Evernote as a to-do task manager

The most common questions I get about my Evernote book for real estate revolve around my to-do and task management systems in Evernote.

The more I try to explain what I do, the more I realize the best way to demonstrate it is to show it live.

When I try explaining the most common reaction is blank stares and confusion. When I demonstrate it lights seem to come on.

I have used many great to-do apps such as Wunderlist and Clear, but none have the power and flexibility as Evernote does with tagging.

So here is a video of me using my to-do system. Let me know what other videos you would like to see.

IMPORTANT NOTE ON VIDEO BELOW: If you are having a hard time seeing it, make video full screen and allow it to play for about 15-20 seconds and the video will clear up nicely.

How to create Evernote templates

Evernote is an amazing product, but it is not perfect.

One thing that is missing in Evernote, is a create notes from templates.

Often times there are notes that you want to create that are similar. An example may be a note for phone messages, a note for your buyer transaction or a note for your committee meetings.

While there is no create note from template, that does not mean it is not easy to create and use templates.

Once you create a note that you want to use as a template just copy and paste into a new note each time and just like that you have a note created from a template.

I do a video walk-thru below to show you how quick and easy it is to create a template, then create a note from the template I created.

Cool new toy I am playing with Quicktate

If you have been to one of my Evernote classes you know I love to do voice recordings while driving for note reminders.

Well last week my friend Dan Gold did a post about a new tool he is playing with called Quicktate.

I started playing with it last week, and I am a big fan.

What Quicktate does is transcribe your voice recordings into text.

So I am driving down the road, I get an idea for a new blog post and start dictating into my phone.

Quicktate will then take that voice recording, have a live human being transcribe it, and save it into your Evernote account for you!.

Yes it is that easy.

Quicktate also has a toll-free number available for you to call. Call in to the 888 number and record a voicemail and they will create a new note and put the transcription into your Evernote account.

Evernote continues to grow by leaps and bounds. As more and more people begin to use Evernote there will be more tools like this for you to play with.

Quicktate is not free, it is a paid service. But for a live person to transcribe your note, that is not going to be be free. This is much more accurate than the Google Voice transcriptions, which I love too.

The perfect productivity system

Stop looking, it doesn’t exist.

I spent years and countless hours looking for the perfect systems to make my life more productive and organized in my real estate business.

The used dozens of task management, to-do, productivity systems. I was always looking for better ways to do things.

Don’t get me wrong, I still try many new programs when they come out and I still tinker, But that is mostly because I want to be able to talk intelligently about these services when I am talking at conferences, in classes and with consulting clients and working with real estate agents on growing their business.

What I want to stress to you is the constant search for a better program or app could be killing your productivity. 

For about a two year period my constant search for the ultimate, easiest to use, most powerful program out there kept me spinning my hamster wheel like crazy, but getting nowhere.

Simpler is better

One of my biggest discoveries was the more specific the app was for a certain function, the more advanced options it had, the less productive it actually made me.

An example would be a kick ass to-do list with great reminders, tons of features and more power than any other to-do app out there.

Sounds great right?  Well you are right it is.

My problem is this app with all these features made it more complex to use and on top of that all it did was manage my to-do list.

I would develop a great workflow system inside this app, but the systems I set inside the app were not transferable to my other programs.

End result 

The end result was me having a killer to-do list, a great system for managing my consulting clients, another great system for me managing my short sale negotiations, a yet another system for my prospect and even one more system for my transaction management.

So many great systems, none of which actually worked well together.

When I spent all day working in all these different programs I can’t tell you how many times a day I would jump from one, to another, to another and back again. I have to assume it was well over 100.

I don’t care how well you “think” you can multitask, the truth is you can’t. it took me many a moon before I finally accepted that as gospel truth.

So what’s the solution? 

Stop looking for the perfect apps and the perfect programs to manage things. Instead look for simple, flexible programs that are easy to use and can be customized to fit your workflow.

That is what I did with Evernote and why I wrote my Evernote real estate book.

