Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Tag Organization in Evernote (Part 2)

Last time, I talked about how and why I simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Today, I’ll discuss how I’ve simplified my tag organization. Both are still works in progress, but the tags more so than the notebooks.

To start, let me say that I’ve never been much of a tagger. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Evernote has a powerful search engine that usually allows me to find whatever I’m looking for in just a few seconds.
  2. With such a good search engine, adding tags is usually counterproductive for me, since it takes time to add them to a note, but I can find the note just as easily without them.
  3. Tags have a tendency to grow like weeds. I’d end up with a huge number, and when I look at them, I find that more than half my tags have less than 10 notes associated with them.
  4. With lots of tags, there is a tendency to forget how I’ve tagged something. In some places, it gets tagged “project” in others “projects.” This actually make searching by tags worse. If I search for everything tagged “projects” I don’t get the notes tagged “project” for instance.

That said, I do find value in tagging notes under certain circumstances. Regular readers will recall this diagram:

Evernote Search

I find tags very hand for describing the “who” part of a note. I assign family member names as tags to notes to denote who that note is related to. Tags can sometimes be helpful with the “what” as well, but in all cases, a solid taxonomy is important for preventing uncontrolled tag growth. I’ll talk about that in a moment. First, let me show you what my tags used to look like.

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The Start of World War I

I‘m more than halfway through my reading of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume 1. Yesterday, as I was about to head out to lunch, I said this on Twitter:

I was referring to the fact that the book was creeping up on the start of the First World War. However, in a remarkable coincidence, it turns out that yesterday, July 28, was exactly 100 years since the official start of World War I back on July 28, 1914. To the day. That is pretty creepy.

Various Updates for Sunday, July 27, 2014

First, sorry I haven’t been as active here as usual over the last week or so. As you might have guessed, things have been busy. But even for me, they have been unusually busy. Two big projects at the day job reached simultaneous critical milestones last week, and that took up a lot of my time. I’ve also been busy writing articles, and working on stories. And on top of that, I’ve been writing a bunch of code. Here is what RescueTime had to say about my productivity last week:

My productivity for the week of July 20

Keep in mind that my productivity pulse is typically in the 65-75 range. When it is in that range, I feel comfortable, and not overwhelmed. Below 65 and I start to feel a little lazy. Above 75 and things start to get a little intense. My average for the entire week was 78. There were days when I was close to 90.

In any case, here are a few updates of possible interest to folks:

1. R.I.P. Maggie: On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our two cats, Maggie. Maggie was nearly 18 years old, and had been healthy her entire life, except for the last few weeks. She had a tumor combined with some other infections. We thought that with some medication  she might rebound, but it wasn’t to be. She was a sweet cat, and will be missed by all of us.

2. Part 2 of my Going Paperless series on how I’ve simplified my Evernote organization will appear on Tuesday. Part 1 covered how I’ve simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Part 2 will cover how I’ve simplified my tag organization. I had to delay it last week because–well, see the chart above. But it will be out on Tuesday.

3. My latest column for the Daily Beast went live on Thursday. The third piece in my column on quantified self for The Daily Beast went live on Thursday. This piece, titled, “Self-Tracking for N00Bz1 provides a simple 3-part framework to consider for folks who want to investigate self-tracking.

4. I’ve added some features to my Google Writing Tracker. I posted about it on Friday. I’m in the process of doing some major refactoring, and I’m alpha-testing some new functionality that breaks my writing down into fiction and nonfiction. (Hint: so far, so good.) In the meantime, I’ve made my Daily Almanac script–which works with the writing tracker to produce a daily summary email–available to anyone who wants to use it. I updated the project on GitHub for anyone interested.

5. For the first time in nearly a year, I’ve done no reading for 2 consecutive days. That’s how busy I’ve been. Seriously, it has been intense.

