Going Paperless: My Paperless Cloud

I get a lot of questions about the uses of Evernote versus other cloud storage applications, for instance, Evernote vs. Google Drive. The general thrust of the questions is that there is an either-or solution: should I store my stuff in Google Drive, or should I store it in Evernote and what are the pros and cons of each? This is an interesting question, but it is also one of personal preference. Furthermore, I don’t believe that there is an either-or answer to the question. I think that each tool has its advantages and specific uses. So I thought I’d use today’s post to describe my paperless cloud, and how I use five cloud-based “storage” applications for about 99% of what I have in the cloud.

My paperless cloud

Let’s start with what my paperless cloud looks like:

My Paperless Cloud

I make use of 5 cloud-based storage applications to contain 99% of what I keep in the cloud. I am dubious of the term “storage” because for many of these application, they do a lot more than store my stuff. The five applications I use are:

  1. Evernote: This is the center of my cloud-based storage, and the heart of my paperless lifestyle. For me, it is far more than just storage, it acts as a kind of workflow and automation engine that helps to simplify my life, and allows me to access my documents from anywhere.
  2. Google Drive. This is the center of my writing life online. I write my fiction and nonfiction articles using Google Docs. Much of the automation I have setup around my writing life centers in Google Drive. It is also the central repository for my personal analytics data.
  3. Flickr. This is the center of my photo storage system in the cloud. All of my photos go to Flickr first, and then, through various automations (many of which are thanks to IFTTT), they are relayed to social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter.
  4. Crashplan. This is the center of my data-protection plan. All of my computers and my family’s computers are backed up into the cloud via Crashplan. I can restore my data anywhere and have access to it from anywhere, even my iPhone.
  5. iTunes Match. This is the center of my media storage system in the cloud. Music and TV shows are all accessible through iTunes match on all of my computers and devices.

There are other cloud-based applications and storage tools that I use, but they make up less than 1% of what I store in the cloud. Now, let’s looks at each of these tools in more detail to see how I use them as part of my paperless cloud, and how many of them integrate with Evernote as part of my automation system.

1. Evernote: The heart of my paperless cloud

Most of my Going Paperless posts go into great detail about the different ways I’ve found to use Evernote, but if I had to boil it down to one simple sentence, it would be this: Evernote is the heart of my paperless cloud. True, I use Evernote to store all of the “paper” I used to have in filing cabinets and scattered across the surface of my desk, and in that sense, it is cloud-based storage. But like a heart, Evernote also acts as a pump, not for blood but for data. It is a living, breathing tool in which documents are constantly flowing in, some manually, some automated. And with recent features like Evernote’s Reminders, it pumps data out as well, reminding me when I need to take my car in for service, or when to replace the batteries in my wireless keyboard.

As you will see with some of the other tools below, I have various automations that take advantage of this pump so that Evernote is always the first place I can go when I need to find some important piece of information, no matter where that information originated.

2. Google Drive: the heart of my writing system

Some people do their writing in Evernote, but I don’t. This isn’t because I think Evernote is not a good tool for writing, but because I am more comfortable with tools that are specifically designed to make writing easier.

I do the bulk of my fiction and nonfiction writing on a Google Chromebook. I use Google Docs for my writing. Google Docs provides a clean, simple, lightweight interface, not overburdened with features I will never use. Furthermore, with Google App Scripts, I can automate stuff fairly easily.

For example, when I write in Google Docs, my documents are stored in the Google Cloud and they are updated in realtime, as I write. Each night, I have a Google App script that runs and figures out how much I wrote that day and updates a spreadsheet. The scripts do two other things:

  1. One script takes what I wrote for the day and sends it to my Writing notebook in Evernote. The result is a series of notes, one for each day, that shows me what I wrote on that day. And not just what I wrote, the notes also show what changed from one day to another, using various color coding.
  2. A second script creates a “daily almanac” of my day, and that almanac is also sent to Evernote, so that I have a record of not only how much I wrote, but how much I blogged, and if I set any particular records.

Here is a screen capture of my Writing notebook. Everything you see goes into Evernote (the heart of my paperless cloud) automatically:

Writing Notebook

And here is an example of the Daily Almanac note sent to Evernote last night:

Daily Almanac

You can see that the alamac highlights records automatically.

All of this happens automatically so long as I do my writing in Google Docs, where I am most comfortable doing it anyway. It has the added bonus, of course, of making an automatic backup of my writing each day. If for some reason, Google Docs became unavailable, I need only go to my Evernote Writing notebook to have access to all of my writing.

