Posts filed under Evernote

Capture - 2. Evernote

If you look at satellite pictures of my back yard (stalker), you’ll see a well-worn path from the door to the back corner. Every time our dog goes outside, he runs to that corner. What’s weird, though, is that the path is not technically a straight line - about halfway down the path, there is an inexplicable bow. It’s as though Jett has been avoiding a big rock on his way to the corner every time he runs the path. There’s nothing there - he apparently likes to make a miniature detour on his way to bark at the neighbor’s dogs.

I think Jett’s behavior is a good illustration of the challenge of capturing information, tasks, and responsibilities. Why do I write stuff down on a sticky note, when I know I’m gonna have to go back and enter it again somewhere else? Why do I save web-pages as “bookmarks,” when I’ve a billion to scroll through already? Why do I make a grocery list on the back of an envelope, only to discover that I forgot to bring my pen to the grocery store?

Evernote has really helped me address a lot of these “detours” over the past several years. There are a number of ways to “capture” things into Evernote, other than opening a note and typing. This means that just about anything can be easily directed into the Inbox, without creating a significant detour in the workflow. Here are a few of my favorites…

Default Inbox

When you use Evernote for the first time, it creates a notebook with your account name as the default notebook. I changed the name of mine to “!Inbox” - the exclamation point makes the notebook sit on the top of Alphabetical listings. You can change any notebook to be the default notebook by clicking the settings wheel on the bottom-right corner of the notebook, and selecting “Make this my default notebook” Having a dedicated inbox is the first step to Evernote Nirvana, as this is where all new information will go IN, and from where all processed information will go OUT (to other notebooks). I’ve written elsewhere about setting up Evernote more generally.

Email Drop

Evernote provides the user with a unique email address that will send information directly to the default notebook. To find this, open the Evernote web-app at Evernote.com, and go to account settings. On the account summary, near the end of the list, will be an email address that is attached to your default notebook. If, at any point, this address is compromised, you can reset the address. Forgive me for the blocked out information on the image below - as my mom used to say, “I trust you, I just don’t trust the other drivers.”

The email drop EXTREMELY valuable, and may be the most important part of my workflows with Evernote. There are some obvious ways to use this email address, and some not-so-obvious-but-oh-so-cool ways to use it as well.

Before Evernote, I used to try to delete emails that I thought would never be important. I’m not talking about spam here, but the email from Larry announcing to the university that his daughter was visited by the tooth-fairy. I am quite happy to hear it, and don’t mind the email per se. But I have found it difficult to accurately predict what will be useful in the future. Nowadays, I keep a great deal of email in my email-archive. I still delete spam and a lot of bacn as well, but Larry’s family dental history may well be archived in my email account.

However, when Larry sends me some data that may be important for a future committee meeting, I’ll forward that to my Evernote Inbox. If something seems important, or potentially important, and I believe that I will want to reference it someday, I send it to Evernote (e.g. emailed receipts, travel confirmations, interesting articles, committee reports).

Some email doesn’t seem important at the time I receive it, but becomes important in the future. Since I archived it in my email, I can find it and send it to Evernote. So Evernote has the stuff that seemed important (at one time or another), and my email archive has stuff that may never be important. Who knows, Larry may ask me to give a toast at his daughter’s wedding one day, and I’ll have some great tooth-stories to share.

I’ve found that some of the most important information in my email is in my “Sent” folder. If I send data, or information, or anything that I want to keep reference of, I add my Evernote Email Drop address in the BCC line. I just used it this morning - HR asked me for some information for an upcoming retreat. I blind-copied Evernote, so that I can pull that same information up in the future (cuz … you know … HR loses stuff).

Pro-Tip - If you forward the email, it will have all the forward-formatting. But in mail.app (Apple Mail), you can “redirect” an email to forward it without all the forward-formatting.

Web Clipper

This is the second-most used feature of my Evernote workflow. I must confess that I hesitated to use it much in the beginning - I really didn’t see the need to save something in Evernote that was retrievable on the web. Nowadays, I clip a lot of stuff. Searching in Evernote for something I clipped is SO much faster than navigating the web to find it. I clip online-payment receipts, interesting articles (not academic ones, I use Zotero for that), instruction manuals, conference schedules, blog-posts - a LOT of stuff. I did worry whether I would clip stuff that would later be useless - and sometimes I do clip stuff that I decide later on is not worth keeping - but I clear that out on Friday afternoons when I process my Evernote Inbox.

The web clipper is available for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and IE. It’s also available on mobile devices, if you have Evernote installed on your phone or tablet (and you should). Here’s how to set it up on iOS…

Once you have the Evernote app on your device, open a page in Safari that you would like to clip. Choose the “send to” icon…

Scroll the top row to the right to the “More” button

Turn on “Evernote”

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Now you can “Share” web-pages with Evernote, which clips them into your Evernote Inbox.

Drafts

If there is anything I don’t like about Evernote, it’s opening it up on my device to take notes. It takes a moment for the app to open, and there are a few clicks to make to get to a new note. Plus, you have to name the note in one field, and then click in the body-field to take the note…ok, this is totally a first-world problem. But I will show you a more excellent way…

Drafts by AgileTortoise is my FAVORITE iOS app. I procrastinated for a long time in trying it out - and I wish I had started using it the day I learned about it. Drafts is a very simple text editor for iOS - but it is also very powerful. Drafts opens quickly to a blank page, where one can start typing immediately. That’s nice when someone finds out you’re going to Jason’s Deli for lunch, and they ask, “Hey, could you pick me up a Southwest Turkey Sandwich with no cheese, no turkey, and extra bananas?” 

