How To Use Springpad As Your New Personal Assistant

Few people actually love organising their calendars and projects -- there's nothing terribly exciting or sexy about most productivity tools once you actually sit down and start using them. The new Springpad is different, though. It's a fantastic, easy-to-use web app that helps you organise your life, your ideas and your projects. Once you get started, it's also a lot of fun to use. Unlike most tools of its ilk, Springpad thinks for you, working like a personal assistant to cut down on the time you spend on the less enjoyable aspects of organising information -- meaning you'll spend less time organising things and more time doing them.

Getting Started with Springpad

The new Springpad is a little like Pinterest. Here's how it works:

Sign up for a free Springpad account, and the service starts you off with a few notebooks. Notebooks are like categories; you can create notebooks for specific projects or for broad ideas. Your notebooks are where you'll store lists, notes, bookmarks or anything else you want to keep for future reference.

To add something to Springpad, just click the plus sign at the top of the page in your Springpad account. You can paste a URL of something you want to come back to, search for an item in the Springpad database, use the Springpad bookmarklet to "spring" an item or bookmark into your notebooks when you're elsewhere on the web, or use one of the Quick-add tools in the drop-down menu to let Springpad do the thinking for you. We'll go into more detail on adding and organising items a little later, but the point is that adding items is so easy you won't need a lengthy tutorial or a bunch of third-party add-ons to help you get started.

Springpad is most often compared to popular snipping and capture tool Evernote, and while that's fair, the one that's best -- or at least best for your use case -- will depend heavily on how you like to keep track of your ideas and projects. Choosing one over the other is ultimately a matter of taste. Evernote's fine if you're really into it, but Springpad is, in this writer's opinion, a much better tool and a slick way to visually organise your thoughts, projects and shopping lists. Plus, Springpad's smart sorting and social features put it over the top.

Don't Think Organiser; Think "Personal Assistant"

Collecting data is easy; any service can do that. Springpad's secret sauce lies in how it organises your data once you save it to your account. Springpad's smart sorting means you don't have to manually create notebooks for movies, music, recipes, bookmarks or anything else you would normally want automatically organised (although you can!). Springpad tags it all for you and lets you filter based on those tags across multiple notebooks, or you can drop the same item in more than one place.

For example, say you have a gadget you want to research or buy. Click the plus sign to quick-add that item to your Springpad account. You can paste a URL or just start typing the name of the product, and Springpad will auto-complete the entry for you. Then it will add links to buy the product at Amazon, check other prices elsewhere, and even look up reviews and other information on the product so you can make an educated decision, all without you spending time looking it up yourself. If you decide to sleep on it, Springpad will even send you an alert if the price on your item drops to warn you that now might be a good time to buy. The same applies for music, movies and books -- Springpad automatically organises them for you and pulls in relevant information so you don't have to. We noted this a while ago, but perhaps the biggest joy of using Springpad is that you don't have to have a half-dozen tools and utilities that do similar-but-just-slightly-different things (web clipping, public sharing, private collaboration, to-do and task management) when Springpad does them all well enough that you can spend more time doing instead of planning and organising.

Organise Your Life with Springpad

Each notebook in your account can represent a category that you want to organise items into, like "Recipes to Try" or "Parts for My Next Computer Build", or a whole project where you can to collect ideas and to-dos instead of projects, like "Garage Renovation" or "Garden Planning". Once created, you can start filling up your notebooks with snippets from the web, to-dos, products and more. Here's how:

  • Web clippings are simple: you can either copy/paste URLs into the web app, or you can use the Springpad bookmarklet to instantly add a web page, article or anything else you see on the web to a notebook.
  • Products are just as easy. Springpad has a dozen or so quick-add items organised into groups like productivity and media, all of which will mine the Springpad database for matching items to autocomplete your entry while you type. Select "Wine", for example, and start typing "2009 Russian River-" and you'll see all of the wines that Springpad already knows. If you see the right one, select it to add it to your list, pre-tagged and organised. CDs, movies, books and other products all work the same way.
  • Checklists, text-notes, events and to-do lists are also in the quick-add list. You can use checklists for grocery lists, to-do lists, recipes you want to try and more. You can always tag them, move them between notebooks, and leave comments and notes on the checklist later, or invite others to comment on them.

Your notebooks can be public, private or only available to a select group of people. If you and your significant other are planning to redecorate the living room, for example, the two of you can share a notebook where you both post design or furniture ideas for the other to see. You can connect your Springpad account with your Google account to pull in events from Google Calendar. If you have a friend who's into music, you can create a notebook for new albums, and invite them to comment on your tastes and suggest new bands without exposing the world to your music tastes. If you prefer being public, you can just as easily share your notebook with all of your friends on Twitter or Facebook so they know what you're into. It's flexible, and the way you use the notebooks is entirely up to you.

