Tag Archives: evernote

Some Notes on Notes

More and more I find myself trying to simplify things. Take notes as an example. I am a prolific note-taker. Wherever I go, I carry a Field Notes notebook in my pocket, along with a couple of pens. (I have ink stains on various pockets to prove this). Why carry a paper notebook when I have an iPhone in the other pocket? To keep things simple.

Over the years, I have not yet found an app that allows me to jot down notes as quickly and easily as a pen and paper. If something strikes me, I pull out the pen and paper and scribble it down. That’s all there is to it. A phone, at its simplest, involves pulling out the phone, getting through its security measures, opening the appropriate note-taking app, and typing in the note1. In the time it takes me to get through the security measures alone, I could have jotted a simple note with pen and paper.

Then, too, many notes are ephemeral. I’ll use them once and never again. What’s the point of filling up a phone with notes I’m only ever going to look at once? In a notebook, I could tear out the page, but what I typically do it just leave the note there, and when the notebook is filled, I added it to the collection of filled notebooks I have on a shelf in my office.

Of course, pocket notebooks get you only so far. If I am sitting in front of a computer, then I’ll use the computer for notes, especially notes that are not ephemeral. In this regard, Evernote would seem like a logical choice for notes. But I have resisted using Evernote for actual notetaking, preferring to partition it for use as a kind of digital filing cabinet. Instead, out of a sense of simplicity (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), I’ve migrated toward the Apple Notes app, with one important exception2

There are a few reasons why I have settled on the Notes app:

  1. It is a simple app that is easy to use.
  2. It comes installed on all Apple devices and since I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, that makes it a convenient tool. I don’t have to install any additional software to access my notes on a new device.
  3. It syncs with iCloud, so notes I create on one device are available on all of my devices.
  4. It integrates with Spotlight so searching notes is pretty easy.

Item #2 above is particularly important because I keep all of my device bootstrapping-related notes in Apple Notes. These notes include, for instance, a checklist of things I do to new machines and devices (configuration settings, software I install, etc.) I have a file for every device we own which makes for easy reference.

I’ve taken to using Notes for personal development work I do. I’ve also started using notes to keep track of articles I read, copying highlighted passages, or my own annotations there. While it is lacking in a few features3, it has been able to do most of what I need. Here is an example of a HOW-TO note I have in my Tech folder:

A sample HOW-TO note from my Tech folder in Apple notes

The purist in me admonishes myself for not using plain text file for my notes, but you know what? I like being able to format my notes, into lists and tables. I like having hyperlinks, and images. True, each note is not a separate file in the file system. On the other hand, the backend is a SQLite database, which I am perfectly capable of accessing programmatically if needed.

The point is, I haven’t had a need to do so. That is the beauty of the simplicity of Notes so far. I don’t worry about tagging, or notebooks. I do have a folder structure for my notes, and it is evolving, but even there, I aim for simplicity. Being able to simply search for a term in Spotlight and see matching notes has been incredibly useful. I recently read an article in Smithsonian by Richard Grant, whose writing I enjoy. I’d created a note for that article, and so I just tried a Spotlight search for Richard Grant:

Spotlight search for Richard Grant

That’s good enough for my purposes.

I also light the lightweight feel of the Notes app. When I use Evernote today, the application feels big and bulky by comparison. Of course, it does a lot more than the Notes app, but for notetaking, I don’t need much more than what Notes can do.

  1. I stubbornly refuse to use Siri or dictation for notes, although I use Siri for other things.
  2. The exception, not worth getting into here in any detail, is my work-related notes, for which I use OneNote because it makes a lot of sense to do so.
  3. I do wish there was a way to add to the list of default styles provided.

A New Beginning

I feel a great sense of relief this evening as I sit down to write this. After more than 18 months, my desk is finally clear. Paper had been piling up ever since I upgraded to MacOS Catalina or something like that. At that point, it seemed, my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i that I’ve had for nearly 8 years now, stopped working with the OS. I ignored the problem for months, and then, when the pandemic began, I ignored it some more.

Yesterday, however, more out of desperation than anything else, I started searching for replacement scanners, only to discover that the compatibility problem had been resolved. I updated the ScanSnap manager for Big Sur and everything was working again!

That meant I actually had to scan in all of that paper. First, I sorted through it, separating it into stuff that wasn’t worth scanning, and stuff that was. I saw that Evernote had an update, and I updated Evernote, and then I began to scan. I still use the same process, more or less, that I have been using from the start. But I found that in the new Evernote, it took longer to update the meta-data in my notes. Updating the Create Date is tricker, because you can’t type in a date, but have to select from pull-down lists. Updating tags is more cumbersome than it used to be because you can’t just type them in but have to open a popup window first. Minor delays, but annoying, nonetheless.

