I’ve been searching for a few days for a simple way to integrate the features of Evernote with my GTD system.  I stress simple because I don’twant a lot of clicks or shortcuts to make it work.  I want to be able to empty my head in seconds and not lose my thought trying to figure out how to place it in my inbox.  In the vein of “keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler”, this is what I’ve come up with:

The Phases of GTD:
Collect > Process > Organize > Review > Do

I have been using Evernote as one of my capture tools recently. I set it up with 3 and only 3 Notebooks. Simple.  My default is INBOX. This is where all my incoming notes, emails, photos etc go.  This is my collection bucket and is completely unprocessed.  I get this INBOX to zero daily most of the time.


My 2nd Notebook is NEXT ACTIONS.  As I process my INBOX I will tag the notes with the appropriate @CONTEXT.  Currently I have settled on the following tags:

.PROJECTS = List of all my projects. This is a tickler or placeholder for the project and might contain some thoughts or mindmaps in the body.
@AGENDAS = Contains a note for each person I regularly need to discuss things with.  In the body are the specific ticklers or items I want to talk with them next time I see them.
@ANYWHERE = Items that I can do anywhere.  I don’t need a computer or phone or a specific person to accomplish these.
@CALLS = Specific calls that I need to make
@COMPUTER = Things I can only do while at a computer
@ERRANDS = Things I need to get while I am out and about, like supplies at Home Depot or Staples for example.
@HOME = Things I need to do at home like change the HVAC filter or clean the fish tank.
@READ/REVIEW = Items that I have clipped or emailed myself that I want to read at some point.  Things might be articles from my Google Reader, a website or specific URL that I want to review later on
@WAITING FOR = I will clip or email myself tracking info for Amazon shipments etc.
@WORK = Things that I need to do at work. You never know when you might have an incredible idea about that certain project for that specific client while you are say running errands or just hanging out in a hammock.

Basically anything in my NEXT ACTIONS notebook are things that are undone and can be sorted by the CONTEXT that I am in.


My 3rd and final notebook is REFERENCE.  Not everything that ends in my INBOX is ACTIONABLE.  Sometimes it is just something cool that I emailed myself or a PDF that I want ubiquitous access to (I’ve installed the desktop client on my work and home laptops, as well as my Blackberry Storm).  Items in the reference folder are tagged with categories that succinctly summarizes it and makes it additionally easy to find.

My current tags are:

FAMILY/PERSONAL – includes things like copies of birth certificates etc
GOAL SETTING – documents and workbooks for my goals
GTD – articles and documents about PDF
HEALTH & FITNESS – articles about health, workout routines, etc
PICTURES – Pictures of things like whiteboard brainstorms
RECIPES – Recipes that I’ve seen on FOOD NETWORK or otherwise would like to try or try again.
SOMEDAY/MAYBE – the infamous Someday I might do this.
TRAVEL – Places I’d like to travel, or information about a specific place like RESTAURANTS TO CHECKOUT WHILE IN ALBUQUERQUE


The Review phase is pretty simple from the desktop or web client. Simply click the context you are in and BLAMMO! there you have a list of things that you can do right now.



There is probably not a lot of DOING happening inside of Evernote, however, as part of this phase I determine if the action that I completed should be deleted or archived in the REFERENCE notebook.  I will untag it from the @CONTEXT and tag it with one of the tags from the ORGANIZE phase.  Honestly, most actions don’t get moved to REFERENCE.  Some of the more complex projects that I would like to refer back to move to the REFERENCE notebook.


A pair of tips that I have found very helpful.  I love the ability to email stuff to my Evernote account.  However, the unique email address that is assigned is too hard to remember.  So I created another GMAIL account that looks like:  evernote.myname@gmail.com and then created a filter to forward emails from my personal and work email addresses to the unique evernote address. It is then marked as read and moved to the archive.  If somebody else were to email something to that inbox, it won’t get forwarded since the filter is only for my emails.

And for my multi-function printer, I pointed all scanned items to be saved in to the newly created directory: MY DOCUMENTSEVERNOTE. I then took Evernote Windows Client and set that folder to automatically import to my INBOX. To do that: TOOLS > ACCOUNT PROPERTIES > FILE IMPORT and then point to your directory.  It is also easy to DRAG ‘N DROP files in to that folder for quick and easy importing to Evernote.


The Book That Inspires The Evernote Team:

“Wow! Thanks for this book. I’ve been fascinated by MyLifeBits for years; it’s certainly inspired our thinking at Evernote.”
Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote

Youtube Explanation (1m 4s): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVU3eGIAiqw

[leadplayer_vid id=”5255F423A4B7C”]
Mentions Around The Web:



62 thoughts on “My Simple GTD & Evernote Combo”

    1. Thanks Derek.

      I need to update the post. I recently moved the hosting and lost the graphics.

