Evernote Power Tip – Dynamic ToDo Lists

I’ve been an Evernote user and big fan of the application for sometime now but one thing I’ve struggled with in the application has been the disconnect between my notes and the various ToDo’s associated with them. (By the way If you really want to get the most out of Evernote check out Brett Kelly’s “Evernote Essentials” ebook, version 4.0 was just released on 9/26.)

While Evernote has the ability to insert a checkbox (instructions at the bottom of this post) into your notes to flag something as a “ToDo” item, it still fell a little short of this essential functionality since I now had to go through my notes to find the ToDo’s. Part of the problem was me, since I was used to a traditional ToDo lists (outside of Evernote) which were all consolidated and orderly. Yet there was a problem with those consolidated lists too… a lack of context around that ToDo item.

Of course some ToDo’s are easy to figure out and don’t need context (“Pick Up Dry Cleaning” for example), but with others, particularly those more business oriented, or associated with on-going projects, it helps to have other information to refer to.

Back to Evernote…

So I set out for searching for a way to create a dynamic, consolidated list of the items in Evernote that I mark as “ToDo” (by adding the little checkbox) in Evernote, without the need for yet another 3rd party application. While I assumed there must be a way to do accomplish this in Evernote, I was wrong. However, there is something better, and if you can challenge yourself to think a little differently, and appreciate having your ToDo’s in context this might work for you too.

As it turns out there is an array of Evernote search parameters that you can use from within the Evernote application and on the web interface. One of those parameters is:

todo:[true|false|*] -  If the argument is “false”, this will match notes that have ToDo checkboxes that are not currently checked. If the argument is “*”, this will match notes that have a ToDo checkbox of any type. If the argument is “true” then it will match notes with ToDo checkboxes that are currently checked.

So, in your search bar simply type “todo:false” and you’ll get back all of the notes which have unchecked ToDo items.

Why This Is Better Than A ToDo “List”

While it challenges us to think about the ToDo list a little differently, I’d argue it’s better because it puts our ToDo’s in context (surrounded by the notes on that subject). And by combining the todo: search parameter with other search parameters, for example tag:tagname we can easily refine our searches and see only what we want to currently focus on, again, kept in context.

I’d recommend creating and saving searches that you use frequently so that you can easily execute the search later without having to type things in every time.

Adding The ToDo Box:

In case you are not sure how to add the ToDo box in Evernote here is a quick tutorial:

If you prefer to use keystrokes then on Mac try : Command+Shift+T

on Windows try Control+Shift+C.

Extra: If you really want to get awesome at Evernote check out the “Evernote Essentials” ebook, version 4.0 was just released on 9/26.

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  1. Tom M says

    This is a great search paramater tip.. thanks very much

    But my problem is a bit different. I maintain a standard ToDo list on Evernote, including check boxes. The problem is that once I complete a task and “check” it… I want it to either disappear or go to the bottom of the list or get archived or…. something.

    At the moment all I can find to do is go back and erase it… which is a bit tedius when doing it on an iPhone.

    Thoughts of suggestions?

    Tom

    • says

      Tom – That is an understandable request but I have no idea how to make them disappear or archive once checked. The reality is that Evernote is a note taking app (not really todo list management as much as we’d all like that) so it’ll be have more like a notepad than anything else.

      FWIW I looked at the API and it doesn’t appear that there is anything in there that would allow an extension to be written to automatically delete checked items too. I think the assumption (and correctly in my opinion) is that people will want to keep a record since checkboxes could be used in a number of contexts, not just stand alone todo lists.

      • TekMason says

        Hi Scott,

        There are several ways that you accomplish this. I have chose to use saved searches that look for unchecked check boxes. I’ve gone a step further because I want to use both Home and Work ToDo Items

        EN interprets a note that has a check box as a todo item (a mistake IMHO) so you can create saved searches that look for notes with a checkbox and any combination of checked, unchecked or either. To search your notes for:
        -checked checkboxes, type todo:true into the Evernote search box.
        -unchecked checkboxes, type todo:false into the Evernote search box.
        -all checkboxes (checked or unchecked), type todo:* into the Evernote search box.

