Going Paperless: 5 More Tips for Speeding up Productivity with Evernote Using Third-Party Tools

As I became more determined to go paperless, I realized that getting information into Evernote quickly and easily was critical. Jumping through hoops to create notes or capture paper can be a show-stopper. Last week, I provided 5 tips for speeding up note creation and searches in Evernote. In this week’s post, I have 5 more tips, this time centered around how you can speed up your paperless productivity with some third-party tool.

1. Use the Drafts app to quickly create note on your iPhone

When you need to grab a quick note–perhaps you are jotting down a phone number, address, or some other important piece of information, speed is everything. To capture this information without paper, the process needs to be faster than it would be if you carried around a pen and paper.

Back in May, I wrote a post describing how, after running some trials with the Evernote app on the iPhone, I found that it was still faster for me to scribble notes like these down on a pad of paper, and scan those pages into Evernote later. Based on my trials, it took me 25 seconds in cold1 trials before I could start typing my note into Evernote. In instances where the Evernote app was already running on my phone, it took 13 seconds. Still too long.

Several people back then suggested I try out an iPhone app called Drafts by Agile Tortoise. I did this and was delighted to find that Drafts is very speedy and integrates seamlessly with Evernote. If I need to jot a quick note in Evernote in my iPhone, I’ve found myself using Drafts more and more. Based on my own cold trials (iPhone 5), from the time I click the Drafts icon until the time I can start typing a note is less than 3 seconds. This is less than the time it would take me to pull my pad out of my pocket, turn to a blank page and start writing.

I also like the clean, simple interface of Drafts:


One final advantage that Drafts has: it can integrate with the iOS version of TextExpander. Text expansions you’ve created in TextExpander will automatically expand when used in Drafts (see tip #2 below).

2. Use TextExpander for frequently-used text snippets in notes

When I am working on my iMac, I find TextExpander by Smile Software really speeds up my work. Given the nature of my freelance work, I get a lot of the same kinds of questions, and I have snippets to handle answers to most of those questions so that I don’t have to keep retyping them each time. It is an enormous time saver.

I will also use TextExpander within Evernote’s thick client on the Mac in order to speed up my note creation. I’ve covered this topic in an earlier Going Paperless post but wanted to call it out again here because it really does save me time when entering information into my notes.

And as I indicated above, if you also use TextExpander on your iOS devices, the Drafts app makes use of the TextExpander libraries to be able to expand your snippets as you type on your phone or iPad, also saving lots of time when creating notes.

3. Use KustomNote for creating and using templates for your notes

Sometimes, you collect notes that are in a standard format–what is essentially a template. KustomNote does a very nice job of filling this niche. KustomNote (which was featured in Evernote’s DevCup for 2012) allows you to create templates which you can then use to fill in standardized “forms” as notes in Evernote. KustomNote goes a step further, allowing you to share your templates and use templates from a public repository.  In the public repository, other uses can vote for how useful a template is, making it easy to find those templates that are most useful.



KustomNote works on a mobile device through their mobile web interface, which is nice and clean and gives you access to all of your templates in a mobile setting. Overall, it is a useful web-app for quickly capturing “standardized” notes.

Check out the public repository; there are some really good template ideas out there, things that I would never have thought of myself.

4. Let Evernote handle text recognition when scanning

If you are trying to go paperless, then you almost certainly have a scanner with which to scan any paper you do get into Evernote. I am still using my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i for my primary scanning, and my Doxie One when I am away from my office.

Most of these scanners come with software that will do things like create searchable PDFs by doing an optical character recognition scan while scanning your document. The software creates a PDF on which the text is searchable. The problem I’ve found is that this can slow down the scanning process significantly.

Instead, if you are an Evernote Premium user, I suggest turning off the OCR scanning on your scanner software and instead, allow Evernote to do the OCR for you. When you upload a PDF to Evernote, OCR will happen automatically on Evernote’s servers, after which, the search data will be downloaded back to your machine. This allows scanning to continue quickly, while still allowing you to get the searchable PDFs that are part of what make Evernote so useful.

