My Top Four Tools For Getting Things Done

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Digital life is full of shiny distractions. Yet we must keep moving forward or nothing gets done.

Good luck if you have to deal with something something confusing or complex. Now the aforementioned distractions are even more disrupting.

There are four tools I use consistently to combat this and stay on track every day:

  • Evernote – Been using this one for over a decade now to manage notes and tasks in all areas of my work and personal life. Despite over 21,000 notes, the app performs well. It is the sun around which my thoughts and tasks orbit. It is very stabilizing to have one tool to rule them all if you will. I’m not surrounded by post-its or papers or things I could leave at home when I needed them at the office or what have you. Everything important is in one searchable place and that place is Evernote.
  • – Larger projects which involve dependencies and critical paths warrant a more robust tracking system. The geniuses at Smartsheet have somehow built an “all signal, no noise” app for project managers who are dedicated to getting these more challenging projects completed through maximal collaboration with their teammates. I have implemented this particular system in five separate companies at this point over the last 10+ years. I basically bring it with me and demonstrate it to my new employer or client and when they see it in operation they immediately want to put it to use.
  • – If you aren’t yet familiar with the concept of mindmapping I recommend checking into it. I find it to be very helpful when pulling apart complex subjects or challenges. A blob of ideas can be quickly organized into relative, hierarchical importances using a kind of parent – child structure. This has gotten me out of more trouble than I care to admit, often before the trouble even has a chance to become trouble.
  • Microsoft Whiteboard + Wacom tablet – Sometimes you just gotta draw something out to understand it. If it’s not complicated enough to justify a full mindmap, I’ll open up the free Whiteboard app from Microsoft and just start sketching. I can easily get to it from work or home. If it’s important, I’ll paste it into an Evernote which syncs with all my devices.

These are the core weapons in my arsenal against chaos and confusion. So far they’ve not failed me. I wouldn’t be lost without them, but I would not be able to start, stop and pick up where I left off with tasks as quickly and easily as I do. Lost gear- changing time is money wasted.

They also make it so that I’m basically paperless. Even if I do use some paper, Evernote’s scanning (via camera) feature let’s me digitize it immediately on the fly should I choose (searchable by keyword–even my handwriting!).

It has taken some personal discipline to get to this point administratively, but it has definitely been worth it!

Do you have any favorite digital tools for managing work?

Hans Eisenman

Husband, father, nerd and more or less in that order. I love tech, especially tools that will help me get more done in less time. Everything I talk about, I've tried (or will state I haven't). Current obsession: the FEDIVERSE.

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  1. Bruce Trask

    Hi hans, Thanks for the article. Excuse the all caps but the comment box will only let me write in caps.
    I had a question regarding your experience with the tools you mention. Is it possible to integrate them in any way? For example, let’s say you had a mindmap that you wanted to easily save to evernote so that changes made to it automatically end up there. And then also perhaps you wanted to refer to this mind map or a white board drawing from your smartsheets. Are there apis that one an use to programmatically sync up and query these tools so one could potentially extend or write your own thin wrapper on top of them so you could tweak it a bit without having to reinvent the whole ecosystem?

    • Hans Eisenman

      Bruce, that’s a great question! Smartsheet is a very robust app (more of a platform at this point I would say). So they have a well-written API which you can get to here. A previous employer and I reviewed it cursorily a couple years ago and it seemed impressive at the time. I’m sure it’s only improved since then since they have 10s of millions of customers now.
      Evernote also has an API but I’ve not spent any time reading it.
      To my knowledge Microsoft does not provide any sort of API for their MS Whiteboard and this lone, unanswered request seems to confirm that.
      Your question prompted me to see if Mindmeister has an API and they do!
      So, three out of four is pretty good!
      How one would weave these together is, of course, another matter.
      Mindmeister’s is an HTTP REST API, whereas the other two offer multiple SDKs.
      Presumably you’d have to decide on what to write your wrapper or app in so the three APIs can interoperate.
      Hope this helps!

    • Hans Eisenman

      PS: That’s funny about the all caps. I’ll have to look into that. As you can see, your reply went back to Normal CApitalization case. Thanks for pointing this out so I can check into it!

    • Hans Eisenman

      That ALL CAPS issue is now fixed. Thanks again for pointing it out, Bruce! 👍


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