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