What Would You Like Me to Write About?

Since I am buried in work at the moment, as I just mentioned, but hope to begin writing on the blog again soon in the next day or two, I thought I’d toss out a question:

Is there anything you’d like me to write about here on the blog in the near future? Whether it is a specific paperless topic, some tech-based topic, something about writing, or science fiction, or baseball, or whatever. If there is something you’ve been wanting me to write about, let me know by dropping your suggestion in the comments. I’ll do my best to take on those topics for which I feel capable.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Sorry for the lack of posts since Tuesday. Things have gotten very busy for me and when that happens, one of the first things to fall by the way side is my blog writing, as much as I enjoy it. I am working my way through this busy period, and hope to resume normal posting in a few days.

In the meantime, for those wondering, Part 4 of my 4-part mini-series on searching in Evernote should come out on schedule tomorrow morning at 9 am.

And, if you are interested, Evernote has been doing a series of posts on their blog about note-taking styles and the history of note-taking. It is a fascinating series, well worth checking out.

Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 3 of 4: “When?”

In last week’s post, I described how I narrow down searches for specific types of things, like forms, statements, or receipts. This week I am going to address the “when?” question. How I search for things by date in Evernote.

Notes on a timeline

Every note that goes into Evernote gets a create date. The create date is assigned at the date and time at which the note is first created. If you create notes more or less in real time, then by sorting notes by create date, you get a kind of timeline of notes. I find this timeline concept useful because it crosses all boundaries: notebooks, tags, note types. If I look at all the notes I created on a particular day, I get a nice picture of what happened on that day.

This notion of notes as part of timeline encourages me to put things into Evernote in real time. For instance, if I make a phone call, I’ll create a note at the time I make the call. No need to jot down the date/time of the call in the note. It’s captured automatically as part of the note and becomes a part of the overall timeline.

Setting “Create Date” to match document date

Although Evernote sets the create date of a note to the date/time at which the note was added to Evernote, the create date is not written in stone. In the Windows and Mac clients, you can change the create date.

Changing a Create Date

Why would you ever want to change the create date of a note?

I do this all the time when entering scanning documents into Evernote. I do it so that the date of the note matches the date on the document. For instance, I might receive a letter in the mail dated August 3. By the time I receive the letter, it is August 10. After scanning it in, I change the Create Date of the note from August 10 to August 3, so that it matches the date on the letter, like this

Matching Dates

There are 3 reasons I do this:

  1. It keep my notion of a “timeline” consistent.
  2. It accurately reflects the information contained in the letter.
  3. It makes searching by date much, much easier.

Searching by date

Evernote has powerful date searching capabilities. It can search dates absolute dates, or relative dates.

Absolute date search

An absolute date search is one where you know the exact date you are looking for. For instance, if I wanted to find all the note created on March 27, 2015, I would run the following absolute date search in Evernote:

created:20150327 -created:20150328

The first criteria tells Evernote to search all notes created since 03/27/2015. The second criteria, the one with the -created, tells Evernote to limit the search to all notes created before 03/28/2015. In other words, the search returns just those notes created on March 27, 2015:

Absolute search

Absolute date searches are useful for when I am looking for something with a specific date. If I am talking to someone on the phone and they say, “It was referenced in the statement dated October 31, 2015,” I can run an absolute search to quickly narrow down what I am looking for.

Of course, it helps that I change the create date on scanned notes to reflect the date on the scanned item. If the statement was dated October 31, 2015, but I didn’t scan it in until November 5th, searching for October 31 won’t get me the note. Changing the create date, therefore, has become an important part of my scanning routine.

Relative date searches

Perhaps even more powerful than the absolute date search is the relative date search. This search allows you to find notes related to a specific date. The most common relative date search that I use is my “daily review” search, which looks like this:

any: created:day updated:day

“day” is a relative reference to “today.” The search is looking for any notes created since today, or updated today.” The “any” token tells the search to perform an “or” search (this or this) as opposed to an “and” search (this and this). The result of this search is all of the notes I created or updated “today”—that is, relative to whatever the current date happens to be. I run this search in the evenings to review my day.

