Complete Your Digital Planning System with Evernote

Every day needs a plan, a map, and room for notes.

I started using a Franklin planner when I started junior high. Even when I got a Palm PDA, then an iPhone, I kept using paper for my planning. It wasn’t until the iPad arrived that I finally set that beloved binder aside. Despite the advantages of digital planning tools, a part of me still wants to dust off the binder and go back to paper-based planning.

I used a two-page-per-day format. On the left, you had your tasks and appointments for the day. On the right, blank space for notes. It was everything you needed to plan and execute your day.

When I got the iPad, I started looking for a digital version of that experience. It took me years to realize that to have a great digital planning system, I didn’t need to recreate the everything-in-one-place experience that the Franklin has. Instead of searching for one app that would store tasks, appointments, and notes, choose separate apps that do one thing well and play well with others.

For tasks, I use OmniFocus. I may have written about it once or twice. For appointments, the Calendar app built in to OS X and iOS. Earlier this year, I started systematically using Evernote for notes, and it’s complementing my digital planning very nicely. Here’s how you can use Evernote to complete your digital planning system.

Your plan for the day includes tasks, meetings, and notes. Photo ©2014 Colter Reed.

The most common type of planning note I have is the Daily Notes. (It used to be the Daily Record of Events, but the current designs seem to all use Daily Notes.) Each day has a note titled Daily Notes YYYY-MM-DD. This is a log of the important things I did that day. Phone calls I made, bills I paid, and a scanned copy of the claim tag for the dry cleaning I dropped off.

Some days will get multiple notes if there’s an important or unusual event that I want to stand out. (I recently attended a networking event where Clayton Christensen spoke; that got its own note where I collected my notes, thoughts, and impressions from his remarks.) If you do this, include the same YYYY-MM-DD code in the title. That lets you easily search for all the notes from a day, even if the creation and modification dates get changed.

You can also create an entry ahead of time so that you’ll have information the day you need it. The last vacation we took, I created the appropriate Daily Notes notes ahead of time with the hotel reservations on them; when the day came, I had the hotel’s address to enter into the nav system in the morning, and I had the confirmation number ready when we got to the hotel in the evening. Snap a photo of the dry cleaning claim tag and stick it in a note dated for next Thursday, when you’re going to pick it up. The information you need, when you need it.

The Daily Notes are just the beginning. If you used a paper planner and miss some type of page it had, you can probably stick it in Evernote. Other ideas for your Planner notebook include:

  • Project supporting information, especially if you’d like to refer back to it after the project is completed.
  • A note for each Role in your life that describes why that role is important to you and what success in that role looks like.
  • Your personal mission statement.
  • Five-year plans.
  • Someday/Maybe lists (mine are currently in a paused Single-Action List in OmniFocus, but I’m going to move them to Evernote so OmniFocus is more focused on execution).

One of the great things about Evernote is its flexibility. It’s not quite as flexible as paper, but it syncs better than paper. I’ve started using it more recently as part of my planning, and I like the difference it makes. Part of that difference is just in how much I trust my planning system to be there for me when I need it, and that’s important.

Question: How do you use Evernote to help you be productive? Share your answer in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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