Category Archives: going paperless

Going Paperless is Now on Reddit

For you redditors out there, as of today, there is now a Going Paperless subreddit which contains links to nearly all of my Going Paperless posts to date.  If you prefer that platform, or use it frequently, feel free to join the discussion there. You don’t have to, of course. Things will continue as normal here. I’m fairly new to Reddit and still finding my way around, but I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it and I’ll be monitoring the goingpaperless subreddit there, responding to comments, answering questions, and of course, adding links to new Going Paperless posts. In Reddit terminology, the subreddit is:

/r/goingpaperless

And as a reminder, this week you can ask me anything about Going Paperless. I’ve gotten quite a few good questions so far, and I’m happy to answer more if you have them. Head over to this post to ask your question, or see what questions have already been asked and answered.

Going Paperless: Ask Me Anything About Paperless, Evernote or Automation

I noticed earlier in the week that it has been 8 months since I last had an open Going Paperless post in which folks could ask me questions about paperless, Evernote, or automation. I’ve been getting more and more questions via email, and so I figured now was as good a time as any to invite people to ask me anything about going paperless, using Evernote, or paperless automation. I will do my best to answer all of the questions as best as I can.

I am happy to answer questions that I’ve already answered before (I’m kind of used to that) but, you might consider checking some of these links to see if I have answered the questions already. You can still ask, I just thought I’d try to save folks some time for the more frequently asked questions:

My processes evolve so some of the answers I gave in the above links may be different today.

In any case, if you’ve ever wanted to ask me a question about going paperless, using Evernote, or automating processes (which is easier when you are paperless), ask away in the comments and I will do my best to answer throughout the week.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. 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:  3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier.

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Going Paperless: 3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier

Prior to going paperless, I often found myself jotting notes down on various pieces of paper in order to keep track of things. If I paid a bill, I’d scribble the check number with which the bill was paid right on the statement so it was readily available if I needed it, for example.

These days, I still annotate my notes in various ways, but because I can use the richer set of features available in Evernote, these annotates are much more useful than they ever were in their paper form. Here are three examples of how I annotate my notes in Evernote to make life a little easier.

1. Add note links in context to quickly jump to related notes

On rare occasions, I’ll still receive a bill for something in paper. For instance, our city recently changed where it gets its water. When the change took place, I got a new “first” bill from Fairfax county. This was paper, of course, since I hadn’t yet set up auto-pay. I scanned the bill into Evernote, and then paid the bill online. After paying the bill, I clipped the receipt into Evernote using the web clipper.

What I did next was to annotate the original bill note to indicate when it was paid, and to provide a link back to the note containing the receipt.

Here is what the bill statement looks like:

Fairfax Water

You can see that just above the PDF file, I’ve made a note about when and how I paid the bill. The hyperlink is an Evernote “note link.” If I click on that link, it will take me directly to the note containing the receipt for my payment. For completeness, I also link the receipt to the note for which the payment was made. So the receipt note looks like this:

Fairfax Water Receipt

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Going Paperless Quick Tip: Edit Scanned PDFs Directly in Evernote

I spent much of my weekend scanning nearly 1,300 pages worth of documents in the filing cabinet. The only reason I did it is because we’re getting rid of the filing cabinet to make way for some new furniture.

I scanned all of the pages using my Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i, and in all of those pages, I didn’t have a single jam or problem.

That said, some types of scans are more difficult for scanners to figure out than others. Occasionally, one page will scan in upside down, while the next page is right-side up. Then, too, if the pages are thin, even one sided pages get 2 pages in the scan because the text from one side will bleed through to the other. I used to rescan all of these documents, which was a pain. But since Evernote made it possible to edit your PDFs directly inline (in the Mac version for now), I can take care of this easily from right within the note. I figured I’d describe how I’d do it so that you can see how you can do it for yourself.

Here’s a letter I scanned from my grandpa:

Inline Edit 1

 

Note that the first page was scanned upside down, and the second page is actually the text of the first page that bled through (thin typing paper) and was interpreted by the scanner as the back of the first page.

