Going Paperless: My Process for Keeping Evernote Clutter-Free

I promised at least one more advanced article each month, and so I present the first of these today, although I’ve tried to keep it only moderate this first time around.

Evernote makes it very easy to collect notes, photos, and documents, which is great, but there is a downside: if you are not careful, Evernote can easily become cluttered with stuff that you really don’t need. As a freelance writer and technology blogger, one place where I’ve struggled with this in the past is stuff that I’ve clipped from the web. Over time, I’ve developed a process for keeping Evernote clutter-free, which means I only keep the stuff I think I’ll need in the long run. I thought I’d use today’s post to discuss this process and how it works for me.

Some background for context

First, let me describe how I used to do things:

  1. Browsing the web, if I saw something interesting, I’d clip it with Evernote’s web clipper.
  2. At some point, I would review the stuff I clipped in Evernote, tag and file the important stuff, and plan on deleting the stuff that wasn’t important.

Turns out there were 2 problems with this process:

  1. I clipped far more stuff than I ever actually wanted to keep. That made it difficult to sift through.
  2. While I would usually get around to sifting, I rarely got around to deleting notes and clipping–and the deletions represented the vast majority of what I clipped.

Evernote became cluttered, which doesn’t sound like a big deal when you have a monthly upload limit of 1 GB, but it had one significant result that I could not tolerate:

It cluttered my search results.

As I said, the vast majority of my clipping were things I really didn’t need. But Evernote doesn’t know that. When I’d do a search, Evernote would happily search all my notes including the clippings I planned to eventually discard. This skewed my search results.

My solution

I needed a better way of getting what I wanted to keep in Evernote, but at the same time, keep Evernote clutter-free. Eventually, I came up with a process that has been working very well for me. In involves using Pocket. Pocket is a “save for later” service like Instapaper for Readability. It allows you to grab links, images, videos, etc. and save them for later review. Pocket also strips out the clutter from the articles and presents them in an easy-to read fashion. Lots of applications integrate with Pocket, making it easy to send articles and other items. Best of all, Pocket integrates with Evernote, allowing you to send items from Pocket to Evernote.

I use Pocket as a kind of intermediary clearing house for web research and clippings. Illustrated, my process looks something like this:

Pocket Process

Here is how the process works:

1. Save to Pocket

I do most of my reading and research online using one of three tools, Twitter, Feedly, or Chrome. I use Echofon as my Twitter client on my iPhone, which allows me to send Tweets containing links I’m interested in reading directly to pocket. Like this:

Echofon to Pocket

I can do the same from Feedly, where I have the ability to send articles in my RSS feed directly to Pocket on my iPhone:

Feedly iPhone

I can do the same thing from Chrome in the browser version of Feedly:

Feedly Chrome

2. Review (curate) articles in Pocket

I tend to review my articles in Pocket when I have small pockets of free time, which means I do this almost entirely on my iPhone. I’ll open up the Pocket app, skip some articles, read and read others in their entirety. Here is what Pocket looks like on my iPhone:

Pocket iPhone

This is my “curation” phase of the process. I’ll read a lot of articles in pocket, archive many, delete other. But the ones I want to keep for the long term, I’ll send to Evernote.

3. Sending an item to Evernote

It’s very easy to send to Evernote from Pocket. You need to configure Pocket to send to your Evernote account, but that is a one-time process. Once you’ve done that. you click on the article, then click on the standard “Send To” button, after which you will see a list of options:

Pocket to Evernote 1

Next, I click the Evernote option and I’m prompted for some additional information about how I want to file the item in Evernote:

Pocket 2 Evernote 2

Here you can title your note, select a notebook, tag it, and even add some additional notes of your own. The resulting note ends up in Evernote.

Automation!

