This article first appeared on Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue Collecting, subscribe and buy here
I’ve known Daniel Gold for some time now. We’ve done a podcast together, where we talked about Evernote and numerous other things, and in a sense, I’ve always found Daniel as a role model: a person that knows what he is doing, and is getting the results he wants. His practical advice in productivity comes from real life experience, and as such contains a lot of value.
Daniel is a lawyer, but he is also much more than that; he is a business owner, a book writer and a public speaker. His amazing productivity resulted in books related to Evernote, Springpad and a book on how to write ebooks. So let’s make some room for him and his thoughts.
Daniel, for those who don’t already know you, please introduce yourself to the readers of Alpha Efficiency Magazine.
First, thank you, Bojan, for the opportunity to be in your brand new productivity magazine. It’s a delight to interviewed by you. So, yes, by trade I am a lawyer; After working as a trial attorney for a few years, I decided to marry my two greatest interests in life: the law and technology, and work as a consultant to lawyers and litigation professionals. I’ve always been a huge fan of emerging technologies and how technology can help people solve problems, and that is exactly what I do today. I work for a highly innovative company to help minimize data in large-scale litigation cases in efforts to reduce costs and provide greater transparency into the data at every stage of the case. It’s the type of work I do that forced me to re-evaluate my productivity and time management skills.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve started building your online business and the background behind it?
It really was by accident! In 2008, I started a blog about things I was passionate about productivity, technology, inspirational thoughts, and how to design and give great presentations that don’t have bullet points and 1983 clip art. It was nothing more than a hobby and, quite frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to it at first.
Then, around 2010, I noticed I had a bit of a following whenever I talked about productivity. Specifically, I saw spikes in my readership whenever I talked about the very popular time management methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD) and note–taking apps such as Evernote and Springpad. I decided to pay more attention to the blog and focused my writing primarily on these topics. As I began writing about these apps, I noticed a “white space” or a gap in the digital organization marketplace.
There had only been one eBook in English about Evernote at the time and it was selling for $25. Meanwhile, there were a ton of blog posts and online forum conversations about how to integrate Evernote with this GTD time management methodology. Despite these resources, there was no single resource published that described how to use Evernote and David Allen’s GTD method together. So, in 2011, I decided I would dedicate every free moment I had while traveling for my day job on airplanes, in hotels, dictating ideas in the car, and late nights at home on a book about Evernote and GTD.
The truth is, I really wrote the book to raise the necessary funds I needed to give my wife a dream Ten Year Anniversary present to Costa Rica without taking those funds out of our general bank account. I figured if I could raise about one thousand US dollars, that would be ample money to go on our trip in January 2012. In mid–September, I released my book. By November, I had already made $1,000 on my $5 eBooks. And the money kept coming in without having to do anything at all! It was quite literally passive income! Nine months later, **I had sold over 10,000 copies at just $5 each.** At the one–year mark, I hit 13,000, and there were no signs of it slowing down! The success of my eBook led me to expand my offerings, such as consulting, national presentations on productivity, podcasting, and two other eBooks; one on Springpad and another on how write, publish and sell your own eBook.
How did productivity techniques influence your work?
I first read Getting Things Done (by David Allen) in 2007. Let me just say that this incredibly logical book rocked the very essence of who I am, what I do, and how I manage myself in both my ever increasingly complex job, at home, and everywhere else in between. It crushed my assumptions of how to manage my life. I reorganized my entire life – and to my wife’s dismay, I even reorganized her filing cabinet!
The idea behind the book is simple at its core:
- make substantive lists of all the things you need to do broken down by where you are and organized by your areas of focus and responsibilities;
- review these lists weekly to gain better control; and
- put your date–specific commitments in your calendar.
The problem I found with the GTD methodology is that while it explains how to set up your system, it’s not really an instruction manual the way so many would want. In other words, we’re told we need to create lists based on contexts, then create project lists, and finally life goals.But in practice, we all want to mold existing electronic systems to flow the way we all believe they should. This, of course, reinforces what I have said so often – GTD is personal. No doubt, this explains the reason why I always find that through tinkering with other systems, I perfect my own.
The real secret sauce, I believe, is processing and organizing into both actionable and reference related buckets for you to access at a later date.
Here at Alpha Efficiency, we live by CORE (Collect, Organize, Review, Eliminate) principles as our guidelines. The first principle is collection; what can you tell us about the ways you collect your important information in order to get your work done?
Capturing is critical to any productivity system. No matter where I am in the house and in the car, there’s a Moleskine and a pen handy. I truly believe that using old–fashioned notebooks, index cards, and sticky notes can be (in some cases) the best way to collect your ideas. I even have a notepad and pencil in the shower so that my ideas aren’t “washed” away (buy an AquaNotes pad for your shower, and you’ll thank me later)! Of course, there’s also Evernote. I use Evernote to capture random thoughts ideas, and photos whenever I’m out and about. But even with Evernote on my phone, I still keep a Moleskine volant and pen in my pocket.
What advice do you have for the readers of the Alpha Magazine on how to embed collection as a habit in their lives?
You just need to do it! it sounds simple, I know. However, remember, that in order to create successful habits, you must commit yourself to making it happen. It can be something as simple as collecting your thoughts no matter where you are, to running a full marathon by the end of the year. No matter what it is, commit yourself to doing it. If you need help, find an accountability partner; or gamify your new habits with an app like Lift, available on the iPhone. If you’re an Android user, there’s a wonderful app called Habit Streak.
