Category Archives: Evernote

Going Paperless: 5 Tips for Creating Digital Baby Books in Evernote

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:

Little Man Hit 1

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:

Little Miss Milestones

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.

Little Man artwork

 

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Notes

  1. My list of books that I’ve read only goes back to 1996. I never thought to record them before that.

Going Paperless: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Going Paperless Blog

A few weeks ago, I asked if there were any topics that folks would like me to cover as part of the Going Paperless series. I ask this a couple of times a year, and almost always get good suggestions. One of the suggestions that came in this time around was a post on how I manage the Going Paperless blog. That one intrigued me, so today, I thought I’d take up that topic today.

1. Keeping track of ideas

It will surprise no one that I keep track of  ideas for my Going Paperless posts in Evernote. Typically, I’ll create a note that is nothing more than a title and then give it a tag of “blog-topic.” Sometimes, I’ll add additional details to the note about specifics I want to cover, but for the most part, the notes are just a title, with the topic. Here, for example, is the note I created for this post.

Evernote Blog Idea

Each week, I filter through the list of ideas and pick the one I am most interested in writing about that week. On occasion, I’ll come up with a last-minute idea and write about that instead, but generally, I work from the pool of existing ideas.

2. Outlining the posts

I try to write my posts on Sunday, but I’d say I’m successful about only 50% of the time. If I don’t write the post on Sunday, then I tend to write it Monday night (25% of the time) and if I don’t write it Monday day, I write it first thing Tuesday morning (25% of the time). As it happens, I am writing this post first thing Tuesday morning because by the time I finished everything else yesterday, I was too exhausted to write any more.

Over the years, I’ve developed the habit of doing a rough outline of my Going Paperless posts. I generally don’t outline blog posts, but I find that for clarity, the posts come out better when I outline them. I do this directly in WordPress, using the level 2 headings as the “topics” of my outline. These topics find their way into the post as the major “sections” of the post. The outline and the structure of the final post don’t always look identical, but they are usually pretty close. Here is what the outline looked like for this post when I started this morning. You can see for yourself the slight differences between what I outlined and what made it into the final post.

Post Outline

Outlining the post helps me identify gaps or leaps that I might make that could make the post confusing. The sections that evolve from the outline also serve another useful purpose when it comes to promoting the post, which I’ll get to in #9 below.

I sometimes get asked how I go about organizing the posts that I write. Rather than the tools that I used, I think what I’m being asked is how do I come up with (conceive) the actual logical organization. To this I can’t provide a good answer, I’m afraid. I’ve always had a knack for being able to “see” the organization in my head. Isaac Asimov once likened this to the way a musician can see the patterns in the music or a chess player can see the patterns in the game. I see the patterns in the organization, and it falls into place. Not always perfectly. Usually, I make some adjustments. But the general structure is there, it is not difficult for me, and, alas, I can’t describe what it is that happens inside my head to make it so.

3. Grabbing screen captures

My Going Paperless posts generally almost always contain screen captures to help illustrate the process I am describing. I use Skitch for all of my screen captures. It is by far my favorite tool for capturing screen shots, and annotating them, and I use it on my iMac (where I am writing this post), my MacBook Air, my Windows laptop, and my iPhone and iPad.

Skitch makes it easy to capture screenshots with simple keyboard shortcuts. There are some additional features that I use frequently within Skitch that I really like. Two of these are:

  1. Timed screen captures. Ever want to grab a screenshot of a pulldown menu, but when you do, the menu disappears. Skitch eliminates that problem thanks to its timed-screen capture feature. This works much the same way as a timed photograph. You select the part of the screen you want to capture. A timer starts and you can arrange the screen (including menus) however you like. When the timer reaches zero, it captures the screen as it looks at that moment. I wrote an earlier post on this awesome feature.
  2. Image blurring. Especially for something like the Going Paperless blog, where I am using my own Evernote repository to demonstrate the ways in which I go paperless, being able to occasionally blur out parts of the image (like addresses or account numbers) is useful. Skitch comes with a built-in “pixelater” tool that allows you to blur out text and other parts of the image.

Using Skitch to capture screen shots is also very fast. And since Skitch syncs with Evernote, I can capture screenshots on my iMac at home, and still have access to them if I am working on my Macbook later on in the day. No extra steps involved.

