Category Archives: software

More Updates to the Google Docs Writing Tracker

I recently pushed a new branch called “project-tracking” out to the Google Docs Writing Tracker on GitHub. This branch includes code for project-tracking that I wrote about a week ago. The changes have been working fine for me over the last 10 days or so. The one thing I haven’t done yet is update the template spreadsheet. The new code requires 2 new tabs in the spreadsheet, along with some additional settings. I’ll get to that eventually.

Meanwhile, I have been trying to figure out a way to simplify what happens each night the scripts do their processing. Right now, the scripts perform a comparison between the current working document, and a previous snapshot of the document in another folder. That snapshot mechanism takes up a lot of code, and is relatively inefficient. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about an alternative, and today, I tested that alternative out with positive results.

Every Google Document keeps a revision history of the changes to that document. Here is the revision history for a story that I worked on back in February:

Revision history

It turns out, that using the advanced Google Drive API, I can access the revisions through the API. Today I performed a test, which essentially compared the current document to the last revision of the previous day. That is essentially what the snapshot method that the script current uses does. But it does without needing to maintain two files. I can get all of the information I need from the previous revision. Ultimately, that simplifies the code for the scripts. It also simplifies setup.

There is a tradeoff, however.

You can only access the advanced Google Drive API via OAUTH2 authentication. That means configuring the scripts to be able to handle that authentication. It turned out to be a pretty straight-forward one-time setup for me, but I do this kind of thing for a living. For someone who isn’t technical, it may be a little tricker.

It will likely be a while before this major architectural change is available. There are several reasons for this:

  1. My priority each day is on getting my writing in. I do this scripting only if the writing is done, and I have time.
  2. If I were doing this just for me, it would be easy. The code I wrote today checks for the last revision from “yesterday” and compares that to the current document. Simple, right? But not everyone who uses these scripts writes every day. What happens if you skip some days. Then there is no revision from “yesterday” so the script has to know to look for the previous revision regardless of date. There are a few other uses cases that need to be considered as well.
  3. Once I have the code written, I like to test it for a few weeks before pushing it out, just so that I can work out any kinks.

That said, once this feature is in place, I think it will make for an enormous improvement. Since everything, including the revisions, is contained in the one document, there will no longer be a need to manage a snapshot folder at all, and all of that code can go away.

It also opens up the possibilities for analytics on the evolution of a document over time, which would be pretty cool, too.

Working on a new feature for the Google Docs Writing Tracker: Projects!

I have started work on a new feature for my Google Docs Writing Tracker: Project Tracking. My goal with this feature is to close the loop of manual tasks that I tend to perform around my writing process. These are are two-fold:

  1. Tracking the progress on writing projects
  2. Tracking the “ROI” on my writing projects

Right now, I’m focusing on just the first of the two. As a freelance writer, I am sometimes given a deadline for a project, and I sometimes have to set my own deadline. Either way, I spend some of my time informally tracking my progress. If I could automate that tracking, I could eliminate some manual work that I do, which frees up time to do more writing.

Yesterday, I created a new branch on the Google Docs Writing Tracker1 to focus on project tracking. I wanted to keep things fairly simple, because project tracking can quickly get out of hand, and become overly complex. There are currently 3 components to my project tracking system for the Google Docs Writing Tracker

1. Project documents

Some projects I work on involve just a few documents: one for the first draft, one for the second draft, and one for the final draft. They are still all part of the same project, and if I want to be able to track the progress across all three documents, I need a way of tying them together.

To keep things simple, I am currently using the Description field of a Google Docs document to embed project information. I have a simple JSON format that I am manually entering into any project-related document. Right now, it looks like this:

Google Docs Writing Tracker Project Info

The information in the project description field is simply a JSON string that identifies two values: the first is the project title the second is the draft. In this instance, I am treating the individual draft as an entire project itself, but the point is that any documents that share this tag will be associated with the project.

2. Project progress

I have added a “Progress” tab to my Writing Data spreadsheet. This tab contains records of the day-by-day progress on a project. I modified the Google Docs Writing Tracker code to check to see if a document is part of a project. If it is, its word count still counts as part of the overall for the day, but it is also logged individually on the Project progress tab, along with the project name, and how much time I spent working on the document.