I know, I know… I’m an Evernote fanboy. It doesn’t have to be Evernote it can be anything that works for you. Spend time figuring out ways to make less programs work in more ways and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Spending to much time trying to become more productive with more programs will usually result in the opposite results.

KISS- Keep it simple stupid!

I have had people asking if I teach classes or do 1-on-1 consulting. The answer is yes I do both. If you are interested check out my speaking page and shoot me an email.


Five iPad Apps I use to stay productive

About two years ago, when I got my first iPad, I made an effort to get organized and go paperless. About two weeks ago I was finally able to get rid of my filing cabinet in my office as the transition to paperless was completed.

For some paperless is an environmentalist thing. For others, like me, paperless is more of an organization and productivity thing.

I am horrible at organizing paper. My electronic files are all nice and organized, but when it comes to paper, I am a mess.

So here are my top apps I use for staying productive and organized.

1) Evernote. I know, what top list of mine is going to be complete without Evernote. I have wrote about my to-do task management system with Evernote last week. I also use Evernote to store every piece of scrap paper and business card I may need in the future. Get it in and throw it out!

2) PDF Expert. I use PDF Expert extensively on my iPad. If a document comes in I need to sign, I can quickly open it on my iPad in PDF Expert, sign it, and get it back to the person I need to send it to. No printing involved! I have used most of the PDF programs out there, PDF Expert is still my favorite.

3) Scanner Pro. Scanner Pro is a great app for scanning a document into a PDF that you need to email or fax out. The cropping functionality in Scanner Pro works great to crop the edges and get just the document.

4) Instapaper. Often you are reading a lot of things on your iPad and you see something you want to come back and read later. Instapaper is the app for you. Instapaper has a free version, but the $4.99 version gives you some features that make it well worth a five dollar investment.

5) Dropbox. Dropbox is a virtual cloud based thumb drive for your documents and files. While in Dropbox you cannot search and create as well as you can in Evernote, it is still a great place to store documents that you may need to send out via email or fax later.

Managing my to-do and task management with Evernote tags

In my last post I talked about the difference between what tags and notebooks were in Evernote.

Today I am going to show you how I handle all my task management and to-do items inside Evernote using tags.

Most of this is straight from my book “Evernote for Real Estate: The Complete Guide.” As I mention in the book:

This is probably the single most important item to master to really become an Evernote ninja.

My task management workflow with tags

All of my to-do items end up in my “Master Next Action” notebook. Every item in there is tagged with an appropriate tag.

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Here is a screenshot of my tagging system for my to-do. I have more tags, but these are the tags that manage my task management and workflow.

My to-do and task management system is very much a hybrid of many systems I have read about over the years with strong influence from Daniel Gold and Mark Stout. Make sure you check out their websites for more productivity tips.

My first seven tags are for the seven days of the week.  I start them with 01, 02, etc. to keep them in order as they would otherwise be ordered alphabetically.

You may think differently and start your week with 01 Sunday, that is the great thing about Evernote, it is flexible to your workflow system.

My next three tags are my to-do items for today.

If today were Tuesday, then first thing Tuesday morning I would click on the tag 02 Tuesday and review each task in containing the tag. Each note would then be retagged with either 11 Today A, 12 Today B or 13 Today C.

These are my standard priority tags.  Again, you may work different and use different tags.

I will complete all of my A items before I even look at my B items and then all of my B items before I even look at C.

Here is a screenshot of what I see.

Evernote to-do tag shortcuts

Notice the shortcuts for each of the today items right at the top for one click task management.

The way I try to work is each morning I try to pick out 3-5 things that are absolute must do items for the day. If nothing else gets done, these need to. Those are my 11 Today A items.

Then I look at all the other items for the day and decide what do I want to get done vs. what would be nice to get done, but can be pushed off. These are my 12 Today B and 13 Today C items.

Next we have 21 Next Week and 31 Next Month. When I have a task that I know will be due next week, or one that will not be needed until next month, they are placed with these tags.

These items are reviewed at the beginning of each week and each month during my weekly review to determine where they will go.

Then we have 41 Someday Work and 42 Someday Home. These are items that I probably want to get to someday, think of the Someday Maybe list if you are GTD fan. I will occasionally check on these and see if anything I want to act on.

