Going Paperless: Ask Me Anything About Paperless, Evernote or Automation

I noticed earlier in the week that it has been 8 months since I last had an open Going Paperless post in which folks could ask me questions about paperless, Evernote, or automation. I’ve been getting more and more questions via email, and so I figured now was as good a time as any to invite people to ask me anything about going paperless, using Evernote, or paperless automation. I will do my best to answer all of the questions as best as I can.

I am happy to answer questions that I’ve already answered before (I’m kind of used to that) but, you might consider checking some of these links to see if I have answered the questions already. You can still ask, I just thought I’d try to save folks some time for the more frequently asked questions:

My processes evolve so some of the answers I gave in the above links may be different today.

In any case, if you’ve ever wanted to ask me a question about going paperless, using Evernote, or automating processes (which is easier when you are paperless), ask away in the comments and I will do my best to answer throughout the week.

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:  3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier.

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  1. My main problem with evernote (and this has always been a problem, even with paper) is that I clip and forget. I always MEAN to go back and actually read something, but never do. So, I have a bunch of crap in evernote that is really just clutter. How do you know what do keep, what to get rid of after you have read it once, and what to get rid of before reading?


    1. Kittent, I try to avoid putting things into Evernote before I’ve evaluated them. For clipping and things like that, I use Pocket to keep Evernote clutter-free. Basically, when I’m browsing and find an interesting article, I sent it to Pocket. When I have small scraps of time (waiting for a meeting to start, watching TV, etc.) I read the articles that I’ve sent to Pocket. If I find that there is one I want to keep, I’ll use Pocket’s Send To Evernote feature. Otherwise, I just archive it in Pocket. This works well for me because I’m not dumping everything into Evernote. Pocket provides me with a buffer to hold stuff that I need to review before it ever gets into Evernote.

      Put another way, for stuff I read, for research, etc., Evernote acts as a final destination, as opposed to temporary clearing-house. Only stuff I’ve already reviewed and plan to keep for the duration gets into Evernote.

      1. Jamie, I like the Pocket idea as kind of a triage for items before they go into Evernote. My problem with Pocket is that it is so easy and convenient to get stuff into Pocket that I fill it up with so much stuff and then I need a system for that as well. I might have every intention of putting something into Pocket to read later that day and then move to Evernote if I want to archive it for later but then it gets buried with the 50 items from my RSS feed that I told myself “oh, this looks interesting, I will read that tonight for sure”. First world problems I guess…. I think I have over 5,000 unread items in Pocket at this point. I need to get in the habit of not trying to read the entire internet each day.

        1. Eric, if you can’t resist Pocketing the Internet, I probably can’t be of much help. 😉 I think I could pull stats for how much I send to Pocket vs. read in Pocket vs. send to Evernote, and that might make some interesting numbers, although it will have to wait until later in the week. Off the top of my head I’d say less than 1 in 100 items in Pocket make it to Evernote. I tend to read items in Pocket while waiting in line, while ignoring people in elevators, or watching TV with the family in the evening. It’s a useful way to fill otherwise small, unproductive scraps of time.

      2. Hey Jamie, thanks for doing this, I wanted to ask you about using Pocket as an inbox. Do you also have an inbox notebook in Evernote? I find it so much easier to process everything that way. I can keep a liberal finger on the delete key as I process all of the scraps of information that I’ve collected throughout the day (I will often clear my inbox notebook a few times a day, anytime I add something that I know specifically where I want it to go).

        I often will wind up clipping URLs from reddit (with an if this then that script), and then opening them, deleting the note, and then adding a new note using clearly.

        The other thing I often find myself doing on my phone is using mobile safari’s reading feature, and then e-mailing from there to my Evernote e-mail address.

        I guess my question is this; if you do use an evernote notebook as an inbox, doesn’t that mean that both that notebook Pocket are an inbox to your evernote? Does that cause problems?