Google Docs Writing Tracker project progress

This allows me to capture project progress at the daily transactional level, which will make it easy to build automated charts that show the overall progress and time-spent working on the project. The time comes from RescueTime data for documents that match the document name of the project in question.

3. Projects

Of course, I also need a way of capturing and defining what a project is. So I have added a “Projects” tab to the Writing Data spreadsheet that allows me to define projects and provides some simple, but useful tracking tools. You can see the four upcoming projects for my novel drafts entered on the project tab below.

Google Docs Writing Tracker Projects

The green items are the only items that need to be entered manually, and usually at the time the project is first created. Everything in yellow is captured automatically. Here is what is in this table:

  • Project #: a unique number identifying the project.
  • Project Name: the name of the project.
  • Start Date: the date on which the project will begin.
  • Deadline: the deadline assigned to the project.
  • Est. Words: the estimated word count of the project.
  • Est. Completion: an estimated completion date based on the current progress, the current date, the deadline, and you 30-day rolling word count average. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Status: the status of the project. Pending means it has not yet started. Active means it is active and in progress. Completed means that it is finished. Overdue means that it is not finished but past deadline. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Daily Goal: the average daily word count you need to hit in order to finish this project by the deadline. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Current Words: the current total word count of the project across all project documents. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Writing Progress: the current percentage of the way through the overall word count for the project. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Timeline Progress: the current percentage of the way through the project timeline. This is calculated and updated automatically.
  • Days off Schedule: this is a fairly sophisticated calculation that gives number of days off-schedule based on all of the available information. Ideally the number will be 0 or positive. 0 means your are on schedule to deliver on your deadline date. 1.5 would mean you are scheduled to deliver 1.5 days ahead of schedule. A negative number indicates behind schedule. So a -2 would indicated you are scheduled to deliver the project 2 days behind schedule. As with the other yellow cells, this is calculated and updated automatically.

Automation is key

Because I don’t want to spend time tracking this stuff manually, automation is key. So far, the only manual tasks I have to take are at the very beginning of the project:

  1. Adding the project JSON code to project documents.
  2. Adding a record for the project and filling in the green items on the Project tab

That’s it. Once that is done, the project is tracked automatically, just like everything else in the Google Docs Writing Tracker. I can spend my time writing, and then glance at the Project tab to get a quick status check on my progress. Eventually, I’ll add some visual project trackers as well to my open.jamierubin.net site so that anyone can follow my progress on a given project.

Part 2: ROI tracking

I have not yet implemented part two of the project tracking, the part that closes the loop on the overall project. I’m still testing this stuff I’ve outlined above. Part 2 is really about tracking the return on investment in my writing. That is, I invest time (mostly) and when I sell something I get paid. Tying those payments back to a specific project can generate a useful metrics on the business side of writing, the part well all hate to deal with. Eventually, I should be able to see how much I am paid for the labor that goes into various projects.

Payment is not why I write–at least not right now since I am not making a living from my writing. But if I ever got to the point where I could make a living from my writing, then data like this could be useful in looking for ways to work more efficiently. Of course, I am looking for ways to automate this as well, so that all I am ever doing, when it comes to my avocation, is writing. The numbers just help to steer the ship.


 

I don’t yet know when I’ll have this branch checked into GitHub as it is still fresh and needs some testing on my end before I am comfortable putting it out there for others. Also, it requires an update to the underlying spreadsheet, and it is always a hassle to make a new version. But when I do get the new branch committed, I’ll let you know.

  1. I haven’t yet pushed the branch so don’t bother looking for it yet. I’ll you know when it is out there.

Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

I keep my eye out for apps that can help save me time and be more productive. So when Evernote recently released their new app, Scannable, I was eager to try it out. Not only was it designed to do one thing really well–namely, scan documents–but it filled a niche that I found I needed more and more in my efforts to go paperless.

For those who aren’t familiar with the app, Scannable uses the camera in your iPhone or iPad1 to scan documents into Evernote (or other apps). It makes it incredibly easy to do this. You simply start the app, hold the device over the document so that the entire document appears, and wait a few seconds while Scannable detects the edges, and snaps a photo. You don’t have to click button. Scannable does it all. It cleans up the image, makes sure the edges are straight, and then gives you the opportunity to send the document to Evernote or other applications.

