If you’re using Evernote tasks, here’s some strategy to help you organize them.

The market is full of task managers. Evernote’s use of tasks makes it unique. Tasks are integrated as part of the notes from which they were created.

The Principle

The principle behind this concept is important. It’s one I adopted over twenty after reading the classic work Time Power written by the late Dr. Charles Hobbs. It’s a principle involved in documentation or notetaking, which I’ve used for a long time. I got the idea from a book by Dr. Charles Hobbs called Time Power.

As we take notes, “to-dos” emerge for us to handle later. People run into problems when they flip and forth between their notes and their task manager to record tasks. The problem is the same whether the tool is a paper planner, a digital system, or a hybrid.

A far better practice is to put the tasks in the body of the notes. Mark the to-dos with a checkbox. Now, they stand out from the rest of the material on the page. Later in the day, revisit the notes and improve the notes. Reword elements that are unclear because they were written in haste. Refine the wording of tasks so they are clear. Then, harvest the to-dos and put them on the appropriate dates in your task manager.

TaskClone

Since 2013, I’ve been using TaskClone It automates this process. I put my to-dos in the body of the notes and put a checkbox in front of them. TaskClone copies the to-dos and pastes them into my digital task list. All the tasks from all the notes come together in my digital task manager where I can organize them by date and priority. In addition, the tasks include links back to the original notes from where they came. When it’s time to do the task, I’m one click away from seeing the entire note.

The Start of Evernote Tasks and Why It’s Important Now

Around two years ago, Evernote introduced tasks. The idea was the same as my experience with TaskClone. Put tasks inside notes and designate them as tasks. All the tasks from all the notes come together in one task list. Each task includes a link back to the original note.

The task function in Evernote was quite basic what makes Evernote tasks newsworthy is the recent improvement that has happened.

For the mechanics, I encourage you to read this issue of “Taming the Trunk” by Jon Tromans. In this post, I am focusing on the strategy for their use.

Repeating Tasks

One of the points that separates my work from many others is the emphasis on repeating tasks. With any task manager, the ability to create repeating tasks is a huge timesaver.

One basic principle of Evernote tasks is that every task lives within a note. We will leverage what could be seen as a restriction and use it to craft a logical setting for your repeating tasks.

Begin by creating a notebook called “Repeating_Tasks.” Inside that notebook, create 12 notes. Label each with a month of the year.

Think through the tasks that you perform every January. Start listing them inside the “January” note. Create the tasks. Add a date and designate the task as a repeating task that recurs annually. Is there information you need to have when you do that task? For example, if the task involves a phone call to a particular company, will you need your account number? If the answer is “yes,” enter it in the description field for the task.

Look back through your calendar, old pages from a paper planner, or any other tool to help you recall your repeating tasks. Continue this procedure for all 12 months.

Monthly

We all have some tasks we perform every single month. So, create a “Monthly.” Brainstorm the tasks you perform every month and start listing them as tasks inside this note. Assign a due date corresponding to the very next time you need to perform the task. Designate them as repeating tasks and have them recur every month.

Weekly

Do you have some tasks you perform each week? Create a note called “Weekly.” Start listing those weekly repeating tasks. Give each a due date and designate them all as repeating tasks. Use the description field for any information you would like to have at hand when you perform the task.

Daily

If you have a collection of tasks you perform each day, a note called  “Daily” could house them. Give each a due date of today and set the repeat pattern to repeat daily. Daily tasks may be so ingrained in your routine that you may not need to add them to your task list.

Other

You’ll likely need one more note called “Other.” Perhaps you have a few tasks you repeat each quarter or semi-annually or every other week. Use this note as a catch-all for them give each one a due date and assign the appropriate repeating pattern to it.

The Notebook is Only for Reference

You won’t be going to this notebook daily. You’re not going to be working from these notes. These repeating tasks appear in the Task Kingdom. Each task displays its due date, priority, and description. You will see all tasks for a particular date together. You’ll work through the task list in the task kingdom, and check off tasks as they’re done.

A task checked off in the Task Kingdom is automatically checked off in its respective note. Because it is a repeating task, rather than appearing as a task with a line through it, the due date will be replaced by the next due date for that task. Therefore, anytime you visit that repeating task notebook, you’ll see a fresh list of tasks with the upcoming due dates.

Again, your daily work will not be done while referencing that notebook. The notebook is simply a reference. If someone asks you what task you have every October, you have one note where you can go and show them the whole list. If you ever wonder whether you have a repeating task on your list, this is also a good place to see if you have one before you add a duplicate.

Single Tasks That Relate to Notes

Now that you have a notebook for your repeating tasks and have a set of notes inside that list those repeating tasks logically, we can move on to single tasks that do not repeat.

First, let’s tackle the ones that relate directly to a note in Evernote. You made a phone call and took notes during the call. You listed some to-do’s during that call and did so in the body of that note.

Fantastic! Give the task a due date. Give it a priority if appropriate. Put something in the description field if you like. You have now earned the right to forget about that task! As you work through your task list in the task Kingdom, it’s going to be there. When you check it off in the task Kingdom, it is checked off in the note. The note becomes an even more valuable piece of reference information. That note displays the reference information, a record of the tasks completed, and a record of the tasks related to that note still outstanding.

But what about if you find yourself creating a task related to a note, but you’re not in that note when you think about the task? That’s okay. Create a new task in the Task Kingdom. Use the drop-down at the top of the task to choose the appropriate note. That task will also now show up in that note. Remember, every task lives inside a note.

