Tag: evernote

4 More Feature Suggestions for Evernote

Not long ago, I suggested a feature for Evernote that would capture the last time a note was viewed. This, I thought, would be useful in determining whether a note is worth keeping around. Since then, I’ve been playing around with the new Evernote, trying to drum up some of my original enthusiasm for the tools. As I’ve played around with it, a few more feature suggestions have occurred to me, and I thought I’d share them here. If anyone at Evernote is reading, feel free to take these ideas.

Note aliases

Most operating systems have a mechanism for aliasing a file. Windows calls this a shortcut. MacOS calls this an Alias. Unix calls this a symlink. The nice thing about this feature is that a file can appear in many places, even though there is only a single copy. This would be incredibly useful in Evernote.

Imagine being able to create an alias for any note. If a note exists in your School notebook, and you want it to also appear in your Commonplace notebook, you could create an alias to the note in the latter notebook. The alias points to the original so any changes you make change the original and the results are reflected in any alias.

You could always make a copy of the note, but that isn’t the same thing because updating the copy doesn’t change the original and vice versa. You can also make a shortcut to a note, but there isn’t much you can do with it aside from putting it into a shortcut list.

How might this be useful? Well, it would be really useful if Evernote coupled it with a…

Note board

One of the views in Evernote lets you look at notes in “card” view. One thing I’ve often wanted to be able to do is take notes and organize them in ways that are meaningful to me. If you think of notes as cards, then you can think of a note board as a surface on which you can arrange you notes however you like.

Right now, this is almost impossible. Notes are attached to a notebook. Not only that , you are limited to how those notes can be sorted within the notebook. A note board would allow you to pull note aliases onto a board and arrange them any way you like. You can pull notes from multiple notebooks. Since you are only pulling the alias of the note, the original is safe and sound in its notebook.

A note board would serve the purpose of taking index cards and arranging in some useful manner to you.

I imagine that you can save boards and make shortcuts to boards just as you can do for most other objects in Evernote.

Custom sorting

Within a notebook, there are only 3 ways to sort note: by title, date updated, or date created. It would be really useful to be able to drag notes around in the notebook to make a custom sort.

Note automation

I would like to see Evernote add some automation capability. Since the notes are all centralized on the server, this seems like it would be possible. I imagine there are lots of use cases for this, but the one I have in mind is fairly practical. I’d like a way to automatically delete notes based on certain criteria. And I’d like this to be able to run on a. set schedule.

My use case involves Skitch notes. I do tons a screen grabs with Skitch and they all go into a notebook. Probably 95% of these are one-and-done, but they accumulate until I have thousands of these clippings in this notebook. It would be nice to have automation that would do something like the following:

  • Once a day:
    • Delete notes from the ‘Skitch’ folder with a createdDate > 10 days in the past

This is highly specific to my needs, but as I said, there’s probably a ton of use cases in general automation.


Those are my suggestions. Now that Evernote integrates with Google Calendar, I suppose a nice-to-have would be the ability to integrate with Apple’s iCloud calendar, too. (I use the latter.) But that seems like I’d be asking too much, especially after make my case for these other four features.

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The Weekly Playbook #4: Finishing a Notebook: Transcribe or Scan?

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. Several times a day, I pull out my notebook to jot something down: an idea for a post; notes from a podcast; the names of people I meet; items to pick up at the grocery store; the name of the server in the restaurant we ate at; funny lines I hear at a gathering. I do this so that I can remember these things later. Some of them find their way into posts I write, some into stories. Other things are more ephemeral, but even a server’s name in a restaurant can be useful if I am searching for a character name in a story.

I’ve filled more than 30 of these notebooks since 2015. They sit in a nice row on a shelf in my office. Occasionally I go back to them, to look for something, like when I was searching for a particular brand of beer recently. The problem is, I only have access to them when I am sitting here in my office. It would be nice to have access to them no matter where I was.

my 30 completed field notes notebooks with an index notebook on top
My 30 completed Field Notes notebooks, with an index notebook on top.

This weekly playbook is a kind of experiment. I began with the idea that I wanted to be able to access these notes anywhere. I had two ideas:

  1. Transcribe the notebooks into Obsidian, where my other notes live, or
  2. Scan them into Evernote

I decide to try both in order to see what worked better for me. The playbook section below has the procedures I followed for each. In each case, I used my most recently completed notebook, book #30. I’ll describe my findings in the commentary.