This process allows for automation in the curation process. For example, I’m a big fan of Lifehacker’s How I Work series. I used to look for these articles in my RSS feed and then manually send them to Pocket. But because Pocket can be used as part of IFTTT, I have automated this process with a recipe I created. Now, every time a new How I Work article appears, the article gets sent to Pocket automatically via this IFTTT recipe. Then, when I am reviewing my items in Pocket, if I decide I want to keep the article for the long term, I can send it to Evernote.

There are plenty of other ways to automate, but  the bulk of my curation process–deciding what to keep and what to throw away–is still based on manual determinations. Still, I imagine there are automation improvements that can be made here that I haven’t considered yet.

The bottom line is that this process helps keep Evernote clutter-free, makes my searches more accurate, and ensures that I do retain those articles, image, and videos that I think are important to have for the long haul within Evernote.


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.

Last week’s post: Quick Tip: How to Search Evernote for Attached Documents.

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33 thoughts on “Going Paperless: My Process for Keeping Evernote Clutter-Free

  1. I just recently started using Pocket for the same purpose of treating it like an intermediary clearing house. Now I just have to decide on what articles I should really send to Evernote!

  2. A quick tip for faster process – I set up a recipe on ifttt to send everything I star in pocket automatically to EN. Same idea but fewer clicks…

    1. The problem with using ifttt to send to Evernote is that it only sends the Excerpt rather than an evernote clipped version

      I’ve been using this sort of method with Pocket and Evernote for about a year now and it works really well. (and been using Pocket for years back when it was readitlater). The system works just as well on Android.

      I use the Star in pocket to add to Buffer so it completely automates my linking.

      Instead of using Save to Pocket in Feedly, I just press ‘s’ and save for later. With an IFTTT recipe this is automatically added to Pocket. Same for twitter – a favourited tweet is added to Pocket

    2. I do the same for favouriting Tweets. Recipe for favourite tweets straight to Pocket for reading later. Especially handy when you don’t have time to read articles right then and there.

  3. Great summary. This is what I’ve been doing too.

    I also throw in Google Keep for ideas, notes, things that are floating around my brain. Then when I get a chance to search for them, I add results to Pocket and then to Evernote later.

  4. Great tips! I’ve been using this same process for a while too. The only kink is I need to remember to review the items saved to Pocket (even though the Pocket app is right there on my 1st iPhone screen).

    One other tip you might want to add, you can email links/items to your Pocket by sending an email to add@getpocket.com from the email account you use when logging in to Pocket.

    1. As I mentioned in the post, I tend to review my items in Pocket when not otherwise occupied: waiting in lines, waiting for meeting to get started, sitting with the kids before dinner while they play. I try to keep up with it though, since a lot of what I save is timely.

      Good tip about emailing to Pocket as well.

  5. Great Article! Another useful idea is to set up IFTTT to send articles to different notebooks within Evernote based on the tag you give it. Have done this for a while but it dawned on me after reading this article that I do this way too often and end up with loads of things i probably won’t read again!

    1. Will, great suggestion! Part of what I like about my own curation process, which probably didn’t get captured clearly, is that I tackled 2 steps in one: when I decide I need to send something to Evernote from Pocket, I choose the notebook and the tags is should get then, so that I don’t have to it again when I am in Evernote. The IFTTT recipes would be good for standardized stuff (like the Lifehacker How-I-Work posts), but even there, I don’t send every one of them to Evernote. I find that manual curation step to be useful because it forces me to look at the article and make a decision.

  6. That’s a nice, neat work flow.

    I haven’t yet got to the point where my clippings are messing up my search results. I tend to search within individual notebook stacks, so it’s rarely a problem.

    I like seeing how you make apps talk to each other.

  7. Excellent timing with this post. I’ve been wanting to try Pocket for a while now and in fact even had “clipped” the home page to my Evernote account for future reference. But until your post I hadn’t seriously checked it out.

    Sounds like it meets exactly what I am looking for. Currently I often see an article on Facebook or some site while on my iphone and have no way to easily save it to read later. I end up opening the page in safari and then emailing it to myself. Now I’ll just toss it in Pocket and read it later.

