Getting Things Done with Evernote—The Secret Sauce: Saved Searches

by Brandon on November 1, 2011


Now that we’ve built the framework of our GTD system with notebooks and tags, it’s time to make some lists. To make lists, we’ll be using Evernote’s ‘Saved Search’ feature. Saved searches are awesome. I like to think of them as folders 2.0. They allow you to group notes with similar characteristics, and a single note can appear in more than one saved search. Saved searches are easily accessible on your mobile devices, making it easy to view your lists on the go.

To create a saved search, search Evernote using keywords, notebooks, and tags, then right-click ‘Saved Searches’ and select ‘Create Saved Search…’. Enter a name for your saved search and click ‘OK’. You can also enter the saved search query manually.

Create Saved Search

Secret Sauce

In order to stay organized, you’ll want to create the following lists:

  • A ‘Projects’ list
  • ‘Next Actions’ lists (including context and read/review lists)
  • A ‘Waiting For’ list
  • A ‘Someday/Maybe’ list

These lists are the minimum requirements. You can create additional lists if you’d like.

The ‘Projects’ list is simply a replica of the ‘*Projects List’ Notebook. The saved search query should look like this: tag:”*Project” (Note – you’ll have to create the ‘*Project’ tag first). Saved searches, like tags, are arranged in alphabetical order. Place a symbol (i.e. *) in front of the name to ensure it stays near the top of the list.

Context is the primary criterion for making action choices. Thus, in addition to a comprehensive ‘Next Actions’ list, we will be making lists for each of the context tags you created in the last post. My ‘Next Actions’ list contains only single next actions, whereas my context lists contain single next actions and project next actions (a post on projects is coming soon…I promise). Here are the saved search queries:

  • ‘Next Actions’ list – notebook:”2. Next” tag:@Action
  • Agenda – tag:@Agenda
  • At Anywhere – tag:@Anywhere
  • Calls – tag:@Calls
  • At Computer – tag:@Computer
  • Email – tag:@Email
  • Errands – tag:@Errands
  • Grocery List – tag:@Grocery
  • At Home – tag:@Home
  • Shopping List – tag:@Shopping
  • At Work – tag:@Work

Context Lists

If you click on any of the context saved searches you will get a list of all the next actions (single next actions and next actions associated with projects) available for that context. You can then make your next action choice based on time available, energy available, and priority.

Here are the rest of my lists and their saved search queries:

  • FYI-To-Read (Read/Review) – notebook:”2. Next” tag:”FYI-To-Read” (I don’t use the ‘FYI-To-Read’ tag for projects. I only use it for articles I clip from the web and want to read later.)
  • ‘Waiting For’ list – tag:”@Waiting For”
  • ‘Someday/Maybe’ list – notebook:”6. Someday/Maybe”

All Lists

You can also create saved searches for lists of things you would like to access quickly. For example, a ‘Books to Read’ list – notebook:”6. Someday/Maybe” tag:#Books tag:”To Read”. If you need help creating saved searches, check out this article on advanced Evernote search syntax.

That’s all for lists! In the next few posts I’ll look at how to manage projects. Stay tuned…


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Norman January 2, 2013 at 2:55 PM

I’m not surprised that there are no comments on this post. It’s all very confusing (or maybe it’s super simple, no one has needed to post any questions, and it’s just me).

Anyway I’d love to see this topic expanded for those of us who haven’t mastered Evernotes API.


Brandon January 2, 2013 at 4:33 PM

Hi Norman. Thanks for the comment. Which parts of the post in particular are you having difficulty with?


Norman January 2, 2013 at 6:19 PM

Hey Brandon. I’m doing a bunch of study/research on the gtd/EN thing right now and I really want to implement saved searches and other aspects of your posts. I’ll come back to this comment w/in a few days, after I’ve absorbed more info from my noob perspective. Thank you.