Tasks Not Related to a Note

The next example gets more sticky. It involves tasks that do not relate to a note. You will notice when you create a new task from the Task Kingdom or by clicking the new task button, you see the name of a note at the very top. Currently, that note is called “Things To Do.” It’s a catch-all note for any task that doesn’t relate to a specific note. Very quickly, that note becomes overwhelming. It becomes a combination of every task you have added to it whether that task has been completed or not. Currently, there is no way to hide the completed tasks.

I feel strongly that a task manager should provide a “collection bucket” that traps all new tasks in one place. Later, you can look at what you’ve added, clean up the wording, add or clean up due dates, priority, description, add repeats etc. The principle is to avoid the pressure of having to include all of that information in the “heat of the battle.” It increases the likelihood of mistakes and the feeling of overwhelm. A good task manager allows you to take whatever hits your brain and immediately take responsibility for it. Later in the day, when the dust settles, review the new tasks you trapped, clean things up, and move the tasks out of that “collection bucket.”

If you’ve been using Evernote task at all, it’s likely that that default task note, the one called “Things To Do,” is already a mess.

I recommend you create two more notes:

  • Title one of them “Tasks_Inbox”
  • Title the other one “Tasks_Organized.”

Next, make “Tasks_Inbox” the default note. Any new task will wind up there until otherwise designated.

Here’s how to make that note your default note for tasks.

  • Click on the task Kingdom in the left-hand sidebar. Your list of tasks appears.
  • In the upper right corner, click on the three-dot menu.
  • Choose the setting that says “default task note.”
  • Start keying in the search window “Tasks_Inbox.” The note will quickly appear. Click on it and click “Done.”

Each day, your job will be to look at your Tasks_Inbox note and clean up what you see. When each task appears the way you want it (clear wording, due date, repeat, priority, description) move each task from “Tasks_Inbox” to “Tasks_Organized.”

You’re never going to be working from the “Tasks_Organized” note. It will quickly become a collection of every task you’ve completed and every task yet to complete. You’ll never need to visit that note again unless you just want to get a good look at everything that’s been on your plate. Your job is to get the Tasks_Inbox in good order and then move it all to the Tasks_Organized note. During the day, work from the Task Kingdom and check things off as you do them.

Two Philosophies on Due Dates in Evernote Tasks

Finally, let’s look at two approaches to due dates. Either will work. Figure out which will work best for you and be consistent.

One approach is to give every task a due date. The due date represents the day you want to see that task again. Sort your list by due date, and you’re good to go. The list may be long, but the things that you need to see today are at the top. This is the practice that I have been using for almost 20 years. One reason is it is an approach that will work with virtually any task manager. It’s easy to teach. It’s easy to understand. The advantage that I have with Remember The Milk is that I can select multiple tasks at the same time and change the due date for all of them at one time. In Evernote, at least right now, you must change the due dates one at a time.

The other approach is to give due dates to only the tasks that truly have a due date. Most of your tasks on your list probably don’t have a specific due date. You just need to get them done as soon as you can get them done. If you get the test done today, that’s fine. If you get it done tomorrow, that’s fine too. What you don’t want to do is spend lots of time updating due dates for tasks that really have no due date to start with.

All repeating tasks would have due dates. Once you check the task off as “done,” you don’t want to see it again until the next occurrence.

Any single task that you cannot do or should not do until sometime in the future gets the appropriate due date. You do not want to see tasks that are not available to you mixed in with tasks you could be completing.

But, for all tasks available to you now, leave the due date blank. These tasks would show up today and continue to show up until completed.

When you look at the Task Kingdom in Evernote, you notice several ways to sort tasks. Sorting by date is the most logical. Overdue tasks appear at the top, followed by the tasks that have a due date of today, followed by those with a due date of tomorrow etc. Tasks with no due dates will be at the bottom.

Once you get more than a few tasks on the list, you’ll quickly see the problem with that arrangement. All undated tasks (all tasks available to you now but don’t have a hard and fast due date) wind up at the very bottom. They’re going to wind up after all of repeating tasks, including tasks that don’t repeat for months from now. They’re going to wind up after that task is going to remind you to renew your driver’s license three years from now or your passport seven years from now.

Here’s your workaround. As you look at the Task Kingdom, notice you can view your tasks in several different ways:

  • My tasks
  • Notebooks
  • Notes
  • Today
  • Assigned

Everything is subject to change, so that’s the layout as of when this post is published. If you like the idea of only using due dates for tasks that truly have a due date, the view you want to use is the “Today” view. you’ll see over the tasks followed by tasks for today, tomorrow, the next 7 days (in order by due date), the future (again, in order by due date), and finally no due dates.

“But how’s this any good?” you say. We are still looking at the problem of the tasks available now winding up at the very bottom of the list.

Notice the headers that separate the tasks into everything from “Overdue” to “Future” and finally “No due date.”  Each has an arrow point allowing you to collapse or expand the header.

Collapse the sections for “Tomorrow,” “Next 7 Days,” and “Future.” Now, your list looks like this:

  • Tasks that are truly overdue
  • Task truly due today
  • All other tasks available to you now

To go further, consider refining your list by sorting by “priority.” Look for that option in the upper right of the screen. Within each of those collapsible sections, tasks appear in priority order. This technique is especially helpful when the undated section is long.

Evernote Tasks Conclusion

Evernote tasks have come a long way when it comes to giving you a task list that will work. It’s still not the most powerful task list on the market by any amount of means. However, it gives you a functional list that works with your notes, and it does so without you paying for both a task manager and a notes app.

How do you manage your tasks? Do you already use Evernote tasks? What’s your reaction to what you are reading here? Leave a comment on this post or in the comments on YouTube.

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