Playbook

Transcribing notebook into Obsidian

  1. Create a Field Notes folder in Obsidian
  2. Create a new note called “Book 30 – March to June 2021.
  3. Begin typing in the notes using the following guidelines:
    • Make each “day” a header in the notes
    • If my handwriting is unintelligible, put question marks and move on.
    • Wherever I have a dividing line in my notebook, include a divider in the notes file
    • Use only one file per notebook

Scanning notebook into Evernote

  1. Create a Field Notes notebook in Evernote.
  2. Using the Scannable app by Evernote, scan in all 48 pages of my notebook #30, including the cover and inside cover.
  3. Once scanned, put the note in the Field Notes notebook
  4. Title the note “Book 30 – March to June 2021”
  5. Set the create date of the note to March 1, 2021
transcribed notebook page in obsidian
A transcribed notebook page in Obsidian
scanned notebook page in evernote
A scanned notebook page in Evernote

Commentary

It probably took me an hour to transcribe the first 15 pages of the Field Notes notebook into Obsidian. After an hour I stopped. It is easy enough to estimate that a full notebook would take me a little over 3 hours to transcribe.

On the other hand, it took about 15 minutes to scan the entire notebook into Evernote using the Scannable app. (I think Evernote’s Scannable app does a slightly better job at scanning than the regular iOS app does.)

For me, the Evernote scan is the better over all option. There are several reasons for this:

  1. It is quick enough to make it worthwhile. Investing 15 minutes to have the contents of the notebook available to me anywhere is a worthwhile investment of time. 3 hours is a little much. I am not likely to invest 3 hours, but 15 minutes is no big deal.
  2. The notebook really is available anywhere. The screenshot above is from my phone. I can flip through the pages just as I can with any PDF.
  3. Scanning preserves everything in my notes, include occasional sketches and diagrams that I make.
  4. Evernote uses its AI to attempt to make the PDF searchable. It is supposed to be able to recognize handwriting. I made several attempt, but I think my handwriting is too messy. Still, for people with very neat writing, the notebook is searchable. I keep the notes in their own notebook in Evernote for this reason: when I want to search for something in a Field Notes notebook, I can limit the search to notes in the Field Notes notebook so that I don’t get results from other sources.

There are a few cons to using Evernote over Obsidian:

  1. The notebook is not as searchable as it would be if I transcribed it into Obsidian. I could probably find things faster in Obsidian.
  2. My notes would be in plain text format and could be manipulated like any plain text.
  3. I could do more dynamic linking of my notes to other notes using Obsidian. (You can link to other notes in Evernote, but there is no practical way to do this in scanned documents.)

Another consideration is that I want to get my entire backlog of notebooks in a format that I can access anywhere. Transcribing 30 notebooks into Obsidian would be an investment of nearly 100 hours of my time. Scanning 30 notebooks into Evernote is an investment of 7-1/2 hours. From a practical standpoint, this is a no-brainer.

Then, too, since the notes already exist, they fit into the model of using Evernote for curation and collection, and using Obsidian for creation.

Remember, my goal at the outset was to be able to access the notebooks from anywhere. My goal wasn’t to make them as searchable as they could be. I’m fine flipping through a PDF to find what I am looking for. It usually doesn’t take very long, so it seems like the investment in time to manually transcribe all of my notes would be overkill.

Going forward, when I finish a notebook, I’ll follow the procedures for scanning that notebook into Evernote.

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One Important Feature that Evernote Still Needs

Evernote has made some significant improvements lately. They have completely reengineered the backend. They have refreshed and improved the user interface. And they recently introduced integrated task management–something users have been requesting for a long time.

There is one feature that I would find incredibly useful that Evernote still needs: a Last Viewed date for a note.

Currently, Evernote provides two dates for each note: a Created date and an Updated date:

An example of Evernote note information showing the created and updated date fields.

The Created date is the date on which the note was originally created. (I often change this to match the date of a document to make searching by date range more effective). The Updated date is the last time the note was modified. What’s missing in the “Last Viewed” date.

