Going Paperless: Achievement Unlocked! Using Evernote to Track Achievements

It occurred to me early this week that I am fast coming up on my 100th Going Paperless post. If my counting is correct, this is my 98th post, which means that #100 should arrive on about March 18. Thinking about this milestone got me thinking about achievements in general, and that in turn got me thinking that maybe I should write a post about how I track my achievements and accomplishments in Evernote. And not just how, but why.

Why I track my achievements

I originally started tracking my achievements in Evernote because I found that it helped me in my performance review process at my day job. Things can get so busy that by the time the annual performance review rolls around, what I’d done in the previous year is a blur. So I started capturing quick notes whenever I did something I thought would make a notable bullet point on my performance review.

This evolved into all kinds of achievements, both professional and personal. Over the years I’ve collected this information for three reasons:

  1. A complete picture. Having my achievements called out succinctly help paint a complete picture on my timeline. Remember that everything that goes into Evernote has a date associated with it. That goes for my achievement notes, and when I am reviewing things, or looking at the notes from a historical perspective, it is nice to see the achievements there.
  2. Automation. As I will explain, my performance review process is fairly standardized. By capturing my achievements throughout the year, I can automate a good portion of it, without having to strain my brain to remember everything I did.
  3. To feel good about what I’ve done. Everyone has stressful days, or days when things don’t go so well. It is nice to be reminded of the good things you have done, and capturing achievements helps with that.

What is an achievement?

Everyone defines an achievement differently and that is okay. Use your own definition for what you flag as an achievement. For me, I focus on what I consider to be “big deal” things in my personal/freelancing life, and I focus on major milestones in my day job.  So far example, while I wouldn’t consider solving a thorny coding problem an achievement, I would consider rolling out a project as an achievement, even if it was a small project.

For my freelance work, I wouldn’t consider an invitation to an anthology an achievement, but I would consider selling a story to that anthology an achievement.

Go with what makes the most sense to you.

How I capture achievements

Here are the steps that I use to capture an achievement:

1. Create a new note for the achievement. Each achievement gets its own note. I don’t want to miss an achievement because more than one is buried somewhere in another note. I think an achievement as a discrete thing.

2. Title the note as succinctly as possible. Some examples of achievement note titles I’ve used:

  • “Big Al Shepard” published in IGMS
  • Successfully rolled CAFM 1.5 into production
  • Featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series

Note that I do not include the date in the title of the note. That is because the note itself has a date, and if the create date of the note is different from the date of the achievement, I simply alter the create date of the note.

3. Tag the note “achievements”.

I use the “achievements” tag to easily find all of my achievements.

4. File the note in its appropriate notebook. If it is a work note, it goes in my work notebook. If it is a personal achievement, it might go in a freelancing notebook, or it might simply go in my Timeline notebook.

That’s it. I try to keep it as simple as possible. I only add additional information if I think it will be useful in the future. For instance, for an achievement like

Completed Watir script updates for WDR

I might add some additional information to the note, something like,

Jenkins was reporting 168 errors before the update, and was reporting 51 errors after the update.

That is the kind of specific detail that might be useful on a performance review. But otherwise, I keep the notes simple, and the vast majority of them have no body text at all, just a title and a tag, like this:

Achievement Note

I would add that as much as possible, I try to capture these achievement in real-time, as they happen, so that I don’t forget about them.

Achievements Unlocked!

I need a way of finding my achievements. I can use Evernote’s search functionality to do this by tag very easily by searching for the tag:

tag:achievements

I prefer to know about achievements I’ve made this year, and so I tend to modify my search to look like this:

tag:achievements created:year

which tells Evernote to look for any note tagged “achievements” created since the beginning of the current year. When I run this search today, this is what I see on my Mac:

Search Results Mac

If I am on my Windows machine, that same search looks like this:

Search-Results-Windows

Because I will refer to this frequently throughout the year, I speed up the process by creating a saved search, which I call “Achievement Unlocked!” I then drag my saved search into the shortcut bar making it easily accessible.

Of course, you can narrow the search further. For instance, when I am doing my performance review for my day job, I only care about day-job achievements. In that case, I’ll filter the achievements through my work notebook, so that my search looks as follows:

notebook:"Work notebook" tag:achievements created:year

This results in only 2 matches, instead of five matches.

Some advanced automation with achievements

A few weeks back, I demonstrated how I automatically pull action items in my meeting notes in Evernote into my to-do list, which resides outside of Evernote. When it comes to my performance reviews, I do something similar.

Note, for instance, that my day job achievements have an extra piece of information in their titles (I’ve bolded them below):

Completed Watir updates for WDR (+2 Other)

or

Successfully rolled CAFM 1.5 into production (+1 Goals)

This extra information corresponds to sections of my performance review. There are 9 sections, so throughout the course of a year, I might end up with a dozen or more achievements spread over these 9 section.

Just as I do in extracting action items from meeting notes, I use GeekNote and a simple perl script to search for work-related achievements in the last year. GeekNote collects the results of the search and my perl script parses it out. Specifically, the perl script generates a text document with 9 sections, and populates each section with a bulleted list of achievements for that section in date order.

The results is that, when completing my performance review, I can usually just cut and paste each section into the appropriate section on the self-appraisal form. I might wordsmith a bit here or there for clarification. But instead of spending a few hours trying to gather this information, I spend a few seconds. It also means that I don’t miss anything because I create my achievement notes in real-time.

Having my achievements captured in Evernote helps me to create a complete picture of what I do. It’s a good reminder of the things that I get done throughout the year on a personal and professional level, and is fun to look at, especially at those times when I am feeling overwhelmed, or where a project doesn’t work out as well as I’d like.


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: Using Mail Filters to Automatically Send Email Receipts and Other Messages to Evernote.

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4 thoughts on “Going Paperless: Achievement Unlocked! Using Evernote to Track Achievements

  1. Great post Jamie. I really identify with this as I have always liked to reflect on the ‘wins’ you have through life, especially when you might be having a bad day and need some inspiration. Have never really had a formal way of keeping them all in one spot so really like this idea to make it easy to access.
    I was wondering if you have a cheat sheet or ready reference for the search terms you utilise in EN? Found an area of EN developers section but was hoping you knew of a more user friendly spot where most useful search operators are listed.

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