6. Some changes to the blog are coming. Nothing too dramatic, but I am testing out some new styles. For the most part these will be subtle changes that should improve the look of the site, and take advantage of improvements to CSS and browser capabilities. The biggest change will be to my How I Became a Professional Science Fiction Writer page. That should be pretty cool, so stay-tuned for that.

7. I started watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon series. Since I’ve stated here often enough that I’ve pretty much given up television, it is only fair when I admit to slipping. The Little Man had been watching episodes, and occasionally, I’d hear one in the background while writing or doing some other activity. What struck me first was how much better they were than the last 3 movies. The writing is pretty darn good. So are the story arcs. The Little Man has just finished the first season, and I’m only on episode 6 or 7, but I am enjoying it. Usually, I’ve been watching an episode or two just before bed. On some nights, I’ve tried for more, but I’ve just been too tired lately.

I think that’s about it. Once again, sorry for not being as active here as usual. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.

Notes

  1. As with a lot writing for news and magazine outlets, I write the article, but the editor typically comes up with the title. I mention this only because Kelly said that “N00Bz” didn’t sound like a word I’d use.

The Daily Almanac Has Been Added to My Google Writing Tracker

One of the most frequent requests I get regarding my Google Writing Tracker is to make my Daily Almanac available as part of those scripts. The wait is over. Today, I pushed out the Daily Almanac the Google Writing Tracker project on GitHub.

For those who don’t know, my Google Writing Tracker is a set of script that automate the process of tracking what I write every day. Since I do all of my writing in Google Docs, these scripts run automatically each night, look at what I wrote, tally up the stats and record them in a spreadsheet. They also email me a copy of all of my writing for that day, including differences from the previous day.

Along with those scripts, I built another script that I call my Daily Almanac. This script culls that spreadsheet that is populated by my Writing Tracker scripts and gives me a summary report each night. The report tells me how much I wrote that day, and breaks it down for me. It also identifies any streaks I may have set (369 consecutive days of writing as of today) and any records I may have set. (The most words I’ve written in a day, etc.) I set up my Daily Almanac to send the nightly email to Evernote so that I have a nice record there of my day-to-day writing activity. Here is what a typical Daily Almanac entry looks like:

Daily Almanac July 23

The Daily Almanac is now available for anyone who wants to use it with the Google Writing Tracker. I have checked it in to the project on GitHub, and I’ve updated the README file with detailed steps for setting it up.

As always, this is a use-at-your-own-risk thing. I just don’t have the time to support these scripts. The best I can do is make them available for others who want to give them a try, and encourage folks to add to improve upon them. Be sure to read the instructions carefully, and if you do find any bugs, feel free to open up an issue in the GitHub project. I may not fix it any time soon, but at least it will get tracked.

Alpha Testing an Update to My Google Writing Tracker

Beginning today, I am doing some alpha testing of the first significant update to my Google Writing Tracker scripts in more than a year. I will be testing these out myself over a period of a week or two before pushing the changes to GitHub.

The newest feature is that the writing scripts now track both fiction and nonfiction writing. This may not seem like much, but it is a big deal for me, as I have been writing a lot more of the latter lately and want to be able to look at the data to see how much of what I write each day is fiction, and now much is nonfiction. Fiction and nonfiction columns are captured separately in the Writing spreadsheet, and a third column keeps track of the total writing, fiction and nonfiction.

My Daily Almanac has been modified to report on this. Here is what a new version of my Daily Almanac email looks like when it is sent to my Evernote account:

DailyAlmanacNew

The script distinguishes between fiction and nonfiction by looking for a tag I include at the end of my template document:

  • {{Fiction}} = Fiction
  • {{Nonfiction} = Nonfiction

I am also working on a few other changes:

  • I’ve added the ability to run the script in a test mode, that sends the email containing what you wrote that day, but does not actually update any values.
  • I’ve added a check to make sure that the script only looks for Google Doc files in the sandbox.
  • I’m working on simplifying the setup process.