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Going Paperless: Confessions of a Paperless Writer

School has started up, and with the Little Man now in kindergarten, the volume of paper we received has increased, out of all proportion, to what I’d grown used to. His school is very good about making a lot of stuff available online. But there is a good more stuff that comes to us in paper, which means that I am back to scanning every day, in order to keep the backlog down to a reasonable level.

But, confession time: the backlog is well beyond a reasonable level.

Being known as the paperless guy means that any time I am seen within the proximity of a piece of paper, I am looked on with suspicion, and even comic derision: “Oh look,” my coworkers say, “it’s the paperless guy, coming back from the printer. Hey, what’s that you’ve got in your hand, paperless guy?” There’s no way to hide the paper so I hang my head in mock shame.

In truth, I am far from perfect when it comes to being paperless, and I thought I’d share a few of the ways that I struggle in order to demonstrate that, like anything else, this is a habit and it has its ebbs and flows. Or put another way: don’t stress about the paper you do use.

Confession #1: My paperless Inbox is overflowing.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a post on how I manage to stay at Inbox Zero with my email. The same is not true when it comes to my Evernote Inbox notebook.

I use my Inbox notebook much the same way you’d use an inbox on your desk. Everything not automatically filed goes into the inbox by default. This includes stuff that I scan, emails that I send to Evernote, notes I jot down on the fly. These notes may not add up to much on any given day, but over time, if the inbox is ignored, they build up quickly. Case in point: as of this morning, there are more than 1,000 unfiled notes in my inbox:

Paperless Inbox

Several times a week, I look guiltily at my inbox and think, I really need to do something about that. I do this much the same way I might look at the junk in the attic. But the junk stays in the attic, and the inbox stays unchanged.

Of course, the difference between my attic and my inbox is that, despite the volume of notes in the inbox, they are still easy to search using Evernote. Imagine if it was as easy to search your attic?

Confession #2: I sometime forget what I’ve scanned and overscan.

Although I have a process in place for scanning paper each day, I must confess that I don’t always follow it. Life intervenes, time is short, the kids need me for something, and I get distracted. While I usually get the paper scanned it, I don’t always shred the paper immediately afterward. Sometimes it sits on my desk for days, and later, when I tackle the pile, I can’t remember what I’ve scanned and what I haven’t.

This is laziness on my part. It would be easy to do a quick search in Evernote to find out if I’ve already scanned the thing sitting the pile… but I don’t. For the purpose of speeding things along, I assume that I haven’t scanned it, and scan everything in again. This leads to extra stuff in the inbox, but it also leads to embarrassing searches, where I find, on occasion, that I’ve scanned the same document three times.

When I find these extra scans, I’ll delete them, but it’s not like I’m out there hunting for them on a regular basis. I have enough trouble just keeping my inbox below 1,000 notes.

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Going Paperless: 6 Steps for Life Continuity Planning in Evernote

At the day job, we’ve been going through various business continuity exercises over the last year or so. These are exercises in which we imagine some catastrophic disaster from which we then have to continue doing business-as-usual. Or, as close to as-usual as we can manage.

The corollary outside the business world, of course, is estate planning, something which we don’t like to dwell on, but which is necessary for the continued comfort of our loved ones after we’ve gone to the big ball park in the sky1. Of course, it’s one thing to have the various estate plans setup, and another thing to for them to be readily accessible when they are needed.

Earlier this year I went through the process of setting up what I call a “Life Continuity” plan in Evernote and making sure that my family could easily access it in the event of my untimely demise. Roughly speaking, these are the 6 steps I went through to make sure that my life continuity plan was useful and practical.

1. Tag all critical documents with “911”

When some bad happens, things get frantic quickly. I don’t want people needlessly hunting for documents and information that should be readily accessible. So the first thing that I did was go through all of the documents that I thought would be critical: powers of attorney, wills, life insurance, etc., and tagged them with “911.”

In the U.S. “911” is the number you dial when there’s an emergency. It’s short, it’s simple, and no one who is looking through my relatively short list of tags, could mistake its meaning.

I was careful not to overdo it. I really just wanted to make sure that the most critical documents were accessible so that there was no added frustration at a time when emotions run hot. There was probably a total of 10 or 12 documents that got tagged this way.

2. Create a checklist note of the most important things to do

Back when I was private pilot, I learned about the importance of checklists. The real value of a checklist comes, not from its routine use, but when an emergency arises. You don’t want to have to hunt around for information. It needs to be right in front of you.