Why is a “Last Viewed” date important? Evernote is not just static storage for me. It is a living memory–a repository of digital documents and other notes that I have been collecting for more than ten years now. I call it a living memory because I am always looking for ways to improve the value I get from what I have stored in there. Currently, I have over 13,000 notes stored in Evernote. Despite the methods I have come up with for making searching as easy as possible, it can sometimes be hard to narrow things down when there is a lot of noise.

A screen capture showing Evernote's count of my notes, currently at 13,263.

This is where a “Last Viewed” date plays a crucial role. If I had to guess, I’d say that three quarters of the notes I have in Evernote have never been looked at after their initial scanning or input. The question I ask myself is: if I never have to look at note that I am storing, then why am I storing it?

Certainly some notes are worth keeping, even if I haven’t looked at them in months or years. But there are also things like phone bills and Amazon receipts, and countless other documents that I probably will never have a need to look at. I don’t know this for sure at the outset, so I put them into Evernote just in case. But I would love to do a yearly review, looking at how many notes I haven’t viewed in the last, say, five years. If I could get such a list, I might simply move all of those notes to an Archive notebook, export that notebook to a file, and then delete the notebook from Evernote. This would remove a lot of noise that comes up in searches. And it really is noise, since they are notes that I have not looked at in the last five years.

The problem is, of course, that Evernote does not have a “Last Viewed” date to query on. I suppose this would be the equivalent of the “Date Last Opened” on MacOS. It seems like it would be a simple matter to add the functionality for this information, although I suspect there would be no way of implementing it retroactively.

Still, I think this would be a useful feature, and one that corresponds to real memory, where things that we have no need of recalling are “erased” so that we can more readily remember other things.

Evernote and Obsidian: Collecting vs. Creating

As I have continued to increase my use of Obsidian over the last few months, I have occasionally felt a little guilty at my neglect for Evernote. I keep coming back to the question: why not use Evernote for the stuff that I am putting into Obsidian? Yesterday, while thinking about this question, I came up with the answer. It is all about collecting versus creating.

Collecting

If you look back at my Going Paperless posts, they are all about collecting and categorizing information in some form or another. From the early days when I described my process for going paperless and tips on how I use Evernote to remember everything to the way I used Evernote as a mobile paperless office or capturing technology setup instructions, everything I wrote about, everything I experimented with was about how to collect, categorize, and find the information I needed at moment’s notice. What I didn’t write about much, because I simply didn’t do it, was create new stuff in Evernote.

Why not create in Evernote? Two reasons come to mind.

  1. It is still faster to jot something (an idea, a list) down in a pocket notebook than it is to pull out my phone, unlock it, fire up the Evernote app, and tap out the note on the touchscreen. I wrote about this as far back as 2013 when I discussed how I performed time trials of using a Field Notes notebook instead of Evernote.
  2. I’ve never been convinced that Evernote’s note-taking interface was an improvement over similar WYSIWYG interfaces. I find I spend too much time doing things like trying to get the formatting correct, and not enough time in the process of actual creation. Evernote is not unique in this regard. This is a problem I have with most WYSIWYG interfaces.

I still collect things in Evernote just as I always have. I still categorize them, refining my taxonomy, finding ways to make it easier to search for what I am looking for. But I still don’t create things in Evernote.

Creating

When it comes to writing things down, Obsidian has become the only tool I use for creation. Indeed, while I still carry around a Field Notes notebook wherever I go, and while I still fill them up, I have started to transcribe those notes into Obsidian to have the content of the 25 notebooks I have filled thus far accessible when I need it. But I transcribe them into Obsidian because I see those notes as acts of creation on my part, not me collecting things for which I had no part in the creation.

Obsidian is an entirely text-based editor that uses markdown to allow the separation of the content versus the presentation layer, something I find to be of utmost importance in a writing tool. (Scrivener does this as well.) That said, it is no faster at jotting down content than my Field Notes notebook because I still have to go through the same steps I’d go through with Evernote: pulling out the phone, unlocking it, etc.

