Why Evernote Is Not A To-Do List

I love Evernote.

I’ve written about how much Evernote means to my every day life in the past. From clipping things across the internet to storing files I want to be able to access anywhere, Evernote is the swiss army knife of productivity and my workflow.

It does everything for me.

It’s my digital brain. For personal stuff, we have a family notebook that Melissa and I share. For work stuff and anything else, there’s a notebook in my Evernote for it.

I use tags some. For a few things here and there that I know will have notes across the many notebooks I have (I probably need to skim that down some), I use tags. Templates for different things, my wife, and reference materials all have a tag (along with a few more).

The one thing that you won’t find in my Evernote notebook? A to do list.

You got it. Evernote is not a to do list. I know they’ve tried with check box integration and reminders. There’s a secret weapon people have tried to use to make it a good to-do system. They’ve tried to make it a little more friendly toward housing project management and to-do’s, but it’s just not for that. There’s no quick access or quick dump or action step lists or even sub projects or tasks. Does Evernote integrate well with a project manager like ToDoist? Sure. It’s great to house longer notes and ideas that can then be linked in ToDoist.

I’ve tried rolling to-do’s into Evernote and I lost so much of what a true to-do list offers.

The danger is that when we go to mind dump a task into a task manager, it takes too much time to find the right notebook and note. I’m afraid we’ll lose a lot of the easy access that a true inbox in a to-do list provides. It’s a small, but truly important thing that we lose seeing the task disappear after we complete it as well. There’s something motivating about checking off a task and watching it go away. Evernote it too robust to be a true getting things done system.

Sure, you can try Evernote for your project manager/to-do list. You may get it to work with an IFTTT hack or something, but for me, I don’t mind having 2 hubs of productivity that can communicate easily with one another.

What are your thoughts?

PS: I have an ebook releasing in May about managing productivity. It’ll be practical and easy and quick to read. To get on the email list, go here.


  1. For the life of me, I can’t make sense of Evernote. I’ve tried so many times, even spent a whole afternoon once with YouTube how-tos. No dice for me – I just don’t get it. My OneNote app makes much more sense and is easier for me to use.

    For to-dos, I love Wunderlist. I tried Things when it was offered for free, but that seems like too much work.

    1. Wunderlist is definitely a great tool for simple lists and list making. Evernote is one of those things that I think you either get or you don’t. Some love it, others despise it… apparently you’re the latter :) Thanks, Kathy!

  2. As much as I hate to agree with you on this, experience has taught me otherwise. I’ve tried a bunch of task management apps and lost productivity from switching around and getting caught up in organizing. I think the key is to pick one and stick with it.

    That being said, even with the creation of Reminders in Evernote and integrating with other apps like Sunrise for calendaring, it doesn’t beat a tool like Todoist. Both definitely complement each other, though.

    I’ve got so many Reminders scattered around Evernote it will take awhile to transfer, but I think the time invested will ultimately save more time.

    Good stuff, Jonathan. Keep up the good work.

  3. Evernote is kinda my junky closet, sometimes I have fun digging through it and finding old stuff that I wanted to save for inspiration. I also love the web clipper, but it’s not much of a management tool for me.

    Asana is my choice for managing the different projects I’m running concurrently. I like that I can put a date on a task and it’s adds it to my calendar. I’m the king of using a tool just enough to frustrate me and then throwing it away. Patience and persistence go a long way with any tool, and mine wears thin far too quickly. Then I suffer for it. I’m trying to stick with Asana for awhile and learn it well.

  4. Love Evernote, can’t imagine my life without it, but I totally agree with you. Evernote is not for to-do lists. I’ve tried it, but I can’t really work with it. A check list is just not enough. I need to organize my to-do list from what’s really important to things I just don;t want to forget I have to do, but don’t have to do them right away.

