Getting Things Done, Evernote, and Nirvana

December is usually a rough month for sales guys. Most software companies go through quarterly business cycles with revenue spikes at the ends of the first three quarters, and one final juggernaut of a spike in December.

So, the beginning of December is marked with a frenzy of activity and teeth gnashing. As you hit Christmas, what’s left on your sales plate starts to dwindle. Just a few deals to chase down, and there’s only so much you can do without your customer filing a restraining order.

That’s always been a sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) spot for me to relax, reflect, regroup, and put some refocused energy into planning for the year to come. Like my old man likes to say, “It’s all over but the shouting.” Funny how it always seems to hit me without warning.

Why am I losing GTD effectiveness?

Upon reflection this year, I’ve realized that my time management system has slowly degenerated. A few years ago, I found David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system and instantly fell in love. GTD can be accomplished with a variety of tools, and I originally zeroed in on an old-school, paper-based GTD system.

The system system radically improved my productivity and mental peace for a good while. I know it works for me. So, what caused things to deteriorate this year? I’ve tracked down three root causes:

  1. I hate writing by hand.
  2. My hand writing is atrocious and hard for even me to read.
  3. Very little paper comes at me. I work in a digital world.

So, I set out to explore a digital GTD system that would better fit my style and needs. For me, there were really three primary areas to investigate: collection, storage, and list management.

Collection (and Storage)

My digital guru, Derrek Cooper, always seems to be a couple years ahead of me on new tools. He first introduced me to Evernote, and I promptly ignored him. I really need to start listening to The Coop sooner! Evernote is the perfect tool for collecting, storing, and later retrieving any form of digital information.

You can easily clip web pages, PDF files, images of receipts, brochures, key emails, audio notes, snapshots of business cards, etc, into a very simple, online filing cabinet. This cloudy cabinet is directly accessible from a local desktop client, smartphone app, or just from a plain old web page.

I have the paid version, but I bet most people will be plenty happy with the free version. So, go sign up and try it out now. You have everything to gain.

Evernote features an extensive, flexible tagging system to help you organize all this information. I first tried using these tags to setup a GTD system for list management. It worked, but felt cludgey and required too much thought on my part. That’s a cardinal sin in the GTD system. Whether you use paper or software to track stuff, the whole thing will fall apart if you have to think too much about the system itself.

After a few days, I decided to focus on Evernote only for Storage and Collection.

List Management

That brings us to the guts of GTD. Yeah, detractors like to laugh and say, “GTD is just a bunch of lists… meh.” Pretty much the truth, but works for me and many, many others out there.

GTD is popular in the software developer community, so it turns out that there are lots of applications to sift through. While I’m a techy guy, I’ve outgrown the willingness to jump through software hoops. Software needs to work for me- but now, it needs to work simply and elegantly as well. Unfortunately, many of the GTD apps I tested were built by programmers who focus more on code than design. Yikes.

Here are the apps that finally held my attention:

Hands down, Nirvana was my favorite. It had the most intuitive, draggy droppy, 3 little bears feeling for this old man. The user experience is so good, that I decided to jump in despite the fact that the product is still in beta and runs as a side project loosely attached to another company. This is not a VC backed web startup gushing dollars. Seems more a labor of love!

Here’s a quick video showing a bit of the GUI. Note that this is already dated compared to the latest build of Nirvana 2, but it’s interesting to hear the commentary. I think you can get a sense for the higher level design thinking going on with these developers!

If you are looking for more sanity and control in your life, I recommend reading the book, Getting Things Done. I read a lot, but am usually incapable of re-reading most books. Only exceptions I can think of are Getting Things Done, The Bible, and Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. Same goes for visual media too, just to give you some perspective on me. I’ve never watched a rerun, and the only movie I’ve willingly watched multiple times is Cool Hand Luke (probably 30 viewings so far).

My next Next Action tonight?

Start my 3rd GTD reading to kick off the new year!

Image by: Johan Larsson

22 comments

  1. Great Article Jeff. Hope 2011 brings you much success

  2. Thanks, Proximo- you too! And thanks for the videos and work ( http://www.youtube.com/user/ProxStud ) you are putting out there to push the product along.