It will probably be 2 weeks before I push these changes to GitHub. However…

I have added my Daily Almanac script to the GitHub project today because I know a lot of people were asking for that. Stay-tuned for the next post for more details.

Using RescueTime to Answer the Question: When Do I Write?

I‘ve written quite a bit about how much I write, and that I find ways to write every day. What I haven’t talked about much is when I do my writing. Remember, I have a full time day job, and two little kids, so my time is very limited. In order to write every day, I needed to adjust to the fact that I couldn’t count on a fixed time of day, or a fixed duration of time in which to write. I had to learn to write whenever the time became available.

Since early this year, I have been using RescueTime on all of my computers. For those not familiar with it, RescueTime is an application that tracks what you do on your computer and provides you with data about your productivity. RescueTime has a database of applications and websites and ranks them anywhere from Very Unproductive to Very Productive. It gives you a “productivity pulse” from 0-100 telling you how productive your days were. One of the things that RescueTime captures is when you used an application and for how long.

Yesterday, I finally got around to playing with RescueTime’s API, and was able to pull out data about my use of Google Docs, which is where I do all of my writing. I learned a lot about when I write by looking at that data. I also confirmed some things that I already knew.

When do I write each day?

I went back to March of this year and took data from March 1 through yesterday. I filtered the data to look at just the “Writing” activity in RescueTime–that is, applications that are related to writing. I further filtered those down to Google Docs to ensure that I was capturing my regular daily writing, all of which I do in Google Docs. I aggregated the data by hour to see when during the day I typically do my writing. Here is the results:

When Do I Write

You can see that the vast majority of my daily writing is done between 7-9 pm. Indeed, of the 102 hours of writing that RescueTime has logged since March, more than half–53.1 hours–has taken place between 7-9 pm.

This data aggregates all days in the date range, including weekends. I sometimes write early on Saturday or Sunday mornings, especially when I know I have a big day ahead, so there is a spike there. Also, I sometimes write when the kids nap on the weekends (something that is increasingly rare), and so you see a small spike between 1 – 3 pm as well.

If I break things down by weekday/weekend writing times, here’s how things look:

Weekday-End Writing

The pattern on weekends is roughly the same as weekdays, and yet the chart is a little deceiving because it makes it look like I write a lot less on weekends than on weekdays. But remember, there are only 2 days in a weekend, and 5 days during the workweek. From March to the present, I’ve spent 76 hours writing during the workweek. This averages out to 15.2 hours per weekday.

However, I’ve spent about 30 hours writing on weekends in that same period. This averages out to 15 hours per weekend day. Put another way, I’ve written a total of 15 hours for each day of the week in the period from March to the present. I write just as much on the weekends as I do on weekdays.

An important note on the data collection

One thing I want to emphasize here. All of the data was collected automatically by RescueTime. I did not have to log my writing time. I did not have to take any extra steps, beyond opening my document and typing. RescueTime captures it all, automatically. Indeed, there is a gap in the data. When I was on vacation in Maine, I took a laptop with me that I forgot to install RescueTime on, so none of my time that week was captured.

But the key point here is that all of this data was generated without my having to take a single action beyond doing what I normally do. Of course, I did have to spent a few minutes creating the charts for this post, but the data was already there. I just had to grab it and process it. This, in my opinion, is a vital element to consistent tracking. If I had to take steps to log my time each time I was writing; if I had to “clock-in” and “clock-out” I would never have collected the data in the first place.

No Going Paperless Post This Week

I am under the gun on a couple of projects at the day job that have tight deadlines. I am also under the gun for some writing-related projects. To give me a little breathing room, I’m going to take this week off from the Going Paperless post. Part 2 of my 2-part series, How I Simplified My Note Organization in Evernote will come on next Tuesday, July 29.

Sorry for the delay. In the meantime, if you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet, you can find it here. And, of course, there are more than 110 other Going Paperless posts that I’ve written.

