Evernote GTD How To

Evernote GTD How To

The following 15 minute setup enables you to use Evernote as a frictionless GTD list application. Easy entry, no multiple notebooks required. Works with you, not against you.

The setup features:

  • notebook independent setup: enter and use to do notes anywhere, anytime
  • Project List
  • list aggregating all next actions
  • @ context lists
  • Waiting For
  • Someday/Maybe
  • 5 “time required” levels & lists
  • done/audit list
  • toggle checkbox (/tag) to move items on/off the Someday/Maybe list

The description is for an old Windows desktop client, Evernote 3.1, but works anywhere Evernote does. Current versions of Evernote have no counts shown next to the saved searches: Evernote 3.1 gives a clear at-a-glance view of where you have how many open items.

How It Works

You tag Evernote To Do items — those are the ones where you insert a checkbox — with your context(s) and (optional) a time estimate (5, 15, 30,45 or 60 minutes).

Saved Searches make these items show up on your @ context list(s), on your Project list when tagged with @project, on Someday/Maybe when tagged with sd — and on one of your time lists if you added that info as a tag.

Saved Searches without items are automatically greyed out. Lists that do have items show how many items are on them: you can see your runway at a glance.

Thanks to Evernote’s multi-tagging, one or more items can be moved from NA to Someday/Maybe simply by checking or unchecked a tag’s checkbox.

Setting Up Your Saved Searches

Evernote’s Saved Searches are the heart of the system: they are what generates our various lists for us. Here is my list but you can do this any which way you need it.

Evernote GTD with Saved Searches@ MIT

Most Important Tasks[1][2]

Mind the [space] between the @ and MIT: this is so it sorts to the top of the list, before the other @ contexts.

Search: todo:false tag:@mit -tag:sd

We’re looking for to do items that haven’t been checked off (todo:false), which include the tag for this context but do not have the someday tag.[3]

@ Projects

Again, a [space] after the @ to have this sort to the top of the list.

Search: todo:false tag:@project -tag:sd

@ Waiting For

[space] after the @ to have this on top.

Search: todo:false tag:@wf

No need to negate someday items as @Waiting For’s never are, right?

Like someday the tag is shorthanded to @wf for waiting for.

@All Next Actions

To have a complete list for your perusal.

Search: todo:false tag:@* -tag:sd -tag:@project -tag:@wf

Get all @ context items unless they’re someday items, projects or waiting for.

You might have other @ contexts you don’t want to see on your list of NA’s. Simply add each one as -tag:@yourcontext.[4]

Projects are negated as in this setup, they too can have contexts (more later).


These are your context lists. One search per context.

Search: todo:false tag:@context -tag:sd -tag:@project

In general your @ tag will match your @ search — but it doesn’t have to. Examples in my setup: @Waiting For (search) aggregates @wf tag; @Computer (search) aggregates @pc tag. Why? Faster, easier to type.


Two underscores to have this sort immediately after the @ lists but before the _ lists (1 underscore) that I use for some dedicated projects.

I prefer to drop the Maybe in GTD’s base Someday/Maybe list.

Search: todo:false tag:sd

__What Was Done

I like checking off things, I love using the checkboxes in Evernote — and so I don’t delete completed items.

Search: todo:true

Time Lists

I use 5 broad time levels for next actions: 5, 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes. Each has a list.

I’ll give the search for the 5 minute items; for the other times you simply recreate this search but change the time tag.

Search: todo:false tag:5 -tag:sd

No need to negate projects as those aren’t actionable items and thus don’t have a time required tag assigned to them.

Untagged Notes

In general my notes have at least one tag but especially for distinguishing between braindump items and processed projects, next actions, etc. it’s important our items have their tags.

Search: -tag:*

Important: if you don’t tag your notes in general, the above obviously wouldn’t be useful. In that case, change it to:

Search: todo:false -tag:*

Untimed Actions

Being able to pick actions based on time/energy level is not just handy: it helps tremendously at determining how booked you are.