But it’s also nice for taking notes in a meeting. I have been trying to go “iPad only” at conferences and meetings lately, and I’ve been using the Markdown features of Drafts to take notes. Drafts can export any note into Evernote in several different formats. I’d be happy to describe how to use Drafts and Evernote, but AgileTortoise has two EXCELLENT articles on their site. Drafts will also make a repeat cameo when we discuss capturing tasks.

Scanning

While a lot of my scanning gets done on my desktop scanner (click HERE for a recent post on going paperless), I use Evernote to scan a lot of bits of paper - receipts, sticky notes, my Moleskine notebook. I prefer to use Evernote's Scannable app, in part because it allows me to capture a scan very quickly without opening the Evernote app. 

Automations

Evernote is so ubiquitous that most automation packages have found ways to integrate it. If This Then That (IFTTT.com) has great integrations with Evernote for web-automation, as does Zapier.com. I use Feedly for my RSS reader, and clip a lot of stuff to Evernote from there. 

Cleaning !Inbox

By the end of the week, my Evernote Inbox can be pretty full. As mentioned previously, I tend to first decide whether I was under the influence when I sent stuff to Evernote, and delete as much as necessary. I then process the notes, adding tags and sometimes changing titles of notes. Most everything gets sent to my Reference notebook, which is my archive in Evernote. I try to get the Evernote Inbox to Zero at least once a week.

 

 

Posted on June 30, 2015 and filed under GTD, Evernote.

Capture - 1. Inboxes

When I first started in seminary, one of the faculty described the program as "trying to drink from a fire-hose." I learned later that this is a cliché used by lots of academic programs - but the metaphor does a fine job of describing the immense challenge of capturing information and responsibilities. It can be difficult to gather everything that needs to be processed - and the same is true in our work contexts as well.

One of the specific frustrations I've experienced in the Higher Ed context, more than in any other work experience, is the way that new streams (or to maintain the metaphor, fire-hoses) seem to spring up. I referenced this earlier in the post entitled Streamlining Inboxes, but I thought I'd spend the next several posts describing solutions to the problem of "Capture."

Establishing Inboxes

One of the best pieces of advice I've received on capturing is to have great set of inboxes. As David Allen suggests, one should have as many as are needed, "No more, and no less." I have four major inboxes, and wherever possible, I like to push everything I can into one of those four. Here are the four that have a primary place in my workflow...

Evernote - I entitled this inbox "!Inbox" so that it remains at the top of the list of notebooks in my Evernote. This is the default notebook for everything that goes into Evernote - which tends to be a lot of stuff. I make it a priority to clean this inbox at least once a week (I have a recurring task to remind me to get it done on Friday afternoon). If I am having a crazy week, I may clean it more than once in the week.

Dropbox - Like Evernote, I have a file folder called "!Inbox." The folder sits at the top of my list of folders. I save EVERYTHING into that notebook, and in fact, I have designated it as the default place to save files from the text editor, Scrivener, Word, and everything else. As in the case of Evernote, I clean this out on Friday afternoon.

Email Inbox - This inbox gets cleaned once or twice a day. I tend to process mail before lunch and before leaving work for the day. Tasks are sent to my task manager, receipts and reference materials are sent to Evernote, and everything else is sent to the email archive. 

Task Manager Inbox - This inbox gets cleaned twice a day. After I have processed my email inbox, I'll go to my task manager (in my case, OmniFocus) and assign tasks to projects, assign contexts, and defer dates.

Streamlining Inboxes

Whenever possible, I try to get all information to flow into one of these four inboxes. I'd rather not have to go to 17 different apps and platforms to "hope" against hope that I haven't missed something important. Here are some ways that I have found streamlining to work for me...

Shared Google Docs/Spreadsheets - Some of my colleagues (with whom I collaborate on research) prefer to write in google docs. A very easy way to get these into one of my four inboxes is to copy the link to a file and attach it to the note of a task. I keep the task active (deferring as necessary) until I am done editing a shared document/spreadsheet. The link ensures that I am accessing the latest version of a shared google doc, but I don't have to open google drive to see what's going on. I also have some files on my own google drive that need to stay there (shared with others, attached to scripts, etc.). In those cases, I have created a Hazel rule that copies them into Dropbox so that I have the most recent versions in my Dropbox system.

VoiceMail Messages - My assistant and student workers take messages on the phone for me. I asked them to always ensure that the subject line of the phone message starts with "VMS..." I have a quick and easy IFTTT recipe to look for messages with "VMS" and send them to my OmniFocus maildrop.

Drop-Zones - If Evernote is on your dock, you can easily drop files onto the icon to have them uploaded to your Evernote inbox. I also have a drop zone for my Dropbox Inbox (see the images below), and created a Hotspot using Hazel to do the same with OmniFocus (coming in a future post). I can quickly drop a file onto any one of these three icons in the dock to have files shunted to the appropriate inbox.

 I created a folder named "!Inbox" and found an icon to make it stand out. Then, I simply dragged the folder onto the dock next to the other folders. Now I can quickly drop email attachments or things from my desktop onto the hotspot.

I created a folder named "!Inbox" and found an icon to make it stand out. Then, I simply dragged the folder onto the dock next to the other folders. Now I can quickly drop email attachments or things from my desktop onto the hotspot.

Phone Calls - When I am on the phone, I almost always have a new OmniFocus task opened and ready to capture. I've discovered that almost 80% (I measured it, cuz ... you know ... nerd) of the phone calls I make or receive contain some task that either I or someone else needs to get done. I tried opening Evernote for each phone call, but discovered that I rarely need to capture information, and more often need to capture a task (or a delegated task). 

