Going Paperless: How I Use Playbooks with Evernote

My recent simplification of my notebooks and tags in Evernote provided me with a good opportunity to start using playbooks with Evernote, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, playbooks are a set of notes that document a repeatable process. My general philosophy is that if I have to do something more than once, I try to automate it. Sometimes that isn’t possible, either due to technical limitations or time constraints. In those cases, I create a playbook that lists out the steps of the process so that it is easily repeatable for anyone tasked with doing it. Playbooks have several advantages for me:

  • They make it easy to recreate my steps for something, especially if it is something that I don’t do very often.
  • They make it easier to delegate tasks because I can simply shared the playbook with whoever needs it.
  • They provide a roadmap of possible future automation.

Format of my playbooks

I’ve just recently started creating playbooks in Evernote, and I’m trying to keep things simple with respect to their format. My number one rule is that they should be as clear as possible. To that end, I use a simple, clear title prefaced by the words PLAYBOOk to make it clear what it is. Here are some examples titles of playbooks I’ve created:

  • PLAYBOOK: Making a commit to GitHub
  • PLAYBOOK: Scheduling a Going Paperless post
  • PLAYBOOK: Transferring meeting reservations from one person to another

As far as the content goes, I keep that simple, too. There are 2 sections to each playbook:

  1. Use case(s): a list of the conditions under which the playbook would be useful.
  2. Steps to follow.

I try to make the steps as clear as possible, writing them with the thought that someone other than me will be trying to follow them. Where appropriate, I’ll include images, screen captures, etc. Here’s one for transferring meeting reservations:


Organizing my playbooks

I don’t have a whole lot of playbooks in Evernote…yet. But I could imagine this growing pretty quickly. Since I’ve just gone through a simplification of all of my notebooks and tags, I’ve been very cautious about how I organize my playbooks.

One possibility would be to create a notebook for them. But really, that isn’t necessary. In my new notebook organization, I can simply file them in the appropriate existing notebook. I might add a new tag called “playbook” but so far I haven’t. There isn’t a need. I can find them easily enough. The reason is that my note title follows a very specific pattern:

PLAYBOOK: Process to repeat

A simple search like this:


finds all of my playbooks no matter what notebook they are in, and no matter how they are tagged. Because of that, I have no need to add new notebooks or tags to accommodate my playbooks. Instead, I just created a saved search called “Playbooks” that uses the search criteria above.

Sharing my playbooks

Perhaps the biggest advantage of creating these playbooks is that I can easily share them in order to delegate the tasks out to others. If someone calls me and asks how to transfer meeting reservations from person A to person B, I can pull up the note, click the Share button and then Send By Email… to send the full playbook to the person asking for it. It takes all of 10 seconds.


Using playbooks with Evernote Business

One place that I can see playbooks being particularly useful is with Evernote Business. A business or organization that uses Evernote Business can have a repository of playbooks for all of its staff to contribute and access. As staff churns, those playbooks don’t go away because they are stored in the central business notebook repository, and not in an individual’s repository.

It also means that there is only one place a staff member needs to go to see all of the playbooks for their organization. Of course, in this case, it might be more prudent to use some tags to better classify the playbooks themselves (things like: “operational”, “business continuity”, etc.)

It will be interesting to see how quickly my list of playbooks grow. And, of course, the ones that I use most frequently are the best candidates for full automation, where that is possible, so I look forward to being able to free up additional time by automating some of those tasks as well.

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: How I Simplified My Tag Organization in Evernote (Part 2).

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  1. Great way to break up the overwhelming task of documenting large projects!

    I’m going to start using playbooks to supplement and detail a very complicated timeline. I’ve been struggling with where/how to add detail without making it unruly, and this seems like it might just be my solution.


  2. Jamie, one of my favourite parts of this blog is the “terminology”. I new I wanted a notebook for collecting stuff that I found interesting. I couldn’t quite describe my need until I read your post on the Commonplace Book. that was it! Just the other day I was trying to sort some how-to’s but couldn’t pick a naming convention I liked (I use how-to’s for other stuff that isn’t as much process-based, so the processes didn’t fit). Love the playbook name. Thanks.

  3. Nice writeup, Jamie!

    A potential problem with the “intitle:PLAYBOOK” search is that it will also include notes with “playbook” in the title that aren’t really playbooks (like the note surely have with the title of this very post).
    For this reason alone I would use a tag 🙂

    Also, do you create “instances” of your playbook notes?
    I’ll try to clarify what I mean by that.
    Say you have a playbook for “balance the books”, and this is something you repeat on a monthly basis. The playbook may contain steps to take, checkboxes to mark your progress, and placeholders to document information from a specific book balancing session.
    In this scenario, it makes sense to “clone” (or instantiate) the playbook for a specific session, potentially with some modifications of the cloned instance (e.g., set created date to “now”, change title and tags).

    I was wondering if this is a use case you’re familiar with, and whether you have automated this somehow.

    A while ago I wanted to be able to create notes from parameterized-templates, which seems similar to what I described above.
    My solution was to create a template note (with parameters embedded) and export it as enml file. A Python script applies parameters to the exported template, and imports it into Evernote. I tied the script into a Launchy command to automate it.
    (note: my solution is Windows only at the moment)

    I would have preferred the template note itself living inside Evernote (and not as an exported enml file), but it complicated the script, and also cluttered Evernote (because the template potentially contained tags and came up in searches when I wanted only instances to show up, and similarly with TODOs in the template that came up in searches for incomplete TODOs).

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on my approach 🙂

  4. I am an elementary school teacher who teaches to four separate grade levels and rather recent convert to Evernote. I have been struggling with the problem of creating student portfolios on Evernote and the best process of sharing a student’s work with them and their parents. Should I create a notebook for each student in a grade level stack or have a student/parent create their own account? Any thoughts here would be helpful. Please, if possible, answer at my provided email address. Thanks!


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