Taming Massive Projects With Evernote

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Robert Agcaoili. I’m consistently impressed by his ability to create quality work over at Gridwriter, all while raising a family and holding down a full time job in “an Information Technology sector of a government agency” (which impresses me now matter how much it scares me). Robert’s a great guy with an incredibly sensible understanding and approach to how we can leverage technology in our lives.

“Preparation is the key to success.”

That’s the old saying, right? The more you prepare, the stronger the foundation you set up for yourself.

Planning a dinner? You should be doing all your preparations and planning prior to making the meal. Get your recipe, create a shopping list, measure your ingredients, prepare the proper utensils and cooking ware.

But what if you’re doing something much larger? Producing a short film, writing a book, starting a business — these are massive projects in which continuous planning is a must.

Everything is Massive

The difficulty with large projects is that:

  1. It’s almost impossible to predict everything that is bound to happen. There are a lot of unpredictable events that could occur.

  2. The duration is a lot longer which definitely tests your mental endurance – especially if you take on the project by yourself and/or have never taken on a project of this scope.

  3. The amount of information, contacts, research, and obligations can be overwhelming.

In other words, everything in the project is massive. In most cases, these large projects actually host several other projects within it. However, the payoffs are typically just as large.

It’s important to stay on the ball with everything that comes your way, even if its unexpected. Keeping tabs of any piece of information, idea, and/or issue that comes your way will insure that nothing slips past you. Mismanagement can totally lead to jeopardized situations which can affect the success of both you and your projects.

One of the best ways that I have found to do this is to keep all your material in one place. Luckily with the mobile technology that we have today, keeping tabs on everything is easier — especially with platforms like iOS and Evernote’s mobile suite of apps.

Myriad of Formats

I’m sure there are a lot of plain-text nerds out who swear by their ubiquitous format – trust me, I’m one of them. But the problem with our “gated community” is that the rest of the world doesn’t, and sometimes can’t, play by the plain-text rules. There’s PDFs, images, vector files for your company logo, emails, and so on.

To stay on the ball with all of this information, it’s important to keep them all in one place. If you have a paid account, Evernote is a great place to store all these formats as you can gain access to them wherever you have the client installed or by using their web access from any browser. Evernote even supplies you with a unique email address strictly for your account that adds all emails sent or forwarded to it to be added to your Evernote account. This makes archiving project-related emails a lot simpler.

Even though I am a plain-text kind of guy, I highly doubt that those who will benefit from the success of these epic projects will give a rat’s ass if I used plain-text or not.

Capture Ideas

Evernote’s powerful mobile client allows you view and create new notes — even voice notes. Personally, there have been several times where I had an idea pop into my head that really wasn’t coherent. In fact it was a lot harder to convert those thoughts to proper grammar instead of the seemingly random adjectives in which the idea existed in my head. So what do I want to do when those moments hit?

I record a voice note in Evernote to express my ideas exactly the way that they existed in my head. Nothing will be lost in translation, and I can also speak slightly faster than I type so that always help.

See a color scheme that would be great for your logo? Or maybe you encounter a beautiful location in which you want to base your short story off of. Snap a photo of it and toss it into Evernote. The saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t always the case — sometimes it’s worth a lot more. Instead of trying to describe it and, as before, losing things in translation, just memorialize it with a photo.

Not a big fan of Evernote’s speed for the mobile clients? While the program is powerful, it does take some time to load, at least in the iOS world. Use a faster note taking app to send it to Evernote.

There are a tons of apps that can do this. Apps like Fastever are fast note taking apps that actually hook up to your Evernote account. Then there’s even the crowd-favorite, Drafts — or my favorite, Scratch. Both of these apps, while adding a lot of power-user features to it, can send the note contents to Evernote.

You can even email the notes to yourself using the default email application (Mail.app in the case of iOS devices) — or use quick-email apps like Captio if you want to be fancy. In the case of the latter, you would set the recipient address to your Evernote email address.

Whatever the case is, there is always a way to capture your quick ideas, thoughts, or concerns into Evernote.

Maintain a Bird’s Eye View

I create mind maps for all of my large projects. If it truly is a big project, then remembering every branch and detail of it should be fairly difficult. Plus, I’m a visual type of person.

Mind-mapping via iThoughts HD on the iPad, and now the iPad mini, has always been my preferred route for the task. While there is Dropbox syncing, I prefer to save the mind maps for large projects to Evernote using the “Send to App…” menu item when dealing with large project planning. There is one limitation that I actually like about this (aside from having all my material in the same Evernote account) — while you can open the OPML file from Evernote back into iThoughts HD, you cannot save back to the original. Therefore, any changes that I make to the OPML file via iThoughts HD will be uploaded to a new note. In other words — I like to see it as a simple “versioning” technique.

Although one issue with this is that the main node will open up using the file name — in the case of opening from Evernote, you get a large cryptic name. To me, it’s just a minor convenience as I usually just rename it back to what it should be.

Task Management

While I am a strict OmniFocus user, small task lists also work great inside of Evernote. You can be fancy and use the checkbox feature, write it out in Markdown (though no rendering will occur) or use my preferred method — the Taskpaper format.

With some creative tag usage, you can also set up something that OmniFocus lacks — multiple contexts. This is great and extremely helpful if you’re trying to keep tabs on something you have delegated out to another person to complete. I usually tag by the name of the project, an “in progress” tag (which can later be changed to “complete” when it is finished), and by the delegated party or individual.

Back to the Mothership

Of course, the most known benefit of Evernote is that it syncs everything to your centralized account. So whether you’re working on your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet, your information is ready at your disposal.

In any attempt to embark on something that takes a lot of time, energy, and devotion, the last thing you want to do is fight with yourself. It is key to remove many of the stresses that can possibly discourage you and hinder your project’s success. Staying calm, clear-minded, organized will help you stay on top of your game.

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One Response to Taming Massive Projects With Evernote

  1. In a couple of hours my Evernote knowledge management article is going live. I believe you will find a lot of various ways to utilize it better with Omnifocus and some concepts you haven’t seen before.

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