        1. I do have an inbox in Evernote, but that inbox usually gets cleared out every night as part of my daily review. I don’t think of Pocket as an inbox so much as a buffer for collecting stuff I want to read later. I allows me to avoid the step of putting something into Evernote unread that I am likely going to delete anyway. For me, the tools serve two different purposes. Evernote acts as the final destination for stuff I want to keep. Pocket acts as, well, a pocket that you toss stuff into and then clear out before you throw your jeans in the wash. 🙂

          Put another way, the stuff in Pocket and my Evernote inbox tend to be mutually exclusive. The stuff that gets into my Evernote inbox are things like notes that I create during the day (meeting notes, story notes, etc.) that I create quickly and don’t refile the moment I create them, or stuff that I scan in. The stuff that gets into Pocket are articles I want to read and/or link to later. If I decide to send an article I’ve read in Pocket to Evernote, it never goes into my Evernote inbox, but usually is filed directly into an appropriate reference notebook. In many ways, this is also how my email inbox works as well. So, yeah, three inboxes in three different contexts, but they each serve their own specific purpose for me.

  2. I have the same issue as kittent. I think you’ve covered this at some point, but do you sit down with Evernote every night and touch up what what thrown into Evernote that day (by touch up, I mean delete things that shouldn’t be there, touch up a title, notebook assignment, etc)?

    1. So as I mentioned to kittent, the way I keep Evernote clutter-free of clippings and stuff like that is to filter it all through Pocket, where I read it when I have spare time, and only send those things to Evernote that I plan to keep. In this sense, I don’t “live” in Evernote, but use what I think are the best tools for the specific job. Evernote is great for storing stuff I want to keep. Pocket is great for reading and filtering.

      That said, I do have a daily review process for the things that go go into Evernote. I run a saved search each night which shows me all of the notes added to Evernote that day (many of them from outside sources) and I can quickly review them, update meta-data like tags, dates, notebooks, etc., and even get rid of stuff I don’t think I’ll need.

  3. Jamie, I’ve been a reader for a few months and I am loving the process involved with going paperless so far. I do have one area that seems to present the most problems for me and that is monthly finances. How do you tackle keeping track of bills, statements, etc.? I know finance tracking is highly personalized but maybe some suggestions on how you handle the constant info that comes each month for bills would help me figure out a system of my own. Thanks for any tips you can give!

    1. Samantha, this is a great question, and I’ve made a note to cover the subject in more detail in one of the regular posts. My general philosophy is to put it into Evernote if I think I’ll need to search it at some point, or need it in reference to something, but otherwise, as far as financial statements go, I tend to let them reside with the services that they are part of. They are accessible through those services online, and if I need them for something that requires additional follow-up, I’ll pull it into Evernote. I get one or two of these in paper mail still, and these I’ll scan in.

      I know several people who use and speak highly of the FileThis service, which will send these statements to Evernote automatically for you, but I need to access them so infrequently, that I have not yet had a need for the service myself.

      Bottom line for me: any bill or statement I get in paper gets scanned into Evernote. Any I get by email get forwarded to Evernote. Any that reside in an existing banking service or similar service stay where they are unless I have a specific need.

  4. What do you recommend as a good scanner for getting information into Evernote? I’m not referring to an app, but rather a physical appliance.

    1. Jacob, I’ve used the Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i for well over a year and a half now, scanning (as of this moment), 3123 pages, and I can’t recall a single problem I’ve had with it. I haven’t tried others since because I’ve had no need. My Scansnap works perfectly.

      That said, I suggest to folks that when looking for a scanner to go paperless, you look for a scanner that can do these three things:

      1. Feed multiple sheets. That is, it should have a page feeder so that you don’t have to manually feed one page at a time.
      2. One-pass duplex scanning. That is, scan both sides of a 2-sides page in a single pass. Saves a lot of time.
      3. One button scan to Evernote. That is, you push a button on the scanner and your pages are scanned directly into Evernote.

      As you might guess, the Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i does all three of these things really well.

    1. Eric, I’ve used it twice. The first time was to see how it worked. The second time turned out to be pretty handy. We overpaid tuition at my kids’ pre-school on month and the people there wrote out the correct adjusted payment for the following month on a Post-It note. I used the Post-It camera feature to snap a photo, tagged the note with a reminder, and when the next month rolled around, I had an easy way to remember I had to pay a different amount, and the (virtual) Post-It note was right there for reference. For things like that, I think it is great. It allows me another option for dealing with paper that comes into my system, even when I myself am going paperless.

