Naomi’s Playlist: Unstuck

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.

Object: Working through a stuck moment.
What Didn’t Work: Expecting myself to be optimistic and energetic in the midst of a stuck place. Sometimes outside perspective is needed.
My Aha! Moment: I discovered Unstuck when I wasn’t stuck, but I was immediately enchanted with the tool. The app takes a playful approach to diagnosing the kind of stuck moment one is in, and then provides an interactive tool to work through the challenge. What impressed me most, even more than the suggestions made, were the questions. Through engaging with the app, I made all kinds of discoveries about how I might move forward.
How I Play:
  1. First, I choose an area where I feel stuck.
  2. I work through the diagnostic tool to see what kind of stuck moment I’m in.
  3. Then, I use the Unstuck tool to play around with solutions.
Player’s Notes:
  • You’ll find that the Unstuck website has all kinds of enticing tools and ideas in addition to the app. Be careful not to get lost in all the goodness!
  • Allow your exploration to be play. The more you let go, the more you’ll gain through this process.
Take it to the Next Level:
As I’ve been reflecting on failure in the past couple weeks, I am aware that sometimes it’s difficult to admit that one is “stuck.” Keep in mind that stuck doesn’t mean you are incapable of solving your problem. The tool is helpful even if you do have additional ideas of what might be done. The more loosely you define the word “stuck” for yourself, the more benefits you’ll gain from the tool.

Naomi’s Playlist: Launcher


My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.

Object: Having the right tools at hand for the project at hand.

What Didn’t Work: Trying to remember the tools I had for various tasks, scrolling through iPhone screens filled with apps and getting frustrated or distracted, spending more time finding apps than using them.

My Aha! Moment: One day, I took out my bead kit, opened it up, and started working on a bracelet. There’s something so satisfying about a kit with compartments to hold each type of bead and each type of tool. Rather than spending time running around the house looking for scissors, thread, or the findings, I could clear the table, relax, and create.

As I worked, I began thinking about work projects, such as making the social media rounds. If I could have a kit for those tasks, how much more effective might I be? I imagined putting various apps in a basket, laughing a little at the absurdity of the idea. But as I kept thinking, I realized the idea wasn’t out of the question. I finished my bracelet and started researching. Finding the iPhone app, Launcher was a delight. This app allows you to create customized widgets that you can access from your notification screen. Abra-cadabra … little baskets for my apps!

How I Play:

  • I started by thinking of activities that require a number of apps as well as focused attention.
  • I created a widget for each of these activities and added the apps so they quick-launch when I tap their logos.
  • I played with the custom timing so that when I go to the notification screen, I see the most relevant widgets based on the day of the week and the time of day.

Player’s Notes:

  • There are many options with the Launcher app. Some apps have supported actions. In this way, you can shortcut key actions. Explore options, but don’t be overwhelmed by them. Don’t feel the need to be a power user … use what helps you most.
  • If you’re not an iPhone user, there are likely similar apps for other smart phones. Explore and share if you have great options!

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Consider how this concept might relate to other parts of your digital world. I’m exploring ways to use my Macbook dashboard in a similar way. My goal is to be able to open a screen and see all the tools needed, but none of the ones that might distract me.
  • Consider how this concept might relate to other parts of your non-digital world. What kinds of “kits” might you make yourself?

Naomi’s Playlist: Knowledge Map

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Creating a focused learning plan

What Didn’t Work: Allowing the content that others post, podcast or promote to shape my learning on their schedule, being constantly overwhelmed and distracted, not knowing where to start.

My Aha! Moment:

You know how it feels

when you see your to-do list

and its filled with tasks

you don’t know how to do

your heart races

and your mind fizzles

and you feel like a rock climber


with no hand-holds

your feet slip-sliding

Why am I so behind?

I know I need to learn but what

do I type into google?