To correct this, I clicked on the edit button on the attachment bar for the PDF:

Inline Edit 2

When you click on this, a new window opens up with all kinds of options for annotating your PDF. You can add arrows and text. You can highlight. What isn’t as obvious is the pulldown menu that allows you to rotate and delete pages. Since I wanted to rotate that first page so that it was right-side-up, I clicked on that menu, like this:

Inline Edit 3

Of course, you can press Command-R to rotate a page clockwise. I did this twice in order to get the page right-side-up:

Inline Edit 4

Next, since the “second” page was really just the first page bleeding through the thin typing paper, I could delete that page and shrink down the size of my PDF. I did this by selecting the page in question, and then clicking the menu and selecting the delete option:

Inline Edit 5

I repeated this as necessary for the pages in the letter, and the result, when I finished, was a two-page letter with both pages oriented correctly.

Inline Edit 6

This has become a standard practice for me. In addition to updating the meta-data of the note (tags, title, note date, etc.) when I scan it in, I also make sure the pages are properly oriented and unneeded pages are deleted. I’d say 1 in 50 scans I do require this type of edit to the PDF. The Scansnap s1300i is very good at scanning. But at least now, I have a way of editing the scanned document right from within Evernote without having to re-scan. Any anything that saves me time and gives me better PDFs is a win in my book.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. 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: Prototype: Automatically Send Kindle Notes and Highlights to Evernote.

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On Finally Cleaning Out the Filing Cabinet

Way back when I decided to go paperless, I made the decision not to go and scan everything in the filing cabinet. The reason was primarily because I never had to look for anything in the filing cabinet. It would have been a waste of time to scan in paper that I would never use. So instead I focused on new paper coming into my life. That was more than two years ago.

We have a number of projects going on around the house. We are almost done transforming our old office into a living room. We ordered some nice furniture for the room, which will be delivered on Tuesday, and in prepping the room for the furniture, we decided to move the filing cabinet out of the room. The opportunity presented itself, at last, to see if there was anything worth scanning. Turns out there, was, although I probably scanned more than I needed to. The filing cabinet is a double-wide, two-drawer cabinet, and it was full yesterday morning. It is empty now. Here is the stack of paper that I pulled and decided to scan:

Paper Stack

Before I got started, I was curious to see how much paper I’d scanned since getting my Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i (well over a year ago). Turns out, the scanner tracks this. Before I got started with my scanning yesterday, here’s what the numbers looked like:

Pages Scanned Start

In something like 1-1/2 years, I’d scanned about 1,700 pages, which tells you how little paper I actually get. It took me yesterday and this morning to scan in that stack of paper, but it is done now, and here is the result:

Pages Scanned Finished

That’s over 1,300 pages scanned, all through my trust Fujitsu s1330i, and all without a single problem. No snags, nothing caught in the scanner, nothing misscanned as far as I can tell.

Of course, this is only part of the job. I now have to go through these scans in Evernote and tag them, date them, title them, etc., but I can do that while watching TV with the family over the course of several evenings.

Bottom line is that is was much easier to scan in the paper from my filing cabinet than I thought it would be. It made me love my Fujitsu scanner that much more.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

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

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

Going Paperless: Prototype: Automatically Send Kindle Notes and Highlights to Evernote

I promised this year that once a month, I’d post a more advanced “going paperless” automation post. Since this is my 100th Going Paperless post, I have a special one planned for today. It is more than just an automation post, it is a kind of call to action for those interested in extending what I have done here. I have tried to explain the process below methodically, and I apologize in advance for places where things get unclear. What follows is for advanced users, although I hope that with help, we can make it a solution that just about anyone can use.