Suppose, however, I wanted to do a weekly review? No problem. I would modify the search as follows:

any: created:day-7 updated:day-7

This search says to look for any notes created or updated in the last 7 days. The results of such a search looks something like this:

EN Search When - 3

Relative date searches can produce some pretty cool results. Not long ago, another Evernote Ambassador, Seunghoon Park, asked if it was possible to show notes created a year ago today, or two years ago today. I replied with the following search:

created:day-365 -created:day-364

This tells Evernote to look for all notes created since 365 days ago (1 year) and created prior to 364 days ago. Since I am writing this post on February 22, 2016, the results would be all the notes created on February 22, 2015:

A year ago todayYou could store this search as a Saved Search in Evernote and on any given day, see what notes were created a year ago on that day.

Combining “when” with “who” and “what”

Generally speaking, I don’t have more than a dozen notes on a given day, but occasionally I do. Sometimes, I can’t remember exactly when a note was created, but I have general sense. In these cases, combining the various search tactics: who, what, and when, speed things up.

For instance, I can’t recall when exactly I received Kelly’s W-2 form, but I know it was in the last 2 months. I also know that I have received a lot of notes in the last 2 months (395 to be precise). Searching all of those would be too time consuming. So to find Kelly’s W-2, I ran the following search:

created:month-2 tag:taxes tag:kelly

The search is telling Evernote to look for all notes created in the last 2 months (the when) tagged “taxes” (the what) and tagged “kelly” (the who). That search resulted in a single match:

Combined search

Instead of spending minutes searching through a larger set, I found exactly what I was looking for on the first try with a relatively short search phrase.


Date searching in Evernote has proven very effective for me in answering the “when” questions. It certainly helps that I’ve taken the time to change the create dates of scanned documents to the date on the document so that my searches are more accurate. Relative searches are also useful in my daily reviews, or to find out what kinds of things were happening in my life a a month ago, or even a year ago.

Next week, I will wrap up this 4-part mini series with the final search question, “Where?” That post will focus on searching notes by the location in which they were created.


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: Searching in Evernote, Part 2 of 4: “What?”

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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Need a Little Patience…

Physicist Alan Lightman had an interesting editorial in Saturday’s Washington Post. In “What the detection of gravitational waves teaches us about patience,” Lightman noted how:

I was struck by the fact that the leaders of the scientific project are well into their senior years… they have been working on this project, called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), for 40 years.

Lightman goes on to note that,

The world at large, and the United States in particular, has developed an unfortunate need for instant gratification. We not only live in the age of information. We live in the Age of the Now.

This resonated with me for several reasons, not the least of which is my current re-reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. The evolution of discovery in atomic physics is often compressed in text books, but Rhodes does a fantastic job of illustrating the decades worth of study and experimentation—to say nothing of the brilliant minds—that helped us see the structure of the atom. An entirely new field—quantum mechanics—emerged as a result. None of this happened overnight. Instead, scientists worked patiently for decades to gain these insights and understandings.

I think there is some truth to Lightman’s assertion that our need for instant gratification affects our patience when it comes to scientific discovery. When told of the cost of theoretical research, the response is often: “What are the practical benefits?” This question is a reflection of that need for instant gratification. Practical applications are not always known ahead of time, but as scientists such as Neils Bohr used to argue, such research allows us to better understand the rules of the cosmic chess game.

I find it convenient to stream movies and TV shows, and to receive same-day orders through Amazon Prime. But I also think we need to do a better job of teaching young students the process of scientific discovery. The scientific method does not serve instantaneous gratification. It is a cumulative process, often slow, and painstaking because it builds upon itself, and it is self-correcting. Hypotheses must be tested experimentally; results must be published and peer-reviewed. All of this takes time.

Instant gratification makes some aspects of life easier. Ordering movie tickets online and having them available on my phone when I walk into a theater is a nice convenience. But there are some things which require a little patience, and scientific discovery is among the most important of these.