5. Use Evernote Clearly/Web Clipper to quickly grab anything from the web

There are just too many great articles on the web for me to keep up with. When I find something interesting, or something I might want to keep for later when I am browsing around, I use Evernote Clearly to capture the article in Evernote. Clearly is a great tool. It formats any web page into a nice, clean-looking document that I can highlight, annotate and, of course, send to Evernote.

If you’ve never used Clearly, here is an example of a web page without Clearly:

Clearly Before

And here is the same page in Evernote Clearly:


I like how Clearly cleans up the page, capturing just the important content. I can then click the Evernote icon to send the note to Evernote. It is a quick way of capturing stuff from the web.

I also use the Evernote Web Clipper. This I primarily use to capture things like receipts, PDFs or images I want to capture in Evernote. (I use Clearly almost exclusively for capturing articles)

These tips, combined with the 5 tips from last week, are some of the ways I’ve found to speed up how I get notes into Evernote so that I don’t get bogged down in the mechanics of collecting notes. It allows me to focus instead on the task at hand, and it allows me to capture whatever I need quickly and with a minimal amount of intrusion.

Do you have suggestions for how to speed up note collection, creation and searching? Leave your tips and suggestions in the comments.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 5 Tips for Speeding Up Note Creation and Searches in Evernote (Part 1).

  1. A cold trial is one where the app is not already running in the background. A warm trial is one where the app is running in the background.


  1. Hi Jamie,

    My concern about number 4 : OCR is future proofing and the fact I don’t know the Evernote system for providing OCR – perhaps you can help to explain.

    Sure, I don’t think Evernote will be going away soon, and as a Premium user, I get the advantages of OCR, but what happens if Evernote does go away, or I stop being a Premium user? Do already scanned PDFs remain searchable? Does the OCR information remain local, or stay on the Evernote servers?

    1. Paul, I think it is a valid concern, but one that I personally don’t lose sleep over. That said, this is a pretty good technical document on how image text and PDF search data recognition works in Evernote, so you get some idea of what is happening behind the scenes, as well as what is available through the API.

      I know that for Premium users, Evernote can search inside Office documents. I’d assume that would mean it can take advantage of searchable PDFs without any additional hoops, but I’m not certain. I’ll see if I can get an answer for you on that.

    2. Paul, I’d highlight the following paragraph in the document I linked to:

      If you export a note containing a PDF that has been processed by the OCR system, there will be two nodes in the document: data and alternate-data. The data node contains a base–64 encoded version of the original PDF and the alternative-data represents the searchable version of the same PDF.

      I did a test, and exported a PDF that I knew was processed for OCR by Evernote servers and there were indeed two MIME-encoded version of the document in the export. The second version was the version of the PDF containing the search data. Performing a standard MIME conversion on the data in this section would produce a searchable PDF file.

  2. Good article. What is your favorite app or preferred wirkflow when capturing articles on your iPhone? E-Mail to Evernote just sends the URL and the web clipper doesn’t work either. I tried Everclip
    but it’s not that great. Any thoughts?

    1. The easiest way I’ve found to save articles to Evernote from Safari on the iPhone is to tap the “Reader” button in Safari and then send the article to Evernote via email. From the “Reader” view, Safari will email the article’s full text and not just the URL.

    2. Christoph, typically if I am looking at articles on my iPhone it is almost always through Feedly via the Feedly app. There, I open the article in question, click on the menu and then click on the Evernote icon to send the article to Evernote.

    1. I would say there is no need for an equivalent of Drafts on Android because with the Evernote widget you can create a new note in seconds.

      I would be interested in alternatives for Text Expander though.

    1. Squarespace Notes looks like a knockoff of the earlier version of Drafts. Has some nice gesture support. Drafts offers a lot more export linkages, and the ability to control which Evernote notebook drafts go into, etc. For example, during Nanowrimo, I always have a link set up for my nano notebook, so that any thoughts I have on the spur of the moment can be sent directly to that notebook, instead of having to be sorted later.

  3. There are meny apps for quick note taking. I use QEver. It’s free and very fast for inputing text/photos into evernote. You can either have it auto save the note as is or add/edit tags and notebooks (it syncs with the actual list you have on EN).
    I get from lock-screen to start typing in about 2sec on my iphone5 if the app is already running and 3-4sec if its shut down.

  4. Hi Jamie – interesting you are setting out to go paperless. (That reminds me – I must try and get my Canon P150 scanner working one more time!)

