Category Archives: going paperless

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

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

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

Reminders in context

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

With Evernote, I follow 3 simple steps:

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

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

Evernote Reminder

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

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

A substitute for Post-It notes

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

Smoke Detector Reminder

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

Smoke Detector

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

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

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

Coming Next Week: A Brand New Going Paperless Post!

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

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

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

Going Paperless: Using Evernote at Home and with Family

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

Going Paperless: 14 Productivity Articles for Evernote

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

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

Going Paperless: All About Searching in Evernote

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

Happy searching!

Going Paperless: Paperless Organization in Evernote

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

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

10 of My Favorite Going Paperless Posts

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

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

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

Notes

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

Going Paperless: The End of Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast

All good things must come to an end. And after 2-1/2 years and more than 120 posts, this regular column has come to the end of its regular run. I stress the word “regular” because I’m sure that I will still write Going Paperless posts. They just won’t be on a regular schedule anymore, and will likely be much less frequent than they have been.

There are a few reasons I’m bringing the regularly scheduled program to an end now:

1. It’s becoming harder to come up with interesting topics each week. Doing this weekly means I’m coming up with about 50 new topics a year. It gets tough, coming up with interesting new topics each week. I try hard to only write about things that I actually do with Evernote and with Going Paperless. While there are plenty of other topics I could write about, my lack of experience with them would be somewhat disingenuous.

2. Readership has been steadily declining. Peak readership for these Tuesday posts used to come in at around 6,000 – 7,000 visits per day. This has been on a steady decline since the beginning of 2014. These days, a Going Paperless post probably sees 4,000 – 5,000 visits per day on a good day. I think part of the reason for the decline is #1 above. I’m stretching it in the topics that I cover. But part of it is natural attrition and interest moving away. It tells me it is time to move on to other topics.

3. I want to dedicate my limited time to other writing. While the Going Paperless posts have been waning, my freelancing writing has been picking up, and I want to be able to spend more time doing that, without the stress of coming up with a new topic each week. Lately, I’ve been struggling to keep to my schedule of posts every Tuesday. I’ve had a few more skipped weeks than usual, and more delayed posts as well. This is a sign that I’ve got too many irons in the fire at the moment.

So where does that leave things?

1. I will continue to blog here regularly. The blog isn’t coming to an end, just the regular Tuesday Going Paperless posts. If you like the other stuff I write here, stick around.

2. I will write new Going Paperless posts from time-to-time. I have no set schedule for this, but when I feel like I have a useful tip to share, I will share it here.

3. The Going Paperless posts are not going away. They will remain here for folks to read through and use, as will the shared notebook in Evernote.

Finally, a thank you

I wanted to  say thank you to everyone who has read these Going Paperless posts, everyone who has left a comment, provided feedback, made suggestions, and offered opinions. You have made this column what it is: a place where people can come to see how one person is trying to go paperless, and a place where the tips and tricks can be shared and discussed in a friendly atmosphere. I am grateful to all of my readers here, and while the regular Going Paperless posts are coming to an end, I hope that you’ll consider sticking around for some of the other posts I write here, and offering the same insights that you have over the last 2-1/2 years.


As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 5 Tips for Creating Digital Baby Books in Evernote.

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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

 

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

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.

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

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.

Continue reading Going Paperless: Confessions of a Paperless Writer

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 Going Paperless: 6 Steps for Life Continuity Planning in Evernote

Notes

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