I started these Going Paperless posts back in April 2012, when my daughter was about 8 months old. I was already an Evernote user when she was born (I hadn’t yet started using Evernote when my son was born) and one of the things I did at time, was start recording all of her milestones in Evernote. I did this for my son, too, but not as early as I did it for my daughter, and so I have a fairly complete record of every milestone I’ve thought to record for the first 3 years of her life.
In addition, I’d occasionally add pictures, or artwork that my kids did. I’d scan in cards that they received for their birthdays, or that they gave us for our birthdays. I kept score at the Little Man’s very first Little League game. The league doesn’t keep score at that level of play, but I kept a scorecard so that I could show it to him when he was older. And I keep a list of books for each them, that we’ve read together, in the hope that they will continue to maintain that list as they get older1.
None of this was formally planned on my part. I just wanted to have a good record of my kids growing up, something beyond the ubiquitous photos we have today. In collecting this stuff, however, it occurs to me that I’ve created a kind of digital baby book, or a memory book, for my kids using Evernote. And so, it occurred to me that I might be able to offer tips to others who want to try to do the same. So here are a few tips for folks whom might want to try this at home.
1. A notebook for each kid
One thing that I didn’t do, that in retrospect might have made things a little cleaner, was to create a notebook for each of my kids. The notebook corresponds to what would be the physical baby book, or memory book you’d get to keep track of their early life. Instead, I used tags to identify notes that were associated with one or both of my kids, but as you’ll see in step 5, there is an added benefit to notebooks that will give the virtual baby book the feel of something more tangible.
So what do you call these notebooks? Well, anything you want, but I’d probably include my child’s name in the notebook title.
Having a separate notebook holds one further advantage. It simplifies searching when you are looking for some event or milestone in your child’s life. You can start your search by telling Evernote to look only within the notebook in question. So if my son’t notebook was called “Little Man’s Baby Book” I could start my search with:
notebook:"Little Man's Baby Book"
This would ensure that only this notebook would be searched, and my search wouldn’t be cluttered with results from all of the other notebooks that I have. I have a lot of notes that have the word “baseball” in it. Probably hundreds of them. But if I wanted to ensure I saw only those notes with the word “baseball” in my son’s baby book notebooks, I could search as follows:
notebook:"Little Man's Baby Book" baseball
and that would look only within the notebook in question for the term “baseball.”
If you had multiple children and wanted to be a little more organized about things, you could create a notebook stack called “Baby Books” or “Memory Book” (or anything else) and place the notebooks within that notebook stack.
2. Tagging milestones
Remembering to capture the milestones as they happen is important. Fortunately, Evernote makes that easy. I always have access to Evernote, be it through my iPhone, computer, or iPad. When the Little Man got his first ever base hit in Little League this past Saturday, I pulled out my phone, and added a note to Evernote. It looked like this:
When I add these type of notes to Evernote, I tag the note with the appropriate child’s name, and a tag I use called “Milestone” to indicate that the note represents some important milestone. It makes it much easier to find them.
There are all kinds of events that happen in our kids’ lives that represent important milestones. I try to be somewhat picky. I includes firsts, of course, and then I also include other types of milestones that are important to me. The best way to demonstrate is to provide some real examples, so here are some of the milestones I’ve recorded for the Little Miss:
You can see there are a wide variety of milestones. Some are just notes, noting an important event, like when the Little Miss first said, “Mama.” Others include photos or videos. Milestones can be anything, you have to decide what’s important to you to capture.
3. Photos, videos and other media
On birthdays, I take photos of the kids and those go into Evernote. It makes for a nice evolution of their growth over time. Actually, I usually include 2 version of the same photo.
The first is just the plain photo that I take. The second is a photo of the Little Man or Little Miss standing by a section of wall near the living room. I use Skitch to markup the photo showing how tall they are in that photo. This is a nice way of capturing their height and growth over time, without marking up the wall.
I’ll also occasionally capture videos in the note. When the Little Miss first began crawling, I got it on video and that was included with the note mentioning the milestone.
One thing that I capture, perhaps a little too obsessively, is all of the kids schoolwork and artwork. Each day, when this comes home, I scan the paper into Evernote. I don’t tag it as a milestone, unless it has some significance, but I do tag it with their name. If I had separate notebooks for the kids, these would probably get filed in those notebooks. Artwork gets tagged “artwork” and schoolwork gets tagged “schoolwork.” This makes for quite a collection of notes, but I think the kids will enjoy looking through it when they are older.
And yes, we do keep the originals. They get put into a plastic bin that goes into the attic. We might never look at the originals, but it is hard to toss out paper that your kids have sweated over, and into which they’ve put their creativity.
4. Automatic timelines
One thing I try hard to do is create the milestones, or scan the artwork and schoolwork on the same day that the event happens. By doing so, I build a natural timeline of events without any extra effort on my part, because Evernote captures the create date for each note2.
As you might have noted in the milestone image under tip #2 above, listing the notes in List view shows you all of the dates associated with the notes. Those dates can be sorted and you get a nice history of events in your child’s life. Here is a partial list of recent dates for the Little Man:
I’ve actually learned things from the timeline. For instance, the Little Man reported his very first loose tooth on August 7th. I told him that it would probably be wiggly for a few weeks before it came out. I told him that because it seemed to me that, when I was his age, it took forever for loose teeth to come free. But two later, the tooth was out! So much for my wisdom.
5. Flipping through the (virtual) pages
The thing about a baby book is that you can sit on the couch and flip through it and show friends and family. But when these things are crammed into Evernote, doesn’t it take some of the tangible nostalgia away? Maybe, but there are a couple of advantages you have.
Sharing the notebook with family
You can use Evernote’s sharing capability to share the Baby Book notebook with other family members or friends. Which means, of course, they don’t have to be sitting on your couch.
Presentation mode on the Mac
The Mac version of Evernote has a “Presentation” mode that allows you to move through notes in a notebook in much the same way you’d move through slides in a PowerPoint presentation. When you are in a notebook, you can press the Presentation Mode button:
and you will see the note in full screen mode, and can use the arrow keys to navigate the notes in the notebook just as you might navigate through slides in a PowerPoint presentation.
Taking this one step further, if you have an Apple TV device, you can display the presentation on your TV for all of your guests to see, and flip through the virtual pages of your baby book, almost as if they book was a real object. Here is what Presentation mode (showing the Little Man’s artwork) looks like when using AirPlay in combination with my Apple TV:
With a little forethought and planning, Evernote makes it very easy to capture virtual baby books and memory books. These can be fun to look through from time to time. They are also visceral reminders of just how quickly the kids grow up.
If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. 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: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Going Paperless Blog.