365 Consecutive Days of Writing

365 Days of Writing
Click to enlarge
This evening, I wrote nearly 1,900 words, and in doing so, achieved a major milestone. I have now written for 365 consecutive days. That’s one full year. The last day on which I did no writing was July 21, 2013, the day I traveled home from the Launch Pad Astronomy workshop. Since that day, I have written every day, to the tune of 344,000 words. Over the course of the last 365 days I have averaged 943 words per day. That is roughly 40 minutes of writing per day, or a grand total of about 243 hours spent writing.

On my best day in the last year, I wrote more than 5,300 words. On my worst day, I barely scratched out 70. But I have written every day.

This streak, while significant, is part of a larger effort to write every single day. Since I started on this adventure, I have now written 508 out of the last 510 days.  That’s not too shabby.

The chart above shows the last 365 days. You can click it to see a larger version. It’s interesting to note a few patterns in the data. The one that jumps out at me the most is how my 7-day moving average fell during the cold winter months. Also, on 8 separate occasions, I’ve exceeded 3,000 words in a single day.

As you might expect, I’m pretty happy today!

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead

Kelly has been watching Doctor Who. She watches an episode or two each evening. Usually I am writing or reading while she is doing this, but occasionally, I’ll get sucked into an episode. It’s rare, but it happens. It has, however, happened the last two nights in a row. She watched an episode called “Silence in the Library” and I was vaguely reminded of Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was a fascinating episode, really. And it ended with a “To be continued…” cliff-hanger.

So last night, she watched the concluding episode, called “Forest of the Dead,” and once again, I was sucked in. But I liked it. In fact, the double-episode quickly rose to the top of my favorite of the small handful of episodes that I’ve seen, eclipsing “Blink,” which was the first episode I ever watched, after a crowd-sourced recommendation. The ending of “Forest of the Dead” was spectacular.

Now, before anyone jumps into say, “Oh, you have to watch episode x, or y, or even z!” understand that this was a fluke. As much as I liked the episode, I just don’t have time for TV. Unless I really need to give my brain a rest, the time I spend watching TV is time that I could be writing. It’s not that I don’t like what I see. It’s that I like writing more.

Well, also, with rare exception like this double-episode, I can’t really stomach TV dramas anymore.

In any case, I thought I should at least mention that I saw and enjoyed both these episodes of Doctor Who since there are people out there who can’t believe that, as a science fiction writer, I don’t watch the show regularly.

Advice to My Kids as They Begin Their Education

Next month, the Little Man will start Kindergarten. He has been in pre-school since he was 15 months old, spending his days from 7 am – 4 pm at the school (as does the Little Miss) and so he is used to the long days, but this will be at a new school, and it will be the real beginnings of his education. This got me thinking about my own schooling, which in turn got me thinking about what advice I’d offer to my kids as they started out with their own education. It didn’t take me long to come up with 4 things to pass along:

1. It is okay to make mistakes, get things wrong, and occasionally fail at something, so long as you try to learn from those mistakes.

The Little Man in particular gets frustrated when he makes a mistake, or when he doesn’t win at a game. I’m not sure where this comes from because I’m of the opinion that mistakes are how we learn. Natural geniuses aside, learning is rarely easy. I can remember how halting I read when I first learned to read. I had to sound out every word, mangling half of them. It seemed to take forever to get through one page. But one day, I no longer noticed the words. Instead, I noticed the story that they told. It took practice (a lot of practice!) but I got there.

Even failing at some things shouldn’t get you down. We can’t be expert at everything. In college, I took a macro economics class. I attended every lecture. I did all of the assigned reading and homework. I ended up with D in the class. To this day, macro economics stumps me. In many respects, the earlier you learn your trouble-spot, the better you are.

The most important thing is to try to learn from the mistakes you make, in school work, and socially as well.

2. Write in your books!

I wish I had done this more. Write in your books! When you are reading, write your thoughts in the margins as you go. Include your opinions (“This passage is wonderful!”, “Was Doyle on crack when he wrote this?”). This will say you work when it comes time to talk about what you’ve read. But by writing in your books, you also make the book uniquely your own.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Winston Churchill are just three people who wrote in the margins of the books that they read. You will be in very good company.