Springpad is primarily a web app, but you can also manage your notebooks on your iOS or Android device thanks to the Springpad mobile apps. There are also tablet-specific variants for the iPad and for Android tablets, and while we love the web app, the mobile apps are just as useful, especially for retrieving information on the go, like a shopping list or itinerary. Don't be fooled though -- the mobile apps are designed for data entry as well, and you can get some real work done using the Springpad mobile apps, especially on a tablet.

Be More Productive with Springpad

Up to this point, we've been discussing Springpad as something of a more elegant and visually attractive way of organising your life than Evernote, and a more useful way of organising the things you find on the web than Pinterest. Now let's talk about how you can use Springpad to get some real work done.

The latest Springpad update lends itself to topical notebooks with checklists or specific to-dos and events inside each one, all linked to your Google or Yahoo account, and to your mobile devices. This setup is perfect for productivity systems like GTD or Personal Kanban.

If you prefer GTD, you can take the simple approach with a few notebooks as Marcel Chaudron outlines in his walkthrough, or you can go all out and build a rich and deep productivity system like Bobby Travis explains over at 40Tech. Regardless of your approach, here are the basics:

  • Create individual notebooks for each of your projects and tag them accordingly.
  • Create a "Waiting For" notebook and tag/ for all of the to-dos that you're waiting for others to complete, or want to follow up with someone else on.
  • Create a "Next Actions" notebook and tag for the items that are on your plate right now.
  • Create a "Maybe/Someday" notebook and tag for the items that you want to get to eventually.
  • Start tagging items in your project notebooks with the tags above, and add them to multiple bookmarks so you can see them whether you're looking at a specific project notebook or your GTD activity notebooks.

That's all there is to it, in the simple case. 40Tech explains how to amp this up a bit and take it to a more granular level. If you're reading this and still thinking about how this all compares to Evernote, Daniel E. Gold explains how Springpad stacks up to Evernote from a productivity standpoint for him. He argues -- and we agree -- that it's Springpad's flexibility that stands out, even if Evernote has it beat in some other areas.

If Personal Kanban is more your style and you're familiar with tools like previously mentioned Pegby, your initial setup is easier. You'll follow the same steps above, but instead of the GTD-themed notebooks and tags, you'll only create three: "Pending", "In Process" and "Done".

Have More Fun with Springpad

All of these tips are designed to keep you organised and help you be more productive, and while you can do them all in public (especially some of the more goal oriented ones -- you know how we feel about working towards your goals in public) most of them may be more suited to private notebooks that you only share with the people you're working with, or your family and friends. That said, Springpad's flexibility means that you don't have to just use it as a stodgy productivity tool.

Create some public notebooks for your interests, whether it's movies, music, books, hardware, electronics, anything, and start sharing. You can use Springpad partially as a service to keep those items so you can return to them and enjoy them later, whether they're articles you meant to read or the upgrades you want to buy for your home theatre, and you can share them with the world and the Springpad community. Follow other users, like their bookmarks and notebook entries, and invite your friends to join you. Yes, we know this all sounds a little Pinterest-y, and if you're already having a blast with friends at Pinterest, this use case may not resonate with you, but the fact that you can use Springpad for work and for play illustrates its flexibility and saves you the hassle of joining another network if you don't want to.

One of the most compelling things about Springpad is that it's growing and changing faster than most other services like it. That cuts both ways, but I've found that the changes are largely positive, and the features added with each new revision improve its functionality without compromising its core features. Others can (and will) disagree, but Springpad is a service that's gotten better with age and change. It's still under heavy development, and the team behind Springpad are keenly aware to the needs and feedback of its userbase, which is another huge point in its favour.

We hope we've shown you how you can put this great, free tool to use for your personal projects, productivity and even have a little fun in the process. Are you a Springpad user? Do you have your own custom productivity setup or find it's best for a specific use case? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Comments

    Sounds great. But there are a heck of a lot of people unhappy with the upgrade judging by many one and two star comments in Market. I had trouble installing. Will try again later.

    I love the new look and feel of Springpad. I had left my account untouched for months until the most recent update, but the great design & flexibility of features have me hooked again!

    Springpad or Evernote or whatever service. How do you transfer your info from Evernote to Springpad if you were to move preferred apps? And if in the future one or other's upgrade is more attractive?

    One thing that is frustrating me and I just can't figure out... How do I delete a single checklist item I made by mistake?

      @Gordon. Had the same problem, googled a work around, worked great. 1. Create 1 more identical checklist item in the same checklist, and then one called TROLOLOLOLOOOLL (has to be typed exactly). 2. Try deleting them then. *Should work.

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