How it works

First, you start the app. Then you hold your device over the document you want to scan, and wait a second or two. When the document is highlighted in blue, it means Scannable has detected it and automatically grabs the image. Note how the document below is highlighted and detected even on the edge of my table.

Scannable scanning

Once detected, you can continue to scan more documents, or deal with the ones you’ve already scanned.

Scannable action

When I finish my scanning, I send the document or documents to Evernote. Doing this, I am prompted for which notebook I want the documents to be filed in:

Scannable file

A few seconds later, my scanned document is available in Evernote.

Continue reading Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

  1. Sorry folks, right now the app is just iOS.

Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

Over the years, I have become a big-proponent of two aspects of software: (1) That it is entirely web-based; (2) that it is as distraction-free as possible.

The first item has been an interesting transition. I used to like the secure feeling I got using a piece of software I installed on my laptop. But now, the fact that I actually have to install something on my laptop in order to use it seems quaint. I have, for instance, been using Google Docs almost exclusively for all of my writing over the past 2 years, and I love that I don’t have to install anything. I love that the experience is the same regardless of what computer I am using. I love the that updates are automatic since the application runs in the cloud.

More recently, I have been looking for software that does a good job of getting out of my way. Eliminating distractions is a key part of this. Outside of email, the two applications I use most are Google Docs and Evernote. Google Docs has an excellent distraction-free mode. And recently, Evernote introduced a revamped web application that is distraction-free. I like it so much that I’ve almost given up the thick client for the web application.

Distraction-free Evernote

Here is what distraction-free Evernote looks like when I use it on the web:

Distraction-Free Evernote

I can just start typing my note, or drag a file onto the note if I want to attach something. Despite the clean, distraction-free screen, there is a still a lot of core functionality available when creating or editing a note.

Evernote Web Features

As I type, Evernote is saving what I type so that nothing is lost. You can see this at the bottom-right of the browser window. I green checkmark indicates that the document is saved. While typing, a circle rotates around the checkmark indicating that what you are typing is being saved.

And while there isn’t much else on the screen other than the note, there are still a rich set of features available. I can easily tag my notes, or refile them to another notebook. I can set reminders, or share the note, all from the simple screen.

Formatting the note

The distraction-free mode makes it easy to format the text of the note. If you hover over the small toolbar to the right of the note text, it expands into several icons that allows you to do some basic formatting like add lists, indent text, add a checkbox or a table, or even an attachment.

Evernote Format 1

Even better in my opinion, is the Medium-like feature that Evernote has introduced for formatting text fonts, and styles. You simply highlight the text that you want to format, and a popup format bar appears that lets you apply the formatting you want:

Evernote Format 2

Distraction-free searching

In addition to providing an elegant, distraction-free interface for capturing notes, the new Evernote for the web provides an equally elegant distraction-free interface for searching. Clicking on the search icon presents a simple search screen:

Continue reading Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

Going Paperless: Managing Social Media Profiles with Evernote and TextExpander

Once a year, I’ve gotten into the habit of reviewing and updating my social media profiles. You know, what I say about yourself on Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, and what I send to publications when they request biographies.

JTR Twitter

I generally only do this once a year, and I use 3 tools to manage the process:

  1. Evernote, where I store my profiles from year-to-year.
  2. TextExpander, in which I keep my updates profiles for easy insertion into email messages and other documents.
  3. The Press Kit page on my blog, where I made the profiles available to anyone who requires them.

The annual review of my social media profiles

I know that there are people out there who change their social media profiles frequently, but I strive for consistency of message. I also like to keep my profiles professional for the most part. So I review them once a year and decide what updates, if any, need to be made.

My profiles are easy to maintain because I use only 4 variants:

1. 140 character Twitter-specific profile

This profile is what I use for Twitter, and for any social media platforms based on Twitter which limit the profile to roughly 140 characters or so.

2. 140 character profile

This is a variant of #1 above, and allows me to have a very short profile available for outlets who request it.

3. 50 word profile

This is a profile I use when I have a little more space. I used this profile frequently when I wrote guest posts and a bio is requested to accompany the post.

4. 100 word profile

This is a profile I use for places that request a little bit more information, or want a little more background.

By maintaining just these profiles, I assure that the message I send out into the world about myself is consistent across the board.