But I do think it has important improvements over WYSIWYG interfaces that make it much for useful for creation:

  1. I can use markdown to format how I like things without spending much time worry about the formatting. I can use a third party tool like Pandoc to export the notes into whatever format I want.
  2. I can create links between my notes with ease and visualize how the notes are related to one another. The former can be done in Evernote, but not the latter.
  3. There is little to distract during the creation process so I find it easier to focus on what I am creating.
  4. The things I create in Obsidian, because they are plain text, lend themselves more readily to automation. Take my daily notes, for example.
Current map of my note links in Obsidian
Current map of my note links in Obsidian

Balance

This notion of collecting versus creating has helped provide some balance to how I think of these tools. Evernote is my digital filing cabinet–it has been since I first began using it nearly 11 years ago.

But for my own creations: notes, stories, blog posts, essays, lists, anything that is the product of my brain, Obsidian is a living archive, one that makes it easy to create content and provide context to the creation by through its innovating note linking. I now have a much better sense of what goes where, and why.

Some Notes on Notes

More and more I find myself trying to simplify things. Take notes as an example. I am a prolific note-taker. Wherever I go, I carry a Field Notes notebook in my pocket, along with a couple of pens. (I have ink stains on various pockets to prove this). Why carry a paper notebook when I have an iPhone in the other pocket? To keep things simple.

Over the years, I have not yet found an app that allows me to jot down notes as quickly and easily as a pen and paper. If something strikes me, I pull out the pen and paper and scribble it down. That’s all there is to it. A phone, at its simplest, involves pulling out the phone, getting through its security measures, opening the appropriate note-taking app, and typing in the note1. In the time it takes me to get through the security measures alone, I could have jotted a simple note with pen and paper.

Then, too, many notes are ephemeral. I’ll use them once and never again. What’s the point of filling up a phone with notes I’m only ever going to look at once? In a notebook, I could tear out the page, but what I typically do it just leave the note there, and when the notebook is filled, I added it to the collection of filled notebooks I have on a shelf in my office.

Of course, pocket notebooks get you only so far. If I am sitting in front of a computer, then I’ll use the computer for notes, especially notes that are not ephemeral. In this regard, Evernote would seem like a logical choice for notes. But I have resisted using Evernote for actual notetaking, preferring to partition it for use as a kind of digital filing cabinet. Instead, out of a sense of simplicity (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), I’ve migrated toward the Apple Notes app, with one important exception2

There are a few reasons why I have settled on the Notes app:

  1. It is a simple app that is easy to use.
  2. It comes installed on all Apple devices and since I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, that makes it a convenient tool. I don’t have to install any additional software to access my notes on a new device.
  3. It syncs with iCloud, so notes I create on one device are available on all of my devices.
  4. It integrates with Spotlight so searching notes is pretty easy.

Item #2 above is particularly important because I keep all of my device bootstrapping-related notes in Apple Notes. These notes include, for instance, a checklist of things I do to new machines and devices (configuration settings, software I install, etc.) I have a file for every device we own which makes for easy reference.

I’ve taken to using Notes for personal development work I do. I’ve also started using notes to keep track of articles I read, copying highlighted passages, or my own annotations there. While it is lacking in a few features3, it has been able to do most of what I need. Here is an example of a HOW-TO note I have in my Tech folder:

A sample HOW-TO note from my Tech folder in Apple notes

The purist in me admonishes myself for not using plain text file for my notes, but you know what? I like being able to format my notes, into lists and tables. I like having hyperlinks, and images. True, each note is not a separate file in the file system. On the other hand, the backend is a SQLite database, which I am perfectly capable of accessing programmatically if needed.

The point is, I haven’t had a need to do so. That is the beauty of the simplicity of Notes so far. I don’t worry about tagging, or notebooks. I do have a folder structure for my notes, and it is evolving, but even there, I aim for simplicity. Being able to simply search for a term in Spotlight and see matching notes has been incredibly useful. I recently read an article in Smithsonian by Richard Grant, whose writing I enjoy. I’d created a note for that article, and so I just tried a Spotlight search for Richard Grant:

Spotlight search for Richard Grant

That’s good enough for my purposes.

I also light the lightweight feel of the Notes app. When I use Evernote today, the application feels big and bulky by comparison. Of course, it does a lot more than the Notes app, but for notetaking, I don’t need much more than what Notes can do.