3. It is okay to have an opinion about things; it is okay not to like something you have read for school.

Through about 7th grade, I went through school thinking that every book I was assigned to read had to be good, because otherwise, why would it be assigned. (The notion of learning what not to do by reading a bad book was foreign to me.) Sometime in 8th grade, however, we had to read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I read it, and loathed it. Looking back on it, I just think I’m not a fan of the loquacious Victorian style. What bothers me most, in retrospect, was that I was afraid to express my opinion of the book in class out of fear that I’d get in trouble for not liking the book.

At some point (probably in 10th or 11th grade) I did express my opinions about books in class. What I found was that my teachers seemed to like this. Looking back on it, I think it is because it was clear that I read the book and formed an opinion about it.

There will be things that you read that you won’t like. Read them anyway, learn what you can from them, but don’t hesitate to express your opinion about them. It is part of the joy of reading.

4. It is okay to go beyond what you are learning, if you find it interesting.

If you find yourself interested in something you learned in class, or read about for class, by all means, pursue it. Don’t feel like you have to be hemmed in by what you are given in class. If you read about Soviet-era Russia in a social studies book, and want to learn more, go to the library and check out a history book. If your science book spends a few paragraphs on black holes and you want more, go to the library (or online) and learn more.

It is okay to go beyond what you are learning in class if you find it interesting. You can also use what you learn later, and if you are entertained while learning, that is all the better.


The main problem with advice like this is that it usually has be learned from experience. That may be so, but this is the advice I would pass along to the Little Man and the Little Miss as they begin their journey through school.

A Full Day

This was a full day. I was at the office early, and immediately head-down in development work. And I mean head down. I ate my two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my desk, almost oblivious to them. By the time I came up for air, it was nearly 4 pm. But I had made substantial progress, and that pleased me.

I came home and set about writing. I completed the second draft of an article for The Daily Beast, and put some more work into the first draft of another article for The Daily Beast. I also roughed out an article for another market. I squeezed in a little work on the novel as well.

Kelly to the kids out this evening (we were all out at a birthday celebration yesterday evening) so when I had finished with the writing, I returned to the day job work and made even more progress. Productivity-wise, it was one of my better days in a while, and in fact, tied my best ever “productivity pulse” in RescueTime.

RescueTime July 17

But days like these also leave me completely mentally drained. At this point, I don’t feel like reading, writing, browsing, or anything but getting into bed. I may even watch a TV show to give my brain a break.

Then, I’m back at it tomorrow.

I am aiming to have the re-outlining of the second draft of my novel completed by the end of the month, and then getting aggressive and seeing if I can manage to write the complete second draft in 3 months (August, September, October). I’d like to have a proofread version done by November, before the World Fantasy Convention.

A Reminder on the Site Advertising Policy

I have recently received a minor flood of requests to advertise on this site. At this time, I do not accept advertising of any kind. I have no plans to accept advertising in the foreseeable future.

Believe it or not, a few people argue with me when I tell them that I don’t accept advertising. After all, it’s a win for everyone, right? Products get advertised and I get paid. Well, that’s not quite how I see it. I have nothing against sites that include ads. More power to them. But it seems to me that there are three problems with advertising onthis site that make it something I want to avoid:

1. The level of quality of the ads I see out there fall below what I would want to appear on my site.

2. You get ads on TV, radio, and other places on the web. I think my audience appreciates the fact that they can come here and have an ad-free experience. Occasionally, I do talk about products I use, but only when I have actually used them, and I am not compensated for talking about them. I talk about them because I like them.

3. I have a feeling that managing ads would be an administrative headache, and I just don’t have the time for it.

So, advertising might seem like a quick way to make a buck, and that’s all well and good, but it’s not something I want to get into here.