I review these profiles at the end of each year, and I do it at the end because it provides a convenient marker for looking back at any new or significant accomplishments within the year that I might want to include in the profile.

I have written before about how I use Evernote to track my achievements. This comes in handy in updating my profiles each year.

Updating my profiles in Evernote

I update my profiles in Evernote, and rather than overwrite the old note containing the profile, I create a new note with the new profile, one for each of the four listed above. This allows me to see the overall history of changes I’ve made to my profiles over time.

I create one note for each profile, work out the kinks there, and use Evernote’s built-in character and word counts to make sure I’m sticking close to the lengths of each profile.

Profile Note

Once I am satisfied with the updates I’ve made to my profile, I copy the updates and paste them into the appropriate social media platforms.

Updating my snippets in TextExpander

One big time-saver I’ve found is to have my profiles and bios available as snippets in TextExpander. This allows two things:

  1. I can access them quickly, to reply to an email, or insert them in a web page, without having to hunt them down.
  2. I maintain consistency by not having to reinvent them each time I am asked for a profile or bio.

I use simple abbreviations for my snippets so that I don’t have to stretch my memory to recall them. Here is what the snippet for my 140 character (Twitter) bio looks like:

TextExpander bios

Updating my Press Kit page on the blog

The last step in the review process is updating my Press Kit page. I maintain this page as a place where media outlets and others can go to for accurate bios and author photos when needed for a publication or interview.

The Press Kit contains the most up-to-date profiles and bios that I have. Granted, I often only update my bios once a year, but as I try to keep them simple, the changes tend to be small and subtle


Having the information centralized and managed from Evernote is convenient because it makes it easy to search, and to see changes over time. Having the snippets in TextExpander probably save me more time than I imagine throughout the course of the year, especially as I am asked for these things with increasing frequency. Having them on the Press Kit page makes for a convenient self-service model.

Most importantly, for me, is the fact that the profiles vary in length, but not in message. They are consistent with one another, and that helps to ensure that I am sending out a consistent message for all of my profiles.


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: How I Use Evernote to Remind Me of Everything.

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Going Paperless: How I Use Evernote to Remind Me of Everything

Several months ago, I ended the regularly scheduled series of Going Paperless posts, with the emphasis on “regularly.” I felt that I was beginning to stretch the ideas I was writing about. I decided that I would only write new Going Paperless posts when I had a good idea. And so today I’m back with a post on how I use Evernote to remind me of everything.

I make use of a very simple to-do list manager that consists entirely of plain text files. It works well for me, but it has one significant drawback: there is no easy way to do reminders in my system. Fortunately, I don’t need that feature as part of my to-do list system because it is built into Evernote, and I use the reminder features there extensively.

Reminders in context

One of the great features of Evernote is that it allows reminders in context. I have written about this feature before, but it is worth re-emphasizing it here. Let’s say I get a document in the mail on which some future action needs to be taken–car registration, for example. Without Evernote, I might toss a copy of the document in a pile on my desk, with a Post-It note reminding me when it was due. I might also stick a note about it on my calendar. But the calendar note would be separate from the document itself and if I saw the note on the calendar, I’d still have to go hunt for the document somewhere.

With Evernote, I follow 3 simple steps:

  1. Scan the document
  2. Organize it appropriately (put it in a notebook, and tag it, if necessary)
  3. Set a reminder on the note to remind me that I need to take some action on it.

In the case of the car registration, I set the reminder to 10 days before the due date. When I look at my list of reminders in Evernote (on my home screen), I see it there waiting for me to take action.

Evernote Reminder

Clicking on the reminder take me to the document itself. Having the reminder linked to the actual document is a powerful feature. It does two important things:

  1. It saves me from having to remember to do the thing. Evernote will send me a reminder when it is due.
  2. It saves me from having to search for the document when I am reminded, because the reminder is attached to the document. This makes it much easier for me to act on the reminder as soon as it happens.

A substitute for Post-It notes

Over time, my Evernote reminder system has become a substitute for Post-It notes. I use it for all kinds of things. And all of those things have some sort of context attached to them so that it is easy to take an action. For example, have a reminder to test and change smoke detector batteries when Daylight Saving time begins. The note itself is pretty simple:

Smoke Detector Reminder

The “Instructions” link is simple an Evernote note-link to another note, containing the instruction manual for the smoke detector. Clicking on the link takes me to that note, so that I don’t have to go hunting for it.

