GTD & Evernote – which notebooks and tags to use

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So I’ve tried (and failed) to implement Evernote and GTD, and along the way I’ve learnt how to setup my Evernote tags and notebooks to best suit me. There are lots of differing opinions on this; my advice is to read a couple of approaches and choose one which resonates with you. Give it a try, but don’t be afraid to adapt it to suit you. Whatever works best for you…

The four key notebooks that work for me

My notebook setup within Evernote complements the GTD approach. I put a number in front of each notebook so they appear in this order.

  • 1. Inbox
  • 2. Next
  • 3. Someday/maybe
  • 4. Reference

The inbox is where everything gets sent and represents the collect phase of GTD. As you gather actions or things to remember, don’t worry about what they mean, just chuck ’em in the inbox.

The Next and Someday/maybe notebooks are where all my notes requiring action are sent during the process phase of GTD. Each of these notes will have a next action clearly written in the first line of the note.

Once a note has had the actions completed I throw it into the reference notebook. I’m not too bothered if this notebook gets cluttered, Evernote’s search functionality is so good that finding old notes takes seconds.

Don’t get too hung up on notepads when running GTD on Evernote – choose a simple approach like mine and go with it. You can always add more notebooks later.

Evernote tags that are simple but effective

Again, simplicity is key to succeeding with GTD tags. I have 4 types of tags I use:

  1. Action type – starts with “@” to keep it at the top of the list
  2. Life area/category
  3. Person/people
  4. Project

The action type tags define what is required. “@action” means I’ve got to do something, “@delegate” means someone in my team is doing something for me, “@waiting for” means I’m waiting (!) this works for me as I manage a team, and can keep track of what we’re doing with this approach.

The Life area/category tags define what area of my life or job the note fits into. I look after pricing at work, so naturally there is a tag called “pricing”, but I will also have one for “moving house”. I don’t distinguish between work and home life in my GTD implementation.

The Person/people tag uses the name of the person (or people) that the note is related to.

The Project tag is simply “!Project!”, and is flagged on the main notebook for the project. This allows me to pull all of my projects into one place for my weekly review.

An example might help illustrate:

My boss asks me to write a report on the new system we’re developing so that he can brief the FD. I chose to delegate this task to a team-member so my tags are:

  • @delegate
  • Bosses name
  • Team member name
  • Business area

This makes it really clear to me when I do my weekly review. I know that this is an outstanding action, but that I’ve delegated it to my team member. I also know that my boss is a stakeholder and will want a weekly update.

Notebooks and tags in use

This Evernote setup works well for me, and one of the main  reasons is that I can take a cut of my tasks that is appropriate for the situation. When approaching a one to one with my boss I can pull out all of the outstanding tasks that he gave me, and can give updates on how I’m getting along. If I’m getting ready for a project meeting I can pull out all of the outstanding tasks for that project easily.


Don’t get too bogged down in which notebooks and tags are appropriate for GTD on Evernote. Chose an approach and go with it!

Author: Oliver Gearing

Oliver Gearing is a beatboxing, acoustic looping, 38 year old father of 3. Sounds like an electrocuted version of Elbow

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