Brandon January 2, 2013 at 8:17 PM

There’s a lot of good info out there. Take some time to get familiar with Evernote saved searches and if you get stuck on anything, please feel free to ask.


Gee January 4, 2013 at 6:21 PM

One thing I don’t understand – In your example of ‘Books to Read’ list why couldn’t you simply search on ‘tag:”To Read”? Surely by including the tags higher in the nesting you would end up flagging up items outside of “To Read” (eg you could have a tag ‘To Buy’ within ‘#Books’)?


Brandon January 4, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Simply searching on tag:”To Read” would work in this case as long as you are not using the “To Read” tag with something else such as #Journal Articles for example. When you add multiple tags to the search, it works like an intersection, so you only get notes that contain BOTH tags. Any note that contains only the #Books tag but not the “To Read” tag will not match the search criteria.

You can change the search from match “All” to match “Any” and it would work as you described.


Rich January 27, 2013 at 9:47 PM

Good and clear post. I love EN, but (and I know that this isn’t true GTD) – how do you deal with due dates. Most of my actions are single items that are not really project related. But they all have due dates. Any suggestions?


Brandon January 27, 2013 at 10:17 PM

I put anything with a due date on my calendar (I use Google Calendar). See this post for more info. If you have details about the action saved in an Evernote note, you can copy and paste the Evernote note link into the calendar item’s description.


Rich January 28, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Thanks for the response – perhaps I am missing something though – when I try to paste an EN note link into the google cal description box, the link isn’t clickable. Do you have this problem?

BTW – your approach of using separate calendars is simple but very good.


Brandon January 28, 2013 at 1:14 PM

Unfortunately, the links in Google Calendar aren’t clickable. There used to be a few workarounds, but I don’t think they’re working anymore. If you do a quick google search, you can see that this is a highly requested feature. The links, however, are clickable on the calendar app I use on my Android phone.


Rich January 28, 2013 at 1:18 PM

OK – that confirms what I thought. Still your approach is a good GTD implementation.

Nneoma February 14, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Apparently, the Saved Searches option is not available on the Mac Desktop version of Evernote (the latest one). Is there a way to do this from Evernote Web?


Brandon February 14, 2013 at 10:51 PM

Saved searches are still available for Evernote for Mac. To save a search, use the menu option “Edit->Find->Save Search”. Once you have some searches saved, you can drag them to the shortcuts bar for quick access. More info can be found here.


Joe May 3, 2013 at 11:23 AM

This may seem like a obvious question, but WHERE do you put the lists:

In order to stay organized, you’ll want to create the following lists:

A ‘Projects’ list
‘Next Actions’ lists (including context and read/review lists)
A ‘Waiting For’ list
A ‘Someday/Maybe’ list


Brandon May 3, 2013 at 12:36 PM

The “lists” are actually Saved Searches. They show up automatically in the Left Panel in the Windows Client. In the new Mac Client, you can access your Saved Searches from the Search bar (see here for more details). For easier/quicker access to your Saved Searches you can drag them to the Favorites Bar or Shortcuts Menu on Windows and Mac respectively.


Thomas June 14, 2014 at 6:18 AM

Maybe this is a stupid question, but I really don’t understand the purpose of these saved searches. If I have tagged all my next actions with ‘@Action’, I could just click on that tag, and it would show me all my notes for next actions. Why would I need a separate Saved search that would show me the same thing?


Brandon June 15, 2014 at 6:22 PM

The saved searches make it faster/easier to separate next actions into lists based on context. Also, as described in the post on Projects, next actions for projects don’t get the @Action tag, only single next actions do. So the saved searches make it easier to include project next actions as well.


Ethan Wilson January 21, 2015 at 5:17 PM

Can I see a screenshot of what your nav bar in Evernote looks like?


Brandon May 16, 2015 at 8:35 PM

Hi Ethan. Sorry for the late reply. Do you mean the sidebar on the left? I use Evernote for Mac. Cheers.


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