Category Archives: software

Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Tag Organization in Evernote (Part 2)

Last time, I talked about how and why I simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Today, I’ll discuss how I’ve simplified my tag organization. Both are still works in progress, but the tags more so than the notebooks.

To start, let me say that I’ve never been much of a tagger. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Evernote has a powerful search engine that usually allows me to find whatever I’m looking for in just a few seconds.
  2. With such a good search engine, adding tags is usually counterproductive for me, since it takes time to add them to a note, but I can find the note just as easily without them.
  3. Tags have a tendency to grow like weeds. I’d end up with a huge number, and when I look at them, I find that more than half my tags have less than 10 notes associated with them.
  4. With lots of tags, there is a tendency to forget how I’ve tagged something. In some places, it gets tagged “project” in others “projects.” This actually make searching by tags worse. If I search for everything tagged “projects” I don’t get the notes tagged “project” for instance.

That said, I do find value in tagging notes under certain circumstances. Regular readers will recall this diagram:

Evernote Search

I find tags very hand for describing the “who” part of a note. I assign family member names as tags to notes to denote who that note is related to. Tags can sometimes be helpful with the “what” as well, but in all cases, a solid taxonomy is important for preventing uncontrolled tag growth. I’ll talk about that in a moment. First, let me show you what my tags used to look like.

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No Going Paperless Post This Week

I am under the gun on a couple of projects at the day job that have tight deadlines. I am also under the gun for some writing-related projects. To give me a little breathing room, I’m going to take this week off from the Going Paperless post. Part 2 of my 2-part series, How I Simplified My Note Organization in Evernote will come on next Tuesday, July 29.

Sorry for the delay. In the meantime, if you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet, you can find it here. And, of course, there are more than 110 other Going Paperless posts that I’ve written.

Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Notebook Organization in Evernote (Part 1)

Over a year and a half ago, I wrote about how I organize my notes in Evernote. To this day, it is one of the most frequently-asked questions that I get about using Evernote and going paperless. It is also a very personal decision. The way we organize is often tailored to the way we work. In this respect, one size does not fit all.

That said, how I work evolves over time, and eventually, the way I organize my notes in Evernote needs to evolve to keep in sync with my working style. Recently, I’ve gone through the process of changing how I organize my notes in Evernote. I thought I’d share the process with you, covering why I reorganized my notes, and how I did it. Rather than try to pack this all into a single post, I’ve broken down into a couple of posts. This week’s post will discuss how I’ve simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Next week’s post will discuss my evolving use of tags in Evernote.

Why simplify?

I have nearly 8,500 notes in Evernote. These notes were spread over 45 notebooks. Two things made me want to simplify things.

First, I found over time that I used only a handful of the notebooks regularly. More than 80% of my notes were contained in just 8 notebooks.

Notebook Chart

That meant that less than 20% of my notes were spread over nearly 40 other notebooks. If I was spending most of my time in 8 notebooks, maybe I could simplify things and get rid of some of those other notebooks.

Second, my use of tagging had gradually increased, but it did so in the traditional manner, without any kind of clear structure or taxonomy forming a logical basis. I found that it was taking too much time to tag things and that there were an increasing number of duplicate tags which made searching more difficult. So I decided to tackle the tagging as well by putting in place a formal, but simple, taxonomy. I’ll discuss the tagging next week.

Now that I’ve explained why I decided to simplify my notebook structure, let me remind you of what my old structure looked like. I had 8 notebook stacks centered around areas of my life. Most of the notebooks were contained in those stacks. Here is what the old structure looked like:

Old Notebooks

Step 1: Create a new framework

I like the notion of organizing notebooks around the areas of my life and I wanted to retain that. But I also wanted to simplify the notebooks. The easiest way I could think of for doing this was to create a better abstraction of those areas.  That took a little bit of thinking on my part, but I tend to be pretty good at organizing information. In the old system, here are the areas of my life under which notebooks were organized:

  • Home: anything related to my home life.
  • Work: anything related to my day job
  • Freelance writing: anything related to freelance writing

In addition to those areas, I had a few “utility” categories that evolved into notebook stacks:

  • Diary: mostly, but not entirely, automatically generated notes, also known as “life logging.” Includes my “timeline” notebook.
  • Reference: clippings, skitch drawings, how-tos, etc.
  • Scrapbooks: kids’ artwork, my bibliography, more clippings
  • Shared: shared notebooks
  • Special Projects: miscellaneous projects, often self-improvement related.