  3. Anonymous · ·

    Jeff,

    Good stuff. I don’t use a formal GTD system, but am aware. I might go check out your links, so thanks for taking the time to document this. Also, I love Evernote. I use it to help me blog, and it’s great: http://www.subjectivelyspeaking.net/2010/09/27/how-i-use-evernote-to-help-me-blog/

    Thanks for the links above to DoIt, GetItDone, and Nirvana!

    1. Thanks, Alan! BTW: The Evernote guys have a great podcast. I’ve been listening to a few of them, and always amazed at the various ways people use Evernote. Good example of the leaders of a company getting directly plugged into their tribe through social media, too.

  4. Great post!
    I´m also i´m also in love with Evernote, and in constant search for the ultimate GTD-system.
    I´ve tried them all, right now I´m looking at “Things” a great GTD-software, but it´s Mac only, at work we use PC and my phone is an Android…the only reason I´m not sticking with Nirvana is the lack of a good iPad app for it. But I´m already thinking of returning to Nirvana, it´s the best GTD-system out there, and I´ve tested all of them =)
    /Mattias

    1. Thanks Mattias. Yep, the lack of a dedicated Android app nearly pushed me away from Nirvana. The product is so good, though, that I’ve decided to use it anyway. I suspect they’ll have something for iPad/iPhone, and Android within 6 months.

    2. Like “things,” i hear “omnifocus” is apparently a great GTP app too, but for macs only too…although i hear there are workarounds for both (maybe also works for things):

      WebDAV synching feature to back up your data to an online server
      http://www.spootnik.net sync omnifocus or basecamp to a server
      Also with omnifoucs, you can apparently add tasks via email…
      I’m just hesitant on throwing down $20 for an iphone app…
      Here is the entire thread on it http://forums.omnigroup.com/showthread.php?t=9436&page=3

      Anyone ever use omnifocus?

      1. Yeah, I’ve heard good stuff about things and omnifocus. Definitely need something that’s as device-ubiquitous as evernote for my GTD list tracker, though.

  5. Hi Jeff.
    Right after writing the post, I did the switch back to Nirvana, Things from Cultured Code is a great GTD-tool, but with Nirvana and Evernote I´m able to have all info at my Mac at home, at work, on my iPad (not perfect but I hope there´s an real Nirvana app in the future) and in my Android.
    I also tried to use Evernote as my GTD-tool, but Nirvana´s great GUI made that hard, Evernote is now my external Inbox and I have Notebooks for all the Projects in Nirvana.
    (I´m from sweden so my spelling is not perfect 😉 )
    /Mattias

  6. Yep, Nirvana is so good I’m willing to overlook these flaws (for now). Looks like they are hiring more developers for the project, and I expect they’ll be out of beta soon. So, things should accelerate.

  7. Hi Ethan.
    I´ve been into Things a couple of times and it´s really good, I´ve heard and read a lot bout omnifocus but never tried it, way to expensive…
    /Mattias

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  10. Hi Jeff,
    Are you still using Nirvana with Evernote for GTD?

  11. Hi Jeff, we’d like to invite you to IQTELL’s app. The app combines all your email accounts, runs Evernote ,
    syncs calendars and helps you attach files and notes as reference materials in one place. We have a GTD work frame and you can finetune it for your own needs because it’s totally customizable…would you like an invite?
    http://iqtell.com/

    1. Thanks Haim, looks like a great tool!

      1. Great! After you’ll register on our site our reps will contact you to schedule an app grand tour 🙂

  12. Stuckster · ·

    Check out Zendone, new kid on the block but already looking very promising with seamless Evernote integration and clear, uncluttered GUI the likes of Nirvana. Definitely one to watch. The devs are really listening to their community and I know Proximo was part of the Beta. https://www.zendone.com/

    1. Thanks Stuckster. I’ll check ’em out. Pretty sure I looked at it early on, but let’s see what they are up to now.

      On the upside, I’d be happy if people just used any tool like this to improve their lives.

  13. I use another combination – Evernote and SmartTM app. Think you should check out this app, for me this one is the best I’ve ever used. Maybe some of you’ll like it as I did

    1. Thanks Kaila… that does look compelling! I don’t see how to sign up for a trial, though?