    Already downloaded it on my iphone and my android tablet. I use an Ipad at school so will download it on there tomorrow!

  8. Thanks for the tip! I’m going to sign up for Pocket now. I’ve used Evernote for years, but have only used the basics. I stumbled on your site last week and have found tons of ideas for making Evernote work better for me in my quest for a paperless life.

  9. So why not create a standard search in Evernote and make it a shortcut for source:web.clip. This will show all the webclipped articles in one view and then delete the ones you no longer want.

    You can do the same with emails send to the inbox with source:mail.clip

    1. And of course if you use Voice Dream http://www.voicedream.com to listen to your Pocket queue whilst walking / running etc you can work through it even quicker (actually you can do that direct in Evernote as well – but its easier in Pocket)

  10. Thanks Nico! I didn’t know that, although…

    2 reasons I make Pocket my pitstop, which are not touched upon in the article:

    1. Pocket makes for a better reading experience, whereas Evernote is great for keeping stuff related to projects or any other keepers:
    (a) I can use Sepia/ dark view (easier on the eyes)
    (b) I can switch between the simplified pocket format or the actual web page.

    2. I have done a lot of testing to compare the aesthetics/ format of an article sent to Evernote from Pocket and clipped directly from the Web. Pocket, for some reason, gives us a better note structure in Evernote.

    I typically don’t do a lot of reading in Evernote… Not even before discovering Pocket. With a read-it-later app I can settle in at any chosen time and read my collected stuff more comfortably. That’s what they were built for, I guess. Environment/ atmosphere goes a long way in making me want to read something.

    1. Forgot to include that Pocket gives a better formatted article in Evernote even when clipping just the article/ post (not the web page) directly from the Evernote web clipper or Safari bookmarklet/ dolphin browser to Evernote. You will have to send at least one article to Evernote directly via web and from pocket to see the difference I’m talking about…

      Pocket is also better for archiving links to YouTube videos. It creates great thumbnail images to represent the actual video… And you can watch it in Pocket. Evernote does not do the same. Very useful for tutorials… For example: how to set up a slackline… Or any sort of documentary or music collection, such as those 2-hour “best of” classical music compilations.

  11. Recently started using “Zite”. There is a wealth of great articles curated from all over the web. You can customize your reading experience there (content)… However, Pocket still remains the place where I read those articles. Here’s why I don’t read directly in Zite:

    1. I get sidetracked easily and lose track of time.
    2. Zite does not store articles for you.
    3. I cannot use “sepia” which is easier on the eyes.

    My strategy: I give myself 5 minutes to flip through Zite and send anything to Pocket that I might find interesting or beneficial… Then read it later.

    There is an almost complete turnover of articles every day on your Zite dashboard… And I may not have the time to read everything I want to there before it “disappears”/ turns over on any given day… That’s what makes Pocket a heaven-send.

    Also, Pocket fits in perfectly with productivity techniques like Pomodoro, where you can keep any distractions at bay while continuing to focus on a task at hand, especially if that task involves researching something on the web, where you are bound to stumble upon great articles that will compete for your attention.

  12. Jamie thanks so much for this post. I was literally getting ready to do a cleanup of my Evernote next week and struggle with this same issue. I had felt like I was underusing Pocket and this I’m sure will make a big difference. Love your posts and tips.

  13. Great tips. Have you found a way to get Pocket to send the whole article to Evernote and not just the excerpt?

    1. Hi Eric,
      Pocket should send the whole article… That us if you are on an actual post page… Sometimes it happens that you are on the home page of a blog/ site, which only has the summary… Then you will just get an intro “excerpt”. As far as I know, pocket sends the whole article. Kind of like Evernote web clipper’s article option… Only thing is that Pocket won’t send the whole page – with comments, social media widgets, ads, etc.

