In perhaps what is a perfect example of how writing bring clarity, I started drafting a post listing out the problems with my current notes/todo workflow and ended up coming to a conclusion as to how to make things better for myself.
The main issue is that I have a smattering of todo-lists and notes scattered over several platforms: plain text files (in different places!), evernote, google keep, google docs, standard notes, and recently I also started trying Trello. So everything is everywhere and not consolidated in the same place.
To tackle the problem, first I consider what are my use cases and requirements:
- Say I think of something that I need to do while I’m away from my computer and want to jot it down quickly before I forget about it. It needs to be quick and easy to note something down. Such things can include:
- a work todo
- an idea I want to investigate later
- a blog post idea
- something that I need to tell somebody
- a project that I could work on
- a game or book that looks interesting
- something I want to read later
- and so on
- I need to note something that I will need for reference at some future point(s). For these pieces of information, I need to be able to pull them up quickly as needed. Examples:
- a wifi password
- API keys
- the url for the production server
- account numbers
- I need to record something on a regular basis (for example, blood pressure) and need a place to store that information for future reference
On mobile, the main way I capture information now is via Google Keep since it’s quick and easy. This means my Google Keep is full of many random cards with lists, some of which I can’t even recall the context of later. For longer-term inputs, I will typically use either a text file stored in Dropbox or StandardNotes or Google Docs.
The solution came to me when I realized that I was capturing all these inputs and leaving them in the same place: so all the free-floating ideas I captured stay in Google Keep, unorganized and chaotic. I figured I needed to have two separate phases:
- Capture ideas/todo items into an “inbox” (in this case, Google Keep)
- Periodically review the “inbox” and move items to the appropriate locations, for example:
- immediately actionable items can be done immediately
- todo lists for actionable items
- reference folders for reference material
I mostly didn’t have step 2 before. This is largely similar to the “Getting Things Done” workflow that became popular for productivity nerds a while back.
An additional step for me to have more well-defined “buckets” or locations, where different types of items need to be sent. Having them be well-defined makes the review step easier. For now my initial schema is:
- Google Keep
- inbox for capturing new items, should be reviewed and cleaned regularly
- short reference notes can be kept here for quick access
- for lists, such as todo lists, ideas lists, project lists
- for reference material that can be stored plaintext
- Google Docs
- for reference material that requires formatted documents or spreadsheets
- for document drafts that will later be published elsewhere
Note: I have largely abandoned Evernote because of free account limitations. I also want to reduce Dropbox usage for the same reasons.
Hopefully this scheme lets me be a bit more organized than I have in the past! I would also love to hear about how other people organize their notes and lists!