  5. Hi Jamie, Thank you for all of your efforts. I really look forward to your tips each week. Sometimes when I send a link to Evernote, I would prefer to see the entire web page as opposed to a link in case the web page is discontinued. Is there a way to do that? I use Safari on my iPad. BTW, if anyone from Evernote is reading these comments, the Skitch app for iPad is awful. The link between Skitch and Evernote rarely works!

    1. Jayne, I don’t do this very often from my iPad, but when I do, I use the EverClip App (available in the App Store). Here is how it works. You start the EverClip app and it just runs in the background.

      If I want to capture a web page, I copy the URL from the URL bar in Chrome (or Safari). Next, I got to EverClip, and I’ll see the link that I copied there. If I tap on it, I’ll see the full text of the page in question. I can then send that page directly to Evernote. It is a 2-step process but it works well for me.

      Mostly, however, when I am sending pages to Evernote, I am doing it via Pocket because that falls in line with my workflow and processes and is much cleaner for me.

    2. Hi Jayne!

      If you have Drafts in iPad this is the superfast way to add whole page from safari to evernote: http://lifehacker.com/save-articles-from-the-web-to-evernote-in-ios-with-this-1560103562

      “The bookmarklet grabs the text off a web page in Safari, runs it through Readability, converts it to Markdown, sends that over to Drafts, and then Drafts sends that over to Evernote. So, with a single tap of the bookmarklet, you can instantly save whatever page you’re reading in Evernote. If you’re an Evernote user, this makes it a heck of a lot easier to save text. Head over to Gruneich’s site for the bookmarklet and installation instructions.”

    3. You can open a web page in Safari’s Reader Mode (click on the icon made of four parallel lines in the left side of the address bar), then choose to email the page using the share menu. This will load the full, cleanly formatted Reader version in a compose window which you can then send to your Evernote using your “email to Evernote” email address.

      I find this is the quickest and neatest way to get web page content on iOS into Evernote, particularly with older and slower devices.

  6. Hello, thanks for doing this Q/A!

    I have a question that you may not have an answer for, but I would love to find one, so you’re as good a person as any to ask!

    I use Sparrow on my macbook (I’m not sure what OS you use, but you can guess mine!), and it’s great, but everything actionable (I use the GTD system from thesecretweapon.org), and everything I need to remember has to get into Evernote. That means I have to hit the F key (forward), then start typing Evernote (for the e-mail address), enter (to select the email address), and then command-enter (to send), then E to archive. It seems like the kind of thing that I ought to be able to write an applescript or something for; it’s kind of just busy work! There’s not a big delay between steps, but it’s enough that I lament it! (Partially because I’m doing it at least a dozen times a day it seems).

    What I’d really love is to have a hotkey forward an e-mail to Evernote, and then archive the message. Do you know of any way to do something like this? What is your solution for getting e-mails into evernote? Or do you do it infrequently enough that it’s not a problem to just forward to evernote?

    I suspect it’s possible with keyboard maestro, if so I’ll need to buy that program!

    1. When I need to email to Evernote, I tend to do it one of two ways: (1) automatically, in which case I’ll set up workflow (via IFTTT or using Gmail filters) that send certain messages directly to Evernote. For instance, any receipts I get via email from places like Amazon and Audible get sent to Evernote automatically. (2) manually, in which case I just forward the message to Evernote via Gmail. This latter I do fairly infrequently, maybe once a week. You can find more details on my process for this in this post.

      I do use Keyboard Maestro for some local automation and it is great for that, although you have to be careful to avoid conflicting key-mappings with stuff you are used to (when I installed it, there was a mapping for CTRL-OPTION-C, which is the mapping Google Docs uses to get a word count). From what I know of using Keyboard Maestro, however, it should be able to do what you are trying to do with your system. And I imagine that Auto-Hot-Key could do the same thing on Windows.

  7. Hey Jamie,

    What does your “Notebook Tree” look like? I’m wanting to go paperless, but find it overwhelming trying to create a proper “tree system”. I know about sending all EN content to an “Inbox”, reviewing at the end of the day, and filing it into the proper notebooks. My problem is actually coming up with a proper structure to do so. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

    1. James, at a high level, I have notebook stacks divided into areas of my life: (1) Freelancing, (2) Day Job, (3) Home/Family, (4) a diary stack. The latter captures timeline related stuff that doesn’t really fit elsewhere. I also have a notebook stack for Reference, Shared notebooks, and special projects.

