can’t go without one. Sure, it takes some time to keep it up to date, but that’s easily offset by the time I would spend spinning my wheels and trying to remember what I’ve forgotten. The fact is, I’ve made a few attempts to do without a to-do list, and I always regret it.

One of the reasons I’ve tried to go to-do-less is that it took me a while to find a system that worked. Pen and paper were way too inefficient. The to-do list module built into Outlook didn’t easily allow for me to search and sort in a way that’s relevant to my needs. Google’s Tasks feature was just plain horrible, and while a custom to-do list I built in Google Docs offered some great advantages, it was limited by the fact that the Docs experience on a smartphone or tablet is pretty shitty. Every time I tried a new tool, I kept running into the same old problem: no to-do list option seemed to provide the portabilty, sortability, and searchability I was looking for.

That all changed when I read this post on Lifehacker about “The Secret Weapon,” a system for using Evernote as a to-do list. Prior to reading about The Secret Weapon, I was indifferent about Evernote, but now it’s become indispensable to me in several ways. However, even if I only used as a to-do list, I’d be a huge fan. Here’s why:

  • My notes in Evernote synch across all devices. If I make a change on my laptop, for example, it’s reflected when I open Evernote on my phone, tablet, or desktop.
  • As a result, I can take it with me and update my to-do list wherever I go, and–if needed–immediately when a task’s status changes.
  • I can forward emails to Evernote, assign them to a notebook, and assign tags to them without leaving Gmail. That means I can treat reading email as it should be treated–as a low-priority task that leads to real work, instead of as a high-priority that consumes my work day.
  • Through tagging, I can sort by priority, client, task name, and date created. That makes it easy to focus on the right tasks at the right time.
  • If that’s weren’t enough, the search functionality in Evernote is amazing. There’s no disincentive to creating new notes since you can find what you’re looking for in seconds. (Sidenote: Evernote even searches text that’s part of any photos you save as notes. In-freaking-credible.)
  • I can keep my to-do list in a separate notebook from my other notes. If I want to move something over, I just click on the correct notebook name.

There’s more I could say, but it all comes back to one thing: using Evernote as a to-do list has helped me become as productive as I’ve ever been, without much slipping through the cracks. Except, of course, the occassional blog post.

If you have any questions about Evernote–or if you’ve come up with ways to use it that go beyond the basics–drop a note in the comments.

*And I may never have if not for a reminder from Kim. Thanks!
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6 Responses to Evernote: at last, the perfect to-do list tool

  1. AmberRecker says:

    I’ve been trying to make the full switch to evernote for my to do list. Thanks for posting the Secret Weapon post… very helpful 🙂

  2. Jon dize says:

    Great post, Anthony. Ever since Palm went the way of MySpace, I have been searching for a good to do list. I found Wunderlist to be a good B+ when compared to Palm, and will try out Evernote as well.

  3. Andy Welfle says:

    My problem with To-Do lists is that I’m very, very bad at being consistent. I’ll get on an To-Do list kick and over-task my life. I’ll go strong with that for a while, and then let one thing slip. Then another thing. Then, in my mind, the whole to-do list is invalidated, and I revert back to my Lizard Brain, which just writes things down on pieces of paper and “stars” it in my email. I’ll go like that for a while, until I get overwhelmed and need to rebuild my list, and then the cycle continues.

    Can you have bipolar task disorder?

  4. Karolina says:

    You can try new, simply app, task manager for making to do list. Everdo.it app will be available later this year for iOS and Android and will also enable full synchronization with personalized content of Evernote. Check our web to find some more info and screen shots.

  5. ALBERT says:

    Evernote is a deadly awesome tool. But apart from evernote I want to recommend another tool called ProofHub as it offers to-do’s, time tracking, gantt chart, group chat, milestones etc.

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