Smoke Detector

I might have simplified things by attaching the reminder to the smoke detector instruction note directly, but in this case, I prefer to have a “history” of the times I changed the batteries, and so the individual notes give me that history: one note for each change/reminder. They get filed in my Timeline notebook so that they don’t clutter other things.

For those interesting in more information about using note links, I’ve written in detail about using Evernote note links elsewhere.

Continue reading Going Paperless: How I Use Evernote to Remind Me of Everything

Coming Next Week: A Brand New Going Paperless Post!

Back in October, I announced that my regularly scheduled Going Paperless posts were coming to an end. The emphasis was on regularly scheduled and the reason was mainly because I felt like I was beginning to reach too much for ideas for the posts I decided that instead, I’d only write one when a good idea struck me.

I have a good idea for one now, and you can expect to read it next week, on Tuesday, December 16, if you are so inclined. (While you are reading the post, I will be wandering about Disney World with my family.)

Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up. You may now resume your regularly scheduled week.

Going Paperless: Using Evernote at Home and with Family

This is part 4 of my set of categorization posts which collects my Going Paperless articles into various categories to make them easier to find in the context of a given topic. And today’s topic is using Evernote to go paperless at home and with the family. As before, there may be some overlap with other categories, as some articles don’t fit neatly into just one box. They are listed beginning with the most recent articles.

Going Paperless: 14 Productivity Articles for Evernote

In part 3 of my set of categorization posts, I collect 14 Going Paperless articles I’ve written that relate directly to productivity. As with the other index posts, this one lists the articles beginning with the most recent. There may be some overlap as some of the articles fall into more than one category.

Next, I’ll have an index of posts for using Evernote around the house and family.

Going Paperless: All About Searching in Evernote

This is my second in a series of posts indexing my Going Paperless articles into categories so that it is easier for folks to find an article on a specific subject. Searching is a big part of Evernote, and knowing the ins-and-outs of searching can make Evernote a more powerful tool for Going Paperless. Here are the articles I’ve written on searching in Evernote. As with the previous post, these articles are listed most-recent first, but that doesn’t mean the older articles don’t contain useful information.

Happy searching!

Going Paperless: Paperless Organization in Evernote

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how my regularly scheduled Going Paperless posts were coming to an end, but that I’d continue to write posts off-schedule, as I had time and found something worth posting. I thought I’d start with a series of “index” posts that collect some of the articles I’ve written into categories. And since I am asked about organization more often than just about any other topic, I’ll start with the posts I’ve written related to organizing notes in Evernote. What follows is a list of Going Paperless articles I’ve written on organization. I list them most recent first, as the more recent posts are more up-to-date. But that doesn’t mean the older posts aren’t useful. In case here they are:

Next time, I’ll have a index of Going Paperless posts related to searching in Evernote.

10 of My Favorite Going Paperless Posts

Since I’ve given up the regular schedule of posting my Going Paperless posts1 I thought it might be interesting to go through the 120+ posts I’d written and choose my 10 personal favorites. These are the posts that I had the most fun writing and that I also think are among the better posts I’ve written, both in terms of quality and subject matter. Your mileage may vary. Here they are, from most recent to least-recent:

  1. Quick Tip: How I Do a Daily Review in Evernote (February 5, 2014)
  2. A Primer for Going Paperless in 2014 (November 26, 2013)
  3. A Framework for Searching in Evernote (October 29, 2013)
  4. My Paperless Cloud (July 9, 2013)
  5. Digitizing Old Letters (June 11, 2013)
  6. How I Title My Notes in Evernote (March 5, 2013)
  7. A Day In the Life of a Paperless Writer (September 18, 2012)
  8. Automating the Creation of Meeting Minutes Using IFTTT and Evernote(September 11, 2012)
  9. Creating a Digital Version of Your House Using Evernote, Penultimate, and Skitch (June 26, 2012)
  10. Tips On How I Use Evernote to Remember Everything (May 8, 2012)

Do you have any favorites? Let me know in the comments.

  1. But not the posts themselves. They’ll still come from time-to-time.