There was definitely some overlapping here, but it also seemed to be a little less abstract than what I needed at the notebook stack level.  The first thing I did was come up with a new, slightly more abstract framework. I redefined the areas of my life as:

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Going Paperless: 3 Ways Evernote Helps Me Remember My Vacations

I have recently returned from our annual summer vacation up in Maine. It is always fun, and always relaxing, and except for a relatively minor touch of food poisoning1, this year was no exception.

One thing I noticed was that I was less active online for the week I was on vacation–even more so than I usually am when I’m on vacation. I attribute this to trying to live more in the moment and enjoy the time with my family. I wasn’t trying to capture every moment, as I often had in the past. That said, I still have a pretty good record of our vacation, despite dialing things back a notch, and for that, I have Evernote and some automation to thank. So today, I thought I’d share 3 ways that Evernote helped me remember my vacation, without too much of an effort on my own part.

1. Checking in with Foursquare

When we would arrive somewhere that I wanted to remember, I would take one simple action when we got there: checking in on Foursquare. I use Foursquare in the social sense. Instead, I use it to capture where I’ve been. I don’t use it for every place I go. I don’t check into grocery stores, for instance. But if I am traveling somewhere, I use it as a quick way of capturing the places I visited.

I have an IFTTT recipe that sends all of my Foursquare check-ins to Evernote. These notes in Evernote become the basis for the record of my vacation.

IFTTT Recipe: Capture check-ins on foursquare in Evernote connects foursquare to evernote

My IFTTT recipe tags these notes as “foursquare”, making them easy to find. With a simple search, I can find all of the check-ins for my vacation. For the trip to Maine, for instance, that search looks like this:

created:20140627 -created:20140707 tag:foursquare

This tells Evernote to look for notes between 6/27/2014 and 7/7/2014 tagged “foursquare.” It results in 15 notes for the places I checked-in while on vacation:

4sq Checkins

2. Add notes to my check-ins as part of my Daily Review

When I am on vacation, I still do a daily review of my notes each evening. One thing I do on vacation is add any additional notes about the trip to the check-in notes. If I learned some interesting fact that I want to record, or if the kids had a certain reaction to something that they saw, I’ll record it as part of the Foursquare check-in. This allows me to have it all in context of the place we visited. Here is one example from our visit to Acadia National Park:

Jordan Pond Note

Adding the notes in my daily review allows me to review the events of the day after they’ve happened, instead of what I used to do, pausing in the middle of the action to jot something down. I like this new way much better. It’s less intrusive on the family time.

There are some things we do, or places we go where I don’t check in on Flickr–for instance, visiting a friend or relative. In this case, if there are things I want to remember, I’ll just created a note during my daily review to record to those things.

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  1. It really wasn’t too bad. Not nearly as bad as the case of food poisoning I got camping 15 years ago or so.

Going Paperless Quick Tip: See Evernote Reminders in a Calendar with Sunrise

I have been using the Sunrise calendar app for a few years now, and recently, they introduced a new feature that greatly expands the applications with which Sunrise integrates. Previously, I’d used Sunrise to view my Google Calendars, as well as Facebook calendars, the latter mostly to see birthdays or events.

In it’s most recent release, Sunrise now allows you to integrate other applications, including Evernote, so that you can see all of your calendars and Evernote reminders in one place. I love being able to see my Evernote reminders on a calendar. Here is what it looks like on my iPhone:

Sunrise iPhone

In the above image, you can see that I have items from my Google Calendar (“Vacation in Maine”) as well as reminders from Evernote (“Changed filter in water”). There is a web-based desktop version that you can use on your laptop or desktop machine, and that version looks like this:

Sunrise Desktop
Click to enlarge

I used to use Sunrise exclusively on my iPhone, but since the latest version, I’ve replaced my desktop-based Google calendar with Sunrise because it is so convenient to have all of my calendar’s in one place.

Sunrise is easy to setup with other services. You simply add an account in the Add Account section, select the services that you want to add, and follow the instructions to integrate with those services. Folks who use tools like Asana (for to-do lists) or GitHub (for coding) will be pleased to see you can integrate calendars from those services as well.

Sunrise Add Account

The integration with Evernote has been particularly useful because I use Evernote reminders for more and more things, from keeping track of when freelance contracts expire, to reminding me when to change the water filter, or register the car. Now I can see these things all in one unified calendar, and that saves me time and frustration. And best of all, it lets me see the big picture all in one place.

And for those wondering, Sunrise is available for the desktop (via a browser), iPhone, iPad, and Android.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 10 Ways My Use of Evernote Has Evolved Over Time.

