Getting Things Done With Google Keep

An open notebook on a desk. There is a fountain pen on top of the notebook and a pair of reading glasses above the notebook. The title on the notebook page is Notes.
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

As we conclude this series of articles on Getting Things Done With Google, I wanted to take some time to look at the final piece of the puzzle. GTD practitioners call it reference materials. These include, but are not limited to, notes, receipts, images, websites, and other materials that don’t already have a home in your system. You need a way to keep track of these, and the best Google tool for the job is called Keep. Let’s take a look at how it works in practice.

Using Keep for Reference Materials

For many people, Google Drive could be used as the home for your reference materials. However, you probably already have more things in Drive than you would prefer. Google Keep, on the other hand, has some key advantages that make it a compelling choice.

I’m also a big fan of using tools for what they were intended to be used for. Although you can use Google Keep as a task manager for Getting Things Done, it’s not really designed to work that way. Keep was designed for taking notes, making lists, and capturing information, so that’s exactly what we are going to use it for.

What to Save in Google Keep

Think of Google Keep as your catch-all bucket for a true GTD system. It’s like a cross between Pinterest, Jamboard, and Diigo. You can save ideas here, websites, project materials, and notes from all your meetings with parents and peers.

If you enjoy making lists, Keep is great for that too. You could create a list of all the things that you need to take with you on a school field trip. Having a list you can access on your phone will help keep you organized.

How to Add Things to Keep

There are lots of ways to add things to Google Keep. Here is a quick summary of the ones you need to know about:

  1. On a laptop, go to keep.google.com, (or note.new), to create a new note. In Chrome, you can add text, make a list, create a drawing, or upload an image.
  2. If you install the the Keep browser extension you can add text, images and URLs to a new note directly from a website.
  3. The Keep apps for Android and iOS are another way you can add notes to Keep. These apps have the added benefit of being able to record an audio note, or capture an image by using your phone’s camera.
  4. If you have an Apple Watch, you can dictate a text note by opening the Keep watch app, pressing hard on the screen, and choosing “Text note” from the menu.
Screenshot of the Google Keep Extension being used to save a website.
The Google Keep extension lets you save websites, text, and images with just a click

How to Organize Google Keep

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen suggests that reference materials should be filed in physical folders that are organized by the letters of the alphabet. That idea doesn’t always translate very well to the digital world. A better option for Google Keep users are tags, or as Google calls them, labels.

Google Keep lets you add as many labels as you want to a note, but it’s usually best not to have too many. It will be easier to filter through your notes with a more disciplined use of labels. You can add a label in Google Keep via the toolbar on each note or by typing a hashtag like #receipts. Example labels for teachers might include:

  • Lesson ideas
  • Tech tools to try
  • Read It Later
  • Professional Development (PD)
  • Conference notes
A man sitting on a couch looking at his laptop screen. The Google Keep website is shown on the laptop screen.

Once labeled, notes can be dragged and dropped into the order that you need. If you hover over a note, you can check the box to select multiple notes at once. Still not happy with the layout of your notes? You can also switch between list view and grid view by clicking the button next to the gear icon in the top right of your screen.

Labels are often the best way to categorize things that you save to Keep, but you do have the option to color-code your notes. This can make it easier to find things at a glance. The Category Tabs for Google Keep extension is a great tool to help you sort your notes by color.

How to Find Notes in Google Keep

If you use the same notes over and over again, you can pin important notes in Keep. Pinned notes will always be visible and are placed above the other notes so that you can quickly find them when you need them.

For added impact, check out Merideth Aker’s blog post on Organizing Google Keep With Headers. She created a collection of great templates that you can customize and add to a note.

The header image sits above the text of your note and serves as a quick and easy way to find the note you are looking for. Pair these with your pinned tabs and you have a great way to identify your notes at a glance.

decorative image
Example Google Keep Header Images from Meredith Akers

Lastly, you have the option of using the built-in search bar. In addition to searching your text notes, the search function in Keep will also look for your keywords in images, as well as in handwritten notes.

5 Top Tips for Using Google Keep

To finish up, here are some lesser-known features of Google Keep:

  1. Annotate Images: If you open a note with an image in Google Chrome, you can double-click on the picture to reveal a pen tool in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Click on the pen tool to annotate your image.
  2. Extract text from an image: If you have a note with an image and the image includes text, you can click the three-dot menu in your note and choose, “Grab image text”. Keep will use OCR on the image and paste the text into your note.
  3. Bullet Points: Most people know how to create a list with Google Keep, but bullet points are not as obvious. To create a bulleted list, start a new line with an asterisk, then hit space, type your bullet item and then hit Return/Enter on your keyboard.
  4. Note to Self: If you use the Google Assistant on your phone, you can say, “Okay Google. Note to self,” and then speak your note to your phone. This note will be saved to Google Keep in both text and audio format.
  5. Archive to Clean Up: One way to clean up your Keep home page is to label notes and then archive them. This doesn’t delete them, it just hides them. When archived, notes no longer show up on the home page, but you can still access them by clicking the relevant label in the sidebar. Check it out in the video below.

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