In my Most Boring Commencement Speech Ever, I mentioned how I use Evernote to get as much of my life and work into as digital and searchable a form as I can. I wanted to expand upon this a bit to explain how I use this piece of software. My life basically revolves around 12 boxes. That may seem a bit complex, but I’ve found it’s the best way to simplify my life.

Box 1: Inbox 
This is the place I put every piece of paper that enters my life – letters, checks, invoices, receipts, notes, magazines, catalogs, statements, etc. It’s absolutely key to have one box that you put everything into. Then once a week, usually Friday afternoon, I spend some time processing this Inbox. I deal with as much as I can within a given time – usually one hour. Each item goes into one of the following boxes.

Box 2: Evernote
This is where most of Box 1 ends up. Let’s say it’s my notes from a conference. I put a yellow sticky on it with three pieces of information, for example:

  • Folder: Conferences
  • Title: Positive Leadership
  • Tag: Leadership

If it’s something for my tax return, I’ll put:

  • Folder: 2014 Tax
  • Title: Airport car parking
  • Tag: Expense

Up till now I processed all this monthly in a batch; scanning it in, uploading to Evernote, and filling out the tag, title, etc., and then shredding the physical documents. Thankfully an assistant will be doing this in the future, releasing maybe a couple of hours a month.

Box 3: To-Do
These pieces of paper will eventually end up in Evernote but I have to do something with them first like pay a bill, reply to a question, make a phone call, etc.

Box 4: Pending
Again, these will end up in Evernote but at the moment I’m waiting for some other piece of information: a returned phone call, someone else to do something before I can take any further action, etc. Pending could be kept in a “Pending” folder in Evernote, but I like to have a physical reminder of what I’m waiting for.

Box 5: Certificates
This includes birth and marriage certificates, immigration files, passports, social security, etc. I also keep a digital copy of these on a hard drive, but obviously I need physical copies. I keep them in a fire-proof safe box.

Box 6: Catalogs
I like to keep copies of publishers catalogs, Cabela’s, and office supplies brocures. I find it easier to find what I’m looking for than the websites.

Box 7: Reading
These are magazines, journals, articles, reports, etc., that I’ve been sent or people have given me to read. I will often mark pages with a post-it note and have my secretary scan articles straight into Evernote. Again I tend to batch process these every week or two then return them, which brings me to…

Box 8: Return
I get given a lot of books, magazines, and articles to read, as well as CD’s to listen to and DVD’s to watch. But I want to keep track of what I should return. It’s my attempt to quash the myth that pastors have a black hole in their studies that all loaned books are mysteriously drawn into and never seen again.

Box 9: Prayer
I put items for prayer into this box, maybe scribbled notes, an email, a blog article, a news item, my church directory, etc.

Box 10: Finance
This is where I keep check books, tax returns, etc.

Box 11: Rubbish
The garbage bin, which I usually empty and burn every few weeks.

Box 12: Office Supplies
Pens, pencils, staples, tape, index cards, and so on. All my office supplies in one place.

The most helpful book I’ve read on this subject is Organizing from the Inside Out, second edition: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern.

I’m sure I don’t have the perfect system, so any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated.

  • Jon Stallings

    Thanks for sharing David. Very creative list. I haven’t seen anyone describe their organizing like this before.

    • David Murray

      Glad it was helpful, John.

  • Alastair Manderson

    I hope your assistant is permanently slotted into box 9!