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Going Paperless: 10 Ways My Use of Evernote Has Evolved Over Time

I was looking through the list of my Going Paperless posts the other day and realized that I’ve now been writing this column for over two years. In that time the way I use Evernote to go paperless has evolved, and while some of the earlier posts I wrote are still useful, they don’t always reflect how I do things today. So I thought I’d use today’s column to describe some of the ways my use of Evernote to go paperless has evolved over the years.

In most of the cases below, I’ve either learned better ways to do things, or found more comfortable ways to do things. Comfort is important because I find that if I am not comfortable with a tool or a service, I tend to shy away from it. These are listed in no particular order, mostly just as they occurred to me as I reviewed the old posts.

1. I’ve switched from Evernote Premium to Evernote Business

I switched from Evernote Premium to Evernote Business a few months ago. I had 3 main reasons for doing this:

  1. All of the Evernote Ambassadors were switching, in order to be able to take advantage of the collaborative features in Evernote Business.
  2. On a couple of occasions, I found myself getting close to the monthly upload limits in Evernote, even as a premium user. Evernote Business doubled those limits from 1 GB/month to 2 GB/month.
  3. I find it to be more and more helpful in my freelance work.

2. My Process for going paperless in 5 minutes per day

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this column was on my process for going paperless in 10 minutes/day. More than two years later, that has dropped to about 5 minutes/day. Actually, even 5 minutes is a bit of an illusion. On any given day, I rarely have to scan anything in, which is what took most of the time two years ago. That said, I have added new steps, like my Daily Review, in which I look at all of the notes created that day, and make sure they are properly filed and addressed. That adds a little time.

These day, however, the vast majority of notes that get into my Evernote account get there automatically. Let me illustrate with two days worth of notes. A recent weekday, and a recent weekend.

A typical weekday in Evernote

Evernote Weekday

I have annotated the above screen capture of my notes from yesterday. I created 11 notes in Evernote yesterday. Of those 11 notes 8 went into Evernote automatically, without any action on my part. The notes with pink labels beside them are automated. The notes with blue labels beside them are manually entered by me.

The three notes that I manually entered included the recent issue of Scientific American (I have a digital subscription and keep all of the PDFs in Evernote), a screen capture that I annotated in Skitch, and a note for an idea for a going paperless column.

The rest of the notes were automatic, and came into Evernote via other services. Those notes categorized as “Blog”, “Travel”, “Exercise”, and “Receipt” all came into Evernote through some IFTTT recipe or other. The note marked as writing was sent to Evernote by a custom script I’ve written that sends me a summary each day of my writing.

A typical weekend in Evernote

Evernote Weekend

On the weekend day, of the 13 notes that got into Evernote, all but one was created automatically. The only manual note I created on Saturday was the book recommendation.

This illustrates just how much information I get into Evernote without requiring any action on my part. And it should help to explain why my process for going paperless is down to 5 minutes per day, despite adding in a daily review.


3. Lately, I’ve been using the Evernote Smart Moleskine Notebook

This is one of the “comfort” changes. I know a lot of people who use the Evernote Smart Moleskine notebook and I just got curious about it, so I picked one up without any real thought of how I–the paperless guy–might use it. Turns out, I kind of like it. More and more I’ve been feeling the need to disconnect a bit each day. I do this in part through daily walks, but sometimes, I need to be away from my computer and phone. I still need to write and I still get ideas, so I’ve started using the Smart Notebook as a way to disconnect and still write or jot down ideas. It’s nice because I can use the document camera to snap a picture of my pages and get them into Evernote once I am ready to reconnect. For instance, last night, as I was thinking about this post, I jotted down the list of topics I wanted to cover and then snapped a photo of the page in Evernote:

Evernote Smart Note

Also, while I prefer writing at the keyboard, there is something to be said for scratching out the words in a notebook. Especially when I know that it will be easy to capture those words in Evernote.

4. More frequent use of the Drafts app in iOS for getting notes into Evernote quickly

That said, I still find myself using the Drafts app for iOS to quickly get notes into Evernote throughout the day. These are typically not the kind of notes I’d whip out the Moleskine for. I have several automations set up in Drafts so that I can easily capture story ideas, article ideas, and append to notes for my work-in-progress. The Drafts app allows me to just jot the note and click a button. It does the filing, tagging, and date stamping for me. I can do it easily when I’m on my daily walks, and that tends to be when I use the app most frequently.