    I agree that Evernote takes forever to open on the iPhone – that’s why I use Fastever. it’s a simple notetaker which opens in a split second. You type in your note and it syncs with Evernote now and again. I find it great.



  5. Hi,

    I´m sorry to inform you, but the OCR (even in a Premium version of EN) does not work this way … Let me try to explain what is happen with me …

    I´ve been scanning lots of papers as pdf (without OCR – well, as I´m a premium user, EN is suppose to do that for me).

    After I send the pdf to EN (let´s say a 4 page pdf), in a few moments I can find just the note where the word – which is inside the pdf – is. No way to find (highlight) the word inside the pdf … This is useless for a multiple page document.

    I usually use the web interface and, sometimes, the windows desktop app, as I don´t have yet a mac …

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. It is possible this varies by client (Web vs. Mac vs. Windows, etc.) I just did a test where I searched for the word “agent” in Evernote on my Mac. Several PDFs came up in the results and in looking at the note, I see the word “agent” highlighted in the text of the PDF. For example:

      Searching a PDF

      It is possible that this varies by client. That I am not certain, but I am certain that once the OCR search data has been proceeded for PDFs that I put into Evernote, the text is generally highlighted in the PDF when I do a search.

    2. I’ve had the same experience.
      Reason for me to switch on the OCR on the Scansnap. Also because I’m not scanning a lot of papers the same time, waiting for Scansnap to do the OCR is not a problem. But maybe I was to ‘hasty’, not wanting to wait for a EN sync… Will try again.

  6. Hi Jamie,
    Have you tried Everlog. I discovered it just days before your post. It also can be used for custom templates, but the configuring is done on iPhone. It can even include a drawing. I have used it for both a meeting template and a quick notes template. There is a lite version also.

  7. I want to second Jamie:

    Either on Windows or Mac clients, I’m able to search inside indexed PDFs… at least if I let EN servers to index it .. which can cost one or two syncs.. i.e several minutes.
    Of course, if I drag-n-drop the PDF to EN then immediately performs the search, that does not work. PDF file has to go on EN side to be indexed… in a indexing queue on which Premium accounts have priority… queue, so a little delay to have the result

  8. Another nice installment. Thanks for the heads up about KustomNote. My son started college a last week, and I was trying to give him a tutorial on Evernote leading up to him leaving. I think that KustomNote could be useful to him for homework, and other organizational needs.

    A while back, I used Springpad to scan the barcodes of every book in my house. It was a painstaking process, but I have my entire library cataloged. The one downside is that I don’t know where individual books are in the house. I tried your suggestion of taking pictures of bookshelves, and allowing Evernote to OCR the pictures. It’s not perfect, but it’s nice to know that if you have a clear picture you can catalog everything in your house.

    I love Clearly. I use it all the time for reading articles. I particularly like that I can highlight material in the article, and those highlights show up in the saved Evernote file.


  9. I forgot to mention that I prefer to just go straight into Evernote for all note-taking purposes. I get the idea of increasing speed to access the app, and I may give Drafts a try.

    For what it’s worth, I think Android users may be able to get into the app faster because they could go straight into the app from the lock screen, or make a note from the Evernote widget.

  10. Jamie, thanks for all your detailed descriptions for how you use Evernote! I’ve been using it for several years but never really figured out a good system, and really want to streamline it now, as it’s become too clunky for search (too many notes show up – clearly, I need to go learn the advanced searches).

    Learnt so much from your posts – especially love the Timeline idea and your saved searches. Would love it if you could do a post some time with tips for those of us who’ve been on Evernote for a while or have thousands of notes and want to overhaul our system. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Jamie, you mention in 1 using Drafts. I am concerned that if I have even more budding ideas for stuff to write I am even less likely to write anything, just generate ideas. While I enjoy doing this, how do you select flashes of insight to develop into posts? Pure chance? Conscious thought? What makes a subject click? Regards. A budding writer-blogger-expressionist-something

    1. Mark, I actually don’t jot too many notes for ideas. Generally, I only need to make notes when I am doing something else (like walking) and a thought occurs for the work-in-progress that I absolutely don’t want to forget. I’d say that in a given week, I find myself jotting down notes in this way only one or two times.


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