      A while back, I wrote two posts on this. The first provides a detailed description of how I organize my notebooks and tags (spoiler: I’m a relative minimalist). The second provides screenshots of my actual notebook and tag structure. Both have worked well for me and they haven’t changed significantly.

      Evernote has such good search capabilities that I spend as little time as I can building taxonomies and complex constructs, when I typically can find what I am looking for in less than 5 seconds.

    2. James, I used to have a notebook tree structure when I started with Evernote but could not get a good handle on managing my info. So I took a bold step & decided to just have 1 notebook with tags.

      If you are using Evernote for organising your private info, as I do, you don’t actually need to use many notebooks. I essentially have 2 notebooks: my main one with all my notes in (I call it Note Pool), and an Inbox. If you need to share notes with others you can have a notebook specifically for that. I don’t have a need for it.

      The Inbox serves to receive info from outside (e.g. web clippings, scans, …), and after review & tagging (where appropriate) those notes are transferred to Note Pool. So my Inbox is empty most of the time, in any case at the end of each day.

      In my opinion the idea of having multiple notebooks in a tree structure is archaic & is based on Windows Explorer. Using tags is so much more powerful & useful that I have done away with tree structures.

      In order to keep the number of tags manageable I have “parent” & “child” tags. The parent tags are not assigned to notes but serve to categorise the child tags, which are the ones I do use. So when I want to assign a tag I can easily determine which one(s) depending on which category or categories you want the note to fall under. Mind you: I do not have a complex tree structure for my tags.

      It may seem scary to put all your notes into 1 notebook only (leaving the shared notebook question aside), but Evernote’s powerful seach capabilities in combination with tagging (you can even use in-text tags if you want to) is more than sufficient to effectively manage & find all your info amongst your notes.

  8. What do you do about security? I’m always afraid that someone can use my iPhone and look at financial statements or tidbits that I might save in Evernote. I already use 2 factor authentication but am rarely asked for it. Presently, I use a Dropbox account for more sensitive info, e.g., copy of my passport, copies of voided checks. Is Evernote as safe as Dropbox, which always asks for a password on my iPhone, or is it illusory?

    1. GD, I get asked this a lot and so I’ve got not one but two posts that have all of the details. The first post talks about securing your “digital filing cabinet”, and the second describes some good online security practices I follow.

      I use strong passwords, a different password for every account and service. I have cloud backups and processes that export my notes from Evernote to ENEX files (that can be reimported later). I use 2-factor authentication. I believe if you enable 2-factor authentication with Evernote, each time you log into a new device you have the option to be remembered on that device for 30 days. That may only apply to browsers, I’m not sure

      Beyond that, as I’ve said before, I’ve never lost sleep over security with Evernote (or any other services I use, for that matter). Everyone differs with this and so you have to go with what you are comfortable with. For some people that means not putting some stuff in Evernote (or Dropbox, or other service). My advice is to find your comfort level and go with that. And always use good online security practices.

    2. if you’re an Evernote Pro subscriber you can enable password Lock, so you can ask the app to request a pin every time you open it if you will, or set it to ” require password” only after X mins.
      about two factor authentication, that won’t cover the app loading, it’s mostly useful for blocking access through via the web version and first time you “link” a new Evernote app (as when you install the Evernote app on a new Mac or PC).

  9. Hi! i’ve started using Evernote drastically for everything… but what happens when i’m old ?? let’s say in 40 years when i’m 65 and want to read back at my diary… for instance- i know nothing is guaranteed for such a long way away.. but if Evernote in some crazy world might not exist in that time would there be an option for me to download all of my Evernote content?

    1. Ryan, I don’t generally lose sleep over this, but I do protect myself by making regular monthly backups of my Evernote data. I have an AppleScript that runs once a month that exports all of my notes to an ENEX file. This is basically an XML file with encoded attachments, so you have everything. This file gets compressed and moved to an external drive, where it is backed up by my cloud backup service.