Does everyone else already know …


You remember

How simple it seemed

In school

Your teacher shaped your learning

All you had to do was show up

The day planned in sturdy blocks

Topics listed in clean lines on the board

Here’s the next step

And the next

Sometimes you were bored

But if you were overwhelmed

You could raise your hand

I’m lost.

Where do I start?

Where do I start?

If I only study what I already know

What about the things I don’t know?

What if I’m missing that one

magic wand


If I raise my antenna

to take it all in

I won’t miss anything.

But what if I actually miss everything?

What if the noise

drowns out what actually matters?

Thus: The Knowledge Map

  • You know more than you think you know about where to start learning.
  • Think of your growth like a jigsaw puzzle. If you obsess on one middle piece, you might be stuck for years.
  • Instead, you start with the edges, and look for what fits. What you’re doing is giving yourself a starting place.
  • A knowledge map pins down the “you are here,” arrow and constructs a learning plan from that location.

How to Play:

  1. Brainstorm the general categories involved in this area of knowledge. For instance, in marketing, your areas might be social media, email marketing, content development. In writing, your areas might be character, plot, setting, theme.
  2. Are any of your subcategories of others? Sort accordingly until you have master categories and subcategories.
  3. Add any other key subcategories that come to mind. The more intricately you know a topic, the more subcategories that are likely relevant to you.
  4. Put your categories on a map. Tap into your intuitive thinking by assigning each category an image. Draw them or collage them––have fun with it. Perhaps “dialogue” is a well on the farm labeled “character.”
  5. Use two post-its per category and subcategory. One post-it is for knowledge or mastery. Where is your firm footing when it comes to this topic? The other post-it is for what you wonder. What would you like to know?
  6. Map the entire area of knowledge, and then step back to take a look. It may be that some categories are stage one, others are stage two, and some are stage three. Alternatively, you may have stage one, two and three within each category.
  7. Give your stages names that clearly describe their aims. For instance, your stage names may include: build foundational skills, experiment with possibilities, dive deep into specifics.
  8. Sort your questions into these stages.
  9. Figure out a plan for how to start stage one. Seek out resources specifically focused in this area.

Player’s Notes:

  • Keep the process playful. Don’t think in terms of right and wrong. The point is to figure out where you are currently, and based on that location, where your energy will be best focused next.
  • Keep the process loose. As you head into stage one, you’ll encounter new information that may change the categories or timeline. Give yourself permission to revise your plan. You’ll know if you’re sabatoging yourself and derailing the process, or if a change is genuinely needed.
  • Keep the process rule-free. Once you know a topic fits in stage three, you won’t be so overwhelmed when you encounter it in real life. If you find a podcast about stage three that you’d like to listen to while you’re in stage one, go for it! Your map isn’t a set of rules. It’s a navigation tool.

Our world is changing at an extraordinary rate. Lifelong learning is no longer optional. If we want to work, play, connect, and make a difference in the world, we need to engage with new ideas, new technologies, and new skills. It’s true that we need to stretch ourselves. True growth, however, takes time. When we choose to go deep, to learn authentically, and to build bridges from current knowledge to new concepts, we may feel like we’re going to be left behind. However, in the end, much less time is lost skittering from idea to idea, only to learn nothing. Take the time you need. Make choices, however difficult they may be. See how life becomes more settled and richer because of the decisions you have made.

Naomi’s Playlist: Cardflow+

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Breaking a complex problem or idea into manageable parts

What Didn’t Work: Starting a project with the first step that came to mind, trying to hold an entire problem in my mind at once while playing with possible solutions, hoping a solution would show up if I simply “thought harder.”

My Aha! Moment: When I first rolled up my sleeves to try David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, the piece that sounded most ridiculous to me was the suggestion to “write each to-do on a separate piece of paper” as part of a general brain-dump. Umm … I thought, That’s going to be a whole ream of paper, and an overwhelming stack to work through.