  1. I stubbornly refuse to use Siri or dictation for notes, although I use Siri for other things.
  2. The exception, not worth getting into here in any detail, is my work-related notes, for which I use OneNote because it makes a lot of sense to do so.
  3. I do wish there was a way to add to the list of default styles provided.

A New Beginning

I feel a great sense of relief this evening as I sit down to write this. After more than 18 months, my desk is finally clear. Paper had been piling up ever since I upgraded to MacOS Catalina or something like that. At that point, it seemed, my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i that I’ve had for nearly 8 years now, stopped working with the OS. I ignored the problem for months, and then, when the pandemic began, I ignored it some more.

Yesterday, however, more out of desperation than anything else, I started searching for replacement scanners, only to discover that the compatibility problem had been resolved. I updated the ScanSnap manager for Big Sur and everything was working again!

That meant I actually had to scan in all of that paper. First, I sorted through it, separating it into stuff that wasn’t worth scanning, and stuff that was. I saw that Evernote had an update, and I updated Evernote, and then I began to scan. I still use the same process, more or less, that I have been using from the start. But I found that in the new Evernote, it took longer to update the meta-data in my notes. Updating the Create Date is tricker, because you can’t type in a date, but have to select from pull-down lists. Updating tags is more cumbersome than it used to be because you can’t just type them in but have to open a popup window first. Minor delays, but annoying, nonetheless.

I got through half of the paper yesterday, shredded that half, and the proceeded to tackle the second half today. Finally, at 5:01 pm Eastern Standard Time, all of the accumulated paper had been scanned, and shredded. My desk was clear, and a great sense of relief washed over me. I can now move onto the other things that I want to work on and check this item off my list. Checking things off lists also provides me with a great sense of relief. 

Coincidentally, it was the second time a great sense of relief washed over me today. The first came just after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States around noon today.

I Have A Guest Post Over On the Evernote Blog

Evernote is holding another Paperless Challenge and as part of that event, I have a guest post over on the Evernote blog today. The paperless challenge is the perfect opportunity for people who’ve wanted to go paperless to get started. In addition to the sharing of ideas with other people participating in the challenge, there will be prizes and other events. Head on over to the Evernote Blog for more information. And you can find the Paperless Challenge event on Facebook.

IFTTT Will Be Removing Twitter Triggers, But Here Is A Workaround

ETA (8/28/13): Twitter triggers are back in IFTTT! They were added back in August 2013 using the new Twitter API.

If you use IFTTT to capture your Tweets and send them to another service, you probably received a notice from them yesterday about how they will be removing Twitter triggers on September 27:

In recent weeks, Twitter announced policy changes* that will affect how applications and users like yourself can interact with Twitter’s data. As a result of these changes, on September 27th we will be removing all Twitter Triggers, disabling your ability to push tweets to places like email, Evernote and Facebook. All Personal and Shared Recipes using a Twitter Trigger will also be removed. Recipes using Twitter Actions and your ability to post new tweets via IFTTT will continue to work just fine.

I use IFTTT to send all of my tweets to Evernote so I have a record of them. Since this is based on a Twitter trigger, it will no longer work after September 27. Last night, I experimented with an alternative that appears to be working fine this morning: using an RSS feed and sending that to Evernote. Here is how I set it up in IFTTT:

Step 1: Choose Trigger Channel

I selected the Feed channel.

Step 2: Choose a Trigger

I selected New Feed Item

Step 3: Complete Trigger Fields

In the Feed URL field, I entered the URL for the twitter feed for my twitter account. In my case that feed is:  http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=jamietrNote that you will want to alter this URL and replace my twitter handle with your own.

Step 4: Choose Action Channel

I selected Evernote for my Action Channel.

Step 5: Choose an Action

I selected the Create A Note action.

Step 6: Complete Action Fields

Here is how I completed the action fields for Evernote:

  • Title: EntryTitle
  • Body: EntryContentvia FeedTitle EntryURL
  • Notebook: <enter the notebook you want these notes go to to>
  • Tags: <enter the tags you want to use for these notes>

The Results

Here is what a note in Evernote looked like using the Twitter trigger method (the one that is going away):

photo.PNG

And here is what the note looks like with the new trigger, via RSS instead of Twitter:

photo.PNG

I imagine with some tweaking of the Action fields, you could get them to look almost identical.

