Category Archives: going paperless

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.

Continue reading

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.

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:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | RedditBlog | RSS

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

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] jamietoddrubin.com. 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.

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:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | RedditBlog | RSS

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

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

Continue reading