However, the brilliance of the suggestion became quickly clear. As I wrote each item on a separate piece of paper, the tangles in my mind loosened. Snarl by snarl, the tasks and projects unwound themselves until I had a clear vision of my situation. Even though the pile was overwhelming, it was also complete. It turns out one piece of paper is easy to handle. Dealing with one to-do at a time is efficient and satisfying. Sorting tasks became much more simple, too. I could make a project stack, and put the tasks in a general order.

Since then, I’ve applied this one idea per paper idea to many projects. Most of the time, I use index cards rather than full sheets of paper, as they are highly versatile and also small enough to allow me to see a full storyboard of sequential ideas. Sometimes I use paper index cards, but often, I use one of my favorite iPad tools, Cardflow+.

How I Play:

  • I start with a general list brainstorm. What are the parts of this problem? What are the pieces of this idea? I write one idea or question per card.
  • I spread the cards out on my carpet, or zoom out from my digital storyboard until I can see the full picture.
  • I consider how I might sort the cards. Could the questions be put into categories? Could the tasks be sorted into stages? Once I come up with an organizing plan, I start to sort.
  • Sometimes, my sorting plan fails. Maybe the idea only fits half the questions. In that case, I look at why my plan failed and decide how I might alter or revise my approach.
  • Once I have my ideas sorted, I look at them again and decide whether I can now create an action plan, or whether I need to break some of the pieces down even further.

Player’s Notes:

  • I decide whether to use digital tools or paper ones based on the level of mess. When I have a highly tangled knot of a problem, I generally use paper to start.
  • When I start with paper, I often transfer over to digital once I have the first round of sorting done. That way, I can take my ideas with me and continue to adapt the plan.
  • I particularly like Cardflow+ with the Apple pencil on my iPad because I can doodle pictures and write words on my cards. The entire process reminds me very much of storyboarding a plot.

Take it to the Next Level:

I’ve found that the more I list and sort, the better I become at categorizing. Also, I’ve become more daring about the sorts of problems I’ll take on, knowing that I have a way to break down the challenges into steps. What kind of challenge might you use index cards or an app such as Cardflow+ to help you tackle?

Naomi’s Playlist: POINT

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Making practical creative decisions.

What Didn’t Work: Trying to jump from a general discussion about ideas to an immediate choice.

My Aha! Moment: I’ve been exploring some new creative thinking tools after taking a course called “Creative Thinker’s Toolkit” that’s offered on Great Courses Plus. One of those tools is called POINT, a step-by-step tool to help thinkers develop novel ideas into something workable.

Most have had the experience of reaching for ideas during a brainstorming session, only to later toss out the “wild” ideas as unusable. When we don’t know how to make an idea work, and it doesn’t fit our normal patterns, we reject it. What would happen if we asked ourselves: How might this idea work?

One of my students was starting a new novel. She was at that moment we often reach when solving a creative puzzle. We have a few ideas and we know the next step is a decision. Sometimes we instinctively know which choice is right. Many times, though, if we’re honest with ourselves, we feel less than clear.

Fortunately, at that moment, I remembered the POINT tool. “Don’t choose!” I said, and then asked if she’d like to try a new approach. She was game, so we went through a structured evaluation of her ideas using POINT. By the time she made her choice, she had clarity and confidence and a plan to take forward.

POINT works for making decisions about writing projects, but also for making any decision that has more than one possible solution. Here’s how it can work.

How POINT works:

  • P stands for “positives.” What makes this idea appealing?
  • O stands for “opportunities.” What options will this idea make possible?
  • I stands for “issues.” What challenges might this idea bring?
  • NT stands for “new thinking.” What new ideas arise as you consider this idea in more depth?

Player’s Notes:

  • POINT offers a method for considering a more unusual idea. When you feel yourself resisting an option because of the unknowns, try focusing on one POINT question at a time. You don’t have to see the end result to consider the possibility.
  • Once you’ve evaluated each option, take time to look over the full list before making a final decision. New options you hadn’t considered may arise. Might two of your options combine? Might your ideas lead to a new option that has yet to come up?

