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My Tools for Getting Stuff Done


I wrote a post last week called “The 3 Step Plan to Owning Your Task List”, in which I talked a bit about the few productivity principles that have become critical in my life as a student. I’ve read a number of productivity books, and enjoyed many of them, but it’s always boiled down to the three points I mention in the post.

This time, I’m going to show you a bit of my brain, and detail my essential productivity system. The three step process is what I work by,  and I’ve ironed each down a bit more.

Here’s how I, a college student, keep my brain and life in order.

1. Write EVERYTHING down, in the same place. My “ubiquitous capture tool”, as it’s referred to in GTD circles, is Evernote.  Evernote is a web, desktop, iPhone, and cell phone-based system for taking notes of any kind. You can clip screenshots, take pictures, record voice notes. Add them to notebooks, add tags, search through everything (including the text of pictures- HUGE for things like business cards), and access it all from one place. 

The reason I use it, though, is that I can access it from anywhere. I like the web-based client the best, so I use it when I can. There’s a desktop client for offline use. There’s an iPhone client (or iPod Touch, in my case) that finally offers offline storage, as well as a Windows Mobile client (for my phone), which lets me upload text notes, voice notes, and snapshots. I can send emails to Evernote if I need to, and I have yet to run into a situation where I can’t send something to Evernote. Even if I’m out of cell service, I can add a note and it uploads when I get back to civilization.

Anything that comes into my head goes straight into Evernote. Quotes to remember, grocery lists, “do laundry” reminders- everything.

2. Schedule like mad, and stick to it. I would fall apart without my calendar accessible to me at all times. Once again, the biggest requirement I have for a calendar is that it be accessible anywhere I am. This time, Google Calendar‘s the big winner for me, for two reasons.


1. It’s the easiest to use: Creating an event is easier here than with any other app I’ve found. Especially now that there’s a Gmail gadget (I use Gmail exclusively for email), I can add events right from my email. It recognizes things like “lunch with Tom tomorrow at 1″ as it should, and makes adding, editing, and reviewing my calendar incredibly easy.

2. It plays nicely with the other things I use: I mentioned the Gmail gadget, which is huge. There’s also an iGoogle gadget (my homepage), a way to sync to my iTouch and my phone (called NuevaSync- it’s awesome), and great web interfaces on all platforms. Whether I’m on my phone, my iPod, or my computer, I can use Google Calendar easily and smoothly. If I don’t like using a program, I don’t- Google seems to know that, and creates fantastic user experiences.

3. Review, review, review. Over the last 6 months, I’ve become a Remember the Milk evangelist- mostly because it’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to task lists since… ever.

There are a million reasons RTM is great, but here are 10: Gmail gadget. Google Gears (offline) integration. iPhone app. Email tasks. Location-awareness. Flexibility (create all the lists you want, play with them however). Tagging. Syncs with my phone. Great web interfaces. Tons of ways to input tasks (bookmarklets, gadgets, etc.). Twitter integration. See tasks as RSS. Text message reminders. Email reminders. (For more, check their services page)

Okay, that was 14. I get excited. To sum it up, RTM makes inputting tasks incredibly easy, organizing them obvious, intuitive and simple, and lets you actually get stuff done instead of always tweaking the system (but you can tweak the system all you want). For more information, there’s a post on my own blog that talks about more reasons I’m sold on RTM.

Everyone’s got their own productivity system, but this is the one that’s worked for me. Everything goes into Evernote, and then a couple times a day I dump things into either RTM or GCal, and then I’m able to start doing work, checking stuff off, and getting stuff done.

What’s your system for getting stuff done? What applications do you use? Are they better than mine? Let us know in the comments.

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Related posts:

  1. The 3 Step Plan to Owning Your Task List
  2. My Free Mac Student Software Arsenal
  3. Using Google Apps for Family Email
  4. Ultimate Guide to Productivity (My First Meme)
  5. Quick Tip: Remember the Milk for Gmail

13 Responses to “My Tools for Getting Stuff Done”

  1. Brad Tanner says:

    My system for Getting Stuff Done is almost identical, but my tool couldn’t be more different.