      What is funny on the Youtube video is the audio got stripped when posted… but it still seems to work.

      1. I think the Youtube works perfectly in silence!  🙂

        “the unique email address that is assigned is too hard to remember.  So I created another GMAIL account”

         I read the above comments twice so please forgive me if I missed something because after I copy/pasted my EN email address to my Gmail contacts and named it “Evernote Upload” it automatically propagates the Send To window by the time I type ev. Also I always use email to upload photos of products I like to EN because from iPhone email I can reduce the photo’s file size for quicker upload and easier viewing/scrolling on mobile.

        And finally, thank you Darren! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have created my notebooks almost exactly as you outlined and this IS the best Evernote tutorial on the web!!!

        1. Thanks Evernut.

          After I set up the system a few years ago I realized the email portion was much easier.

          Easiest: I would setup as a contact in gmail and do like you have done and create a contact called Evernote Upload or something.

          Geekier: use the tagging feature like email+evernote [at] gmail.com so that it filters and forwards. Bit clunkier.

          Since I have the evernote email account I have stuck with it and it works.

          Best of luck GTD’ing!

          1. Heh, just to be clear, I was stating for others not attempting to counter your quote. 🙂

            Thanks to you I’m beginning to experience that clarity and freedom that David Allen speaks of.

            Seriously, this post should be natively linked on the Evernote site.

            No need for you to reply, I just needed to say it.

  1. Darren,
    This is great. I’m just starting to get into EN and starting to see how its ubiquity across devices could hold enough benefit to get me off using my paper notebook.

    Question: Could you elaborate on how you are handling projects? Curious why that isn’t a 4th notebook.

  2. Some great ideas here – I think I’ll try it out. I just got an android and not to happy with some fo the specific GTD apps. Didn’t think to use the evernote app. Thanks!

    I didn’t see a link to the Youtube video – but I’d be interested in watching it in action..

    1. Thanks Jon. Since losing the old version of this post in a domain migration I lost the 40+ comments – one which referenced that too. I need to update the post with that gmail hack/trick. It will have to go on the someday/maybe list however. 😉

    2. Another option (short of creating dedicated email accounts) is to add yourself to your own contact list. I forward emails to one of several accounts or services that support mail-in features (SugarSync, Evernote, Toodledo, Instapaper, etc.). I’ve added those email addresses to my own contact entry in GMail, and I pick the address I need on the fly. You can also create a contact entry for each individual service using fictitious names that are easy to remember (e.g. “Jon Evernote” ) so the search and selection is even quicker.

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  4. Darren,

    May be a bit confusing for some of the newer to EN folks. You reference @Contexts which I believe you mean “Tags” in lieu of Notebooks (That’s a question). What I believe you mean is that the @Notebooks references any emails that would go into EN, then the Tags #Nameofthetag would add the Tag to the email or note you are sending to EN for easy reference when filtering through your Inbox or the 2 other Notebooks (Project added I see in your comments as well to the 4th Notebook-smart move).

    So, if you were emailing, it would be:
    @Name-of-Notebook #Tag-or-Context


  5. Thanks for the tips! I just got an Android Gingerbread and would like to hear what Apps you advise me to install for GTD in order to combine it with EN? Thanks!

    1. I’ve not found anything that really works to force Evernote into a GTD-machine. There is an app for a product called Springpad at http://springpadit.com. It is a client-less desktop app with everything running in HTML5 browsers. The Android app is pretty good too.

      Springpadit is similar to evernote, but at the same time very different. I should write out a complete post about it. It does allow you to sync with your calendar and put tasks in springpadit.

      Give it a check.

      Also, per Dean Holmes in an earlier comment, I’ve tried out ActiveInboxHQ.com for Gmail. I absolutely LOVE this program and bought the full version for $25 which is a steal. Playing with their beta now.

      ActiveInbox doesn’t have a GMAIL client per se, but it leverages labels in Gmail and is built for GTD. It is free to try out and the current Android Gmail program makes it fairly easy to use the features.


      1. Shay Weinblatt

        Hi! I am just starting up my GTD – I’ve been using EN years as a catch all file for things that caught my fancy, not for tasks, so I’ve got tons of topic tags. I think your Simple Sytem is great, but I really liked ActiveInbox to use for GTD (closer to gcal, worlflow, etc. – but I don’t think it works yet on the iphone. So do you see any ideas to hybrid them (iphone {maybe including Siri reminders}, EN, AI)? Thanks!

  6. Altbauwohnung_lehel

    Thanks for this summary of your GTD System.
    I nearly run it the same way and found your page, because I’m struggling with the same problem, that I don’t want to forward every mail to Evernote.

    I thought the best way would be, that Evernote Inbox syncs directly with GMail. Most of my tasks are somehow related to it. And if not, I could directly scan it to Evernote (via WebClip, Scanner, etc).