Re-reading Books

From time-to-time, I re-read books. Since 1996, 17 out of every 100 books that I read are books that I have already read. Over the course of 20 years, that adds up to over 100 books that I’ve re-read. I sometimes feel guilty about this. Why spend the time reading a book I’ve already read, when I could be reading something new? After all: so many books, so little time.

I recently started re-reading Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and in doing so, I realized that there are, for me at least, three good reasons for re-reading books.

1. I enjoyed the book

There are some books that I enjoyed so much, I look forward to re-reading them. For years, each April, I’d re-read Isaac Asimov’s 3-volume autobiography. Over the years, I’ve read those three books 13 or 14 times each.

I loved Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 (I haven’t watched the mini-series), and I especially loved Craig Wasson’s narration of the audiobook. I have read/listened to that book 5 times.

I tend to re-read a book for the sheer pleasure of it at times when I feel I need a bit of a mental boost, and the book that I choose to re-read always serves its purpose.

2. I don’t remember much about the book

I mentioned that I am currently re-reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I first read this book in December 2003. If you asked me what I thought of the book, I’d tell you that it was one of the best books I’ve ever read on project management. But the intervening thirteen years between my first reading, and my present reading reminded me of just how well the book integrates scientific development in historical context. I had forgotten all about this aspect of the book, and this time around I am finding it fascinating.

This is true of other books that I’ve read, and return to years later. I sometimes feel like I read books in a coma. I am totally in the moment when I read them, and can recall the gist of the book months or years later, but much of the details, even the interesting details, seem to abandon me. Returning to a book that I read, and don’t remember well offers new insights and surprises for things I’d forgotten, or glossed over the first time.

3. Additional context brings out new understanding

My re-reading of The Making of the Atomic Bomb cemented in my mind a third reason for re-reading books from time-to-time: additional context brings out new understanding. In the 13 years since I first read the book, I have read an additional 369 books. Those 369 books included many books on history and science. A few years ago, for instance, I read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill, which gave me the best education I’d received to-date on the Great War.

While reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb this time around, the context that I have in understanding the formative times in Europe, during which some of the scientists who played a key role in the development of the bomb lived. Having that context provides me with a wider scope of understanding than my first reading.


I no longer fret over re-reading books. I am satisfied with my reasons for re-reading, whether it is for pleasure, to refresh my memory, or to add more context to something I’d read in the past. Sure, using time to re-read a book means that I can’t use that time to read a book that is new to me. But I read an average of 40 to 50 books each year. That means that at least 33 to 40 of them are “new” to me. I can live with that.

Laughing Myself to Sleep

Everyone seems busy these days. The popularity and proliferation of productivity advice reflects this busyness. I am always on the look out for tips and hacks for packing more into a day. All of this busyness adds to my general stress level, and I am, therefore, also on the lookout for ways to ease my stress.

One way has been my daily walks. I started my twice (and sometimes thrice) daily walks back in 2012 as a way of breaking up my day, and avoiding what I call “coding comas.” I listen to audiobooks as I walk, which helps get my mind off work, and I come back fresh and ready to tackle what’s next. On the days I get in a decent amount of walking, I generally feel better, and there’s a good reason for that. Walking is good for you.

Since 2012, however, my busyness has steadily increased, to the point where, more often than not, my walks are crowded out in favor of meetings and other work-related activities. When I don’t get my walk I don’t feel quite as good at the end of the day.

To counteract this added stress, I’ve changed my evening routine slightly. I used to read, or listen to an audiobook before going to bed. Instead, for a while now, I have been watching funny shows. I don’t watch them on live TV, but instead watch shows that I’ve bought through the iTunes store. I’ve watched episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show, and All in the Family. Recently, I’ve been rematching episodes of Modern Family. The latter gets the mosts laughs from me. And I do laugh out loud at these show.

Often, I have to suppress my laughter because Kelly will already be asleep. But suppressing the laughter only makes me want to laugh harder. The laughter feels good. I watch a show or two before setting aside my iPad, turning over, and going to sleep.

I’ve discovered a few things:

  1. The laughter takes my mind off the stresses of the day, and it keeps them off.
  2. I go to sleep smiling.
  3. I fall asleep much faster after I’ve had a few laughs.

