The Secret Weapon for Organizing Your Life and Achieving Bucket List Goals
Staying on top of life’s tasks can be overwhelming. Post-It notes disappear beneath the fridge; long-term goals get punted downfield, bouncing into the weeds. That’s no surprise, given all the activities of a busy life, plus the huge amounts of information we all consume daily. Tracking tasks for work, fun, travel, and hobbies is enough to short out C3PO. Some aspirations drift away into the mist like an unmoored boat.
As my friend Sean says, there are only seven days in the week, and Someday isn’t one of them. It’s easy to put off mailing that passport renewal app, delay signing up for Spanish or guitar lessons, or procrastinate starting your dream side business.
Organize Your Life!
To help people avoid looking back at a giant pile of Somedays, I always recommend one powerful tool.
It’s called The Secret Weapon (TSW). TSW is a free technique that helps me organize my life, stops things from slipping through the cracks, and empowers me to execute on both annoying to-dos as well as bigger projects.
Like most good things in my life, my wonderful wife brought it to my attention. The Secret Weapon is now the cornerstone for organizing all the information and tasks that cross my path.
I use it both professionally and personally and hope (/know!) you will benefit too.
What Is The Secret Weapon?
Simply put, TSW is a combination of Evernote and the Getting Things Done (GTD) method.
Evernote is a web, phone and computer app that allows you to easily clip, save, record or otherwise archive information of any type.
GTD is a popular technique introduced by productivity consultant David Allen that moves planned tasks and projects out of the mind by recording them externally and breaking them into actionable work items.
TSW merges technology and work-flow techniques. In the words of its creators, the Secret Weapon is:
A free organizational methodology for both professional and personal aspects of life that re-organizes emails, ideas, and every to-do big and small into one system that stays synchronized across a person’s computers as well as their smart phones.
Deploying TSW allows me to keep track of personal and business tasks for both near-term and distant timelines without taxing my brain with stuff that clutters the corners and makes my eyes glaze over.
How the Secret Weapon Works
TSW organizes my life into discrete chunks to manage tasks. That ranges from copying a house key to negotiating business contracts to organizing a future bucket list trip like bikepacking the Colorado Trail. I also track quotes and book passages while I’m reading, clipping all my ebook highlights and importing them into Evernote for easy reference. You can use TSW for anything!
What does this look like? Here’s a sample section of my list prior to departing for Utah in late March, sorted for most pressing actions (1-Now, in TSW lingo). This is just part of the list – I’d wager most of you have similar things bumping around in your head that wake you up at night slapping your forehead. (“AH, I forgot to drop the bike off for a tune up!”) By referencing this list every morning as our trip approached, we whittled down tasks until we were ready to launch.
It’s Easier Than It Looks!
Not gonna lie: it took me awhile to start using TSW. I used Gmail’s task feature for years and thought it worked great. I’d type in tasks, handle pressing or easy items, and delete the ones that slipped to the bottom of the list. This worked well in some respects, but wasn’t ideal. It was task management fire fighting: spraying the biggest flames and praying small, untended fires would go out.
The power of TSW became apparent in 2013 when we were prepping our house so we could travel, building out the van, handling business changes, and generally burying ourselves with a stack of tasks taller than Paul Bunyan on growth hormones. With an endless pile of to-dos, my simple Gmail-based task system blew up into a hairy snarl of too much to do and no way to prioritize anything. We needed to crank out a serious volume of work. Our tenants’ arrival grew closer…
Enter TSW. I watched the free video tutorials that walked me through setting up GTD with Evernote , and dialed in the system. It continues to deliver value to this day!
Chelsea herded me along, focusing my efforts with skill a pyramid-building Egyptian foreman would envy. Maybe we were sweeping the front porch as our new tenants rolled up to the house, but we got it done! I’ve used TSW ever since. (I’ll say it again: this may sound complicated, but the video tutorials are short, easy to understand, and walk you through everything step-by-step. You don’t even have to be Type A. TSW can help anyone!)
The key to realizing TSW’s full potential is creating a habit for each morning. After my morning reading, meditation, and writing routine, I cue up Evernote, brain dump tasks on my mind, and then scan for things to accomplish that day.
As a rule, I immediately handle anything that takes less than two minutes, unless that item requires some research or coordination of some kind. In a few minutes, I’ve got my day’s road map.
An Example of The Secret Weapon
For a concrete example of how TSW works, let’s use the van buildout that I completed over the course of a few months in late summer 2013. This was an intimidating, time consuming, and complicated task. Put “build out the Sprinter van” on the task list and you’ll get to it later than “sort Tupperware lids.”
Instead, I broke everything down into smaller chunks and actions. Every pending item for the van was tagged with “Sprinter,” and then given a When/Where/Who designation. Once everything was chunked up, it was a simple matter to add tasks based on priority, location (pick up at Home Depot) or who (me, Chelsea, or hiring someone, if needed).
