One of the first things that attracted me to Evernote as a tool for going paperless was its slogan, “Remember Everything.” I’d been trying to do just that for fifteen or sixteen years. Back in early 1996, I started keeping a diary. I was inspired to do so by my favorite writer, Isaac Asimov, who kept a diary from the time he turned 18 until his death at 72. Naturally, my diary was in the same style as his: a daily accounting of my social and writing activities. I never recorded anything that I wouldn’t want anyone else to see. At the time, I really had only one goal for keeping a diary: to have a record of when things in my life happened relative to one another. Over the years, it became a very useful reference for me. From 1996 through 2004 my diaries were all paper and that had some drawbacks:
The first drawback was that they were not easy to search. They were handwritten in small print without any index or thought or organization. When I needed to go find something, it often took a while. The second drawback was that there was no backup. If something happened to the diaries, that was it. I once tried to go back and put them into electronic format, typing each entry into the computer but it turned out to be too much of a chore.
In 2005, I moved to electronic diaries in the form of blogs and other things. But it wasn’t until I discovered Evernote that I recognized the possibility of “remembering everything” the way that I wanted to. So here are some tips on how I use Evernote to remember everything that I think is worth remembering.
Tip #1: Think of everything as fitting on a timeline
Everything I do (and want to remember) happens at some point in time. When it happens is always important to me. I, therefore, try to be very consistent about how I use the Create Date field on my notes in Evernote. The Create Date of a Note–for me–is the date on which the event occurred, not necessarily when the note was created. Sometimes that means altering the create date. For instance, if I created a note this morning teo remind me that my little girl attempted to crawl forward for the first time yesterday, the create date of the note will be yesterday, not today.
And it doesn’t matter what notebooks the notes go into. They will all have a create date and if I wanted to, I could build a timeline of events showing everything that happened on a given day, week, month, etc. Of course, these events can be sliced and diced in different ways. They appear in different notebooks, for instance, or they are tagged differently. That makes it generally easy to find what I am looking for.
Those who have been following along will recall that last week’s post described how I organize my notes in Evernote. One of those notebooks was called a “Timeline” notebook. It is in this notebook that I record miscellaneous life events. For instance, I have a note I added yesterday that reads, “[Little Boy] has a new phrase, “Mommy/Daddy, I have a question…”" I have it tagged accordingly and when I want to know when my kids said certain works or phrases for the first time, I can easily look them up and see the progress of their evolution.
Tip #2: Capture things discretely
One problem with my paper diary was that everything was jumbled together in a single entry. Not so with Evernote. I have not taken the path of creating one note for each day. Rather, I create one note for each unique thing I want to record. Thus, there is a note reminding me of when my little boy first said the phrase, “Daddy, I have a question.” There is a separate note for what I had for dinner (captured using the Evernote Food app). I have a note that contains the portion of the short story I wrote on that day. And more notes with my social networking activity.
By capturing these things discretely, I can more easily find the type of things that I am looking for and create unique timelines for those things. If I want to see just the short fiction I wrote last month, for instance, I can do a search in my Daily Fiction notebook for anything that has been created in the last month. That search string would look something like this:
notebook:"My Daily Fiction" created:month-1
Instead, if I wanted to see all of the places that I’ve been in the last month, I could do a search that would result in just that:
notebook:"Social networking" created:month-1 tag:foursquare
When all of these are combined together, I get a good picture of my life in a single timeline.
But, this seems like a lot of work, creating all of these notes, right? Well, that’s why I’ve included the next tip:
Tip #3: Automate note creation where possible using a tool like IFTTT
If you’ve never heard of IFTTT, you should check it out. It stands for If This Then That and it’s a web app that allow you to have data from one social networking application flow automatically to another application. You do not have to be technical to set it up and it works with Evernote! I currently use 5 “tasks” in IFTTT to automatically add routine notes to Evernote, and I’ll list them below as examples so that you can get an idea of how this tool work.
Sending the day’s weather to Evernote
I use IFTTT’s “clock” widget to set up a “task” that sends my local forecast to Evernote each morning at 5am. That way I have a note each day that has the forecast for that day, along with everything else that I record.