It’s not news that laughter helps to reduce stress. But I think it has been much more noticeably effective for me as my days get busier and I’ve had less time for other things that help keep my stress level down.

What’s more, I wake up in the morning feeling well-rested. That is good, because I generally have a very busy day ahead of me.

Reminder on Site Policies for Guest Posts and Advertising

I must have received a dozen requests for guest post or advertising on the site in the last 7 days. None of them showed any indication that they reviewed the site policies for guest posts and advertising, so I think now is a good time to remind folks of the policies. A link to my site policies is available in the footer of every page and post.

Guest Posts and Advertising

You can find the full policy here, but the gist is:

  • I do not accept unsolicited guest posts and articles for the blog.
  • I do not put advertisement on the site, including paid links to other sites
  • I don’t do link exchanges.

Product Reviews and Plugs

I have a steady stream of requests from folks to review a product, usually software or a service. Here is my full policy on product reviews and plugs, but the gist is:

  • I am not a product reviewer.
  • I generally don’t have time to try out new products and write reviews.
  • When I do review or mention a product, it is always something that I have used myself.

It is perfectly okay to ask, but 99 times out of 100 the answer is going to be no.

Sponsors and Transparency

In December 2015 I wrote a post on “Sponsors and Transparency” that pretty well captures my thoughts and philosophy about how I run this blog with respect to paid sponsors. The gist:

  • I don’t promote products I have never used myself
  • I prefer to pay for the products and services I use
  • I try to be completely transparent on rare occasions when I do receive compensation for something I mention here.

Conclusion

Inquiries I receive for a guest post or advertising, or any of the above, that obviously have ignored the above policies get deleted without a reply.

I do get inquiries that demonstrate, or even mention, my policies in a non-robotic way, and I always reply to these, although I rarely acquiesce.

Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 2 of 4: “What?”

In last week’s post, I described how I search Evernote for things related to a particular person. I demonstrated how I answer the “who”? question. In this week’s post I am going to address the “what?” question, how I find a particular thing in Evernote based on what it is.

Types of notes in Evernote

Searching for things in Evernote over the years, I have found that I often know what type of thing I am looking for. Kelly might ask, “Do you have a copy of Zach’s school health enrollment form?” Or I might want to know where that recent letter from the Gas Company is. Experience has taught me that knowing the class of note I am looking for can really help speed up the search. I tend to focus on two broad classes of notes:

  1. Documents.
  2. Media.

Evernote has some nice built-in search capabilities for searching for multimedia documents. Using the “resource” keyword in a search makes it easy to find documents containing various multimedia. For instance, if I was searching for a note with an image file, I could type the following into the search bar:

resource:image/*

This would return notes with any kind of image file. If I wanted a specific image type, I could search for:

resource:image/png

This would return notes with PNG images. I could then combine this with other search terms. If I wanted to find notes containing pictures and related to me, I could search for:

resource:image/* tag:jamie

The resource can be any MIME-type, which allows you to find notes for things like sound files and movies, as well.

Identifying documents in Evernote

I think of documents as notes containing attachments that might once have found their way into a filing cabinet. Documents can be things I’ve scanned into Evernote, or things that a service like FileThis has automatically added to Evernote. I’ve found over time that documents fall into 11 categories:

  1. Artwork. My kids’ artwork from school.
  2. Bills. Various bills for things that aren’t paid automatically.
  3. Contracts. Mostly these pertain to my writing, but they can be contracts for anything.
  4. Documents. Legal documents and miscellaneous documents that aren’t captured by other categories.
  5. Forms. Things that have to be filled out.
  6. Invoices. I’ve considered consolidating Invoices and Bills into a single category, but have yet to get around to it.
  7. Letters. Personal letters as well as official correspondence.
  8. Manuals. Instructions and manuals for various things we own.
  9. Payments. Pay stubs and checks.
  10. Receipts. Receipts for things we’ve bought and paid for.
  11. Statements. Bank statements, utility statements, medical statements, etc.