3. Flickr: the center of my photo storage system

For a long time, I had photos scattered everywhere without a good way to organize them. Recently, I settled on Flickr as the place to centralize all of my photos and videos. I chose Flickr because it had a feature set I was looking for, made organization easy, had the storage capacity I needed, and perhaps most importantly, because I could integrate it with other applications.

My process for managing photos is pretty simple:

  1. I upload photos in batch to Flickr whenever I get around to it, not worrying about organization too much.
  2. When I post photos to Facebook, I use an IFTTT recipe to sent the photo to Flickr as well. This has saved me a lot of time and eliminated the need for me to manually upload the same photos to multiple locations.
  3. When I have spare time, I go through my Flickr photostream and tag and otherwise organize my photos.

In addition, I have another IFTTT recipe that sends any Flickr photo tagged “Evernote” to Evernote so that if I want to keep a particular photo in Evernote as well as Flickr, I can do it in one step. (Why would I want to do this? I sometimes grab certain photos–say the Little Man after a haircut–and put it into my timeline in Evernote so that I have a complete record in one place.)

4. Crashplan+: the center of my data protection plan

Everyone should have a data-protection plan. Data protection involves many things. It involves password management and practices, good online security practices like 2-factor authentication and using SSL when available. It also means backing up your data. I use Crashplan+ to automate the backups of all of my computers. Once setup, this happens automatically and I don’t have to think about it. I can check the status of a backup from my iPhone. I can restore files from anywhere. It is really a no-brainer.

Crashplan also acts as a redundant backup for my Evernote data. On the first of each month, I have an AppleScript that runs that exports all of my Evernote data to a EXEN file. I zip the file and place it in a location on my computer that gets backed up. The EXEN file is therefore backed up to Crashplan each month. If something were ever to happen to Evernote or access to my Evernote data, I could simply restore the latest EXEN file from Crashplan and reimport it into Evernote. At most I’d lost 1 month’s worth of notes.’

In a world where data is rapidly replacing paper, a tool like Crashplan becomes essential in ensuring you can recover your data in the event of a problem.

5. iTunes Match: the center of my media in the cloud

I hesitated to include iTunes Match because the data stored in the cloud is not really a replacement for paper, but instead it is all of my music and TV shows and videos. Still, since it makes up a measurable percent of what I store in the cloud, I decided to include it.

iTunes Match allows me to store all of my music in Apple’s cloud, and access it on any of my devices whenever I want it. It takes away the need to manage all of the files locally and I never have to remember to sync my phone or iPad with specific videos or songs. I can just download them when I need them.

And since all of the source files are stored locally on my iMac at home, they are included in my Crashplan backup–just in case.


One question that might arise from all of this is: it sounds great but how much does it cost? That’s a fair question. Many of these services have free versions with limited storage or functionality. I tend to pay for the services For me, breaks down roughly as follows:

  • Evernote (Premium): $45/year
  • Google Drive: $5/year (for extra storage; I was grandfathered into this plan. I think it is now around $20/year for newcomers)
  • Flickr (Pro): $24.95/year
  • Crashplan (Plus, family plan): $149/year
  • iTunes Match: $24.95/year

That makes for a grand total of $248.90/year. Or about $20/month.

For me, that is a bargain. It gives me peace of mind that my data is protected. It allows me to use the tools I am most comfortable with using. (Consider that just purchasing a copy of Microsoft Office costs nearly this much.) And it allows me to do a significant amount of automation in the cloud, which saves me time and allows me to focus that time on other things.


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.

21 thoughts on “Going Paperless: My Paperless Cloud

    1. It’s just something I’ve always done. It doesn’t take me any extra effort because the process is automated. Also, I might be mistaken here, but isn’t the EXB file for Evernote for Windows? I use Evernote primarily on a Mac.

        1. There probably is, I just wasn’t aware of it. As it turns out, I also use the EXEN file to more easily parse through my data and generate some metrics (e.g. how many documents did I scan in the last month? How many did I clip using the Clipper or Clearly?, etc.) I could use the API directly for this, but it saves me a little time doing it off the XML file because I don’t have to mess with the authentication layer. I can do it all locally.

    1. Steve, I wrote about the scripts in more detail a while back. I also said that eventually, I’ll put my code up on GitHub for anyone else who wants to use it. “Eventually” is vague, and I’m afraid my schedule hasn’t cooperated recently. But I will get the code posted… eventually.