If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve often despaired that there is no good way to automatically send Kindle notes and highlights to Evernote. This seems like a huge gap just waiting to be filled. Michael Hyatt has good instruction for one method for getting Kindle notes into Evernote, but it requires manual effort, and what I am looking for is something that is automated, that just works as part of the normal routine without taking any special steps. In fact, what I want is something like this:

I read a book on my Kindle device, and make highlights along the way. Like this:

Kindle Highlight

When I plug my Kindle into my computer to charge it, some process automatically updates Evernote with the notes and highlights I’ve taken since the last update. I get one note for each book, and the note looks something like this:

On Writing

Well, actually, I’ve created some automation that does exactly that. The above screenshots were captured from that automation, and I will share how it works below. I did it because I didn’t want to wait any longer. But I did not have time to build a robust, end-to-end solution that will work smoothly and easily for everyone. In other words, I hacked together a solution, and I present here as a prototype of what is possible, with the hope that others will take what I’ve done, and vastly improve upon it.

What I have done, is:

  • Written a Python script that can parse the My Clippings.txt file on a Kindle device.
  • Add or append notes in Evernote via email from the results of the parsed My Clippings.txt file.
  • Automate this through the use of a Keyboard Maestro macro on the Mac.

Before I get into the details, let me talk about the limitations:

Limitations of the prototype

  • The prototype does not use the Evernote API. Instead, it uses Evernote’s email functionality to email notes to your Evernote account, either creating new notes, or appending to existing notes.
  • One note is created per title on the Kindle, if said title has notes and highlight.
  • The solution only works with Kindle devices. It does not work with Kindle Apps, like the iPad or iPhone app.
  • It only works for notes taken on a Kindle device. If you take notes on, say, the Kindle App on your iPad, and then sync across devices, the My Clippings.txt file on the Kindle device is not updated with those notes. They are stored separately in the cloud.
  • For automating the process, it requires a tool that allows you to detect when a USB device has been connected to your computer, and take an action when that happens. I use Keyboard Maestro for this on the Mac, but I don’t know what tool to use for this on Windows.

Once again, this is a prototype, a proof-of-concept that the automation can work. Having demonstrated that it can work, I’m hoping others can improve upon it.

What you need to get started

  1. A Kindle device.
  2. The kindle-to-evernote source code. I’ve made this code available on GitHub. Note once again that it is a prototype. It works pretty well for me but there are still bugs that need to be worked out. These bugs can be tracked as part of the GitHub repository.
  3. If you are on a Mac or Linux system, you already have Python installed. If you are on a Windows machine, you will need to install Python.
  4. I use several Python packages that weren’t among the default packages installed on Windows. These include the Six-1.5.2 package and the python-dateutils-2.2 package. These appear to be installed by default on Mac systems. (And I presume Linux as well.)
  5. For automation on the Mac, I use Keyboard Maestro. This software allows me to trigger a macro when a USB device is connected to my Mac. The macro then runs the kindle2en python script. I don’t know what the equivalent software would be on Windows or Linux, but am certainly open to suggestions. This piece is only needed if you want the process to be fully automated.
  6. A Gmail account for sending messages to Evernote.
  7. An Evernote account.

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This Week’s Going Paperless Post Delayed Until Wednesday

I have what I think is a really good “advanced” Going Paperless automation post for this week, which marks my 100th post in the series. It has taken me a little longer to write than I expected, and still needs some work. I want to get it right, however, and rather than rush it, I’m going to push it to Wednesday instead of the usual Tuesday. This will allow me to clean it up, clarify some things, and put it into shape without feeling rushed, and hopefully, with fewer mistakes.

It really is a good, practical post, as well as a kind of call-to-action. So stay tuned. And my apologies for slipping things by a day this week.

Going Paperless Quick Tip: Append to Existing Notes in Evernote via Email

A few weeks back, I wrote about how I use the Drafts app to quickly add common notes to Evernote, including appending items to existing notes. The Drafts app is a Mac-only app, and my solution, therefore, was really a Mac-only solution. The truth is that the bulk of my computing ecosystem is Macintosh, and I write about what I have experience with. Still, I felt a little bad about not having a equivalent solution for Windows or Android users.

So today, I’m going to provide a tip for quickly appending items to existing notes in Evernote via email, something that works from any platform or device from which you can send email.