    2. Eric, as Frank mentions above, when I Send to Evernote from the Pocket for iPhone app, I get the entire post in Evernote. Are you talking sending to Evernote from IFTTT? I’ve notice that in IFTTT, the only option available from Pocket is the Excerpt. So if you using IFTTT to go from Pocket->Evernote, then yes, I think you only have the Excerpt option. But if you are doing it from the iPhone app you can send the full article. And if you are using Pocket from the web, you can easily send to Evernote by using the “Email to a Friend” option and use your Evernote email address. (I have this as a snippet in TextExpander.)

      Apparently that last part sends a link to the article in Evernote. But I almost alway send to Evernote from the iPhone app, and that works perfectly.

      1. Thank you. Indeed, I was using IFTTT, where my intent was to star pocket items to get IFTTT to push them to Evernote, until seeing that only forwards excerpt. Would have been nice, but I suppose only slightly harder to save versus starring. Thanks!

  14. I’ve just discovered your posts and find them very useful. Thanks!
    I recently integrated Pocket into my paperless workflow and find it especially helpful since discovering the “Dispatch” mail app for iPhone. Dispatch integrates Evernote and Omnifocus (along with a host of other apps) and if an email needed a response/action I would send it to Omnifocus as a task; anything I wanted to keep as reference or for reading later went to Evernote (it also allows you to choose from your list what notebook to save in and add tags without leaving the email app) With the ease of one-touch, I quickly cluttered up Evernote with email newsletters or blogs I subscribe to and would forget all about them. I’ve now added Pocket to my Dispatch workflow as an integrated app for those types of emails. This has really helped cleanly define the line between tasks, reference for Evernote and those entirely optional items for reading whenever I want or possibly never!

  15. I have the same process but instead of using Pocket, I just use a notebook in Evernote (@Inbox) as the intermediary step. I regularly clear my Inbox so it doesn’t get to be too much of a problem. I also keep a To Read/Watch notebook for longer pieces that I may want to read when I have the chance but honestly, not much makes it in there.

  16. Just searched back and found this post again and SAVED IT TO POCKET! I’ve been using it for about a week now and really love it but need to sync it with EN. Saved your post so I have instructions on how to do that…later when I have some free time! Thanks again!

  17. If you find you have a lot of articles in Pocket that need reviewing or reading use the improved ‘Bulk Edit’ feature to tag simply items. As I find this makes the review process faster and more enjoyable as I can choose when and where I read related articles.

  18. Yikes! This just seems like way too much trouble. Maybe not. But for me I use Clearly and/or Clipper (depending on which computer I’m at) and just send either the link or the article. I know you can’t see into the future (and that’s the real reason why you save things that you later delete as unnecessary), but I try to think if this is something I know I’ll use or just want in case. If it’s “in case” I just grab the url and since EN is always open, I make a new note and plop the url in there. I name the note something like “Links for THIS TOPIC” and I have a notebook for Blogging Inspiration, Freelance Resources and others where those types of things fit. If I find more “in case” links I go back to the appropriate note and plop more in. Later if I get to said topic and the actual articles I saved isn’t enough info I can go to my Link note and find more info that I might want without more googling. Usually I don’t have to delete a lot of stuff or sign up for another app like Pocket. I feel like I have way too much already!

  19. I read a set of news sources every day for my job and typically want to save 8-10′ that makes Feedly the ‘center’ of my reading world. Lately I’ve been doing two additional things:

    – saving ad hoc items to read later from Flipboard, Web, mobile, etc to Pocket and then subscribing yo my Pocket RSS feed in Feedly.

    – in Feedly I read and review my daily news and ad hoc clips. Things I want to save permanently I mark in Feedly as Save For Later and use an IFTTT recipe to push those items into Evernote. I find adding to a notebook and adding tags MUCH faster in Evernote client then in Web clipper.

    Nice article and comments has me reviewing my process again.

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