Next we have my 51 Waiting, this is an action item where I am waiting on someone else to complete something first. I check this once a week during my weekly review.

Then we have 61 Read. These are items I want to read that I have saved for when I have time. When I am in line at a store, or sometimes at night, or sitting on a bus/train etc. I will break this list out. Most are web clippings I have saved.

The final tag is 99 Completed To Do. I will explain how I use this below.


My daily workflow 

Let’s take a quick look at what a day may look like.

You will see below that for Monday I have 8 items to complete for the day.

Evernote to-do tags

The first thing I will do is determine what are the most important items. If an emergency comes up later in the day, at least these items will be completed.

The first item is my Evernote ebook.

This item is currently tagged with 01 Monday and in the “Master Next Action” notebook.

This is a high priority item, and I am going to quickly delete the 01 Monday tag and replace it with 11 Today A.

When I do that, it disappears from my 01 Monday list. Next up is my “Thompson’s business” note.


In this note I have a link to another note. This is very common for me with my tasks that repeat or are a long project. The reason there is a link is because the “Business Ideas for Thompson’s” is a very long list and will not be completed in one short day, but is more of an ongoing project management thread. If it was a single action then it would probably be just one note and not a link.

To give you an example of how that would work, let’s say I get an email from my broker and it says, “Call Michelle at 480-555-1234. She is interested in talking about joining the brokerage.” When I get that email I would forward it to Evernote, and if I was to make that call on Monday I would tag it with “01 Monday.” Now on Monday morning, I would decide if that was an A, B or C item and that note would just be a single note, different than the business list note for Thompson’s. In this case this would also be an 11 Today A item for me, and I quickly change the tag.

After I change all the tags for Monday to my A, B or C, I then head over to my shortcut for 11 Today A and you will see I have three items for the day.

Now let me stress this, the amount of time it takes me to change a dozen tags is probably somewhere around 90 seconds. This is a very quick action.

After I complete an item for the day, if it is an item I am done with and doesn’t need any further action, like write a blog post, it is moved to the new tag 99 Completed To Do. If it is an item I am done for today, but I am going to need to work on again, I will move it to another tag such as 02 Tuesday, or whenever I need to follow up with it again.

It takes less than 2-3 seconds to change a tag; this is a very quick process.

After all the items in A are completed, I move over to B and work the same procedure and then follow that up with C.

At the end of the day I look at all the items I have remaining, hopefully all in the C tag. I decide if I want to leave them there for tomorrow, or do I want to move them up a level for tomorrow, or maybe I want to schedule it out further in the week, and I will quickly give it the appropriate tag.

About once a week I quickly go through my 99 Completed To Do tag and see if anything needs to be kept for future reference. Most of the time the answer is no and the items are deleted.

I have tried a few different systems, and this is the system that works the quickest and most efficiently for me.

What is the difference between Notebooks and Tags in Evernote?

I’m going to help clarify one of the things I struggled with most when I first started using Evernote.

What is the difference between notebooks and tags?

I have been racking my brain to come up with the best analogy on how to describe the power of tags.

I have to go back to my younger days to come up with an analogy that works for me. I was an avid baseball card collector in my youth. I had thousands and thousands of cards and spent many weekends at card shows.

But what does this have to do with notebooks and tags?

Notebooks are like storing all of my same year and make of cards in one box. So all of my 1984 Topps would be in one box, I mean notebook. All my 1985 Topps would be in a second box, and all my 1985 Fleer’s would be in yet another box. You get the point.

If I put everything in one notebook, I am still able to organize my cards by tags.

In an instant I would be able to pull out all the rookies. Then instantaneously be able to resort and look at all the pitchers. Then just as quickly, I could reorganize them again to look at all my Red Sox cards. And then I could reorganize by National League All Stars.

Hopefully you see the power of tagging. The only time you NEED separate notebooks is when you intend on sharing notes with friends, colleagues or clients.

Tags are so powerful you can run a complete to-do and task management system with them. How do you that? My next post will describe that in detail.