Append vs. Add New

Most people familiar with Evernote know that you can email notes to your Evernote account simply by sending them to the special email address that Evernote provides you with. (You can find this address in your Account Info settings.)

People are also probably aware that you can file and tag notes in email as well. By using the @ in the subject line, you can tell Evernote in which notebook to file a note. Using the # symbol allows you to tag the note. So, for instance, if I wanted to create a new note in my Ideas notebook and tag it “story idea” I would give my message the following subject line:

Subject: New story idea @Ideas #story idea

And this would get filed and tagged appropriately.

This is great for creating new notes, but what if you want to append to an existing note. That is, instead of creating a new note, what if you want to add some additional information to an existing note?

Evernote provides a way for you to do this via email as well, although it isn’t as clearly documented as filing or tagging.

Appending via email

Suppose I already have a note in Evernote, like this one:

Append Note 1

You can see the note title is “Notes for Going Paperless post” and you can see that I’ve got one line of text in the note.

To append to this note by email, I do the following:

  1. Create a new email message addressed to my Evernote email account.
  2. In the Subject line, include the title of the note that I want to append to, followed by a space and a plus sign.
  3. Include the text I want to append in the body of the email message.
  4. Send the message.

Here is what my email message looks like:

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Going Paperless: Achievement Unlocked! Using Evernote to Track Achievements

It occurred to me early this week that I am fast coming up on my 100th Going Paperless post. If my counting is correct, this is my 98th post, which means that #100 should arrive on about March 18. Thinking about this milestone got me thinking about achievements in general, and that in turn got me thinking that maybe I should write a post about how I track my achievements and accomplishments in Evernote. And not just how, but why.

Why I track my achievements

I originally started tracking my achievements in Evernote because I found that it helped me in my performance review process at my day job. Things can get so busy that by the time the annual performance review rolls around, what I’d done in the previous year is a blur. So I started capturing quick notes whenever I did something I thought would make a notable bullet point on my performance review.

This evolved into all kinds of achievements, both professional and personal. Over the years I’ve collected this information for three reasons:

  1. A complete picture. Having my achievements called out succinctly help paint a complete picture on my timeline. Remember that everything that goes into Evernote has a date associated with it. That goes for my achievement notes, and when I am reviewing things, or looking at the notes from a historical perspective, it is nice to see the achievements there.
  2. Automation. As I will explain, my performance review process is fairly standardized. By capturing my achievements throughout the year, I can automate a good portion of it, without having to strain my brain to remember everything I did.
  3. To feel good about what I’ve done. Everyone has stressful days, or days when things don’t go so well. It is nice to be reminded of the good things you have done, and capturing achievements helps with that.

What is an achievement?

Everyone defines an achievement differently and that is okay. Use your own definition for what you flag as an achievement. For me, I focus on what I consider to be “big deal” things in my personal/freelancing life, and I focus on major milestones in my day job.  So far example, while I wouldn’t consider solving a thorny coding problem an achievement, I would consider rolling out a project as an achievement, even if it was a small project.

For my freelance work, I wouldn’t consider an invitation to an anthology an achievement, but I would consider selling a story to that anthology an achievement.

Go with what makes the most sense to you.

How I capture achievements

Here are the steps that I use to capture an achievement:

1. Create a new note for the achievement. Each achievement gets its own note. I don’t want to miss an achievement because more than one is buried somewhere in another note. I think an achievement as a discrete thing.

2. Title the note as succinctly as possible. Some examples of achievement note titles I’ve used:

  • “Big Al Shepard” published in IGMS
  • Successfully rolled CAFM 1.5 into production
  • Featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series

Note that I do not include the date in the title of the note. That is because the note itself has a date, and if the create date of the note is different from the date of the achievement, I simply alter the create date of the note.

3. Tag the note “achievements”.

I use the “achievements” tag to easily find all of my achievements.

4. File the note in its appropriate notebook. If it is a work note, it goes in my work notebook. If it is a personal achievement, it might go in a freelancing notebook, or it might simply go in my Timeline notebook.