For this to work, each NA needs a time tag, obviously, so here we check if a note misses that.

Search: todo:false tag:@* -tag:@project -tag:@wf -tag:5 -tag:15 -tag:30 -tag:45 -tag:60

Using Evernote for GTD

You get an item on your desk or think of something. CTRL + ALT + N brings up a new note in Evernote. CTRL + SHIFT + C to get the checkbox. Add your item.

[F2] [TAB] [TAB] to get to the line where you can enter your contexts. Let’s say this a 5 minute email for work: @work, @email, 5. Done.

Don’t want to do this item soon enough? Then it’s a someday in GTD so tag it as such: sd. With one tag, the sd, the item is taken off all the action lists and moved to someday.

When the time comes to review your lists you might want to take a whole bunch of NA’s off the table; maybe it’s a long weekend or vacation is coming up. Or maybe you want to move a bunch of someday‘s back to the Next Action lists, right?

Select the items, CTRL + SHIFT + T to bring up the tag list box. Click the column with the checkboxes to have all assigned tags sort to the top of the list.

Evernote GTD: toggling Someday
Now you can simply check or uncheck the someday tag to instantly move all your selected items to or from the someday list.

Don’t want to tag your items as they come in? No problem: don’t. Simply come back later, click your untagged items search and do it then.

Evernote GTD FAQ

Why Do Someday Items Have Contexts?

In a previous version someday was made up of all todo items that had no tags. So, to move NA’s back to someday I had to remove all tags. Then add them again when moving them back to NA. Big waste of time.

In the current setup items can be moved back and forth based simply on the sd tag.

Meanwhile I’ve found the presence of tags to be very helpful during review. I can select the someday list and search for all @project’s or for @work related items.

Nowadays, when going through untagged GTD items, I take a moment and assign the proper contexts and time as I would when setting them as NA.

Why Can Projects Have Contexts?

Again, during review it’s handy to be able to look at home projects or all work projects. By having (already) set tags on them I can zoom in on very specific areas.

How Do You Handle Start/Due Data Actions?

Date-specific actions go on the calendar. Not just because that’s how GTD defines it (dated items are on your “hard landscape”) but because it’s practical.

Start/Due Dates in Google Calendar for Evernote GTDI use Google Calendar (setup with multiple colored calendars for ease of use; holidays, daughter stuff, my stuff, work stuff, etc.).

Depending on what’s sane to do, details are in the calendar item (“Call Joe re. coffee @ 1234”) or in the note in Evernote.

Example of a calendar item? Some of my @wf’s are for specific dates: by this or that date I should nudge the person. That @wf is in my system ([ ] Joe re. if he ordered coffee -- call by this or that date) and to make sure I don’t see that item only when I review that list, it’s on the calendar with a reminder.

How Do You Handle Recurrence

Recurrence in Evernote GTDRecurrence is essentially a repetitive hard landscape item, so most of my regularly recurring items go on my calendar. Often with one or more reminders/heads-up’s.

Less specific recurrence or reminders may go into my 12 months (+ some people specific) tickler file; the 43 folders thing is overkill for me.

12 Month + Some People Tickler File

Template or Reusable Entry for Recurrence in EvernoteOther items might just be ones that I need over and over again. Reusable items, essentially. The note on the left is an example of such a reusable item. As I was changing my morning routine I used this checklist to keep on track.

As I prepare my next day every evening, I would simply uncheck the items and … use it again the next day :) But I can just as easily keep it in the “someday” list and copy & paste a new note from it: whatever works best for you.

How Do You Use Projects?

At the base an @project note is simply a stake in the ground to remind me; oh yeah, I have a project going on. From there it is as the need prescribes.