In the meantime, if you want to check out the book I wrote, Evernote for Real Estate, you can find it here.

Kickstart your productivity with this 6-pack

But I can’t be productive, I’m just a procrastinator by nature.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to publicly admit it. I’m doing that for you.

Yes the productive agent is a closet procrastinator.

The good news is there is hope for all of us, and we don’t even need to admit it publicly.

For anyone looking to kickstart their productivity, here is an easy 6-pack program to help even procrastinators win the day.

  1. Commitment. First you must commit to doing this M-F for the next 6 weeks. Let’s face it, it is going to take more than a few days to break decades of bad habits.
  2. Start writing down everything! Never again rely on your memory for any task you need to complete. This is not what your mind was designed for. Start writing everything and you will never forget anything.
  3. Centralize all your information. Now that you are writing everything down you need one and only one location to keep this information Evernote is my preferred method for this, I run my whole business and personal tasks off it. You may chose something else.
  4. Start or end every day with a quick review of your tasks and to-dos. Some say it’s best to do this at night, others say it best to do this in the am. I don’t care, just do it. (do I need to credit Nike for that?)
  5. Pick one or two or so items that will in the long term help you or your business. Notice I said long-term? That’s because those items are going to be the most impactful as my buddy Darin Persinger would say. Now do these first.  Those little follow up items That “need to” get done today will. But getting these bigger long term items done first will set you up for success long term.
  6. Now start working on your to-do list items for the day. Pick out a few that will only take a few minutes to get done and do them first. Having a multiple amount of small successes will set you up for the day and give you momentum.

Now the good news if you can do just your one big impactful thing and a couple of easy items, and you have probably will have done more than you accomplished in most days to get you forward.

It is simple, but it is not easy. Keep setting those baby steps to help you move forward. Figure out what is really important, what is going to make the most impact long term. That could be prospecting, working on lead conversion, planning a new project and moving it forward a little each day.

So go out there and start winning each day, one at a time.

Photo Credit

Fido for your electronic files

One of the great things about your dog Fido is he will go fetch you your newspaper or slippers.

And if you have kids there is a good chance you have trained them to go fetch you a beer right?

No? That’s just me? Maybe that is for another productivity email.

Well here is a new nifty service I have been using for the last two months for helping fetch your monthly statements to keep you paper free and organized.

FileThis|Fetch is a service you can find inside the Evernote Trunk which will go out onto the Interwebs and grab you your monthly bank statements, investment, insurance and more.

If you are looking to go paperless this system is a must have to integrate with your Evernote account.

While not every electric company or bank is yet a member, their list is growing fairly steadily and it is only a matter of time before they are there.

While Fetch will dump statements onto your desktop or into Evernote they are soon coming out with integration for box.net, Dropbox and Google Drive.

If I use Dropbox do I need Evernote too?

So as the author of Evernote for Real Estate you can imagine I’m a fan of the app. After talking to people and teaching classes about Evernote, one of the most common questions I get is, but can’t I just use Dropbox?

Well, that depends. What are you looking to do?

If you just want a place to store and share documents, then yes, Dropbox is wonderful.

If you are looking to use one app to completely organize and streamline your workflow, then Evernote is the much better choice.

So what can I do in Evernote that I cannot do in Dropbox?

  • Search text on images uploaded (think business cards and receipts)
  • Create new notes and edit them easily
  • Manage my todo and tasks
  • Complete project management
  • Link notes as reference
  • Work checklists
  • Record audio notes
  • Plus a lot more

In both my consulting and real estate business, I manage my projects and transactions through notes and tasks in Evernote. I could never do this in Dropbox.

The great thing about Evernote is it is so flexible and powerful. I have been able to eliminate transaction management software, to-do list software, and other programs by consolidating everything into Evernote.

Oh, and also for just $45 a year I can upload 1gb of information per month into Evernote, so it also works good for storage.

Yes, I admit I am an Evernote fanboy. But to me, comparing Evernote to Dropbox is like comparing a hamburger to a gourmet surf ‘n turf from Smith and Wollenskies. Yes they both have meat in the meal, but the experience of the surf ‘n turf is so much more.

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