        I have created 2 tags to separate my Work and Home ToDos (or general notes) and you guessed it, those tags are named Home and Work. Then I created 2 separate saved searches to separate my incomplete Home and Work ToDos:
        —-
        NAME: ToDo Home
        CRITERIA: tag:Home todo:false
        —-
        NAME: ToDo Work
        CRITERIA: tag:Home todo:false
        —-

        On to my question…
        I want to create a search that will return all notes where todo:false AND (tag:Work OR -tag:)
        Plain english, I want to create a saved search that shows me all uncompleted ToDos that have either a Work tag or No tag.

        Any ideas?

        TekMason

        • says

          TekMason –

          I think you’ll need two separate searches. I can’t find a way to do “AND/OR” logic with search parameters on the same parameter (in this case tag:)

          todo:false tag:Work
          todo:false -tag:*

          I’ve tried various combinations but none returned results when trying algebraic combinations like that.

  2. Stan says

    Great info. I am almost there:
    We are using it in our team meetings as a note taking application. And, we use the todo’s to register follow-up actions / taskts. Of course, we create a notebook per project/customer or whatever. And, in that note are also meeting notes.

    Now, the question: can I create a view/search so I am have create a list of all todo’s?, so a sort of crawler of all notes and returning JUST the todo, not the text around it.

    • Doug says

      I am also interested in understanding how to accomplish this…If I am recording many todo’s in various meeting each day I would like to run a query and just see all my todo’s, not the rest of my meeting notes.

      Any guidance would be appreciated

      • says

        Doug, The last think I heard that was not yet possible in Evernote (isolation of todo’s from your notes). My understanding is that may be in the works but no idea when that will be a feature. For now it’s still easiest to just use the search parameter todo:true . You’ll still have to sift through your notes but it’s what we have for now.

  3. Arash says

    Thank you Scott for your post,

    I was wondering how to search my To do’s and it was a big help. We are using Evernote as you are using for our meetings and projects. But the checkbox is coming only on the text inside a note. is there any way to put checkbox on the note title itself.

      • Arash says

        Scott,

        Thank you for your prompt reply. There is another problem which you may help me. After finishing a MOM and the tasks which the team member are going to follow up, I would like to distribute notes and tasks to all team members in a acceptable report format. When I send the tasks and notes via e-mail, it does not have a good look as a report format. is there any way to create a report out of our notes and tasks in Evernote?

        kind Regards,
        Arash

    • says

      Ray,

      Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check it out. I like staying within one app as much as possible but that will be useful to a lot of people.

  4. says

    Do you know how to clear the check boxes in Mac? I use them for my daily routines which are the same every day. I clear them and start over at the end of the day. I use Windows at work and they have a right-click option to clear all todo checks. I can’t find that option in Mac. Any ideas?

      • says

        I am using Evernote…. Sorry Scott I didn’t realize you covered several programs. In my Windows version at work I can right click and clear all to-do’s to be ready to start the next day for my routines list. On Mac however, I’ve been just unclicking them all to reset them. Is there a better way?

        • says

          Sorry Skip. In my brain this one on the “keystrokes for mac” post, not Evernote. I should have known, sorry about that.

          I couldn’t find a way to check/un-check all but I did figure out a little cheat.

          If you select/highlight all of your items with checkboxes (like you were going to copy them) and then click the little checkbox icon, like you were adding checkboxes next to them for the first time, it will remove all of the checkboxes. Click the button again and it adds them back un-checked. Make sense?

          Note, formatting broke for me if there were in a bulleted or numbered list but if each item is just on it’s own row it worked perfectly.

  5. Lon Phillips says

    Please tell me that the toolbar on top of your Evernote screen is something you added yourself, because mine only has 6 buttons and no checkbox. No wonder I couldn’t figure out why you people kept saying to do this and that with to do lists and I was (and prolly always will be) clueless!

    • says

      Lon,

      You should be able to see it. Open a card and put your cursor into the card to edit it and you should see a bar with formatting options (font size, etc…) and further down to the right there is a little checkbox.

  6. says

    All,
    There are a few apps that now isolate Evernote todos. TrackMyTasks is a standalone iOS task app that syncs with Evernote todos. TaskClone, our company, extracts or “clones” todos and will send them to your favorite task app (e.g. Toodledo, Asana, Wunderlist, Todoist). Over 40 are supported.

    These are two other options for readers.