Email Forwarding - I can't remember whom I owe this nugget to, but they deserve three cheers. When I forward an email to my OmniFocus, the subject line changes to "FWD: <original subject line>" - which means that I either have to fix all of the task names in OmniFocus, or get over the fact that much of my task list has the blasted FWD prefix. But if you are using mail.app, you can REDIRECT an email to your task manager, rather than FORWARDING the email. In this case, the email is sent to the task manager without all of the forward formatting junk.


Processing Inboxes

Sometimes (less than 15% of the time), I may to skip Inboxes and file things directly where they need to go. I've determined to do this only when I a) know where the file needs to go, b) have the time to put it there, c) named the file according to the naming convention, and d) know for certain that the file (or note) will be saved forever.

Otherwise, I process information in my Inboxes by asking myself a series of questions...

  1. Should I just delete it? - Sometimes I save stuff into Evernote, and by Friday I realize that it's not nearly as important as it seemed while I was drunk with web-clipping joy. I'll delete that stuff first.
  2. Does it belong in a different Inbox? - There are times where a task ends up in Evernote, or a file ends up in Dropbox that probably belonged in Evernote. I'll determine if it's in the right place.
  3. Is the file named correctly? - I try to follow a strict naming convention (see my convention HERE). Sometimes, stuff that needs to stay needs to be renamed.
  4. Should the item be processed? - Metadata like tags, projects, contexts, start dates, reminders, etc. get added to the file, note, task, or email.

Going from Inbox Zero to Inbox Hero

When I first heard Merlin Mann describe the Inbox Zero idea, I immediately took note, and started archiving all of my old emails. It turns out, that was not what he was suggesting. It's more about processing the inbox consistently and intentionally, getting stuff where it needs to be, and creating a means by which it is out of mind until it is necessary. Anyone can "select all" in gmail and "archive." But more attention and intention is necessary to actually "process" mail and tasks and files and notes into places where they belong. I call it, "getting to inbox hero."

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/1LymlxR


Posted on June 25, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.

Going Paperless - 3. The Old Stuff

So, having stopped creating new paper, and finding the right tools to get a paperless office in order, it's time to look at those filing cabinets.

This is difficult to admit, but I'm not the most emotionally intelligent person in the world. I've had to learn late in my adulthood to identify and understand my emotions - and frankly, I am often surprised by what might be somewhat rudimentary for others.

A prime example was my unexplained attachment to about 12 linear feet of paper-files. My graduate school experience was mostly comprised of hanging out in the basements of libraries, my cargo-pants loaded with rolls of nickels. I'd collect bound journals, and start copying. On one occasion, I asked the librarian to refill the paper TWICE in one day. I then found some labels for my dot-matrix printer, and created labels for each article.

I've shlepped that corpus of files all over the country. Every time I've moved, including to and from Hawai'i, I've boxed those files up, found new file cabinets, and carefully put them back in order. I'm sad to say that I really only went back to them on VERY rare occasions - but I took them with me wherever I went.

When I decided to go paperless, I found it very difficult to part with these files. As I tried to understand why I couldn't let them go, I realized that I had invested a great deal of time (and nickels) into gathering them - and while I knew that I could find all of them (and more) online, I discovered that I had an emotional attachment to those files.

I got over it - they've all been recycled - but I discovered that we tend to keep stuff for more reasons than "I might need it one day." Like Costanza's overfilled wallet of receipts, we tend to think of "stuff" as "friends."

So in looking at the old stuff in the file cabinet, it's likely important to confess the emotional attachment to the stuff inside - it makes letting it all go a little easier if one can account for the feelings that are associated with our old friends.

Parsing Files

Not everything gets scanned - some of it can be recycled. Here's how I classified the stuff in my filing cabinets so that I could save time and digital space in scanning my old files...

Vitals (Scan and Keep) - The following are scanned into Evernote, but also kept in paper-form

  1. Government issued documents - I scanned birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports, titles, deeds, and state-issued licenses.
  2. Gradebooks - Most institutions require that gradebooks are kept forever. Nowadays, my gradebooks are all digital - but I decided to scan my old paper ones and keep the books in my files as well.
  3. Vital Records - Wills, living wills, divorce decrees, and powers of attorney
  4. Recent Versions Of - Insurance policies, retirement statements, social security statements. Keep only the most recent versions of these, and destroy the older versions.

Necessaries (Scan and Recycle) - The following are scanned into Evernote, and then the paper is shredded and/or recycled

  1. Records - You should have a records policy, especially if you operate any external grants. For example, on the external grants I am responsible for, things must be kept for three years after a grant cycle is complete. 2 CFR Part 200.335 allows for any federal grant to keep digital records "whenever practicable" so long as there are "reasonable safeguards" against alteration.
  2. Personnel Records - Frankly, some institutions prefer that these be housed ONLY in Human Resources. But if you are likely to keep records, they can all be digitized and shredded.
  3. Student Product - I've always kept specific artifacts from students in each class (a final exam, the final paper, etc.) to have some record for program evaluation. Once these are scanned, it makes a lot of sense to shred and recycle them.
  4. Institutional Receipts - Check with your financial office. Mine requires that I be able to produce a receipt from the previous fiscal year if requested - anything before that can be destroyed without scanning. Original receipts are not required if one can produce an electronic version
  5. Personal Receipts - Ask your tax-man what he wants you to be able to produce. Original receipts are not required if one can produce an electronic version.
  6. Unpublished Personal Work - I've kept some of my papers from graduate school and seminary in digital form, and discarded the paper. Who knows, my grandchildren may one day want to know my thoughts on the trade-incentives for Iceland's conversion to Christianity.
  7. Attaboys - I've some cards that I received from students, colleagues, or family that I kinda wanted to keep. I scanned them, and then discarded the originals.