I got through half of the paper yesterday, shredded that half, and the proceeded to tackle the second half today. Finally, at 5:01 pm Eastern Standard Time, all of the accumulated paper had been scanned, and shredded. My desk was clear, and a great sense of relief washed over me. I can now move onto the other things that I want to work on and check this item off my list. Checking things off lists also provides me with a great sense of relief. 

Coincidentally, it was the second time a great sense of relief washed over me today. The first came just after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States around noon today.

I Have A Guest Post Over On the Evernote Blog

Evernote is holding another Paperless Challenge and as part of that event, I have a guest post over on the Evernote blog today. The paperless challenge is the perfect opportunity for people who’ve wanted to go paperless to get started. In addition to the sharing of ideas with other people participating in the challenge, there will be prizes and other events. Head on over to the Evernote Blog for more information. And you can find the Paperless Challenge event on Facebook.

IFTTT Will Be Removing Twitter Triggers, But Here Is A Workaround

ETA (8/28/13): Twitter triggers are back in IFTTT! They were added back in August 2013 using the new Twitter API.

If you use IFTTT to capture your Tweets and send them to another service, you probably received a notice from them yesterday about how they will be removing Twitter triggers on September 27:

In recent weeks, Twitter announced policy changes* that will affect how applications and users like yourself can interact with Twitter’s data. As a result of these changes, on September 27th we will be removing all Twitter Triggers, disabling your ability to push tweets to places like email, Evernote and Facebook. All Personal and Shared Recipes using a Twitter Trigger will also be removed. Recipes using Twitter Actions and your ability to post new tweets via IFTTT will continue to work just fine.

I use IFTTT to send all of my tweets to Evernote so I have a record of them. Since this is based on a Twitter trigger, it will no longer work after September 27. Last night, I experimented with an alternative that appears to be working fine this morning: using an RSS feed and sending that to Evernote. Here is how I set it up in IFTTT:

Step 1: Choose Trigger Channel

I selected the Feed channel.

Step 2: Choose a Trigger

I selected New Feed Item

Step 3: Complete Trigger Fields

In the Feed URL field, I entered the URL for the twitter feed for my twitter account. In my case that feed is:  http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=jamietrNote that you will want to alter this URL and replace my twitter handle with your own.

Step 4: Choose Action Channel

I selected Evernote for my Action Channel.

Step 5: Choose an Action

I selected the Create A Note action.

Step 6: Complete Action Fields

Here is how I completed the action fields for Evernote:

  • Title: EntryTitle
  • Body: EntryContentvia FeedTitle EntryURL
  • Notebook: <enter the notebook you want these notes go to to>
  • Tags: <enter the tags you want to use for these notes>

The Results

Here is what a note in Evernote looked like using the Twitter trigger method (the one that is going away):


And here is what the note looks like with the new trigger, via RSS instead of Twitter:


I imagine with some tweaking of the Action fields, you could get them to look almost identical.

There is more of a delay between the time you make the tweet and the time it shows up as a note, but despite that delay, so far every tweet I’ve made since adding this new method appears to be coming through to Evernote.

I’m turning off the new method until September 27, when I will enable it permanently, but I wanted to share this solutions with others who were worried that they might not be able to use Twitter as a trigger in IFTTT going forward.

My trusty scanner: the Canon ImageFormula P-150M

In my capacity as Evernote’s paperless lifestyle ambassador, I get enough questions about the scanner that I’ve used to go paperless that it probably warrants its own short post.

I use the Canon ImageFormulaP-150M. The “M” designates its compatibility with a Macintosh, which is the machine it is connected to at home.


Why did I choose this particular scanner?

  • I wanted something small, that wouldn’t take a lot of space on my desk
  • I wanted something that would handle the volume that I typically have–usually less than 10 pages/day1
  • I required a scanner that was compatible with a Mac.
  • I wanted a scanner that could scan directly into Evernote.

The Canon ImageFormula P-150M meets all of these requirements. It can scan high quality images, and can scan something like 14 pages per minute, which meets my needs. It has a programmable button that allows you to put your pages in the scanner, push the button and have the resulting PDF send directly to Evernote. I’ve been using this scanner for months and have never had a problem with it. It works very well and I have no problem recommending it for others who have similar requirements.