Here are 3 typical project notes (data is made up, largely, so…)

How I Use Projects in Evernote (and tie them back to actions)

In the first case I map out several NA’s. Usually when the time comes to put one or all of them on an Next Actions list, I copy & paste the to do line in a new note. Clean look at my NA’s and I have the track record in the project note.

How do I tie those next actions back to the project? Well, sometimes I just wing it and claim that “I know”. But usually I will write out the action so as a standalone note — it still makes perfect sense. In GTD it’s never “check finances”, it’s “check the finances of client XYZ”

Second note has no next actions but is a good example of the project note acting as a placeholder for project related info. Who is the account manager I need to contact for this? How many hours are assigned to the project? What’s the deadline? That deadline upon writing it there would immediately be added to my Google Calendar — with 2-3 reminders. See: How Do You Handle Start/Due Data Actions.

There’s a PDF in there too. Some files like that get added and most are removed when I’m done with the project. I use PersonalBrain to link and map files to clients and projects. Google Desktop or Copernic or any other desktop search works well too.

The last example is a project with just some bulletpoints; stuff I’m tossing around. The project doesn’t show on my project list though: it has the sd tag :)

My @ List Doesn’t Sort Correct!

When you create/rename a saved search it doesn’t get sorted at the right place. Exit the application, start it again and the list is sorted.

This Seems a Little Complex

The description is 1200+ words. Like describing how to make coffee step by step, it all come across as very daunting and involved… but really isn’t :)

XYZ Isn’t “Pure” GTD?
Oh :)


The geek in me wants to point you to GTD coach Keylly Forrister’s It’s not about the lists:

There’s a comfort zone I found works for me and my lists where I have as few lists as I can get by with, but as many as I think I need to slice and dice my stuff in a way that makes it manageable. And, they change from time to time, if for no other reason than to just change the look to get me excited about them again. […]

An easy way to figure out which context lists you need is to look at the people, places and tools you need to do your work, personally and professionally. That will serve as a good starting point.


Somebody is wrong on the internet

What now?

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  1. See Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task (MIT). I usually have 2-3 MIT’s that I picked the night before []
  2. Yeah, I know his might not be pure GTD. So? []
  3. I use sd as a shorthand tag for someday to make manual tag entry faster. The system needs to be as frictionless as possible []
  4. For example, I don’t want to see my @read’s mixed in with my general NA’s, so my @All Next Actions search looks like todo:false tag:@* -tag:sd -tag:@project -tag:@wf -tag:@read []

179 Replies to “Evernote GTD How To”

  1. Rudd,
    Great post on GTD and Evernote, interesting it was posted so long ago and is still fresh.

    I have been using Evernote for GTD for about three months and have realized that I have gone overboard on notebooks so I am attempting your approach now. I have a question on tagging projects.

    On tagging projects: I have been using a tagging method for all my projects so that any emails, notes, post or action items pertaining to a project can be easily found using searches that contain a tag for that project. To avoid the “#” search limitation in outlook (you can’t find tags that use hash tags) , I have had the team implement the naming convention of adding a p underscore in front of all project names. So p_ProjectName (no spaces). This allows easy searches for any email or other text pertaining to the project. We then use the same project name as the tag in Evernote for searching by specific project instead of a generic @Projects for all projects.
    I changed your @Projects search to read: todo:false -tag:sd tag:p_*. This brings up all project to do items but allows the tagging of individual project names. Does this seem like a viable approach to you?

  2. Scott, re #1 I think you would have to try to craft two saved searches and overlap them. #2: The WF’s in Evernote tend to be my manual ones; WF’s in email I track in my email setup. #3: with the current versions of Evernote supporting linked notes I have the project notes in its own note and link to it from the main project.

    #4: I *live* in evernote :) Between Gmail and Evernote I have everything I need. My laptop can explode and I can recreate my information/life using these tools. I use an Archive notebook for anything I read that I find of possible use (articles, how to’s etc); a Diary notebook which acts as a timeline (I note a LOT of stuff); a Diary Social notebook that receives social updates via IFTTT. A Personal Projects stack. Logins notebook. Papers. And a Who’s Who so the kids can figure out later who is who in the family history.

