I want to finish off the posts I've had planned with a bang.* My tool for
today is the greatest asset for productivity, organization, and workflow
that I use. It's the mother of all productivity tools as far as I'm
concerned, and you can use it too (and for free!). That's right. We're
talking about Evernote.
On the surface Evernote appears to be quite simple: you can create new
documents (called notes) and organize them however you want. In this way
the program actually is very simple, offering you complete control over
what you create and how you organize it. But Evernote goes far, far beyond
these abilities. Let's start with two ways it does so: notebooks and tags.
Notebooks function exactly how you imagine they would. You can gather
multiple notes into one notebook for whatever general purpose you've
decided: maybe you'd have a "Work" notebook, a "Personal" notebook, or a
"Financial" notebook. Into these notebooks you'd put notes related to,
respectively, work, your personal life, and financial matters. I like to
use the file cabinet metaphor, so imagine notebooks as drawers in a file
cabinet, labelled according to the category of the documents inside.
But what if one document crosses over between those notebooks? What if
you're self-employed and your financial matters mix both your business and
personal life? Should you simply duplicate a "Financial" note and put it in
both the "Work" and "Personal" notebooks? Or how are the "drawers" of your
"file cabinet" themselves organized - should you meticulously alphabetize
all the documents in each drawer, put them in date order, or use some other
organizing principle? OF COURSE NOT! This is where tags enter the picture -
and boy, do they shine. Tags are words, phrases, or numbers that you assign
to notes to help describe what's in the note. One tag can be applied to as
many notes as you like, providing a whole new level of organization.
Let's consider my own workflow for illustrative purposes. My two most-used
notebooks are "Cabinet" and "Pending Action." The first is a general
catch-all for things I want to keep but don't necessarily have a use for at
any given moment; the second is for projects that are in progress right
now. However, there are relationships between the documents in each
notebook. Take, for instance, one of my tags: "Spring 2014." Everything
tagged with that tag has something to do with the Spring 2014 academic
semester. Some notes I no longer need: grades for a completed and returned
student assignment, for example. Others, like student assignments in
progress or notes for an upcoming class, belong in "Pending Action" since
I'm still working on them. But if I want an overview of everything related
to Spring 2014, I simply click the tag and every note, from any notebook in
which it appears, shows up. When I finish a project in "Pending Action," I
simply move the note to "Cabinet" - and the Spring 2014 tag goes with it,
automatically keeping things organized.
Evernote's biggest obstacle is actually its simplicity. When explaining how
it works to someone new, I inevitably end up getting a confused,
glassy-eyed stare: how is Evernote any different from the file system on a
computer? Can't I achieve the same thing with Word documents and a flash
drive? It's hard to explain just how useful Evernote really is without just
showing the person; it's even easier to discover how useful it is when you
actually try it. It's a bit like euchre in that way.** I told a colleague
about Evernote around this time last year; he didn't seem particularly
enthused by my description, and he never mentioned it again - until two
weeks ago, when he raved about its utility. Once you're in, you're hooked.
An obvious advantage that even non-users can recognize is Evernote's deep
integration into many, many different digital tools and services. The
connection I use most often is the simplest: Evernote allows you to email
notes into your account. Each Evernote user is allotted a unique email
address to which documents, links, photos, or just about anything else can
be sent. I've saved that unique address as a contact on my phone; that way,
if someone emails me something important, I can simply forward it on to my
Evernote account, clear out my email inbox, and tag away in Evernote. Thus
I can go from an email saying "Let's meet about your dissertation proposal
next week; prepare a revised chapter list in advance" to an Evernote note
in my "Pending Action" folder, tagged with "@[advisor's name],"
".Dissertation," "@work," ".Publication," and so on.*** Clicking on any one
of those tags will take me to all the other notes with the same tag -
allowing me to see how all of my materials fit together and what I might
need for that meeting. Since you're assigned a unique Evernote email
address, you can also set up filters on your email account to forward
certain emails to Evernote automatically - I do this with our library's
book scanners, so that anything I scan and email from those stations goes
straight to Evernote without me having to manually forward them one by one.
The email function is very simple and Evernote goes far beyond that. In an
earlier post I mentioned the Chrome extension that allows you to clip sites
and save them to Evernote. You can save an entire site, a simplified text
block that saves the important information you're after, or just the URL.
You can tell the extension which notebook to send the site to, what tags to
apply to it, and even add comments. I can't tell you how many sites and
articles have made their way into my account via this tool.
Many mobile apps offer Evernote integration as well - for my Android phone,
I often send information from Pocket, Digg Reader, the mobile Chrome
browser, or the camera app. The actual Evernote app is itself a powerful
tool, allowing you to create notes manually, take photos from within the
app, or even record voice notes.
For Windows uses, Evernote offers the ability to import all files from any
folder you designate. This automatically creates new notes for you, rather
than forcing you to create a new note manually and then attach the file to
it. For example, whenever I read an article on my computer and annotate it
with Sente or Preview, I save a copy to my "Read articles" folder on Google
Drive. Since "Read articles" is synced to both of my computers, Evernote on
my Windows machine at home detects when I've saved the read article to that
folder, imports it into Evernote, and deletes the original file. Thus, at
that point I've gone from an unannotated PDF article to an annotated
article in Evernote, which I can tag and file away for later reference. If
that ain't wizardry I don't know what is. Oh, and did I mention Evernote
will search within PDFs? Yeah. Just wait for the first time you can't
remember who wrote what but you remember a key phrase from the article.
You'll be throwing every dollar to your name Evernote's way.
These are but a few of the numerous uses to which I put Evernote on at
least a weekly, if not daily, basis. It's become a great tool for
externalizing my brain, as it were, allowing me to stay focused on the
big-picture questions of my research and writing while keeping relevant
materials close at hand and easily searchable. I can't recommend Evernote
highly enough. Reading about certainly won't do the job, though - go
download it right now. The free version will do just fine (although I pay
for a premium subscription myself - you'll see that it's worth it soon
enough). Do it. Do it now!
* - I may post in the future on other productivity tools. Today's post
concludes the tools I wanted to talk about for now.
** - If you get the reference, congratulations! You're likely a
born-and-bred Midwesterner like me. Let's get in touch and throw down some
mad trumps and euchres.
*** - Adding the @ and periods before the tags is intentional. Evernote
provides an alphabetized list of tags in its main window; these symbols
guarantee that important tags rise to the top of the list.
|Scooped by Michael Skaggs|