Here’s what the scanner looks like in action:


  1. Why so low? Because I keep up with my scanning and scan every day so the pile doesn’t grow.

Tracking my writing goals with Scrivener, Evernote and Google Spreadsheets

I’ve found that the best way to meet goals that I set for myself is to track them. That means that the goal must be measurable, and this years writing goals certainly meet that criteria: write 500 words of new fiction every day. I thought it might be of interest how I go about tracking this goal in case anyone else out there is looking to do the same.

There are generally three tools that combine to help me meet my writing goals each day:

1. Scrivener

Scrivener is my workhorse, and where I do 95% of my fiction-writing1. I’ve recently revised my short story project template2 to automatically have a 500 word/session target. I also have it configured to use Growl to notify me when I’ve met the goal. So I sit down and write and write and then Growl pops up and says that I’ve passed my 500 word target. Sometimes I’ll stop there, and sometimes I’ll keep going. I write in full-screen mode, by the way, so I don’t have other distractions, and so the Growl notification is particularly convenient because it means I don’t have to keep checking how far along I am. If the notification hasn’t popped up, I haven’t met the goal yet.

2. Evernote

I find it interesting to be able to go back and see what I wrote on any given day. I have a Notebook in Evernote called “Daily Fiction Writing.” There is one note for each day I write. That note contains a copy of the fiction I wrote in that day. Usually, when I finish up a Scrivener session, I copy the text that I wrote and paste it into a note in my Evernote notebook. This is not for backup purposes. I have sufficient local and cloud-based backups for my fiction. This is so that I can go back and see what it was I was writing on Thursday, January 12, 2012. Because I’m interesting in that kind of thing. Also, I only do this for first draft material. Here is what that notebook looks like:

Continue reading Tracking my writing goals with Scrivener, Evernote and Google Spreadsheets

  1. The other 5% is done on my iPad using Elements.
  2. I’ll be posting a new version of this template for download in the near future.

Guest post on going paperless over at the Evernote Blog

I have a guest post up at the Evernote Blog: “Why I went paperless” which explains my process for going paperless and offers some tips on how to get started. If you are interested in this kind of thing, go check it out.

How Evernote has helped me go paperless (a status update)

Last fall, I went paperless at work. One of my goals for 2011 was to go paperless at home. As I have discovered, this is not as easy as just dumping all paper. It takes a concerted effort, but one that I think has already started to pay dividends.

Going paperless requires replacing paper with digital versions of documents, notes, etc. And those digital versions need to be stores, organized and easily searchable for it to work. Furthermore, they need to be archived and backed up. I don’t know if my efforts to go paperless would have been possible without Evernote. For those who don’t know, Evernote is an application that allows you to “remember everything.”  In its simplest form, it allows you to capture notes and organize them. The notes are stored in the cloud and are therefore accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Evernote’s basic service is available for free, but I have been using their premium service (which gives you unlimited storage as well as a number of additional features) for quite a while now. Most importantly, perhaps, Evernote has a solid iPad and iPhone app that make capturing information and accessing your data from these devices easy.

What follows is how I have used Evernote and other tools to go paperless this year. I also outline how far I’ve managed to get in the first 8 months of the year, what challenges I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Continue reading How Evernote has helped me go paperless (a status update)

Some cool (new?) Evernote features

Not long ago, I wrote a post in which I described some features that I wished were available on some of the apps that I use on the iPad. In the caes of Evernote, which I use constantly as my paperless filing cabinet, there were two things that I really wanted:

  1. The ability to mark a note as “offline” so that it would be available even if a Wi-Fi connection wasn’t
  2. The ability to do rich text editing in a note the way you can in the Mac and web versions.

Well, as it turns out, Evernote already had the ability to do the offline notes. It was not exactly how I’d imagined it but it suits my needs just fine. From Evernote’s settings, you can mark a notebook as “offline” and that makes all of its content available even if you have no network connection.

And just yesterday, I noticed a new version of the Evernote app that, among other things, allows me to edit existing notes inline, as opposed to appending to them, and allows me to do rich text editing. This is a wonderful improvement and I applaud the folks over at Evernote for continuing to improve an already outstanding piece of software.

Browser bookmarks

Is it me, or are browser bookmarks going the way of the dodo?

A few days ago it occurred to me that I never use bookmarks anymore. There’s just no need for them. I use Google Chrome on my two laptop computers and both systems are configured to launch with 5 tabs open: Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Facebook, and my WordPress site. I can click a link in Gmail to get to Google Reader and read my news feed. If there is some interesting item in the news feed that I want to remember, I simple star it and can browse the list of stars when I feel the need. If I come across a blog I like, there’s no need to bookmark it because I can simply add it to my RSS feed. And if I come across something that I want to read later on, I can send it to Instapaper. (And Instapaper allows me to automatically send those items to Evernote, as well.)