  3. Ruud, I absolutely love your tag-based GTD system for Evernote that you have described in this article. I’ve used other productivity tools in the past (e.g. Achieve Planner) but your system is the best and most flexible I’ve seen. Been using your tags / saved searches in Evernote for 6 weeks now and it’s simplified my life. I’m muct more organised and on top of what tasks I need to get done. I love ticking things off. Thank you so much!

    A word of caution for other readers though: I upgraded from V4 to V5 Evernote and I couldn’t see my saved searches anymore. I’m assuming you can still have saved searches in V5, but I think it might require you to recreate them. I didn’t want to few hours’ time I’d invested in setting up Ruud’ tag system, so I downgraded back to V4, which does everything I need and more.

  4. Happy you like it, Rick :)

    Saved Searches in Evernote 5 for Windows are in the search box itself. Click there and a list should drop down with recent searches and your saved searches.

  5. Hello Ruud. I tried this tool to do as you work mentioned on your artiles. The setup features are really well for me as they help me at my work on Evernote GTD and the Setting up Saved Searches are really good. Many thanks for your helpful me.

  6. Hello Ruud! Great description – thank you so much. Works pretty well. I tried the original GTD and TSW and for me with evernote. The only problem is that those systems are IMHO too complex (for me ;-)). So yours is perfect and works very well with my iOS app – which doesn’t show nested tags…

  7. Ruud,

    Thank you for sharing your setup. I have found the secret weapon setup and have applied it as of late in Evernote. It has changed my entire outlook of using Evernote and has been working great for me for task managemnt. I am still customizing it and getting accustomed to it but overall its been awesome. In trying to understand your system I have two questions. One is the images dont show up in this article and would be extremely helpful in helping me understand this setup. Also I wonder how your system works in conjunction with the TSW system. Can you please send me the images and explain how the two systems work best together. Thanks

  8. Hello Ruud,
    I came across this thread while I was looking for the best way to implement GTD into Evernote. Your practice has very good reviews, but looks like it has been a long time since you updated anything. Do you still support this approach? Is there anything new? Anything out-of-date?

  9. Looks great, but I’m having trouble visualizing how to use this because you reference the pictures in the article which no longer exist. Can you re-post the pictures/illustrations?

  10. Hello Ruud, excellent how-to! but, could you please reupload the screenshots since they disappeard from the tutorial above. many thanks

  11. Hello,

    I would love to try this information out, but the images links seem broken and I think they would help to understand the info fully.
    Would it be possible for you to repair this?

    thanks a lot in advance,


  12. Hello Ruud,

    I’m a little late coming to this site and I’ve noticed that a lot of the graphics are no longer on Flicker. Any chance those could be added back into the article? I’m sure I would understand some of the points better when I could see the graphic too.

    Thanks for the article and your time.


  13. Flicker: this photo is no longer available. I’m so sad that the photos seam to have been taken down by flicker. From the text I can tell this is truly an amazing gtd evernote guide.

  14. Hi there, thankyou for thisreally informative article. I realise it is a long time since it was published, but I feel it has a lot of relevant information here that could help me figure out a good evernote GTD setup. I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around some stuff since Im a very visual person & the images in the post are not longer available on flikr. Is there any chance you could update these (maybe on your own hosting/server so flickr doesn’t interfere?)to help those of us who would benefit from the visual representation of what you are describing? I realise its a bit of a pain, & I completely realise you have no obligation whatsoever… but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would benefit massively. :) Many thanks, Hayley

  15. Many thanks for this. Do you use one note per action?

    Are you still using this method with the current versions of Evernote?

  16. What are you guys/gals using now? I have Outlook for an email client and am looking for a task manager / productivity tool to implement GTD.

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