    Unfortunately right now there seems to be only one tool that is capable of doing that, but it’s only running on windows

    The URL is http://www.addictivetips.com/windows-tips/sync-evernote-with-gmail-for-backup/ maybe it helps you.

    Best regards, Bend

  7. Is the NEXT ACTIONS notebook necessary? Why not just add a tag like .NEXTACTION to the next action notes?

    And why not just use only one notebook for the whole setup: notes without any tag are INBOX notes automatically, and notes with any other tags than .NEXTACTION are REFERENCE notes.

    So you would just need only one notebook for all called:

    MEGABRAIN !!! 😉

  8. Interesting write up.  FYI you don’t need to setup a new gmail account to do things like this, just simply prefix your existing account with “tags” like evernote+mygmailaccount@gmail.com.  You can prefix anything you want to your gmail account using the tag+ syntax, and then configure your filters in your core gmail account to route accordingly.

      1. Don’t over think it: just create a contact called Evernote (or whatever name you want to use), with your Evernote email address.

  9. Nice easy to understand post for GTD newbies such as myself.
    I think I’m going to use your method.

    One modification I’m going to make is:
    Under my .PROJECTS tag I will have subtags for the different projects, so that I may link notes to projects I’m working on, and easily find all tasks for a particular project.

    Thanks for this

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  15. Thanks for posting this. I’ll admit, I’m a total noob trying to convert to GTD so forgive me for not totally getting it – but the implementation of Projects is still unclear to me. In which notebook do your Project overviews actually reside? It appears to me that you keep them in NEXT ACTIONS while they are in process, even though they aren’t actionable items. Also, what do you do with supporting documentation for these projects that are in motion?

    Thanks again.

  16. Darren – I just wanted to thank you for posting an incredible article.  When this post first came out, it was one of them that I had bookmarked to help me better increase control over my workflow and allow me to be more productive at life.  Through multiple iterations, I was always able to see Evernote as my “life management” tool.  Implementing GTD in Evernote is easier than one thinks and it just makes sense to have it as the one centralized location in which you manage your life – whether at home, work, or on the run.  As a result of your work, Ruud Hein, David Ward of AttorneyMarketing.com, and Bobby Travis at 40Tech.com, I ended up publishing an eBook called Evernote: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done.  It’s now in the Evernote Trunk and has quickly become an international hit.  I’m so humbled by the responses – and again, I owe a lot of the foundations to you in helping me get there.  

    Thank you again – and if your readers want to see the eBook, they can take a look in the Evernote Trunk or go to http://ebook.dangoldesq.com

    Cheers to you!

  17. I have been an evernote user for about 3 years now, I am a scientist (for more than 20 years), I am also a long time GTD system user. Evernote is a great program for storing information. I have a recearch archive comprising of some 50 large file boxes with various papers articles adn references material, I use spare time to scan this stuff and store it in evernote for this evernote is great. However evernote is not a good GTD program, you can set up list of tasks in their proper context, but tasks often has to be done a  certain time, (phone Boss at x:xx am) and you want to get a reminder for that, evernote cant do that! As a professional most of our  tasks starts with an incoming email (I dont use GTD remember to to laundry or to buy milk) the incoming email usually have files attach and generate work that consists of e.g. 2 new projects and 5 single tasks. Evernote is not very good for dealing with these kind of problems. In evernote you cant check out tasks that have been done, you have to erase them. Nothing feels better than to look at task list and see that all have been checked as done.

    1. I’ve been watching your videos.  They are great.  At first I thought it was David Allen with his soothing voice narrating.  Looking forward to checking out your Usage videos this week.

  18. Such a great post. Actually I have used a couple tricks from it,

    Darren, my I ask your permission to translate this post into Russian with links to original post? I think it should be useful.

  19. just beginning to use evernote
    a bit enough of google documents messy stuff

    I have a question: are you using also tags for other purposes that contexts?
    I mean, I can have a note in the NEXT ACTION notebook, tagged as .project for which I want to associate a tag like “music” “collaboration” etc

    would you have opinions/experiencies with that ?

  20. Thanks for your post – really appreciate it!

    What is missing and is a huge issue especially on the Evernote Mac forums is the reminder issue – roll eyes. I know Evernote is a capture tool and the Evernote forum Nazi’s will keep reminding you of this, but obviously with this tool then comes the action items.

    I have used your suggestion of the email reminder follupthen, but I have found this service is not reliable even when the email confirmation is sent to remind you of an action.

    Seriously, what is a reliable easy to use reminder! is this such a hard question and it really is the elephant in the room for Evernote, perhaps thats why this great tool has an elephant on the front.

    Please suggest something!

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  25. For implementing GTD you can use this application:


    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.

    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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