To quickly find these types of documents, I’ve created a tag for each one of them. To make it easier to illustrate, I’ve moved all 11 of these tags into a tag called “.documents” so you can more readily see what they look like in Evernote:

EN document tags

Whenever I add a new document to Evernote, I quickly determine its type, and assign that tag (and possibly some others, like who it is for) to the note. For documents that I scan, I do this tagging as soon as I scan the document so that I don’t forget. If a document doesn’t fit one of the categories, it gets tagged as “document” which is my short hand for miscellaneous documents.

Searching for things in Evernote

Tagging notes with a document type makes it much easier for me to find what I am looking for. If I need to find the recall letter we received for the Kia, I’d do the following:

tag:letter tag:kia

That search is saying, “Show me all letters related to the Kia.”

Kia letter search

Note that I only got 2 results. The fact that the result list was so short is part of the beauty. While a less specific search might have resulted in more notes to wade through, this simple, but specific search resulted in an almost exact match on the first try.

I could have made the search even more specific by searching for:

tag:letter tag:kia recall

Adding the word “recall” eliminates one of the two resulting documents, and I now have an exact match.

Thinking about what the document that I am searching for is helps to narrow things down quite a bit. Compare the above search to a search for the tag “kia”:

tag:kia

Tag Kia

This search returns 40 notes. That is a lot of notes to wade through. Knowing that I was searching for a letter made it that much faster and more accurate.

Combining “what” searches with “who” searches

By combining search tactics, I can improve things even further. I use a “school” tag for school-related documents. So instead of just searching for forms, I can easily search for school-related forms. The same is true for taxes. I uses a “taxes” tag for anything tax-related. If I need to search for a tag form (as opposed to, say, a receipt) I can combine my tag search to include forms and taxes.

But sometimes that isn’t enough. Take school for example. If we go back to that example question I gave at the beginning, where Kelly asked, “Do you have a copy of Zach’s school health enrollment form?” I can run a quick search as follows:

tag:form tag:school tag:zach health

That search returns exactly one match (out of more than 12,000 notes), and it is the exact form that I was asked for. This really happened. Kelly asked if I had the form. I took about three seconds to type the above search into Evernote, get the match, and forward the resulting document to her.

“Yes, I’ve got it,” I said.

“Can you send it me?” Kelly asked.

“It’s already in your inbox,” I replied.


Not everyone uses the same tag structure, but I think that some form of tagging that allows you to capture the type of document you are putting into Evernote can help in the long run. In my experience, most “what” questions come down to what the document is in the first place: are you searching for a bill? A form? A letter? An invoice? Knowing what it eliminates a lot of other documents from the mix.

Knowing who, and what I am searching for are useful, but sometimes it helps to know when I got the thing. How many times have you been on a call when the person on the line says, “It is in the statement dated February 14, 2016.” Or, “I know we bought that TV in December, but I can’t find the receipt?”

Next week, in Part 3, I’ll discuss how I use Evernote’s dates and date searching capabilities to quickly answer the “when” questions.


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: Searching in Evernote, Part 1 of 2: “Who?”

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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Time Management for Kids

The world is a busy place. Busy people need to find ways to better manage their time. An entire software industry has evolved to help with this. From to-do list apps, to calendaring, to email management, and reminders, the software is there to make it easier for us to do more in less time. There are countless books on time management as well, more than any reasonably person could read in a lifetime.

The proliferation of books and software to help us better manage our time begs the question: Why are we so bad at managing our time in the first place?

I’ve given this question some thought recently, and have come to the surprising realization that my schooling never included time management skills. One could argue that learning to deal with a full load of classes, nightly homework, extracurricular activities, and after-school jobs was a life-lesson in time management. But even in the midst of all of that, I felt the stress of knowing I had more to do than the time to do it in. What might have helped was some specific training in actual time management.

Thinking back to my school days, I can not recall any such training. We were left to our own devices to figure things out ourselves. Yet it seems like high school is a particularly good place to provide some real time management training for students. Such training would provide immediate, practical use for students who feel there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.