      I have tested restoring notes from an ENEX file back into Evernote and it works just fine. The only caveat is that the notes are restored into a “Restore” notebook, which makes sense since you wouldn’t want to overwrite notes in other notebooks. In the unlikely event of a water landing Evernote goes away, the application still works and you can still import notes, they just won’t reside on Evernote’s servers. At the very least, this gives you access to the notes until you find an alternative.

      The same problem applies to most SaaS (Software as a Service) out there today: they haven’t been around very long so no one really knows what things will look like 40 years from now. But, like homeowner insurance, life insurance, and car insurance, I look at backing up my data as a data insurance policy. Knowing that it gets backed up, and knowing that I don’t have to do anything (it is entirely automated) gives me peace of mind, which is why I don’t lose sleep over it.

  10. Jamie,

    I scan by bills and important information with a Doxie. From there I use Hazel for Mac to look at certain elements (account number, etc) of the document and put it in an appropriate file on my computer. The rub is, I’d also like to have those documents sent to a particular folder in Evernote. Anyway I can have Evernote automatically watch a folder and upload new changes without my intervention?


    1. Hi John, I do use it. First I used hello. Knowadays they have it in evernote. What I like is the fact that the made it so that you can email the v-card to yourself or others.
      There is room to do more which makes it great. I hope evernote will make it more. I can recommend it for everybody. Oh I am a projectmanager and I get a lot of cards.

    2. John, generally, no, but that is because I rare get business cards these days. At most of the events I attend, we trade info electronically, and connect via LinkedIn or some other social network for contact info. Information changes over time. Having a connection via social media means you can automatically keep up with those changes. Scanning in a business card is fairly static. That said, maybe two or three times a year, I get a business card which I snap a photo of in Evernote. Later, however, I go back and try to make that connection in the appropriate social network.

  11. Do you have a workflow for reading PDF files? even those that are already in Evernote? Pocket is great for articles on the web, but I have a bunch of PDFs that I’d like to read & annotate in Evernote. Haven’t figured a good way to organize a workflow for this list. Thanks!

    1. Brett, these days if I’ve pulled a PDF into Evernote, I tend to read it there as well. It’s convenient because I can mark them up, highlight them, etc. all in one place. No real formal process behind this like I have for Pocket, but it works pretty well for me on an ad hoc basis.

      1. I’m experimenting with organizing my PDF ‘to-read list’ similarly to how I organize my physical books ‘to-read list’ since PDFs are more like books than articles from the web. Maybe this would be a good post for the future? I can’t recall if you use Goodreads to organize books on your to-read list? I’ve found I need a ‘currently reading,’ ‘upcoming’ & ‘someday’ list for books (and probably now PDFs in Evernote). Thanks for responding!

  12. First let me say I’m so glad I found your threads. I am a huge fan and user for Evernote. It’s on my phone, laptop and Galaxy Note tablet.

    I am a Wedding Designer and Planner. I use Evernote essentially as my CRM. I create a notebook for each client. I even use stacks to separate past to current to prospective clients. I’m in the process of showing/training others in my industry how to use Evernote as I have. IFTTT makes so many things possible for me to present a professional presentation to clients.

    My questions. .. you mentioned you use to use Hello, which I currently use. But that it’s now in Evernote… how do you use the Evernote version and the vcards?

    1. Athena, I think it might have been someone else in the comment threads that said they used Hello. I don’t for 2 reasons: (1) it has always felt a little awkward to use with real people; (2) I don’t get a lot of business cards these days. If I meet a business contact at an event, we’ll swap Twitter handles, or text a phone number back and forth. Maybe a couple of times a year, I’ll use the built-in camera feature in Evernote to snap a photo of a business card, but that is all.

  13. Just a note that can help with going paperless. Ever note has teamed up with Post It notes. So now you can capture all the things you jot down on post it notes into Evernote. It even makes the text searchable.

    So no more worries of : “where is that sticky note” “did I accidentally throw it away” or searching for the right one.

    Just a quick mention:).

  14. If you had five apps that you absolutely had to use with Evernote what would they be?

  15. I really like your posts and read them all.

    I couldn’t find an answer for something that I am trying to do. I have a Scansnap Manager and some Hazel rules. Everything I scan goes to a specific notebook in Evernote after a Hazel rule, but another copy always stays in my Evernote Inbox. Is there a way or a rule to trash this Inbox copy and let me stay only with the one in the correct notebook?



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