    I’m an active person and like to carry as little as possible, but as a creative professional I need to have something with me at all times so I can capture my ideas, sketches, thoughts, contacts, appointments, and tasks.

    So I carry my Paper Assistant and a Fisher Space Pen.

    A single page paper planner you can easily carry in your pocket.

    On the front is a blank week, month, and year calendar.

    On the back is a section for recording contact info and several to do lists.

    I write everything down on it. Carry it and follow it religiously. And what some see as its weakness, I have found to be its greatest strength.

    Each week review and create my new planner. I sit down and input new information from my Paper Assistant into Outlook and fill in the week’s events, meetings, and important tasks on to my new Paper Assistant. The physical time and process reinforces my action items for the week.

    My Outlook automatically syncs with my Windows Mobile phone and I can access my account online, but the key is my paper planner. Outlook basically serves as a permanent repository and backup.

    It may seem low-tech, but it is the only system that has worked for me. It might work for you.

    Check it out.

  2. If I want to get something done, I have to write it down. That is a must for productivity. Your thoughts on scheduling are entirely accurate as well - if you don’t set aside the time to do something you’ll never get it done.

  3. Kali says:

    I’m a college student, so during the school year, I keep everything I need to do in a regular paper planner. It’s the easiest way for me to keep everything together and organize what I have to do and when.

    I use just the online versions Google Calendar and RTM (both as gadgets on iGoogle) but not as my primary way to keep track of things. They’re convenient because I’m on the computer and online a lot. Otherwise, I write stuff down. I’m also a fan of the Hipster PDA.

  4. Troy Malone says:

    Great to see how you are using Evernote. If you are every struck with the need to delegate something out based on one of your notes in Evernote, take a look at the Pelotonics integration.

    Pretty cool!


    Troy Malone

  5. David Pierce says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    @Hotels- Great points. If I don’t pre-schedule a time to do something, it rarely gets done. The minute-by-minute planning of my day is something that’s helped a lot, and actually given me much more free time.

    @Kali- How do you use the Hipster PDA? The “one note per card” approach, or something more complex? I’m curious to hear- I tried it and could never get it to work for me. What makes it work for you?

    @Troy- thanks for the heads up! I’ve been meaning to try the Pelotonics integration, I love that it’s using the Evernote API!

    Everyone should take a look at the Pelotonics website Troy pointed to above. It’s full of great ways to use Pelotonics, and Evernote in general.

  6. Another great post. I needed to keep all of my information in the same place, and I am not that great with it, so to help I had to get a mini-messenger bag to keep a notebook and other supplies in (pretty much a man purse). May not be ideal to be carrying a purselike bag, but it gets things done.

  7. What an informative and detailed post. I find that writing things down in the same place and using a calendar works wonders for me. Google Calendar has been a great additon to helping me stay on track.

  8. Usually I use notepad or excel to write down all the list I have to do, but it’s not work well. I hope evernote will solve my problem. Thanks for sharing link to evernote.

  9. Good post. I used Google calendar for remind task. I will used evernote. Thanks.

  10. You created a very vivid picture of your process here! Being a pencil-and-paper aficionado myself, I have been using an index-card and list based system since December, and it is working great. In fact, you can find out a little more background on it here at GTDTimes:

    In fact, my system needed to get stripped down to the absolute essentials this winter when the lovely bride and I spent 4 months on a cross-country trek (you can see a short video here

    If she had not landed a job in February, I was *this* close to getting myself an iPhone or PDA to start using, since my beloved notebooks were a little bulky.

  11. Question about using Evernote as UCT: - do you put things in one folder - called - “Ubiquitous Capture” - or something else? Or do you use multiple folders?

    Thanks for a very helpful post - and a terrific blog. Although not limited to students, I think.


  12. The secret to getting stuff done is disconnecting yourself for the internet. Productivity reaches amazing heights, lol.

  13. Great post, thanks for sharing. I will definitely use some of your tips cause I have some problems with organising my work.