I tried to imagine the kind of information my family would need access to quickly, and I created a note in Evernote that outlined this information. People to contact, both friends and family, but also professionals: lawyers, accountants, etc. I tried to put the list in some order of priority so that whoever was using it wouldn’t need to think to much. Everything would be right there, including the names, phone numbers and email addresses.

Of course, I also tagged this note “911.”

3. Use note links to easily access related notes

Where it made sense, I added note links on my checklist that link to the documents to which they refer. Sure, these documents are also accessible by searching for the “911” tag, but on the checklist the items are in order, and rather than having to go hunting, or even taking an extra step to search, all you have to do is click on a link to access the note.

4. Create a “911” saved search

With the various documents tagged, it made sense to cut out one step of the process by creating a “911” saved-search. This simply searches for all documents tagged “911” no matter where they are located.

911 Search

One of the nice side-effects of naming the saved search 911 is that, in my case, at least, it’s the very first search in the list.

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Notes

  1. I’m not talking about Coors Field, gang.

Do You Have an Idea for a Future Going Paperless Post?

Every now and then, I like to ask folks for ideas or topics that they would like to see me cover in my Going Paperless posts. This is one of those times. If you have an idea or a topic that you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments. Don’t worry if it is something I might already have covered, but if it is, let me know if there is some aspect that requires clarification or more detail.

I’ll add the ideas I get to my list of future post topics.

Going Paperless: Add Reminders to Scanned Documents for Quick Action Items

One of the side-effects of being several years into going paperless is that on any given day, there isn’t much to scan. A corollary to this is that on the days that I do scan things, chances are good that I’m scanning something that I need to take an action on.

Before the good ol’ paperless days, papers that required some action on my part would go into a bin on my desk, which, if I remembered, I’d occasionally look through. Those days are long gone, and my paperless process for handling these documents is a big improvement. I thought I’d share it with folks today in case anyone else finds it useful. Here is what I do:

1. Scan the document

I still use my trust Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i, which hasn’t failed me yet. Indeed, as of this writing, I’ve scanned 3,467 pages with the scanner. I still use a process similar to what I started with a few years back, although instead of taking me 10 minutes each evening, it might take 2 or 3 minutes every second or third evening.

2. Set a reminder on the scanned document

Once the document has been scanned, if there is some action I have to take, I set a reminder on the document. For instance, we recently got our personal property tax statements from the state of Virginia, and those bills come due in October. I scanned in the documents, and then, as soon as they were scanned in, I set a reminder for 1 week prior to the date the bill is due.

Reminder 1

3. File the document as usual

Once the reminder has been added, I tag and file the document as usual. With that done, I can pretty much forget about it because Evernote will remember it for me. And if I need to know at any given time, what reminders are lingering out there, I can easily take a look from inside Evernote. Evernote organizes these reminders by notebook, so here are the reminder currently active in my Filing Cabinet notebook:

Reminder List


Adding the reminders immediate after I scan in the document does 3 things that I find really helpful:

1. It takes the burden off me for remembering that I have something to do. Evernote will remind me, via email and via the alerts on my mobile device.

2. With the document scanned, it ensures I don’t misplace it (and then forget about it).

3. It reminds me in the context of the document itself. I like this better than adding an item to my to-do list that says, “Pay property tax.” That to-do list item would require me to go somewhere and find the document. By having the reminder as part of the document, I don’t waste any time. It’s right there when it comes time to take my action.

I’ve been using this more and more with things that I scan in, to the point where I’d guess that these day, half of what I scan gets a reminder. Of course, I’m not scanning a whole lot anymore. There is a sense of relief, once the document is scanned and the reminder is set. This is the epitome of what I think David Allen was getting at in his GTD book, when he talked about getting things out of your head. (It’s also about as close as I’ve managed to get to the GTD process, but that’s a story for another time…)


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 and Why I’ve Automated Backups of My Evernote Data.

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Going Paperless: How and Why I’ve Automated Backups of My Evernote Data

Short post today as I am in L.A. for work and insanely busy. I’m actually writing this post from the bar in my hotel and it is last night, after a roughly 15 hour day of work. So please forgive any brevity.

Once a month, export all of my Evernote data to an ENEX file, which sits on an external disk. That file, in turn, gets backup by my cloud backup service, CrashPlan. It may seem kind of silly to back up notes that are already stored in the cloud, but I have what I think is one really good reasons for backing up my data.