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Not every problem requires creative problem solving, but if we approached more problems with this kind of thinking, we may find more novel solutions. Take a moment to brainstorm the general challenges, small and large, you face in your life. What problem may benefit from brainstorming and POINT thinking?

Would you like a shortcut for structuring your POINT thinking? I’ve created a template, which you can download here

I am not sure to whom to give primary credit for the POINT tool, but I discovered it while taking the Creative Thinker’s Toolkit course on The Great Courses Plus, delivered by Professor Gerard Puccio. Thank you to Professor Puccio and The Great Courses Plus for sharing this fantastic tool, and for providing an overall well-developed course. I highly recommend the course for anyone who is interested in developing his or her creative thinking skills.


Naomi’s Playlist: Brainsparker

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Bringing the spark and energy of improvisation into everyday work sessions

What Didn’t Work: Trying to improvise on my own.

My Aha! Moment: Joyce Piven is one of the mentors who has been most significant in my creative life. In my Writerly Play work with students, I’ve sought to achieve the spontaneity and creative energy she taught me to stretch toward in story theatre classes at Piven Theatre Workshop. There’s something indefinable—and yes, a little magical—that happens when a group of improvisers play together.

Since then, I’ve researched the science of play, searched for cold, hard facts to define what play is and why it works, and read hundreds of articles on the topic. However, when push comes to shove, whenever anyone asks me why I believe in play, I show them a group of people playing together. When you see the magic for yourself—or even better, experience it—you know it works.

I’ve often told the story of my graduate school advisor asking me whether I play in my own creative process. She challenged me to find a way to do so. Honestly, I’ve struggled with this journey. Playing alone, while effective, isn’t the same as playing in a group. My own brain doesn’t naturally toss out ideas that disrupt my thinking process and keep me off balance. However, that state of unpredictability, of being ready for anything, is one of the most valuable parts of play. That’s why any tool that provides creative disruption can be extremely valuable. Brainsparker is one of those tools. It’s an iOS app, but the developers are also working on an Android version. Also, you can sign up for creative sparks via email as an alternative.

How I Play:

  • Brainsparker is a simple, colorful app, with animated card decks.
  • To play, you open the app, scroll through the cards, and click on one.
  • The card flips over to reveal words, a question or an image.
  • I take a moment to mentally list any ideas the card brings to mind.
  • Then, I turn over a new card and repeat.

Player’s Notes:

  • One of the best things about improv is that every game can be applied to different purposes. Your can use a game to move into a state of play, to work on a specific project, or to solve a creative problem. So, before I start a Brainsparker session, I come up with a quick objective, so I know the parameters for my play.
  • The Brainsparker card decks are organized by purpose, so you can choose the ones that fit your parameters quickly.
  • Sometimes I need to capture my thinking, in which case I make sure to have pen and paper (or iPad and Apple Pencil).
  • Sometimes I don’t need to capture my thinking, so I let myself play fast and don’t slow myself down with the note-taking process.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • You can stretch your thinking by forcing yourself to make associations between unrelated items. If you’re trying to push yourself toward truly novel ideas, try a session where you consider how each of the cards offers new perspective on your creative challenge. Ask: How could this relate to x?

Naomi’s Playlist: Airtable

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Sorting ideas and options into now, queue and later categories.

What Didn’t Work: Keeping a loose mental list of all the books I wanted to read and ending up feeling forever behind, taking the next action on all the projects on my mind, and all the ones that anyone talked about on the most recent podcast that I realized I “really should do,” hoping that I’d recall a blog post or lesson plan when the opportunity to repurpose material arose.

My Aha! Moment: When I learned my primary creative style is Inventor, I dug deeper into what this style meant about my thinking. First, I learned I’m a visual thinker. No wonder databases and spreadsheets made my head hurt. I examined how the Inventor style expresses itself in my personal creative process, and realized that my strengths are in ideation and implementation. So, I have an idea and then I act. This loop repeats at speed. Projects layer on top of projects until I’m buried. My own deadlines are forced to defer to the “hard” deadlines provided by others, and I end up frustrated. The projects I care about most move along at a snail’s pace because I’m doing forty of them simultaneously.