5. More use of the Document Camera feature for capturing documents away from the office

These days, if I am out and someone hands me a piece of paper, I use Evernote’s document camera to capture it, and then hand the paper back so that it can be reused, or recycled. I don’t need to carry it around only to toss it or recycle it myself. So, for example, on Sunday, when I took my son to his newest swim lesson class, a staff person gave me a handout while I sat in the bleachers watching the action. I pulled out my phone, opened up Evernote, snapped images of the handout with the Document Camera, and then returned the handout so that someone else could have it.

Document Camera

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Going Paperless Quick Tip: Clipping Email with the Evernote Web Clipper

I was recently asked if there was a way to automatically eliminate the header information you get in a note when you forward an email message to your Evernote account. The short answer is to use the Evernote Web Clipper. This solution really only works if you are using Gmail, which I do. That said, if you have Evernote installed on a Windows machine and use Outlook, you can use the Outlook plug-in for Evernote to get some of this functionality.

I imagine that many Evernote users are familiar with the Web Clipper for clipping pages from the web, marking them up, and saving them to Evernote. But if you use Gmail, and have a message window open, when you click on the Web Clipper you will have an option to clip the email message you are looking at. Here is what it looks like:

Email Clipping
Click to enlarge

Here is how it works: Select the message you want to clip in Gmail and then click the Evernote Web Clipper icon in the toolbar in your browser (I use Google Chrome). What you will see is something like the image above.

1. Choose the Email clipping option. When you clip a Gmail message with the Web Clipper, you will see 2 options: Email or Screenshot. Select the Email option. (This is usually the default option for email.)

2. Select the messages you want to clip. In Gmail, messages are threaded. The web clipper gives you the option to select which message(s) in the thread you want to clip. It also makes it easy to clip all of the messages at once.

3. Mark up the message. Use the standard markup tools to mark up the message: highlight, draw arrows, annotate with text, etc.

4. Tag and file the message. Choose the notebook in which to save the message, and add tags, if desired.

5. Save or share the message. Click the Save button to save the email message to Evernote. You can also click the Share button to share the message with others.

Clipping email messages using the Web Clipper doesn’t add any of the forwarding headers that forwarding a message often adds, which is nice. It also makes it easy to tag and file email messages. And being able to mark up the messages is a nice bonus.

Some email messages I receive get automatically sent to Evernote without me having to do anything. But I tend to use the Web Clipper to clip one-off email messages. For example:

  • Confirmations of charitable donations.
  • Travel confirmations or itineraries.
  • Email messages that I want to convert to reminders.

I find the Web Clipper incredible useful, fast, and easy in situations like these.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 3 Ways I Capture Where I’ve Been with Evernote.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

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Or use one of the share buttons below. Thanks for reading!

Going Paperless: 3 Ways I Capture Where I’ve Been with Evernote

Last October, I posted my framework for searching in Evernote. The framework illustrated the four most common questions I ask when I’m trying to find something in Evernote: who, what, when, where. If you haven’t seen the framework, here is the high-level illustration from that post:

Evernote Search

I’ve talked about how I use tags for the “who”, and the date fields in Evernote for the “when.” I’ve talked about how I title my notes, which helps me find the “what.” But I haven’t written much on the “where” part of the question, so I thought today, I’d provide 3 ways I capture where I’ve been using Evernote.

1. Automatically capture location with location services

Every note in Evernote has a “Location” field. If you have location services enabled on your device, the location where the note is created is captured automatically as part of the note. I have location services enabled on my iPhone, iPad, and my iMac at home. When I’m traveling and using my iPhone or iPad, notes that I create automatically get a location based on where I happen to be at the time. For instance, last summer, when I was in San Antonio for the World Science Fiction convention, I notes I created all automatically received a location:

Evernote Location

Location is actually captured as a set of latitude and longitude coordinates. Evernote will then look up those coordinates for a location and try to make the best possible match. On the back end, however, the data is stored as the actual coordinates. This is useful because you can use Evernote’s Almanac feature to see where your notes have been created on a map. When I looked at my Atlas this morning, here is how it looked:

Evernote Atlas

By clicking on any of those location, I can drill down into the set of notes that were captured in that location. So far, it looks as if about 1,100 notes have a location, out of a little more than 8,100 notes total.

The Evernote Atlas will also organize the notes by location in neat little blocks, like this:

Evernote Atlas Groups

You can also use the Search bar to search by location. It is even easier on a Mac, where you can type plain English searches like “Notes from Chicago” to find all of the notes created in Chicago:

Notes Location Search

Manually add a location to a note

Sometimes, you may create a note for which no location is captured, but for which you want to add a location manually. To add a location manually to Evernote you need the latitude and longitude coordinates of the location. It is actually pretty easy to get this information using Google Maps. Let me give an example. I work near the Pentagon City mall. Suppose I wanted to add a location to a note for the Pentagon City Mall. Here’s what I’d do.