Can you share some stories on the ways collecting improved your life?
I would say in every aspect of my life! In my personal life, I collect all of my children’s artwork, random things that happen in my life, ideas I have, et cetera in Evernote. As I said before, I use notepads to collect things that I something feel as if would be quicker with a notepad. In my work life, I leverage the same tools as well. As a result, this allows me to be more successful at everything that I do because I have gotten it all down and out of my head. The real secret sauce, I believe, is processing and organizing into both actionable and reference related buckets for you to access at a later date.
What kind of technology do you use when collecting?
My digital tool of choice is Evernote on the computer, iPhone and iPad. My analog tools of choice are a LAMY Safari fountain pen, Moleskine ruled A5 notebook, Moleskine volants, and the AquaNotes.
If you were given the choice to keep only one device from all of your technology, which one would it be?
While I love Evernote, the one thing that will never go away is paper and pen (of course, if I lose the paper then disregard my answer!).
We want to take a sneak peek into your world; can you share the home screen of your iPhone (or other gadgets you choose)? (with explanation on what apps you use, why and similar).
You bet! Well, I have a lot of apps, so I’ll cover the big ones.
– Evernote – I think we definitely covered that one. Though I will say, notwithstanding how much of an Evernote guy I am, I’m still figuring out Evernote for iOS7! What a change!
– Tempo – my calendar app of choice. It leverages social media to pull information about the people I’m meeting with, any past e-mails with the person, and any documents we may have exchanged. Plus, it handles conference call-in codes automatically so I don’t remember the call-in numbers. Oh, and if you happen to be running behind, there’s some quick text and e-mail options to let the parties know.
– Todoist – Sure enough, I was convinced to download and purchase the Premium membership. Notwithstanding my desire to keep everything centralized in Evernote, Todoist has a minimal interface that stores some really powerful options. Among them include being able to quickly create sub-projects, labels, filters, and has a list of what’s on deck for me in the next 7 days. Plus, it has apps available for every mobile platform, its integrated with Gmail, you can add websites as tasks, and for us corporate folks, it has a Microsoft Outlook plugin that allows you to add emails as tasks.
– Notes – The fastest and most simple way of taking notes on your iPhone is still the stock Notes app.
– Chrome – there’s my browser of choice.
– Google Voice – I have a separate work number that goes through Google Voice. It’s nice to know that I can answer texts and phone calls all on one device.
– Mailbox – I have about four different personal accounts that are all run through the Mailbox app. This is hands down the very best mail application if you have a Gmail account. The ability to attach files from Dropbox, remove emails out of sight until later today, that night, or over the weekend, a specific date, or just list it as someday is awesome. There’s Exchange support coming soon, so I won’t have to work with the default iOS Mail app any longer.
– Mail – So, iOS7 made the default mail app better – but it’s not perfect. Like I said, when Mailbox supports Exchange, I’ll remove it from the dock.
Can you tell us something about your current projects and how might they benefit our readers?
I have several current projects right now that are specific to my day job that are highly complex and involve lots of different moving parts. So while I can’t divulge the content of those projects, I will say that for each of my projects, I leverage the Getting Things Done methodology and Evernote together to manage everything. I have one notebook for all of my tasks, with a simple tag structure such as context and project. I have a notebook stack for all my Active Projects.
Each notebook in that stack represents another project. Each of these notebooks contain all of my reference materials needed to help me successfully complete each project. The most important aspect of my entire organizational system is the review. Reviewing on a daily basis what you have done and what you still need to do is critical. At the end of each day I look at what I have done. Did I finish everything I set out to do, If not, how come?
Sometimes, I’ll make a note of what I could do better the following day. I then take a look at my master list of tasks and designate items I need to do the following day. That way, when I get into the office in the morning, I’m not just staring – I’m ready to go. At the end of the week, I do a weekly review where I process anything in my physical and digital inboxes, what open loops I may still have, and get myself ready for the following week.
If your readers walk away with anything from this interview it should be that to be successful in any project in life, performing these types of healthy activities will set them up right regardless the size or complexity of the project.
What does your work environment look like?
Very simple. I have an antique looking mahogany desk. On it is my laptop, an additional monitor, my iPhone, and my analogue tools: a LAMY Safari fountain pen and Moleskine notebook.
How do you work?
Every morning I’m up at 5am. I’m a bit obsessive about my coffee, so depending upon the morning, I’ll choose from my AeroPress, French Press, Bialetti, Keurig, or Nespresso machine. My “goto” machine surprisingly is my AeroPress. That makes some amazing coffee! The first 30 minutes I spend getting caught up on social media. I like to either read or write for my blog for the next 30 minutes.
I then like to spend the next 45 minutes getting ready for my day by evaluating my appointments, chunking out time on the calendar for my tasks, and adding any new tasks I need to get done. I help get the kids ready for school and by about 8:30, I’m at my desk and ready to go. I love listening to Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, or a Sarah McLaughlin mix on Pandora to get me moving. By the end of the day, I’m reviewing my tasks and planning for the next day. By 10:30, I’m in bed and ready to do it again!
What are your plans for the future?
Well, I always encourage folks to identify those 3-5 and 5-10+ year goals. For me, I will say that both my short-term and long-term plans are always being an awesome dad, a great husband, and helping to make a positive difference in those I interact with each and every day!