I imagined how I’d like my process to work. I pictured a colorful machine with various chutes and conveyer belts all sending material to an “action zone,” where projects could be completed, wrapped in shiny paper, and sent on their way. What I needed was a tool that could queue up my ideas, allowing me to easily sort and resort them. Rather than immediately acting on new ideas, I needed to put them into the “machine” where I could see them lined up against all the queued ideas.

Enter Airtable. It’s a database, yes, but the data can be viewed visually. Many relationships can be built to categorize ideas and sort them based on the criteria of the moment. Re-ordering is as simple as drag and drop. My imagined idea machine might not exist, but with Airtable, I could build a close enough replica to manage and streamline my work-flow.

How I Play:

  • I created bases for books, for ideas, and for my blog posts to start.
  •  I set up fields for images (such as cover images or blog post images) so when I viewed my bases as cards, they’d be visually appealing.
  • I created categories so that I could sort the entries in the various ways I would want to see them. For example, in the book base I used “creativity,” “mystery,” and “literary fiction,” as a few of my categories.
  • I also created a field called status. Here, I can sort ideas or books into “now,” “queue,” “consider,” and “finished.”

Player’s Notes:

  • Airtable allows the user to create links between records. So, for instance, in the book base, I have a table for books and another for authors. Books and their authors can be linked, to make for additional sorting options.
  • The sample bases in Airtable are entertaining and offer a fantastic introduction for new users. Try them out, have some fun, and let yourself play. Especially if databases aren’t your thing, approaching the process from a playful vantage point will help you blast past the difficult parts of getting your ideal system set up.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Zapier and IFTTT are two automation tools that work in collaboration with Airtable. This means, for instance, you can set up an email link so that whenever an idea pops into your mind or someone recommends a book, you can send the info to your base on the spot.

Sometimes tools that offer many options and functionalities can cause overwhelm. Rather than allow myself to lose focus by considering every possible function for Airtable, I started with a few that felt most immediate and important. If you try out the tool for yourself, I encourage you to start wherever you are. Let your system evolve. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the perfect.

We hire professional organizers to help us conquer our closets because sometimes we simply need outside perspective. We often need similar help with our creative process. If you could use a strategy mentorship to help you tackle a thinking or work-flow mess, I’d love to help! Check out the opportunity here.

Naomi’s Playlist: Thoughtbox

 Naomi’s Playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.


Object: Collecting the ideas and thoughts that pop into my mind all day.

What Didn’t Work: Remember to always have a certain notebook in hand, having ideas while driving and trying to remember them until I parked, wanting to reference links on the web or use photos or audio files to help myself remember why I had the thought in the first place.

My Aha! Moment: While on my sabbatical, I was in a rich landscape of thoughts all the time. However, I also wanted to be as physically and mentally free as possible. I didn’t want to drag a notebook around with me all the time. Evernote was another challenge, because opening it up meant looking at work and bills and real life. As a storage tool Evernote is fabulous, but as a collection tool it hindered me.

That’s when I came up with the concept of the Thoughtbox. Imagine you could carry an invisible box, or a magical, expandable bag like the one Hermione Granger carried, where you could store ideas, images, audio files, documents, and research. Even handwritten notes and drawings could be collected in this box. In order for it to work, the box would have to be flexible and ever-present.

I asked myself: What do I always have? The answer? My Apple Watch and my phone. Now, even if you don’t have a smart watch, you likely have a phone, so you can adapt this tool to fit your style and toolkit. The point is to choose a collection entry point—or, as in my case a couple entry points—with an air-tight container to catch everything you toss into your Thoughtbox.