That’s it. I try to keep it as simple as possible. I only add additional information if I think it will be useful in the future. For instance, for an achievement like

Completed Watir script updates for WDR

I might add some additional information to the note, something like,

Jenkins was reporting 168 errors before the update, and was reporting 51 errors after the update.

That is the kind of specific detail that might be useful on a performance review. But otherwise, I keep the notes simple, and the vast majority of them have no body text at all, just a title and a tag, like this:

Achievement Note

I would add that as much as possible, I try to capture these achievement in real-time, as they happen, so that I don’t forget about them.

Achievements Unlocked!

I need a way of finding my achievements. I can use Evernote’s search functionality to do this by tag very easily by searching for the tag:

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Going Paperless Quick Tip: Using Mail Filters to Automatically Send Email Receipts and Other Messages to Evernote

There are certain types of email messages that I like to keep in Evernote because I find it useful to have them there. Receipts from places like Amazon or Audible, or instance, or travel itineraries are a few examples. I get weekly email reports on my FitBit activity, my cloud backup status, or my productivity as measured by RescueTime. All of this is useful information to have as part of my timeline in Evernote. But it would be a pain to have to take the extra step to add this to Evernote myself. Fortunately, there is a way to automate this process using mail filters.

Now, you could simply sign up for these services using your Evernote email address, but I don’t like that idea. I don’t want other services having that address. So I sign up for all of these services using my normal email address, but then create mail filters that forward messages of certain types to Evernote via my Evernote email address. Here is how it works.

Ingredients

  • An Evernote email address. If you have an Evernote account, you have an Evernote email address. If you don’t know what your address is, you can look it up in your account settings.
  • An email system that can filter messages. I use Gmail, but you could use Outlook or Apple mail, or whatever application suits you.

Here is an example of how I send my Audible receipts to Evernote.

Example: Sending Audible receipts to Evernote

I listen to a lot of audio books. Each time I order books from Audible.com, I get a receipt emailed to me. I like those receipts to be stored in Evernote and so I’ve created a Gmail filter to forward those messages to my Evernote email address.

1. Create a new Filter in Gmail.

2. Specify the conditions of your filter. For my Audible receipts, my conditions look like this:

Evernote Email Filter

3. Specify the action for your filter. For my Audible receipts, my action looks like this:

Evernote Email Action

  • I check “forward it to”
  • I select an email address to which I want to forward it. In this case, I’ve selected my Evernote email address (which is blurred out in the image).

In Gmail, you need to validate the email address you are going to forward it to by adding a forwarding address. So if you haven’t already done this with your Evernote email address, you will need to click on this option first before the Evernote email address is available for you to forward to.

If you are using some other email system, like Outlook or Apple Mail, there are similar filtering functions that you can use to forward messages to another email address.

The result is that my receipts still appear in my Gmail inbox, but they are also forwarded to a note in Evernote. Here is what the resulting note looks like:

Audible Receipt

I use other filters to send other receipts or other types of email to Evernote. I collect travel itineraries, shopping receipts, backup reports, activity reports and lots of other standardized notification email messages in Evernote in this manners. This allows me to get the receipts or message into Evernote without having to take any action on my part beyond setting up the filter.

Processing the notes

Forwarding the messages put them into my default notebook, which is my Inbox notebook. I refile or tag these notes as part of my Daily Review every evening. This helps ensure that I actually see the note, but it also gives me the opportunity to put the note where it belongs and keep my inbox clean.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. 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: Using the Drafts App to Quickly Add Common Notes to Evernote.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

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

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Blog | RSS

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

Going Paperless: Using the Drafts App to Quickly Add Common Notes to Evernote

Regular readers of these posts know that I am very big on automating stuff that is repeatable. Adding notes to Evernote is one of those repeatable things, and I am always looking for ways to speed up and improve the process. Lately, I have been using the Drafts app more and more to get common “ad hoc” notes into Evernote very quickly. Over time, I’ve realized that there are 3 kinds of notes where Drafts has become indispensable for me:

  1. Ad hoc notes that I need to capture quickly. These include things like jotting down telephone numbers or addresses, or other very short bits of information.
  2. Story notes for my work in progress. These include ideas I might get while on my daily walks, when I’m thinking about the story in the background. If I can’t capture these notes quickly, I won’t capture them at all.
  3. Ad hoc lists, like grocery lists, or things I need to pick up from the story.