There is more of a delay between the time you make the tweet and the time it shows up as a note, but despite that delay, so far every tweet I’ve made since adding this new method appears to be coming through to Evernote.

I’m turning off the new method until September 27, when I will enable it permanently, but I wanted to share this solutions with others who were worried that they might not be able to use Twitter as a trigger in IFTTT going forward.

My trusty scanner: the Canon ImageFormula P-150M

In my capacity as Evernote’s paperless lifestyle ambassador, I get enough questions about the scanner that I’ve used to go paperless that it probably warrants its own short post.

I use the Canon ImageFormulaP-150M. The “M” designates its compatibility with a Macintosh, which is the machine it is connected to at home.

photo.JPG

Why did I choose this particular scanner?

  • I wanted something small, that wouldn’t take a lot of space on my desk
  • I wanted something that would handle the volume that I typically have–usually less than 10 pages/day1
  • I required a scanner that was compatible with a Mac.
  • I wanted a scanner that could scan directly into Evernote.

The Canon ImageFormula P-150M meets all of these requirements. It can scan high quality images, and can scan something like 14 pages per minute, which meets my needs. It has a programmable button that allows you to put your pages in the scanner, push the button and have the resulting PDF send directly to Evernote. I’ve been using this scanner for months and have never had a problem with it. It works very well and I have no problem recommending it for others who have similar requirements.

Here’s what the scanner looks like in action:

photo.JPG


  1. Why so low? Because I keep up with my scanning and scan every day so the pile doesn’t grow.

Tracking my writing goals with Scrivener, Evernote and Google Spreadsheets

I’ve found that the best way to meet goals that I set for myself is to track them. That means that the goal must be measurable, and this years writing goals certainly meet that criteria: write 500 words of new fiction every day. I thought it might be of interest how I go about tracking this goal in case anyone else out there is looking to do the same.

There are generally three tools that combine to help me meet my writing goals each day:

1. Scrivener

Scrivener is my workhorse, and where I do 95% of my fiction-writing1. I’ve recently revised my short story project template2 to automatically have a 500 word/session target. I also have it configured to use Growl to notify me when I’ve met the goal. So I sit down and write and write and then Growl pops up and says that I’ve passed my 500 word target. Sometimes I’ll stop there, and sometimes I’ll keep going. I write in full-screen mode, by the way, so I don’t have other distractions, and so the Growl notification is particularly convenient because it means I don’t have to keep checking how far along I am. If the notification hasn’t popped up, I haven’t met the goal yet.

2. Evernote

I find it interesting to be able to go back and see what I wrote on any given day. I have a Notebook in Evernote called “Daily Fiction Writing.” There is one note for each day I write. That note contains a copy of the fiction I wrote in that day. Usually, when I finish up a Scrivener session, I copy the text that I wrote and paste it into a note in my Evernote notebook. This is not for backup purposes. I have sufficient local and cloud-based backups for my fiction. This is so that I can go back and see what it was I was writing on Thursday, January 12, 2012. Because I’m interesting in that kind of thing. Also, I only do this for first draft material. Here is what that notebook looks like:

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  1. The other 5% is done on my iPad using Elements.
  2. I’ll be posting a new version of this template for download in the near future.

How Evernote has helped me go paperless (a status update)

Last fall, I went paperless at work. One of my goals for 2011 was to go paperless at home. As I have discovered, this is not as easy as just dumping all paper. It takes a concerted effort, but one that I think has already started to pay dividends.

Going paperless requires replacing paper with digital versions of documents, notes, etc. And those digital versions need to be stores, organized and easily searchable for it to work. Furthermore, they need to be archived and backed up. I don’t know if my efforts to go paperless would have been possible without Evernote. For those who don’t know, Evernote is an application that allows you to “remember everything.”  In its simplest form, it allows you to capture notes and organize them. The notes are stored in the cloud and are therefore accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Evernote’s basic service is available for free, but I have been using their premium service (which gives you unlimited storage as well as a number of additional features) for quite a while now. Most importantly, perhaps, Evernote has a solid iPad and iPhone app that make capturing information and accessing your data from these devices easy.

What follows is how I have used Evernote and other tools to go paperless this year. I also outline how far I’ve managed to get in the first 8 months of the year, what challenges I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

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