Using Evernote or OneNote for your GTD Software System? Reconsider!

Posted 07/11/14 by James and filed under:

Are you using Evernote or OneNote as your GTD Software?

I often see people write blog posts or even sell ebooks explaining  how to set-up either of these tools to use for their GTD software needs.   I admit, I see the allure.  I understand why they do it.  The idea of using just one tool for all your data capture and task management needs is alluring!  David Allen even preaches that having fewer inboxes is best.  But in my experience, the idea is much better than the actual implementation when it comes to both Evernote and OneNote.  In this post, I’ll explain why.

How much is your time worth?

GTD web appAn important aspect of any GTD system is speed. You need to be able to create tasks and add the correct information to your task quickly. In this area, I find that GTD systems based on either Evernote or OneNote really come up short.  It just takes too long to manually add all the information to each task you create in either OneNote or Evernote.  A good task list manger like GTDNext does much of this for you automatically.

I did some testing, and for me, it takes approximately 21 seconds to apply 4 tags in Evernote. One each for the “What”, “When”, Where”, and “Who” that a popular Evernote GTD system suggests you apply to each action.  All told, it took me 29 seconds on average to create a note (task) in Evernote.

In contrast, it took me (on average) only 11 seconds in GTDNext to create a new task and assign a context.  GTDNext automatically puts it on the active list, and I didn’t need to select what project the task was part of because I just clicked into the correct project before typing. Something you can’t do in Evernote.

Task List Automation

The biggest problem I find with using Evernote or OneNote for your task management app is the lack of list automation.  What do I mean by this?  Well, in GTDNext, when you look at your next action list, you are seeing a list of all your next actions.  One action from each project you have. This keeps your list of actions small and manageable.

Consider someone with 20 projects, each with 5 tasks and another 5 single actions.  In Evernote and OneNote, you would need to look at a list of 105 actions to determine what you wanted to do next.  With GTDNext, you are only looking at 25 tasks.

That is a big difference!  105 tasks seem overwhelming, where as 25 is much more manageable.  Furthermore, in GTDNext, it’s likely that you might apply a filter to your next action list by “Area”, further restricting your list down to a more manageable size.  It’s this kind of automation of your task list that makes GTDNext a much better choice for your GTD system.

Overcoming this problem in either OneNote or Evernote requires extra steps that, again, just slow you down.  You end up with two bad choices.  1) Just look at a huge list of actions, with no filtering or 2) Review your actions more frequently and manually apply a “next” tag to filter your list.  Both are unnecessary and bad choices in my opinion.

The One (Less) Inbox and Easy Note Access Issue

Fans of using Evernote or OneNote as a GTD system will always mention that having one app for both notes and actions is a huge advantage.  But is it really?  There are two primary advantages, so let’s look at each one individually.

Advantage 1:  Tasks created in Evernote or OneNote can have reference materials easily attached to the task.  This is really a great advantage for sure.  However, take a quick look at your task list. How many of your tasks actually have any reference materials attached?  Or any notes at all?  I just did a quick look at my next action list.  Of the 69 items currently on my next action list, only 9 tasks had any kind of reference information in the notes section, or about 13%.  Your mileage may vary, but to me, the extra time it takes to setup my tasks in Evernote or OneNote for just 13% of my tasks that could benefit, just isn’t worth it.  In addition, when I do need to reference information in Evernote or OneNote, I just use the link feature (TAB+L) in GTDNext to link directly to the note in OneNote or Evernote.  This gives me quick access back to the content and works for any web URL link.


Advantage 2:  The single app advantage.  Proponents of Evernote and OneNote will always mention that having one tool for all your productivity needs is the best way to go.  Using two apps is really just too much.

Really?  I guess the first thing I would point out is that the idea that using Evernote or OneNote makes you have just one app is kind of ridiculous.  People have way more collection points and apps that are part of their productivity solution than they might think!  How about work email?  Home Email?  Work calendar?  Family Calendar?  Mind mapping software, audio notes, voicemail.

The list goes on and on.  Yes, having fewer collection points and systems is nice, but the idea that you can have just ONE by using OneNote or Evernote is really a fallacy when you think about it.

I contend that since you already use multiple systems, you should really use a system that specializes in the task you are doing and that does it quickly and well.


While this post comes off a bit as if I don’t like Evernote or OneNote, that is actually not true at all.  I love both programs and use both of them daily.  Surprised?   Click here to read my answer on Quora to see why I use both daily.

They are both great programs. I just don’t see the reason to slow my personal GTD system down by minutes a day, or hours a month just so I can have the occasional easy access to my reference notes!

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with me?  Why?  Did I miss any of the advantages or disadvantages?   Please add your comments below.