Ditching To-do Apps and Evernote (kind of), Replacing Them With… Gmail
Over the past few years, I’ve spent countless hours creating and refining my productivity system. And so I have strict rules for organizing information— you can read about them here.
But I always felt like something was missing.
In a nutshell, my productivity flow looks something like this:
- Put everything you need to remember in a single place.
- Review this place on a daily basis.
- Put each item where it belongs (whether it’s a reference, task or calendar event).
I must admit, this works pretty well. So what’s the problem?
To make this system work, I’ve always used 3 types of tools:
- A note-taking app (currently Evernote)
- A task management app (currently TickTick)
- And a calendar app (Google Calendar)
Why would you use a note-taking app?
It’s because of the great information capture capabilities. You can take notes, clip web pages, snap photos on your phone, scan paper docs, record audio — whatever — and it all goes in the same place. Simply brilliant.
Now, once you develop a habit out of capturing everything that’s worth capturing, life gets pretty nice. Things rarely get out of hands.
To make it absolutely concrete, you also develop the habit of reviewing your notes on a regular basis. And what happens when you review? There are generally 4 options:
- You will do what you’ve captured (if it’s actionable).
- You will simply archive it (for one reason or another it no longer needs your attention).
- You will file it for reference (so you can access it later).
- Or you will “snooze” it — meaning it doesn’t require your attention now but will in the future.
Note-taking apps like Evernote are pretty good at capturing information and they are great at the first 3 points above (do it/archive it/file it for reference).
But they really suck at organizing time-sensitive information — like tasks and events.
That’s why you always need a task manager and a calendar app.
So why wouldn’t you use a task manager/calendar for everything?
Well, task managers, on the other hand, suck at capturing and storing rich information — that is, information that is not entirely text-based (photos, articles, videos etc.).
But who doesn’t suck at doing, archiving, filing and snoozing?
You guessed it — Gmail.
Can Gmail do it all?
Gmail and their Inbox product have been offering the “Snooze” functionality for a while — letting you schedule an email and have it come back later in your inbox.
They also offer the traditional options to categorize and label incoming mail. They can even do it automatically.
And they are great at searching and finding the right information for you (it’s Google, after all).
To top it all off, email is the internet’s way of communicating. For every service you use, you have to register with email and then communicate with the service using email. And, especially with new laws, you control what you receive and how frequently you receive it. So you get all the benefits from email too.
So I figured, why not use Gmail for everything?
Of course, it’s not so great at capturing information.
You can’t simply snap a photo or scan a paper doc and have it pop up in your email. Same goes for quick notes.
So how do we keep Evernote’s capture capabilities and combine them with Gmail’s storage and management capabilities?
My initial thought was Zapier. But turns out IFTTT also have the option to create a note in Evernote and have it automatically sent to your Gmail inbox.
Over the coming week, I’ll be testing this new system — getting the best of both worlds.
Evernote will be used simply as a note-taking tool instead of the gazillion other ways you can use it (albeit in a sub-optimal way).
And Gmail’s folders, labels, and snooze functionality will be used for storing and manipulating information.
If this works out well, I’ll be eliminating lots of mundane work and one of the tools I’ve always thought necessary for productivity — my task manager.
Not only that, but I’ll finally get a unified Inbox for everything instead of collecting information from multiple sources (Slack, email, Evernote…).
And this, I believe, will be the missing piece I mentioned at the start.
After about a week of using this system, I’m back to the original. Nevertheless, I got a better understand of my habits when it comes to productivity apps. Here are the main drawbacks I found in using Gmail for notes and tasks:
- It’s not good with recurring tasks — you have to manually set a new instance of a task.
- There is a delay when transferring notes from Evernote — not crucial but inconvenient.
- Of course, duplicates arise in both places. If your mind looks for the optimal solution, you will feel like you are creating a lot of waste.
- Not everything in the email inbox is relevant — I find this requires more mental energy for sorting and prioritization.
- Last but not least, most note taking apps and task managers give you a special email address where you can automatically forward new items. This makes up for a few of the bonus features that email gives you (see above).
I’m curious if anyone else tried using a note-capture tool like Evernote in combination with Gmail. Or better yet, do you know how I can improve the system?