Non-Essentials (Recycle Only) - The following do not get scanned, the paper is shredded and recycled

  1. Old Institutional Records - If your institution or department's records policy states that records can be destroyed, they should be destroyed. I learned the hard way that keeping old records that are older than the records policy presents some liability in an A-133 audit - if you have it, they can test it. It's also a good idea to expunge electronic records according to your institution's records policy as well.
  2. The 12 Linear Feet - Oh, this was hard - but I said goodbye to my good friends. I threw out anything that was published (academic or otherwise). So far, I've not been sorry yet.
  3. Unnecessary Student Artifacts - Quizzes, Midterm exams, minor papers, and homework assignments went to the shredder without the warm glow of the scanner.
  4. Manuals - I found a manual for my old IBM 8088 computer. Maybe I should have checked whether that was collectible before I chucked it. Hmmmm.
  5. Old Contact Information - Let's face it, a phone number on a yellowed piece of paper from 20 years ago may no longer be useful. Plus, you can likely ask the person for updated contact info on Facebook. You say they're NOT on Facebook? They don't want to talk to you anyways, then.

Full Disclosure

When I was in seminary, I took notes for 8 hours a day for three years (summer included). The result is a series of about 16 2-inch binders with all of my notes in them. I'm not going to scan them, and I am not going to throw them away. I decided that I am quite comfortable with a little nostalgia. Also, I'm no Philistine.

Discarding Old Files

When throwing out old files, whether they were scanned or not, it's a really good idea to shred them before recycling them. I initially started shredding stuff myself - but that took a lot of time, and it was really messy. I finally decided to pay to have my old stuff shredded and recycled - it was a great decision. Not only was it easier, but I also learned that the service I used CROSS-shreds, which means that they turn your paper into little quarter-inch squares. It's super secure. I still have a shredder that I use for small jobs - but if you've boxes of stuff that need to be shredded and recycled, consider paying someone else to do it.

Scanning Services

I didn't try having my stuff scanned by professionals - and I'm not sure I would have in retrospect. One of my colleagues, however, used a service that collected his boxes of files, scanned them, stored the files on a cloud so that he could get them, and then shredded and recycled the paper. It was a little expensive, but he believes this was the best way to go. Once I pared down the vitals and necessaries, I discovered that I had a lot less to scan than I thought I would. 

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/1H0ahof

Posted on June 18, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.

Going Paperless - 2. Essential Tools

Perhaps because my pop was a machinist, I am a tool-freak! In fact, one of my guilty pleasures is browsing the Snap-On and Matco tool websites - I sorta like to fantasize about all the wonderful things I could do with a good Cleco fastener (for sheet-metal work). The truth is, I don't need a Cleco fastener, because I am never going to do sheet metal work - besides, I'm pretty sure my pop has one anyways ;-) On the other hand, I've found that the right tools, and the right QUALITY, are really important to getting things done effectively.

I once stopped to help a man on the side of the road change his flat tire. When I drove up, he was trying to remove the lug nuts with a pair of pliers. I guess it COULD have been done - but he really needed the lug wrench that remained pristine and undisturbed in his trunk.

Frankly, when it comes to going paperless, some of the same principles apply. There are a lot of very specialized tools that are both expensive and specific. Conversely, there are probably ways to get lugs nuts off with a pair of pliers - but the right tools can make a MAJOR difference.

So what tools are most valuable when it comes to going paperless? I have found the following necessary in my normal every-day management of files and paper.

Dropbox

This is my default place for storing files. I even keep my iTunes and Photos libraries there - so all of my stuff is available on my desktop, my laptop, and my tablet. I recommend starting with the free version, but keep in mind that at some point you will want to pay for additional storage. I've tried other cloud services (iCloud, GoogleDrive, Box, and even thumbdrives) - there's just nothing out there that does the trick as well as Dropbox.

Dropbox is NOT a backup. It's a really good idea to use some sort of additional backup (like Time Machine or Carbonite) to have second version of your Dropbox saved in case aliens abduct all of the Dropbox servers. 

Pro-Tip - Other folks on campus will invite me to Google Drive documents to share stuff "in the cloud." I've written a Hazel rule that gathers stuff from shared folders in Google Drive and places them in an "inbox" in Dropbox. I try to process that inbox once a week and put things where I want for them to go.

Evernote

I use Dropbox to store FILES. I use Evernote to store INFORMATION. There are other services that are also pretty good as well (OneNote is great), but Evernote is becoming increasingly ubiquitous among other users. Since you will likely want to share a note or notebook at some point, Evernote is likely the best option.

I use Evernote for almost everything I scan. Receipts, student work, course development materials, projects, and even my own personal LMS are in Evernote (see my post about Evernote as my preferred LMS HERE). If I am likely to need to reference information later, it will be in Evernote.

Evernote is free to start, but you should plan on purchasing an upgrade in very short order. Currently (as of June 17, 2016), their plans are Free, Plus (24.99/year) and Premium (49.99/year). I started with the free version, and then went to the full Business version - that was a bridge too far. If you are planning to go paperless, I recommend starting with Plus, and then move to Premium if necessary.

Pro-Tip - When I want to take notes on my iPad, I have find "Drafts" by AgileTortoise to be indispensable. The app opens VERY quickly, talks to other apps very well (Evernote, OmniFocus) and supports Markdown (you can even Markdown to Evernote). If I am typing on my iPad, it's in Drafts.