How I Play:

  • Because I collect thoughts in so many different mediums, I use Evernote as the holding zone for my Thoughtbox. I use the tag #Thoughtbox, so all thoughts of this type end up together.
  • I’ve chosen a few appealing apps that live on my watch, phone, and iPad. These apps make collecting ideas easy and integrate well with Evernote.
  • I use Day One on my watch and phone and Noteshelf on my iPad, but there are many other apps that will work. The point is to choose apps that appeal to you, which you already use or are easy to add to your system, and which will seamlessly send material to Evernote.
  • Once a week or so, I review my Thoughtbox and pull out any ideas that need further attention right away. In general, the collection becomes an expanding record of my thinking. I access it during brainstorming sessions or when I enter my Attic looking for raw material to take into the creative process. (The Attic is one of the Writerly Play rooms, more on that here.)

Player’s Notes:

  • One reason my Thoughtbox works so well is because Day One has a recording function from the Apple Watch app. Any time I have a thought, I can tap a button, speak a thought, and the words are instantly transcribed.
  • I can also take a photo with Day One, or easily add any photo that I’ve taken on my phone to the app. When I’m out on a hike or in a museum, this allows me to take a picture and make a few quick notes.
  • I use Noteshelf on my iPad because handwritten notes and drawings are an important part of my thinking process. However, it is nearly as easy to draw or write on paper, snap a photo, and add the thought that way. Scannable is a great app for taking clean pictures with your phone for Evernote.
  • I use Evernote’s simple web clipper and app extensions to send other material into my Thoughtbox. Since Evernote is such a well-connected tool, it allows my system to grow as technology changes.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Since I collect most of my thoughts in Day One, I can review my thoughts periodically in the app’s well-built interface. Looking over my words and images will often spark additional ideas, which I then add to the feed.
  • Day One doesn’t instantly export material to Evernote, so I do this once a week or so. The exporting session provides another chance to review my collected ideas and think them over. I take the opportunity to also look at my complete Thoughtbox in Evernote to see what I’ve collected recently from the web and from Noteshelf.
  • Since Evernote can be overwhelming to my visual-thinker’s mind, I use the presentation mode to scroll through the Thoughtbox. This way, the noise is cut out and I can see the ideas in a more compelling format.

Naomi’s Playlist: Curious

Naomi’s Playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you!

Lifelong Learning with the Curious App

Object: Making learning a daily habit with the Curious app.

What Didn’t Work: Trying to remember to take time daily to learn something, spending the time I might have spent learning searching for quality material, learning only about topics I sought out rather than material that might stretch beyond my comfort zone

My Aha! Moment: When I visit classrooms, I love to read the list on the board of all that’s in store for the day. As students arrive in the morning, they stop, read the list, smile over the parts of the day that appeal to them, make a face over the parts that will be a challenge, and after they’re done, they nod. The day’s work is accepted.

Honestly, I miss having a teacher lay out a learning plan for my day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the post-school freedom choose my areas of passion and focus. But I miss the richness of being introduced to ideas and topics I wouldn’t naturally seek out. Divergent thinking is an essential part of creativity. When my exploration narrows to the areas of my current expertise, I can find myself also feeling stuck.

That’s why I was so excited to see the update to the Curious app. Now, this one is a paid app, but you can try it out for free to see if it’s a good match for you.

How I Play:

  • When you arrive, you’ll fill out an interview. Using your answers, the app will create your personalized learning plan. I chose to include a wide range of interests in my interview so my learning plan would cast a wider net.
  • I try to work in chunks of 45 minutes or so, and use various brain breaks to boost my energy throughout the day. The Curious app provides me with at least one of these for the day.
  • I’m tracking my learning with the score-keeping wheel, which makes learning feel like a game.
  • I’m noting key insights in Evernote, in case I want to draw on them for future ideas or projects.

Player’s Notes:

  • Some of the lessons are text only, but others are videos. I like to mix and match, but the lower point CQ’s are easier to tuck into borrowed moments in my day.
  • Since Curious is an investment, I’m being intentional about visiting it on a daily (or close to daily) basis. I keep a checklist of tasks I want to remember daily in another an app called Habit List, and “Visit Curious” is on that list.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • The app has an enormous wealth of material. Aside from the Daily Dose collection, you may want to browse the many courses available in the “Browse” screen.