  5. Nick M Cummins

    As a recent user of Evernote and long time user of task list organizers (primarily ones that integrate with Google Tasks), I would strongly agree on this. I have actually recently starting using Evernote now for my task management. And just two days ago, I had Evernote opened alongside emClient (an email program that integrates with Google Tasks), copying over tasks from Evernote to emClient. I decided the time overheard of having to replicate into another system was not worth it, and continued with Evernote. Why was I even trying to move them to emClient? Your article hammers that reason down pretty well. Seriously, good job!

    And I rarely comment on blog posts, but I’m an adult with ADHD and using to-do’s are so key for me being able to accomplish day-to-day tasks and therefore be a functional (and therefore happier) person in our modern day society of constant things to do.

    The only thing is that while there are plenty of good task list suites out there, many which have decent multiple platform compatibility, I use multiple platforms (Mac OSX, Linux, Windows, Android) and having an app that is universally available for all these is rare, despite though many app might support all but one of these platforms [likely Linux]. Sorry, but a web interface is not going to cut it – the notion of having a lightweight and dedicated program for tasks is important to me. Having to use clunky (which is any for this case) web browser isn’t going to help with that.

  6. Michael

    I completely agree that it is not a to-do list. I wish it was so that I could keep everything contained within Evernote. I notice that some people commented with the to-do app that they use, and I thought I would share mine. I have been using swipes (http://swipesapp.com/). The android version is currently in beta and I love it. I hear that the iOS version is even better. It links to Evernote very simply. On any note, all I have to do is tag it with “swipes,” and it will be exported to my to do list moments later. From there I mark it as completed, leave it on the “now” list, or change the due date to something later. The UI is the best part, try is on a phone. I haven’t tried ToDoist, but I think I will based on comments I’ve read on other sites and hear, but right now I though I would share what I’m using.

  7. Chucks

    Hmm. I think you’re wrong. Everyone is different and our career is different. I use Evernote and it works perfectly for me as a to do list. All I did was use my imagination and visualise my work and mirror it with Evernote and voila.

  8. I have browsed in the google about evernote for to-do-list and found your website in first page result. Agree. I have tried to make Evernote as to-do-list but it’s too complicated. I have tried to integrate it with swipes in Android but it failed again. I use both Todoist and Chaos Control for to-do-list tools.

  9. There are some who have used Evernote as a todo list to great effect (see Stacey Harmon and TSW- The Secret Weapon). For most however, we use Evernote for storage/reference and todo lists/calendars for action.

    Not wanting to give up the benefits of either, we built TaskClone as a bridge between Evernote (and soon OneNote) and the many task apps and calendars out there. We found there were many ways to get ideas into Evernote, but not many ways to get it out. Check it out if interested.

  10. DTLow

    I use Evernote as a task manager.
    My task list is easy to display; it’s a saved search in my shortcut section.
    Tasks are separate notes, with due dates. They add to the list on the appropriate date, and drop off when marked done.

    1. Ed

      I agree! When I started using EN as to do list, I basically copied the outlook of Google Keep. Basically I created a notebook and each note was a different to do list. I even changed colors of font and to really stand out I sent the notebook to my home screen. That way if I wanted to glance at any of my list, it was available at touch of my thumb just like another app would be. Now with that being said my to do lists are not too complex, but this may be the reason it works for me.

  11. Just Me.

    To the Author: You obviously never came from the world of paper day planners. The beauty of true project managing is having ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION at your finger tips, meaning one planer for all your notes, all of your calendars, and all of your tasks and commitments. In the world of digital record keeping, that would mean on application to keep it all. This would allow you to search for everything you need in one place, not needing to go to different apps to search for something. This would also allow you to link a date from your calendar, to notes you’ve taken on some other date, to a task you completed in the past, to a new task that will be scheduled.

    Evernote could implement such features and I wish they would, as they would have my money on going, but it doesn’t mean everyone would have to use such a feature and could keep using their two app system for them if that is what works. Its like buying popcorn at a movie theater. You may not want them to add the fake butter flavoring to your popcorn, but some one else may. Buy having such a feature available, would just widen their customer base and satisfaction.


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