Scanner

Folks will be giving you paper, whether you want it or not. I have three scanners, and they each do different things for me...

  1. ScanSnap ix500 - This desktop scanner is the most important part of my paperless toolbox. It is extremely fast, scans duplex (two sided), almost never "misfeeds," and the ScanSnap software is remarkable (it allows one to choose whether to scan to Evernote as PDF, Evernote as JPEG, Dropbox, etc.). My assistant uses a NeatDesk scanner, but she's decided that mine is better. It's pricey (around $420), but it works ALL the time. The ScanSnap s1300i is also quite nice, has a smaller footprint, the same software, and a lot cheaper (around $260). I use one of these on my home computer.
  2. Scannable - This is a free (as of June 17, 2016) app that the good folks at Evernote developed for iOS. It is a GREAT scanner!!! The camera finds the edges of a sheet of paper (or Moleskine page, or receipt) and captures the page. Scannable will capture the image as soon as it sees it - without having to push any buttons. It will also deskew, unwrinkle, convert images to black-and-white, and send them to Evernote with exceptional ease. Evernote has the same software in the iOS Evernote app, but I keep Scannable on my home screen so that I can quickly capture paper without opening the Evernote app. Scannable is so fast that my colleagues who travel with me have joked about how I can scan a receipt faster than they can open a wallet to store theirs. True. What's also true is that I'll actually have mine when it's time to do the expense report ;-)
  3. Copier - The university provides offices with a big copy machine (Canon irC2550) that also scans. It's in our department's main office, so it's not really convenient to go over there to get something scanned. But when I started clearing old paper files, it was really useful. I actually had student workers do a lot of that scanning, so it was nice that they didn't have to sit at my desk - and the copier chews through big files very quickly. My rule is, if I am doing the scanning, I use my scanner. If a student is doing scanning for me, they can use the big copier.

Pro-Tip - I use Scannable a lot in the library. I take a quick snapshot of text that I want to refer to later, and send it to Evernote. 

Zotero

I'll probably refer to this in the next post as well, but I spent a good deal of my graduate education in the basements of libraries with my cargo-pants LOADED with nickels. It's so very nice to be able to search for and find academic articles online. Zotero has become my file-cabinet for all academic articles.

This is one instance where free is better. I purchased Papers III, and have paid for Mendeley, and found that neither met my needs nearly as well as Zotero (to see a comparison of Zotero and Mendeley, CLICK HERE). I also tried to keep that stuff in Evernote for a time, but I decided that Zotero's citation tools and browser integrations were just too good to pass up. If I am saving a peer-reviewed article, especially one that will likely be cited at some point, it goes into Zotero.

Pro-Tip - I use Zotero to manage my own library as well. I use a free app called "Bar-Code" to scan the ISBN bar code on the back of the book, and import those into Zotero. I can track where by books are (Home, Office, Student-who-I-errantly-believed-would-return-it), and the citation help is really nice as well. I've an upcoming post planned for that workflow.

There are other tools that may be valuable for more specific concerns - and if I ever need a Cleco fastener, I'll go get one. These are the tools that, at least currently, are indispensable multi-taskers that have proven valuable in my paperless office.

Image Credit: http://selnd.com/1GP6uIt

 

 

Posted on June 17, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.

Going Paperless - 1. Getting Started

When I worked at Texas Instruments in the early 90s, one of my fellow linguists would print every email he received at work. He had about three stacks of paper on his desk, each about two-feet high. Try as they might, the programming nerds could never convince Jack that the emails were safely recoverable on the servers - he insisted that they must be printed to be "permanent."

I think of Jack a lot in Higher Ed. His anachronistic view of the "ephemeral" nature of electronic media seems to have found its preservation in academe. I still show up to committee meetings where stacks of paper are distributed across the conference table - as if they are somehow more "real" than emailing docs. Students pick up on these biases, and often believe that a paper turned in on paper is somehow more "complete" than a pdf. In the absence of an institutional priority to intentionally move to paperless, faculty and staff are kind of left to their own devices to figure out how to go paperless.

Part of the challenge in going paperless is the inertia that paper seems to have. If I've old stuff in paper form in a file cabinet, it can feel daunting to think about scanning, naming, and filing all of that stuff. And since that stuff is paper, I might as well postpone going paperless.

I'd like to suggest that this is not the way to get started - and here are a few tips that can help get you on the path to "someday" being paperless.

Step 1 - Choose One Project

Rather than trying to "go paperless" on everything, a great way to start is on one project or in one course. I found that this approach gives room to work out specific kinks without investing time in fixing the whole system. For example, when I went paperless in one of my classes, I thought it would be fine for my students to send me their papers in email. That was a mistake - but it was a mistake in only one class, so it wasn't a big deal. I started with a single course, and a single committee, and focussed on finding paperless solutions in those two contexts. In short order, I started to figure out my system to migrate other projects and courses to entirely paperless affairs.

Step 2 - Stop Printing

Before worrying about scanning, it's a good idea to stop printing. In fact, printing to PDF is a great habit to develop. Usually, we print when we want to give someone a document - but if one develops the habit of "printing to PDF," those same documents can be sent via email (or Slack, etc.).

Step 3 - Inboxes

I keep a lot of my files in Evernote (Receipts, reference material, websites), and the rest in Dropbox (Records, gradebooks, student papers). I've found that organizing these in "real time" can be a "real headache." Instead, I have an inbox in Evernote, and an inbox in Dropbox - everything is saved to those inboxes, and processed later. I have an OmniFocus task to clean the inboxes once a week. This practice has proven useful in two major ways...