Send Instagram photos to Evernote
When I take a picture with Instagram on my iPhone, that picture will automatically get sent to a new note in Evernote. This allows me to have a little record of any pictures that I take throughout the day, kids smiling, sunsets, whatever. When you set up these tasks in IFTTT, you get a set of options so you can control what gets sent to the Evernote note. For instance, you can set it up to only send Instagram photos with a certain tag in the caption–or you can send all of the photos. You can also tell it what notebook to put the photo into and how to tag the note. There is a great deal of flexibility.
Send my blog posts to Evernote
Whenever I add a post to my blog, that post will automatically get added to Evernote as well. This is useful to have a record of what I posted on a given day, in relation to everything else. After all, I try not to duplicate efforts. I don’t create a note saying, “Wrote a new Going Paperless post today.” There’s no need for that since the post itself will appear as a note (and be searchable, along with everything else).
Send my Foursquare check-in to Evernote
I use Foursquare to keep track of where I have been. It’s a useful tool for capturing where you’ve been and you don’t have to share that information with anyone else, if you choose not to. I check-in to Foursquare when I go someplace and that check-in gets created as a note in Evernote (complete with a map!) via IFTTT. These are tagged as “Foursquare” so I can very easily pull up a list of where I’ve been and when I’ve been there.
Send my Tweets to Evernote
I use Twitter throughout the day to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, and it seemed to me that there was some useful information in my tweets that was worth capturing. So I setup a task in IFTTT to send each of my tweets to a note in Evernote so that I have a running log of those as well.
The key takeaway here is automation. I don’t have to spend time capturing these notes in Evernote. I go on with my normal everyday behavior and all of this data is captured and added to my “timeline” automatically.
Tip #4: Develop a process for “remembering everything”
Just like anything else, having a process or habit for capturing notes is an important way to ensure that it happens consistently. I’ve described my process for going paperless in 10 minutes/day. I have a process here, too, but it is one that has grown out of the habit of keeping a diary for as long as I have. I know what it is I want to capture and what I don’t particularly care about. Everyone will have a different set of things they want to remember and building the habit to remember to capture that information in the first place can be tricky sometimes, but if you keep at it (as I did) it works and it can be really useful. Here are some of the other types of information I capture (out of habit) as individual notes:
- When I start reading a book or story, I create a note. Often times, I’ll go back to that note when I finish and add my thoughts. I can easily go back and look to see when I read a particular book or story and what I thought about it.
- When I watch a movie or (much more rarely, a TV show) I’ll create a note. For movies, I’ll usually toss in an image of the movie poster, and just like books, I’ll sometimes go back and add thoughts or comments to the note.
- When I cook an unusual meal, I’ll capture it in Evernote using Evernote Food.
- When I see something I’d like to get, I’ll capture it in a note and tag it as “wish list”; when I actually get it, I’ll add a note indicated that I got it. Sometimes interesting to see how long it goes from wish list to in my hands.
So what good is all of this information?
When I’ve talked about this with friends, I often get the question, “what good is capturing all of this information?” For me, there are a number of things, but three things stand out as being particularly important:
- It helps me stay paperless. I no longer need my paper diaries, of course. But I also don’t need scraps of paper to remind me of something. If there’s some fact that I can’t conjure up in my brain (“When was the last time I took my little boy for a haircut?”) I can almost always search for it and find it. I can do this at home, on my iPad, on my iPhone, at my office, wherever I may be.
- It is one of my most important reference tools. I can find out when things happened, in what order, and see other information that happened around the same time. I am also a champion of personal analytics, about which I’ve written a couple of times (here and here and here) and being able to extract this data for that type of analysis has also proven useful.
- It provides a historical record for my kids. I think it would be cool to turn this data over to them when they are young adults and curious about what mom and dad did when we were younger. There would be a wealth of information for them to see, not only about us, but about them, too. I have notes, for instance, with pictures, of each of the art projects they’ve brought home from school. I have notes for when they said their first words–and can tell them if it was raining or snowing or hot and sunny when they said them. I think that would be a cool thing to see.
And yes, there is a lot of information that goes into Evernote. For those new to this column, I have written in an earlier tip how I protect and secure my Evernote data and I am satisfied with my methods there.
Being able to do all of this without the need for paper has made me feel much more clutter free, reduced my overall stress level, and provides some cool data that can be used in countless way. And it’s really not that hard to do at all, especially if you automate the process as much as possible.