  1. Go to Google Maps and search for Pentagon City Mall.
  2. Right click on the part of the map for which you want the coordinates.
  3. Click the What’s here? option on the popup menu.
  4. The coordinates will appear at the bottom of the information box for that location. Copy the coordinates.
  5. Open the note in Evernote, and go to the Location field.
  6. Paste the coordinates into the Location field.

Getting Coordinates

Now, when I look at the note, I see that Evernote’s translates the coordinates into a location:

Location Info Result

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Going Paperless: 10 Ways I Used Evernote to Plan and Track Our Kitchen Remodel

We know from the time we bought our house that we’d eventually want to remodel our kitchen. This spring, we finally got around to doing it. And as you might imagine, Evernote has played an integral role in planning and tracking our kitchen remodel. Our remodel is scheduled to wrap up at the end of this week, and so I thought I’d list out some of the ways we’ve used Evernote throughout the process.

One thing I did from the start was to create a Kitchen Remodel notebook into which everything related to the remodel would go. And like everything else in Evernote, that notebook would also serve as a timeline for the project.

1. Sketching out ideas

We weren’t going to do a major remodel. We know that from the start. We weren’t planning on stripping everything down to the studs and starting from scratch. But we did want to replace cabinets, countertops, and floors, and maybe squeeze in a few other things along the way. Early on I sketched out some of those changes, which was one of the first notes I captured in Evernote.

Kitchen Plan

I also took photos of the existing kitchen and used Skitch to annotate them with some other ideas. This proved useful when meeting with potential contractors because it was easy to show them what we wanted.

Kitchen Changes

2. Clipping possible contractors

Kelly signed up for Angie’s List and began searching for contractors. We also had some recommendations from friends. She would identify interesting possibilities and I would clip those into Evernote directly from the Angie’s List website. As we discussed things, I would add notes to the clippings to indicate what we’d talked about.

We narrowed things down to two possibilities and had each contractor come out to give us quotes.

Still, I kept all of the clippings from Angie’s List because it made for a complete record. We could see all of the contractors that looked interesting, and the ones that made the cut to the next round.

3. Capturing quotes

When the contractors came out, they each gave us quotes. Usually, they emailed these quotes and I simply forwarded these emails to my Evernote account, and filed them away in the Kitchen Remodel folder.

4. Scanning contracts

Once we selected the contractor we wanted to use, and signed the contracts, that got scanned into Evernote as well. I made sure to keep all revisions to the contract over time in Evernote so that I could easily refer to any of them whenever I needed to.

5. Reminders for time-sensitive items

Occasionally, there were some time-sensitive things that we needed to remember. For instance, we were given dates on which we needed to make certain decisions (paint color for the walls, hardware for the cabinets, etc.).

I made a simple text note for each of these so that they showed up as reminders. Of course, Evernote also sent me reminders about these events so that I would not forget. I also used this to remind me when each payment was due to the contractor during each phase of the process. Those reminder notes included the amount of the payment so that I didn’t have to look it up elsewhere later.

Kitchen Reminder


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No Going Paperless Post This Week

I decided to give myself the week off from writing a Going Paperless post. I was motivated in part by the long weekend, and in part by the nearly non-stop work I’ve been doing outside that long weekend. The posts will resume their regular schedule, next Tuesday (June 3). There are folks that tell me that they look forward to these posts every week, and I know that feeling, but I hope you’ll cut me a little slack. I usually only skip two or three weeks a year all told.

And if you really need your fill, there are more than 100 Going Paperless posts that you can review or re-read in the meantime.

Automatically Send a Summary of FitBit Activity to Evernote with IFTTT

Yesterday, IFTTT introduced the FitBit Channel. This is something I’ve been waiting for! Now it is easy to trigger IFTTT events based on FitBit activity. As an example, I created a recipe that will automatically send a daily summary of the previous day’s FitBit activity to Evernote.

IFTTT Recipe: Send a daily summary of #FitBit activity to #Evernote connects fitbit to evernote

There’s a ton of other things possible with this IFTTT integration. You could send your data to a Google Spreadsheet, send an email when you get less than a certain amount of sleep, send a text message when you meet a daily goal. Check out the possibilities over at IFTTT.