Over the course of a few months, hundreds of tasks were researched, parts and components purchased, and the project was methodically completed in time for departure. (To be clear, “methodically” also involves me running about in a frenzy sometimes.)
Here’s a shot from the “Sprinter” tag that I pulled from Evernote, since we still have items we plan on updating or repairing. A metal strip on our counter just ripped off and needs to repaired soon, hence the “1-Now” priority designation. If I decide something can be handled later, I can move it to 2-Next, or kick it way down the line to 5-Someday.
This may seem complicated. It’s not. Once you get in a good workflow, maintaining this system from your computer or phone becomes a routine like brushing your teeth. The morning check-in prioritizes my day, and then I add or update items as needed, plus a late afternoon scan and update.
I’ve never felt more on top of things, even with my life pulled in many directions these days between managing investment properties, remotely handling my business and employees, writing this blog, and arranging our travel plans and friend meetups. (And sneaking off to mountain bike for hours at a time, of course.)
If you’re looking for a straight-forward technique for managing your life, look no further than The Secret Weapon. Not only is it totally free, I guarantee it will increase your productivity, get you to the fabled Inbox Zero, and help “free” time really be free time.
No more wasting minutes searching for lost info, or forgetting that small detail that hangs up a business deal at the last minute. You’re going to crank that stuff out and have time to focus on writing that book, starting a side business, or finally organizing all the photos from high school.
Head over to TheSecretWeapon.org now and get rolling! The tutorials are broken into bite-size snippets that are easy to fit in over the course of a week. Cheers to organizing your life!
I’ve been using The Secret Weapon for years and it’s a fantastic system. Getting Things Done is a crucial piece. I agree 100%.
Nice! Yeah, Evernote is just another list until you apply GTD to it. Glad it works for you.
Excellent post Dr. Gale. Systematization isn’t shiny or exciting, but the lifestyle it can help afford certainly is! Great information.
Thanks yo. The less-than-shiny stuff is what provides the foundation/launchpad for doing the stuff we WANT to do. Like ride across Australia on a dual sport, for instance…
DG…How much were those 2014 taxes son?! C’mon, tell your readers! Tell us how to retire at 35 so we can meet you out on the open road! Unshackle us from the grind. We all want to know what you knocked down in 2014. At least tell us how much tax you avoided paying by stashing your $$$ in your offshore account!
Nice post my friend but in my opinion the real secret weapon is to unhook from the daily grind and all of the lists that come along with that. Can I get a loan?!
Stop looking at my to-do lists! I’ll tell you how much taxes were for 2014 if you pay mine for 2015. Deal?
I hear the best way to do that is to buy a yacht and a bunch of diamonds, ship off to the Bahamas and sell everything there. You lose a bit in the sale, but hey, now you’ve offshored your cash!
I think the best way to unhook from the grind is to start your own business or get creative with real estate. Location180.com is a great resource for starting your own business, and you’re on top of the ADU empire!
This is great stuff D. I love the idea of breaking things done into sizable chunks.
How’s the Evernote functionality on mobile? Does that work for you too? I’m assuming you manage your lists on laptop then use the mobile for reviewing and making complete.
I still love the Secret Weapon! Use it every day.
I use Evernote on my phone most frequently. That’s my primary use for adding quick things that come to mind, with laptop as a monthly review or if I’m on my computer.
Hi Dakota, a few years late, but thank you for this plug. We are the creators of TheSecretWeapon system. The site is no more, but people can still find its videos on YouTube, and the Manifesto can be downloaded free here: http://www.scottohlgren.com/TheSecretWeaponManifesto.pdf I’m glad people still find our GTD methodology so useful.
Thanks for the followup, Scott! This post still gets a lot of traffic so I’m glad you let me know about the shift. And FWIW, I still use TSW every single day. Cheers!
Hi Scott – so are you “Braintoniq”?? I chatted to him/you a few times years ago when I first came across TSW, on the forum that used to be on the site. Just interested if that was you, or maybe you were partners.
I love the combination of EN and GTD and your videos were extremely simple and clear.
I love the GTD methodology! Tempted to try this! Since I’m just catching up on your blogs… Are you still using TSW or have you switched to a different system? Thanks!
Hey Liz, funny you ask because last month I spent a solid chunk of time researching and testing out GTD coupled with Notion. (Check out this tutorial.)
In the end, Notion + GTD felt too complicated to manage with the database linking and review process, so I decided to stick with Evernote + GTD. Highly recommend The Secret Weapon – my entire life is rooted in there!
I should mention one downside: the calendar aspect of Evernote, which Notion does better. I use Google Calendar with Evernote and it works well for my needs, but it’s something to consider. Notion is certainly worth looking at.