For the first item, ad hoc notes, I need a way to capture individual notes very quickly. I don’t need to see all of the other notes that I have in Evernote, so I don’t need to be in the Evernote app on my iPhone. I just need to capture the note and make sure it gets into Evernote.

For the last two items, things are a little different. I want to capture my story ideas or my grocery list items, but I don’t want these to create a new note each time; rather, I want them to append to an existing note.

Fortunately, the Drafts App allows you to create custom actions that do just that. Before I get into the details on how I setup these custom actions, I want to address the question:

Why not use the Evernote App for this?

The Evernote app is a great way to have access to all of your notes, saved searches, and shortcut right on your mobile device. I use the Evernote app extensively when I’m away from my computer. But I use it mostly for looking up information.

Pretend for a moment we are living in the pre-mobile device days of, say, the mid-1980s. If you were walking down the street and remembered that you needed to buy milk at the grocery story, or you needed to jot down the phone number of the person you just met with, you would’t need to bring out your entire filing cabinet to capture those bits of information. More than likely, you’d pull out small notebook from your pocket, or even a scrap of paper on which to scribble the information.

The Drafts App serves that role, but in an even better capacity. The idea behind the Drafts app is that it is a “portal” app: a place for you to quickly capture information and send it somewhere else. This is very useful when you don’t need to see your other notes. Drafts allows you to capture a note, and then send it to Evernote (or other applications) and you can create custom actions that allow you to predefine how the note gets created and filed in Evernote.

How I use the Drafts app for adding notes to Evernote

Drafts comes with tons of actions that allow you to integrate with many other Apps. One of those apps is Evernote. Using the Evernote integration, I’ve created 3 different custom actions that sent my notes to Evernote for each of the common types of quick notes that I make on the fly. For instance, if I am adding items to my grocery list, I have an “Add to Grocery List” action that appends the items in the note to my Grocery List note:

Grocery List Example

There are three quick steps:

  1. Type the note
  2. Click the Share button
  3. Select where you want to share it

That’s it! The pre-defined actions can contain things like what notebook to file the note in, how to tag the note, whether to appending it to an existing note, or create a new one.

Below I show how I’ve setup actions for each of the three types of notes I capture in Evernote with the Drafts app.

Capturing Ad Hoc notes

To capture quick notes on the fly (phone numbers, meeting places, email addresses, etc.) I have an action called “Quick Note to Evernote. I set it up as follows:

1. First, I selected the settings option in Drafts, which takes me to the settings screen. On that screen, I scrolled down to the “Custom Actions” section and tapped the “Evernote Actions” option as illustrated below.

Drafts - Custom Actions

2. On the Evernote Actions screen, I clicked the (+) to add a new action. You can also see the list of actions I have already created and these can be edited from this screen as well.

Drafts - Evernote Actions

3. For ad hoc notes, I created a new action labeled “Quick Note to Evernote” and configured it as illustrated here:

Drafts - Quick Note

The title of the note is the [[title]] which is the first line of text in my note. I leave the notebook and tags blank so that the note shows up in my Inbox notebook (my default notebook). There’s no need to tag it now. If I need to tag it, I’ll do it as part of my Daily Review. But a lot of these type of notes are ephemeral and I’ll end up deleting them during my daily review so tagging isn’t necessary.

The [[draft]] is the full text of the note that I typed. I could also use [[body]] which would be everything but the first line, since I’ve already captured the first line in the [[title]].

The Write action is “create” meaning this will create a new note in Evernote each time I use the action.