Learning how to estimate levels of effort, even in schoolwork would have been a useful skill to learn at an early age. Learning how to get things out of your head by making to-do lists, learning how to prioritize tasks, learning how to review you day or week, all of these things would have been useful to me in high school, and all of them I had to figure out on my own. By the time I had them working for me, I was decades out of high school.

And yet, go browse books on time management, and you’ll find an unlimited supply filling an obvious demand. I clearly wasn’t the only one who didn’t learn how to best manage my time while in school. If you start young, it seems to me that a skill like this can become second nature. Moreover, you can emphasize from an early age the importance of not filling every minute of your day.

With so many people seeking out solutions to better manage their time, it seems like teaching time management in school is a no-brainer. By doing so, you end up with less stressed, more well-rounded students. And perhaps, those happier students could set an example for their stressed out, busy parents.

No Conventions in 2016

Various scheduling conflicts this year will make it impossible for me to attend any science fiction conventions. This is disappointing because I was so looking forward to the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City this summer. It is also disappointing because it means, for the second year in a row, I will be unable to attend my local convention, Capclave, in October.

I think this will be the first year since I began attending conventions in 2007 that I will go the entire year without going to a convention.

Kind Words

This happened on Twitter a few days ago:

I was delighted by this, and so I thanked Michael, which led to this:

After that, Evernote chimed in:

As busy as I have been lately, as stressed as I’ve sometimes felt, little things like this brightened my day, and made me pause for a second, and smile.

Political Donations

There was a time when, if I found someone running for political office that I liked, I would donate money to their campaign. Not a large amount. Maybe twenty dollars. The last time I did that was quite a few years ago. The reason I stopped, I told myself for a long time, was that I felt money should have no part in political campaigning.

You can stop laughing. I know how foolish that statement sounds. It seemed like a good excuse at the time, but it wasn’t the real reason I stopped giving money to political campaigns. The real reason was buried a little bit deeper. I discovered it this week, when I was considering donating some money to a particular campaign.

The more I read in the newspaper, the more impressed I had become with this particular politician. I kept thinking that maybe I should reverse my decade-long policy of not donating money to politicians. (Autocorrect just changed “politicians” to “pelicans” for some reason.) But something tickled at the back of my mind, and each time I thought I should do it, I hesitated. Last night, I realized why.

Phone calls.

The last time I made a donation to a campaign, I got put onto a list and began getting calls for more money, or for other candidates in different elections. I can’t stand those phone calls. At first, I’d be polite, and explain that I had given all that I could afford. But the people on the other end of the line got pushier and pushier.

“We can’t win without your help,” they’d say.

“Well, then, I’m sorry I gave money to such a poorly organized campaign that they can’t win an election because of someone who can’t give them an extra twenty dollars,” I’d reply.

Sometimes, the campaign workers on the phone would get irritated with me—the person who they wanted money from in the first place. Other times, they grew pedantic, explaining to me, in the simplest possible terms, the importance of an issue that was really far too complex for such simple terms.

The callers were point out all of the evil things their candidate’s opponent was doing, not realizing that (a) I can’t stand that type of behavior, and (b) I didn’t want to hear about the bad things their opponent was doing, but instead the good things that their candidate was doing.

Occasionally, they would provide a list of all of the things their candidate would achieve if I elected—and, of course, my donation would help to make that happen. These lists were so overly ambitious and vague, that I began to borrow a line that the fictional President Bartlett used in a debate in an episode of the The West Wing. “Give me the next ten words,” I’d say, “tell me exactly how they are going to do all of those things, and I’ll consider giving you the $20 you are asking for.” I could never get specifics.

Mostly it was the constant hounding and relentless requests for money that finally pushed me over the edge, and made me vow never to give money to a political campaign again.

Now, of course, seeing a worthwhile candidate, I’d like to donate a little money. But I still hesitate. Most likely, I won’t give the money. If there was a way to guarantee that I wouldn’t get a single call or email or mailing of any kind, I’d do it, but I’ve never seen a checkbox on a donation form that reads something like:

“Here’s $20 dollars for you to fight the good fight. Now never bother me again.”

If a form had an option like that, I’d donate the money.