With all of this cloud-based “bookmarking”, combined with mobile apps for most things that I do, I just don’t see the point of browser-based bookmarks anymore?

Do you still use browser bookmarks? Do they still help?

Going iPad, Part 3 of 5: Note-taking, Evernote and Science Fiction Conventions

In part 2, I discussed how I am using my new iPad to do my fiction writing. In part 3 I want to talk about using it for note-taking and in particular, how it seems almost perfectly designed to be used at conferences and conventions.

When the original iPad was first announced, I had a mixed reaction. Without having it in my hand to play with, I was hard pressed to see how it could be any more useful than a laptop. In fact, there was only one area where I saw real potential for it and that was in the business conference arena. It would be nice to have a slim device to take to conferences, most of which provide wireless access, and on which you could get all of your programming, your schedule, as well as take notes without having to lug a laptop from breakout session to breakout session. As I have learned, the iPad has turned out to be much more useful than I ever expected. But its value at a conference really highlights what it can do for your productivity–to say nothing of your back.

As a science fiction writer, I attend a number of science fiction conventions each year and last weekend, I attended my first convention with my iPad, and sans laptop. Balticon, the annual Baltimore area convention, takes place in Hunt Valley about 50 miles north of where I live. I spend two days at the con, which I have written about here and here. But now I want to focus on how much I was able to do at the convention without a laptop and with my iPad.

Continue reading Going iPad, Part 3 of 5: Note-taking, Evernote and Science Fiction Conventions

Managing my writing life with Evernote

I’ve been using Evernote for closed to 2 months now and I have been very impressed with it. I originally started to use it as part of my desire to go paperless at home (I’d already done so, more or less, in the day job). What I have found is that it is not only an effective tool for going paperless, but it helps to manage my writing life. It does this in several ways:

  1. It has replaced Google Docs as my idea file. Google Docs is a great tool, but if I was sitting in a restaurant or walking down the aisle in a grocery store, it was a little inconvenient to pull up on my iPhone. Evernote has an iPhone app that opens quickly and within a few seconds, I can have a the idea uploaded into my writing notebook. If I am pressed for time, I can make it a voice note and simple speak the idea, tag it and upload it. Then, when I want to review my list of ideas, it doesn’t matter where I am, I can pull it up on my iPhone, on the web, or on the application on my MacBook.
  2. Clippings! Clippings! Clippings! I read a lot of science magazines. If I find something interesting in, say, a New Scientist article, I used to cut the article out of the magazine and put it into a folder for later use. Now, I go to the web version of the magazine, clip the article using the Evernote clipping tool for Google Chrome, tag it, and it is stored in the cloud in my writing notebook, with everything else, easily searchable. No paper, and much easier to find and refer to than my old system.
  3. Paperwork. A writer’s life does involve some paperwork. There are contracts and checks, for instance. Now, when I receive these, the first thing I do is scan them in as PDFs and upload them to Evernote as a note. Evernote has OCR technology to make the scanned PDF searchable, so if I search for the phrase, “electronic rights”, contracts that mention these words appear in my result list. And I don’t have to worry about digging through a file folder to find them. Similarly, I use Evernote to capture my writing-related receipts. Come tax time, I have a saved search I use to pull up everything related to writing and taxes. Takes 5 seconds. Can’t wait to use it later this year and impress my accountant.
  4. Blog topics. Just like story ideas, I use Evernote to capture ideas for blog posts (this topic was captured as a note in Evernote some weeks ago). If I am ever at a loss for something to write about, I can pull up my list of blog topics, pick one, write the post, and then delete the note. It has been working beautifully.
  5. Writers group critiques. I read 2-3 stories/week for my writer’s group. Typically these stories are in Word, and I will use the Comments feature to mark up the file and make my specific comments in the manuscript. I then take that manuscript and create a note in Evernote with it. The file itself is an attachment to the note, tagged with the author and the fact that it is a critique. The note is my summary of the story, my actual critique which I give to the author. It keeps a nice record not only of all of the stories I’ve critiqued and for whom I provided the critique, but also what my critique was. And again, it takes up no space in my file cabinet

All of these notes are stored in the cloud and synchronized to my various devices so that I can literally access them anywhere, anytime. I can take my notes from story ideas and science articles, and add them to the research section of a Scrivener document to get started on a story with all of the information I need. If I am reading an old science fiction magazine and want to capture something on the page, I can take a photo in Evernote from my iPhone and the page is captured and the text scanned so that it is searchable.

Evernote has become an invaluable tool to help me manage my writing life. Who else out there is using Evernote to manage their writing life? And what innovative ways are you using it?