  1. I can batch name a lot of the work I've done in the week - if I've been working on a specific project, most of those files may have similar names.
  2. I DELETE files that I discovered I didn't really need - sometimes I realize that I saved a file that doesn't deserve to be saved. If I decide I don't want to process it, I delete it.

Step 4 - Ask for E-files - Politely

I was recently in a committee meeting where a colleague passed out a stack of printed spreadsheets. Saying, "I hate paper - why don't you just email us the files, you idiot?" is probably not the most effective means of getting cooperation. I will often say to a colleague, "Sarah, I really appreciate these data, and I'd like to make sure I don't lose them - can you email me a copy of this for my files?" Truth be told, when I get them, I throw the paper copies in recycling ;-) Your mileage may vary.

Pro-Tip

I mentioned this tip in the article about Filenaming Conventions - but it bears repeating. I use TextExpander to make my filenaming seamless and painless. I have a series of snippets that expand to common filenames. For example, I’ve a snippet with a shortcut “.pro” to conduct the following snippet...

<Proposal - %| - %y-%m-%d>

This snippet will expand to create a document title - and it will move the cursor into the middle of the file name so that I can add the unique identifier…

Proposal - | - 15-06-05

 

So we haven't even discussed scanning - let alone emptying the filing cabinets. Think about small projects, single classes, and trying to minimize GENERATING paper before trying to de-staple 24 linear feet of journal articles. I'll give some tips for THAT monster in the near future :-)

Posted on June 16, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.

Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast

I got to join Bonni Stachowiak on her podcast "Teaching in Higher Ed" the other day, and it came out on her feed today.  I really REALLY enjoyed the conversation.  

Some of our discussion reminded me that it is very easy to get "in the weeds" with Evernote. Bonni did an excellent job of guiding the conversation to "what is possible" when thinking about using Evernote in Higher Ed.

If you would like to listen to this podcast, you can find it HERE. She has a great podcast, and a wonderful site as well.

Image Credit: Bonni Stachowiak - http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/evernote/

Posted on May 14, 2015 and filed under Evernote.

Evernote in the Classroom

I have a confession to make (on behalf of my institution)... I have lived through LMS hell over the past 5 years at my university. To date, I have recreated one course in four different LMS systems - and since LMSs don't talk to one another kindly, I have had to recreate them from scratch. Fortunately, we seemed to have adopted a new LMS that should have some shelf-life, but the experience has forced me to take matters into my own hands.

Additionally, while I like to use an LMS for communicating grades (or accepting papers or automating quizzes and exams), I really prefer to own my materials. If I ever decide to pack my books for a new institution, I would like to take as much of my work with me as possible.

For these reasons, I started looking to Evernote as a way of collecting my lesson plans, presentations, notes, and other resources into course notebooks that can easily be shared with the students in my class. At this point, my students tell me that they LOVE having the course material in a shared notebook, and I think I have a system worked out that could survive another four LMS platforms (*shudder*).

Setting up the Course

I mentioned previously that I have very few notebooks. The exception to this rule is that I have a separate notebook for each class that I am currently teaching. I usually name those notebooks by the course dept, number, section, and semester code that my institution uses. In the example that follows, the course is ENGL432.01 (dept., number, section) 201520 (spring, 2015). The reasons for a unique notebook are several...

  1. I need to be able to share this notebook with a specific class. Whatever is added to the notebook is shared, and all of my awesome pesto recipes elsewhere in Evernote remain private.
  2. I invite only the students in my course to the notebook.
  3. When the semester is over, I will tag them (ENGL 432), move the notes to my Reference notebook, and delete the shared course notebook. Later, I can search for the tag, and create a new shared notebook for the next semester.

Conventions for Notes

I find it useful to have a system for naming notes in the course notebook. I have three major conventions that I typically prefer to use...

  • Admin - [notename] : This group of notes may include the course calendar, the syllabus, information or helpnotes related to the LMS, etc. I name the note with the course syllabus and calendar "Admin - !Welcome, Contact Info, Syllabus" - the reason for the ! is so that it is listed first when the notes are arranged alphabetically.
  • Chapter [x] - [topic] : If we are following the general outline of a textbook, then I like to arrange my notes according to the chapters as well. Not all of my courses are arranged by chapters in a text - in which case, I will arrange them "Lecture [x] - [topic]
  • FYI - [topic] : I like to share resources with my students that are not required reading, but relate to discussions we have in class. If I run across a new article related to our class lectures, I'll share it as an FYI. Also, I tag these so that I can find them later and incorporate them into the readings for a class the following semester (if they deserve to be included).
  • Study Aid - [topic] : Pretty self-explanatory, I think ;-)

Lecture Notes

If you are a premium user, you can attach powerpoints or keynotes to the notes. I used to do this - until I discovered a much more efficient way to present course lecture notes. Evernote's "Presentation Mode" will turn any note into a BEAUTIFUL (and deliciously minimalist) presentation. Below is an excerpt from my class lecture notes...

When I choose "Presentation Mode," the screen goes to this...

I love this solution for several important reasons.

  1. Creating the outline in Evernote is breezy easy. I sometimes write my outlines in OmniOutliner, and then export them to a text file and paste them into Evernote. But recently, I've discovered that I am quite happy to simply draft my lecture notes in the Evernote note directly.
  2. I really want my students to engage in discussion with me - not write down (or type down) stuff on the big screen. They have access to the notes in the previous format within Evernote, and yet see controlled sections of the notes while I am lecturing.
  3. I try very hard to be sensitive to students with disabilities in my class (I am, after all, the ADA compliance officer for my institution). This accommodation of copies of the lecture notes is available to everyone, but can be especially helpful to students with various disabilities.