      Basically, the scripts do 3 things:

      1. One script counts any new writing on all documents edited on a given day. I never delete things. If I decide I don’t like something, I move it to a “deleted scenes” section of the document, so the word counts are generally accurate. The resulting word counts get inserted into a Google Spreadsheet.
      2. Another script runs a “diff” on all documents edited “today” and compares them with version from “yesterday.” The color-coded results are sent as a single note (broken into sections for each document) to Evernote. Here I can see first hand what I wrote on any given day, what I changed, and what I deleted.
      3. The last script is part of my Daily Almanac, which compiles a bunch of data about my writing for the day and sends a summary to Evernote.

      The best part is that I can just focus on writing. I no longer have to worry about word counts or changes that I made and when I made them. I can see them all by looking at the notes in Evernote.

      1. Jamie, I discovered your blog through a link from Tobias Buckell to your post regarding your Daily Almanac script (and consecutive streaks); started hanging around like a groupie waiting for when Eventually rolls around and you release that script (I would pay upwards of $50 for software that would keep track of my writing the way you are! Keep us posted!); and I am now an Evernote junkie — Premium, mind you — on the Road to Paperless, all thanks to you. I have so enjoyed and appreciated all of your posts on going paperless…as well as the writerly ones. Thank you!! I’ll be checking out your fiction too. As it turns out, I’m a bit of a short story junkie also. :)

        Thanks also for this post. Love your blog. I’ll be checking out CrashPlan shortly. I should make a note… ;)

        1. Angela, thanks so much for the kind words! As soon as I have some time to clean up the scripts, I will make them available, and free-of-charge! And I will definitely put up a post to let folks know they are available.

  1. Thank you for the insight; always interesting to see how others manage this!

    One question: how do you go about securely storing private data in Evernote? I really wish Evernote could be encrypted globally – with my own keys – in the same fashion as Crashplan.

    NickP

  2. Great post and mirrors my approach in a way – only question I am struggling with is devoting too much resource to Google. I have gone back and forth between using Google Docs and using a text file/Dropbox/MarkDown writing approach, which I seem to have settled on. Did you consider any text file solutions – or were the Google Scripts the driving force?

    1. Kevin, I did try some plain text solutions. But in terms of spending the least amount of time developing and maintaining a solution I was looking for and balancing that with compatibility, Google Docs came out on top. I like the interface. I write full screen with no menus on my Chromebook so there are no distractions. I am not overwhelmed by features I will never use. And I have scripting capability that runs on Google’s servers, so I don’t have to maintain any jobs locally.

  3. Jamie,

    I, too, am waiting eagerly for your google scripts. But no pressure of course. ;)

    Did I miss it or is Reminders still not available on Evernote for the Windows desktop? I think it’s been a couple of months now…

    Thanks for sharing your cloud configuration. There are so many choices out there and so it’s nice to hear about how different people integrate the various cloud storage options.

    Kathy

  4. Thank for sharing this, and all of the other posts on Going Paperless. I have become a big and immediate fan of this series. I have been dropping in on one post, or another, daily since I “found” you. Cheers!

  5. My problem is lack of trust…I hate to start depending on something just to have it change and break something I need…or disappear all together.

    I’ve been an Evernote premium user since 2010, I use google Docs for all of the documentation for one particular volunteer group that I work with. I have a Windows machine at work and Windows 8 on my laptop.

    I was using Astrid for ToDo lists (but it is now dead.) Haven’t managed to figure out Google todo or Google tasks…and every time Google drops something that I have depended on (e.g. iGoogle) a little piece of me dies…How do I know what will last?

    I want things to go seamlessly from ipad to android to windows/web and too many things just don’t. Currently, I am trying to replace Astrid (I knew as soon as Yahoo got hold of it I was screwed.)

    I’m not sure I’m really asking anything but I spent too long this morning trying to figure out Evernote reminders…finally figured out that I shouldn’t try to use Windows desktop, but I’m still not really happy with my ability to get it to do what I want. Just wanted to vent, because I love your Evernote tips and want to use them…the learning curve is sometime just a little to steep.

    hugs,

    kitten

  6. Jamie,
    Thanks so much for the wonderful information you share so generously about Evernote. I’m looking to go paperless in 2014 and am getting an eary start. I got the Evernote edition scanner and have been using Evernote faithfully for a handful of weeks now. I’m concerned about the security of my data, so I read your post on the subject. I’ve already implemented two-factor authentication on my Evernote account. I was looking to use Crashplan but discovered that the app does not provide NAS support for Windows. D’oh! I’m trying to set up a batch file to mount the NAS per the unsupported solution given on the Crashplan forum, but am not entirely comfortable with the approach. Can you recommend a cloud backup of sensitive information (medical and banking records) for Windows 7 or Windows 8?

    My next computer will definitely be an Apple, but I’m looking for a short-term solution. Thanks in advance and keep up the good work.

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