Why I backup my Evernote data

Backing up data–even data in the cloud that is generally readily accessible–acts as a kind of insurance policy. I am planning ahead for the unexpected. Being prepared for the unexpected is something that I picked up back in my flying days, when all kinds of little problems might crop up, and being able to decide whether or not they were serious was important.

In truth, what I am preparing for is my inevitable screw up. I know that at some point in time, I am bound to so something unintentionally destructive. Perhaps, after working hard many days, with little sleep, I accidentally drag an important notebook to the trash, and then purge the trash before I realized what happened. Once that happens, and Evernote syncs with the server, the notes are unrecoverable.

That might seem extreme, and perhaps it is. But I’ve worked with technology (and been a professional in the IT field) long enough to know that I am eventually bound to screw up. Having a backup of my notes provides some measure of protection against those screw-up, and that is the main reason that I back up my Evernote data.

How I backup my Evernote data

I work primarily on a Mac, and so I wrote an AppleScript to take advantage of Evernote’s AppleScript interface to automate the process of backing up my Evernote data.

You can find my AppleScript on GitHub.

Evernote Backup

The script is pretty simple. It selects all notes after January 1, 1990, and exports them to an ENEX file on a specified path. I chose that date because it will backup any notes after that date. If you’ve created notes and dated them prior to 1990, you’ll want to change line 10 of the script to reflect the appropriate date.

You’ll also want to update line 5 with the path on your machine that you want the export file to reside. In my code, I’ve export mine to an external drive that is backed up by my cloud backup service.

When I run the script, it selects all of the notes that meet the criteria and then exports them. I have more than 8,000 notes so this takes a little while. I set the timeout to 30 minutes, which is usually plenty of time for me. When the export is complete, the script then compresses the export file so that it is a little smaller when it is backed up to my cloud backup service.

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Going Paperless: How I Use Playbooks with Evernote

My recent simplification of my notebooks and tags in Evernote provided me with a good opportunity to start using playbooks with Evernote, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, playbooks are a set of notes that document a repeatable process. My general philosophy is that if I have to do something more than once, I try to automate it. Sometimes that isn’t possible, either due to technical limitations or time constraints. In those cases, I create a playbook that lists out the steps of the process so that it is easily repeatable for anyone tasked with doing it. Playbooks have several advantages for me:

  • They make it easy to recreate my steps for something, especially if it is something that I don’t do very often.
  • They make it easier to delegate tasks because I can simply shared the playbook with whoever needs it.
  • They provide a roadmap of possible future automation.

Format of my playbooks

I’ve just recently started creating playbooks in Evernote, and I’m trying to keep things simple with respect to their format. My number one rule is that they should be as clear as possible. To that end, I use a simple, clear title prefaced by the words PLAYBOOk to make it clear what it is. Here are some examples titles of playbooks I’ve created:

  • PLAYBOOK: Making a commit to GitHub
  • PLAYBOOK: Scheduling a Going Paperless post
  • PLAYBOOK: Transferring meeting reservations from one person to another

As far as the content goes, I keep that simple, too. There are 2 sections to each playbook:

  1. Use case(s): a list of the conditions under which the playbook would be useful.
  2. Steps to follow.

I try to make the steps as clear as possible, writing them with the thought that someone other than me will be trying to follow them. Where appropriate, I’ll include images, screen captures, etc. Here’s one for transferring meeting reservations:

Playbook

Organizing my playbooks

I don’t have a whole lot of playbooks in Evernote…yet. But I could imagine this growing pretty quickly. Since I’ve just gone through a simplification of all of my notebooks and tags, I’ve been very cautious about how I organize my playbooks.

One possibility would be to create a notebook for them. But really, that isn’t necessary. In my new notebook organization, I can simply file them in the appropriate existing notebook. I might add a new tag called “playbook” but so far I haven’t. There isn’t a need. I can find them easily enough. The reason is that my note title follows a very specific pattern:

PLAYBOOK: Process to repeat

A simple search like this:

intitle:PLAYBOOK

finds all of my playbooks no matter what notebook they are in, and no matter how they are tagged. Because of that, I have no need to add new notebooks or tags to accommodate my playbooks. Instead, I just created a saved search called “Playbooks” that uses the search criteria above.

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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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Notes

  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.