Final Thoughts

I want to be clear about how Evernote is useful in this context - it is great for giving information to students. You'll still need a system (LMS or otherwise) for the student to submit work, to communicate grades, give exams, etc. But I really do believe that your course is YOUR course, and shouldn't be locked away in the institution's LMS. Evernote have proven to be fertile ground for me to share as much as possible with my students in an accessible way. I can assure you that my students LOVE the shared Evernote notebooks as much as I do.

Image Credit: Evernote Peek. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2015, from https://evernote.com/intl/es/peek/

Posted on April 23, 2015 and filed under Evernote.

Daily Meeting Agendas in Evernote

I've mentioned before that I practically live in Evernote.  One workflow that I've found especially helpful is to have an agenda sent directly from iCal to Evernote using Automator, so that I can log notes from my meetings in one easily searchable place.  I adapted a workflow that I found at macworld.com

To start, create a notebook in Evernote where your daily agendas will land.  I named this notebook "Agendas."

Then open Automator, and select the "Calendar Alarm" option.  This will create a workflow that runs by your calendar at an appointed time.

You'll want to create a workflow that will find a specific calendar (step 1), filter that calendar (step 2), summarize the events (step 3), create a mail message (step 4), and send the message (step 5).  Here's a description of the workflow step-by-step...

Step 1 - Find Calendars

In the "Applications" library (on the far left column of Automator), choose "Calendar."  You'll notice several application choices - click and drag "Find Calendars" to the workspace.  Edit this selection so that you Find calendars where: All of the following are true: Title contains yourcalendarname

Step 2 - Filter Calendar Events

In the Calendar library, click and drag "Filter Calendar Items" to the workspace.  Edit this selection so that you Filter events where: All of the following are true: Date Starting is today.

Step 3 - Event Summary

In the Calendar library, click and drag "Event Summary" to the workspace.  No need to edit anything here.

Take a look at my example of the workflow steps 1-3 below...

Step 4 - Create a Mail Message

In the "Applications" library (on the far left column of Automator), choose "Mail."  You'll notice several application choices - click and drag "New Mail Message" to the workspace.  Enter your unique Evernote email address, and a subject line.  I chose to call mine "Daily Meetings Agenda - Date Month, Year"  To enter the date and day variables, click "Variables" and click and drag "Current day," "Current Month" and "Current Year" into the subject line.  I also added @Agendas so that the note goes directly into the "Agendas" notebook in Evernote. I recently edited this and added #taskclone to my subject line as well - this way, I don't have to select the taskclone tag if I suddenly find that I have a task in my daily notes.

I have chosen to leave the message block blank.

Step 5 - Send Outgoing Message

In the Mail library, click and drag "Send Outgoing Message."


You can test this workflow by clicking "Run" (it's the play button on the top-right of the Automator window), and you should get a Daily Agenda into Evernote.  (Excuse the blackouts - I had to redact private information).

Automating the Workflow

When you click "Save" in Automator, it will prompt you to add this event to your calendar.  The default is a one-time event, so you'll need to go to the Calendar App and edit how the event recurs, and what time you want the agenda sent (mine sends at 5:30 a.m., M_F).

Working with the Agendas Workflow

Each morning, my agenda is sent to Evernote.  When I am at a meeting, I am able to immediately take notes. And since I have lately added the #taskclone tag to the subject line of the outgoing emails, if I do add a task in the meetings, I can be sure that they immediately sync to my task manager.

Please let me know whether this works for you.  Even more valuable, what modifications have you made to this workflow that improve it even further?

Posted on April 6, 2015 and filed under Calendar Management, Evernote.

Evernote in Higher Ed - Introduction

When I first started using Evernote several years ago, I struggled to understand whether and how it could really address some of the organizational needs I have in Higher Ed.  I could always see how a website developer or a writer might use the system, but I struggled to see how an academic would effectively use it.

Fast forward to today, Evernote has become the very nerve-center of everything I do.  I thought over the next several posts, I'd try to describe how Evernote has become "king" in my workflows.

To start, let me describe one of the ways that Evernote is often misused, and discarded before the user finds its real value.  The temptation, when getting into the platform, is to set up lots and lots of notebooks - and then stack those many notebooks toward some kind of organization.  I have discovered that this is the least efficient way to use Evernote.

Search

At this point, I have relatively few notebooks.  In principle, I really only need two - Inbox and Reference.  I do have a few others (explained below), but I frankly use these two notebooks for the bulk of my work.  

Between Evernote's search engine and the use of tags, I have found that I can find almost anything in my Evernote "Reference" folder within seconds - MUCH faster than I could by browsing through notebooks.  In fact, I stumbled upon this organizing principle in part because I couldn't find the stuff I was looking for by browsing through my many project notebooks.  Early on, I thought using "Search" was evidence that I didn't have enough notebooks (or that I wasn't disciplined enough to keep things organized).  Now, I understand that "Search" in Evernote is the real power of the platform.

Tags

Next to the Search tool in Evernote, Tags are the best feature of Evernote organization.  Since multiple tags can be applied to a note, the organizational (and retrieval) options are far superior to having a complex system of notebooks.  For example, if I am in a meeting where we discuss budget, course loads, and accreditation, I would simply add tags as the meeting progresses.  A search for "accreditation" tags later will bring up the note from that meeting - and I have not been obligated to choose where and how it should be filed.

