J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Agile Results with Evernote

Agile Results with Evernote

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Evernote tends to be my tool of choice when for Agile Results.   People often ask me what I use as my Personal Information Assistant (PIA) to manage action and make things happen.  Aside from pen and paper, I use Evernote and Outlook.   Outlook is my calendar and email communication stream.  I don’t use email to manage action because it leads to “paper shuffling.”  Instead, I pluck out action items into a list.   This gives me a lot of flexibility, and I either store that list on paper, or notepad, or Evernote.  I focus on “outcomes”, not “tasks.”  This keeps my lists simpler, my goals clear, and I avoid getting lost among a sea of tasks.

Here's my Evernote  structure:

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It’s simple, durable, and evolvable.   It’s just folders and lists with notes.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Daily Outcomes is where I make a new list each day and add three goals, outcomes, or wins for my day to the top of the list.  I title each day using today’s date – “2012-01-29.”   This lets me make a new note without thinking about titles, and this format let’s me sort and flip back through to look for patterns … such as, what sort of wins am I going for.
  • Weekly Outcomes is where I make a new list each week, either on Sundays or Mondays, and I write three goals, outcomes, or wins for the week.   I title each list with Monday’s date, so tomorrow’s would be: “2012-01-30.”
  • If I do nothing else, each day, I do my Daily Outcomes, each week I do my Weekly Outcomes.   When I’m at my best, I do my weekly recap for me, and my Monthly Recaps for me, and I share it with the higher-ups.
  • My Plate is always a short-list of what I’m juggling.
  • My Work Projects and Personal Projects are simple lists per project – “One Place to Look” to capture the outcomes that count and dump my brain.
  • Backlog is all the stuff I want to get to, but I’m not ready to start.  I track it as two lists – Work stuff and Personal Stuff.
  • Shelved is stuff I start, but can’t actively work, so I set it aside – easy to rehydrate later as needed.
  • Hot Spots are simple lists of key things like Vision, Mission, Values … my commitments for the year, a tickler list of my “Life Frame” (Mind, Body, Emotions, Career, Money, Relationships, and Fun).  It was acting as “My Plate”, but I found that I wanted an explicit “My Plate” place to list the balls I juggle in work and life.

In general, I don’t use tags.   I'm not a fan of tags ... just simple lists.  Tags and tagging require maintenance and memory to use well ... while simple folders and lists are in your face and what you see is what you get.   Views do help reinforce tagging systems and make them more useful, but what I found the trick is to actually just create the simple “80/20” views to start with, and then keep that brain dead simple and allow for mess and chaos over time, with easy cleanup -- batch and sweep style.

If it’s just lists in folders, it’s extremely easy to change the system when it’s not working.  While the folder structure is not perfect, it has been pretty durable for me.  I’ve used this system to manage million dollar projects and distributed teams around the world, and I’ve used it just for me in very simple scenarios.   The flexibility aspect is important, as is the ability to quickly tailor for your situation.

I think that’s the key though.  You have to find a simple system that works for you.   And if you can do the basics well, then you’re in good shape.  In it’s simplest form, it’s all about having lists of outcomes and actions at your finger tip, and being able to take the balcony view, and see the forest for the trees.

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  • Can you give us some examples on the "Hot Spots" items you put in there?

  • @ Keith -- Here are some of the lists I stick in my Hot Spots:

    - FY12 Commitments

    - Life Hot Spots

    - Mind

    - Body

    - Emotions

    - Career

    - Money

    - Relationships

    - Fun

    - Three Wins for the Year

    - Strategy, Strengths, and Skills

    - Vision, Mission, Values

    They are all tickler lists that I can quickly scan and remind myself of the bigger picture, as well as my North Star ... and my idiot guards and bumper rails along the way.

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