Psst… Do you know about Naomi’s Tinder Box: a weekly collection of curated resources, inspiration and encouragement? Keep your creative spark ablaze … sign up for exclusive access here.

Naomi’s Playlist: Evernote Inbox

Naomi’s Playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you!

Tame the information tsunami


NOTE: This post is part one of a now-and-again collection of Playlist posts focused on various Evernote strategies. Evernote is one of those powerful tools that can solve a multitude of challenges, so it’s useful to drill down and focus on individual strategies one at a time.

Object: Taming the information tsunami

What Didn’t Work: Drowning in potentially useful information, having non-actionable emails fill my inbox, coming across free reports and blog posts I wanted to review “someday,” and feeling constantly further behind.

My Aha! Moment: I’ve certainly heard that one should deal with each email only once. Also, I’m aware that I shouldn’t let every potentially helpful piece of information interrupt my train of thought. The trouble is, I also know that when I want ideas for conferences to attend, or fun activities for the weekend, or resources to help me more effectively use Twitter, I appreciate the kick-start that a collection of resources can give me. 

But, just letting the information pile up wasn’t helping me. Not only were the piles overwhelming my inbox and desk, when I wanted information, there wasn’t any simple way to access it. The result? I’d start my research by “trying to remember” that one helpful tool I saw once.

Yep. Not very effective, and totally slow going.

I was already using Evernote, but the steps required to save something to Evernote kept me from using the tool. I had to decide which notebook to use, which tags to use, and most of the time, I ended up with messy files anyway. I needed a split second way to put items effectively into Evernote. That’s when I found Michael Hyatt’s post on Evernote. (Warning: if you’re trying to onboard Evernote in small steps, his post may be a bit overwhelming).

Here’s what’s most pertinent to our current discussion. Rather than using lots of different notebooks among which you must constantly choose, Michael suggested using two. What you need is an “Inbox” and a “Cabinet.” Evernote defines these buckets as “notebooks,” but I find it more helpful to think of them as a physical inbox and a physical filing cabinet.

When I made this change, Evernote became simple for me. My inbox was my standard notebook, where all incoming notes collected. Then, in slow moments, I’d fly through the entire list, tagging and sending the notes into the cabinet. 

Now, there’s more to how I use Evernote, and how I make tagging easy, but for now, let’s focus on this immediate strategy that’s sure to give you immediate relief.

How I Play:

  • I have my gathering tools set up to send items to my inbox. The main gathering tools are likely your web-clipper, your scanner and scanning software, and any email helper app that you use.
  • When I determine that an item (webpage, blog post, email, etc) is information that I may someday want, I send it to my inbox. 
  • In those moments when I’m in between meetings or in need of some mindless work, I tag and re-file my notes into my cabinet.

Player’s Notes:

  • I don’t worry about notes piling up. The great thing about Evernote is that when you search, it goes through the text of every note. Even if your note isn’t perfectly filed, it will likely come up when you search. And tagging and filing 100 notes doesn’t take too long if the task has your full attention for a few minutes.
  • Most Evernote gathering tools allow you to set a reminder date. If the note is timely and you want to be reminded on a certain date, set a reminder as you send it to your inbox.
  • When you want to share a subset of notes with a team-member or a group, you WILL need a separate notebook to share with them. Try not to get hung up on the rule of only having two notebooks. While having only one inbox and one cabinet is ideal, reality will probably force you to maintain a couple extras. Especially in those cases, the inbox is a fantastic capturing tool so you can then re-route as needed.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • If you have time, and you know your tags well enough, you can always tag a note and send it directly to your cabinet. Most tools allow that, too. The beauty of the inbox is that it’s there for you if you need it and can always be bypassed if you don’t.

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