I have discovered that having tags preceded by # or @ make searching even easier.  If I search for "budget," my search results will show every note that has that word anywhere in the text.  If, however, I search for "#budget," I'll only get the notes that have been TAGGED as #budget.

I have evolved to the following general conventions for tags (I may show my full convention in a later post)...

  • #Project - For my purposes, a project is something that has a start and and end.
  • @People - Many notes are associated with colleagues or students or family members, or groups.  Some of my notes, for example, are tagged @LT for our college's leadership team members.
  • %Subject - If I find that I am collecting a lot of material that relates to a specific subject that's not really a "project" per se, I'll tag it as a subject.  For example, if I find an interesting illustration for my linguistics class that relates to social dialects, I may tag the note with %dialects-social and %phonetics and %linguistics.  Some subject tags are more "broad" than others; this is a good thing.  If I am trying to browse a creative illustration from my Reference folder, I want a broad subject search.  If I am trying to find something specific, I will want a narrow subject search.  Multiple subject tags can help me search both the broad (%linguistics) and narrow (%dialects-social), depending upon what my needs are.

Shared Notebooks

I mentioned above that I only need, in principle, two notebooks.  In practice, I actually use a few more.  Sharing is one of the primary reasons why you would want to think about creating an additional notebook (I don't really want to share my entire Reference notebook with my students).  I require my students to use Evernote in my class, since I place all of my notes and resources I want to share to the class within a shared notebook.  I have one for each course (and each instance of a course) that I teach.

In a future post, I'll describe how Evernote has replaced Powerpoint or Keynote for my presentations.  Until then, all of my notes, handouts, lecture slides, assignments, and links to other resources can be found in the shared notebook.  Sometimes, I'll even copy a note from my Reference folder into the shared course notebook.

Other Notebooks

In addition to shared notebooks, I will sometimes set up a temporary notebook to work on a short project.  For example, we just recently had to do an assessment of student papers for a Quality Enhancement Plan for accreditation.  I sent all the files to my Evernote in a folder called QEP.  When I finished with the assessment, I moved all of the files to "Reference" and deleted the QEP folder.

I also have a folder called "Receipts."  I have to fill out an expense report each month, so I hold all receipts that have been scanned into Evernote in that notebook until the expense report is complete.  When it's complete, I tag all the notes #Expense-Year-Month and then send them to Reference.

Inbox

My default Evernote notebook is called "Inbox."  This is a holding place for things that need to be processed (whether to Reference, or to a course, or to tasks).  It is not a place for things to hang-out.  While I try to process my email inbox at least once a day, and my task management inbox once a day, I try to make sure that Evernote's Inbox is cleaned at least once a week (often at the end of the week).  Any longer than one week, and things start to back up on me.

I'll share some other uses of Evernote in Higher Ed in the coming weeks.  Meanwhile, I would recommend a couple of excellent resources (I have no association, financial or otherwise with any of these - I just like their stuff)...

I highly recommend Brett Kelly's Evernote Essentials.  It's worth WAY more than the pittance he charges for this book.  

David Rivers, at Lynda.com, has two excellent courses on using Evernote (one for Mac and one for Windows).  These tutorials are more than 2 hours long, so there's a great deal of information.  

Evernote has a great youtube tutorial on using Evernote for Business.  The first half of the video is related to organizing Notebooks (something that is important for Evernote for Business), but this video also has a GREAT tutorial on Tags.  I recommend fast forwarding to 23:30 for info on tags.

 

Posted on December 26, 2014 and filed under Evernote, General.

Taskclone for Evernote

The Problem

I work a great deal in Evernote - I develop lesson plans, document meetings with students, and plan projects with colleagues in Evernote consistently.  In recent semesters, I actually require my students to use Evernote so that I can share notes and resources with them in a streamlined fashion.  I am sure that in future posts, I will be sharing the many and various ways to use Evernote effectively in academe.

But one of the problems many Evernote users face is how information can get "stuck" in a note. If, during a meeting, I write some tasks in the note that need to be completed, I could (and do) forget to migrate those tasks into my task manager.

The Solution

Taskclone is a nifty, and relatively inexpensive, solution to the problem.  It will scan through notes to find tasks and send them to one of about 40 different task management systems (Omnifocus, Nozbe, Todoist, etc.).  The end result is that I can type away in Evernote during a meeting, and be confident that any tasks I've created will automatically migrate into my Omnifocus for processing.

Taskclone looks in notes tagged "taskclone," and finds text that follows a checkbox...

Once Evernote is synced, Taskclone will find the three checkboxes in the note, and send them to my task manager.  Notice how those same three items are now in my Omnifocus inbox...

 

Tips and Tricks

  • Pricepoint: At the time of this posting, the Taskclone's pricing (as described above) is $11.95/year.  For $15.95/year, you can also connect gCal entries as well as task entries.  For my money, it was worth the extra $4.
  • Customization: Notice that the tasks in Omnifocus begin with "|EN|" for "Evernote."  You can change how these look in the Taskclone web menu.
  • Links: Taskclone places a link to the Evernote note in the "notes" section of the task.  You can set whether this is a link to the app, or to the Evernote web.  I recommend selecting the web option, as it opens the note in a browser.
  • Migrated Tasks: Once a task has been migrated out of Evernote, Taskclone places a marker in the Evernote note to ensure it doesn't get migrated again.  By default, the Evernote marker is "|TC|"  It is important to leave that marker in the note - if you remove it, the task will be sent again at the next sync.
Posted on December 9, 2014 and filed under Task Management, Evernote.