Going Paperless: How I Get Things Into Evernote

I am occasionally asked how I get various kinds of notes and documents into Evernote. Sometimes the questioner simply wants to know the tools I use. Sometimes they are looking for how I capture certain types of information like email messages. Today I thought I’d list some of the ways I get different types of information into Evernote. But before I can do that, let me start by describing my basic philosophy of what I put into Evernote.

Deciding what to put in Evernote

I don’t put every piece of information I receive into Evernote. For that matter, I don’t even put every piece of paper I receive into Evernote. When I get something (a piece of paper, an email message, an electronic document), I start by asking a basic question:

Will this be useful to me in the future?

If the answer is no, I don’t bother with it and it doesn’t go into Evernote. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, I follow it up with another question:

Is there already a system in place for managing the information?

Here, I am considering things like email. I use Gmail for my personal email and it works very well for that. I see no need of putting all of my email in Evernote and thus having it in two places. A good system exists for it. If the answer to this question is Yes, then I generally don’t bother putting it into Evernote–with one exception which I’ll get to. If the answer is no, then it does go into Evernote.

The exception are one-out pieces of information. For instance, I may receive a license key in email. Because I like having all of that information readily available, even when I am offline, I tend to send these types of messages (or similar kinds) into Evernote.  If I tried to illustrate my decision process, it would look something like this:

Evernote Decision Flow

This sounds elaborate, but after doing this kind of thing every day for a couple of years, it becomes second nature and I usually make the decision unconsciously within a second or two. The most important take-away is that I don’t put everything in Evernote. I only put those things that I think will be useful in the future. If there are other systems out there that work well for the type of information they represent, I just use those systems.

Automate, automate, automate

When looking at the subset of things that I do put in Evernote, I work toward a goal which sounds simple but ends up being somewhat more complex than it might first seem. This goal can be expressed as a simple rule:

When putting something into Evernote, whenever possible, automate the process.

A big part of the advantage of Evernote is being able to access the memory you store outside your head from anywhere. There are powerful search capabilities and I take full advantage of them, and while I am fast approaching 7,000 notes in Evernote, I can often dazzle people by finding the piece of information I am looking for within five or ten seconds. Having all of this information in Evernote saves me time.

Getting the information into Evernote should save me time as well, and the easiest way to do this is to automate the input into Evernote. I get huge advantages where I can find information I was looking for in Evernote that I never had to enter myself.

Let me start with a simple example. I’ve often said in these posts that I take Evernote’s “Remember Everything” slogan seriously. My personal benchmark for this is my ability to reproduce my day using Evernote. Not just today, but, say, five weeks ago, or five months ago. In reproducing my day, I can see, for instance, what meetings I attended (from my meeting notes), what places I visited (from my Foursquare check-ins), and I can even tell what the weather was like on that day. With a quick search, for instance, I can see that the weather on my birthday (March 27) a few weeks ago was mostly cloudy with a high of 49 F and a low of 33 F. The best part is, I didn’t have to record that information myself. It was automatically sent to Evernote using a recipe I created through IFTTT.

I have a lot of notes send to Evernote through some form of automation. They include:

  • A record of all my Tweets on Twitter (via RSS and IFTTT)
  • A record of all of my Foursquare check-ins (via IFTTT)
  • The daily weather (via IFTTT)
  • The fiction I wrote on any given day (via Google App Script)
  • A daily “almanac” that summaries various metrics (like how much I wrote and how much I walked) (via Google App Script)
  • My blog posts (via RSS and IFTTT)
  • Meeting minutes for the meetings that I attend

For all of these notes–easily the vast majority of the notes that go into my Evernote account–I don’t have to take a single action. They are generate and sent to Evernote automatically.

I am constantly working toward making it possible for all of my notes to be generated automatically. This is (under present circumstances) impossible (there are always some notes generated manually). But it’s something I work toward.

So now, let’s talk about those notes that I do generate manually and how I get them into Evernote.

My other methods for getting information into Evernote

When I do have to manually send notes to Evernote I have several methods for doing so that vary depending on what it is that I am doing.

  1. For email messages that I send to Evernote, I use my Evernote email address for any messages in my Gmail account.
  2. For email messages I want to capture from Microsoft Outlook, I use the Evernote plugin for Microsoft Outlook (Windows version).
  3. For web pages that I want to capture, I use Evernote Clearly and the Evernote Web Clipper (both in Chrome). My preference is to use Clearly because I like how the note is formatted once it is captured inside Evernote.
  4. For PDFs that I grab from the web, I use the Evernote Web Clipper for Chrome. This is a fairly new feature and I love it!
  5. For screenshots and other images, I use Skitch.
  6. For notes that I scribble on “paper” or sketches that I might make, I use Penultimate.
  7. Last, but not least, I’ll use the Evernote client itself (Mac, Windows, iPad and iPhone).

If I have to use the Evernote client to enter notes, I tend to look carefully at why I am using it and if there are alternative that better integrate with Evernote’s backend. This is not because I don’t like the Evernote client, but because so much of what I capture manually is context-based. The first six things in the above list are captured within their context. Creating random notes inside Evernote tends to lack a context so I try to figure out what that context might be at the time I create the notes.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

7 thoughts on “Going Paperless: How I Get Things Into Evernote

  1. Jamie, I like the way you think and I enjoy reading your writings. But why do you reproduce your entire day in Evernote? Dont get me wrong I fancy the idea, but then I ask myself what am I doing to do with all this info in a year, 5 years, 10 years? I may need it but am not sure for what and being a Unix admin I also think how am I going to manage all the data in Evernote and keep it safeguarded (organized, backed up, security…etc).
    I have to ask the question is it worth it? And of course it may or may not be for certain people.
    Anyways my 2 cents.

    Darren

    1. Darren, thanks for the kind words. All I can say as to the “why” is because (a) I have a fascination with data; and (b) automation makes it easy, so why not? I used to keep paper diaries and have a stack of them. Every once in a while, I’ll pick one up and turn to a random page and see what I was doing 17 years ago today. I find it amusing, and sometimes enlightening.

    1. Mike, I’m sorry. I’ve been swamped. At the very least I’ll look at my schedule and see if I can set aside some time and give you a better idea when I can release the code.

  2. Do you know anything about Hazel (http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php)? I might get it to automate pulling a downloaded pdf into evernote. for example, I get an email with a link to a magazine in pdf format. I click on it, click download & then later drag it to evernote. Is there a better way for me to do that kind of thing?
    Also, where can I find a good resource that breaks down Apple scripts into something that a commoner like me can use- if they can be useful for the process of being paperless.
    Thanks & I enjoy your blog!
    Brett

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