The result is that when I need to capture a quick, ad hoc note, all I have to do is open Drafts, type my note, and click Quick Note to Evernote. That’s it! No waiting for applications to start. No tapping on buttons for new notes. No need to tag or file. It is all done as part of the action.

Capturing grocery list items in Evernote

For my grocery list, I created a new action labeled “Add to Grocery List” and configured it as illustrated here:

Continue reading

Going Paperless: Automating Repetitive Stuff about Meetings

I promised that beginning this year, one of these posts each month would be a more advanced, in-depth post on how to use Evernote for automation. I mean to keep that promise, and thus, this post. Much of what you will find in this post in not terribly technical, but it does require some knowledge of programming to implement it the way that I have. Be warned.

“Meetings are places where minutes are taken and hours are lost.”

I can’t remember the source of that quote, but I remember hearing it while listening to the radio on the commute home from work more than a decade ago, when I lived in Los Angeles. I’ve loved the quote ever since. I find myself in a lot of meetings, and one things I’ve learned about meetings is that they tend to be fair consistent in the overall process. What I mean by this is, in my experience, that a meeting usually amounts to:

  1. Putting something on my calendar.
  2. Attending the meeting
  3. Taking notes
  4. Transferring any action items to my to-do list

Within that framework, I had already automated quite a bit. Folks who have been following along for some time know that if I have to do something more than once, I try to automate it.

The two biggest targets of automation when it comes to meeting that I attend are items 3 and 4. I’ve had item #3 automated for some time now. Indeed, I’ve written about this before. But let’s review quickly for those who may be new.

How I automate my meeting notes in Evernote: a review

If there is one common element to every meeting I attend, it is meeting notes.

I capture all of my meeting notes in Evernote. Over the years, I have evolved a standard template that I use for all of my meeting notes. After a while of setting up this template each time I arrived at the meeting, I got the bright idea of automating it. Now, if I add a meeting to my Google Calendar, and the subject contains “@en”, I have an IFTTT recipe that will create a new note in Evernote, with the meeting title, and a blank meeting notes template 15 minutes before the start time of the meeting.

This is great. It means when I walk into a meeting room, I open Evernote and my pre-titled, blank meeting notes template is waiting for me.

Of course, not every meeting is planned ahead of time. Some are ad hoc. In these cases, I’ll create a new note in Evernote and then use a TextExpander snippet (;;meeting) to create my template.

Eliminating more repetition

Over time, I noticed that there was one thing I did twice that was hard to see at first, but once I saw it, drove me nuts, and I was determined to automate it. To explain, let me illustrate the problem.

Meeting Automation

The diagram above illustrates the overall process for meetings that I described earlier. I sit in meetings and take notes in Evernote. As with most meetings, those notes include action items. At some point I found myself transferring those action items from my meeting notes into my to-do list, so that I remembered to do them.

But here’s the thing. I’d already recorded the action item once. It seemed silly beyond description to do it a second time. What if I could automate the process of identifying action items in my meeting notes and automatically adding them to my to-do list?

A bit on my to-do list

Over the years, I’ve tried lots of to-do list managers. I’ve tried Evernote, but it is too problematic for me for many reasons, but the most important being that I use Evernote as a repository of knowledge (e.g. “Remember Everything”) not a place to manage short-term pieces of information like to-do items. That just clutters things up for me.

I’ve tried services like Remember The Milk (which integrates with Evernote!), Asana, Wunderlist, and Trello. They all have their pluses and minuses, but most are overly complex, and not simple enough for my needs.

If I was not paperless, I’d use a piece of paper to maintain my to-do list. Given that I am paperless, I want something just as simple. I found this in Gina Tripani’s todo.txt system. todo.txt is a text-based, command-line based to-do system that uses one simple command and a bunch of text files. There is a simplicity to plain text files that is very much akin to a piece of paper. The text files are maintained in Dropbox so that I can access them from anywhere. There is an iPhone app for when I need to access my to-do list from my phone. Otherwise, whether I’m on my iMac or Windows machine, I just use a command prompt. I run a very simple command to view my to-do list:

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