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.
Not long ago, I wrote a post in which I described some features that I wished were available on some of the apps that I use on the iPad. In the caes of Evernote, which I use constantly as my paperless filing cabinet, there were two things that I really wanted:
- The ability to mark a note as “offline” so that it would be available even if a Wi-Fi connection wasn’t
- The ability to do rich text editing in a note the way you can in the Mac and web versions.
Well, as it turns out, Evernote already had the ability to do the offline notes. It was not exactly how I’d imagined it but it suits my needs just fine. From Evernote’s settings, you can mark a notebook as “offline” and that makes all of its content available even if you have no network connection.
And just yesterday, I noticed a new version of the Evernote app that, among other things, allows me to edit existing notes inline, as opposed to appending to them, and allows me to do rich text editing. This is a wonderful improvement and I applaud the folks over at Evernote for continuing to improve an already outstanding piece of software.
Is it me, or are browser bookmarks going the way of the dodo?
A few days ago it occurred to me that I never use bookmarks anymore. There’s just no need for them. I use Google Chrome on my two laptop computers and both systems are configured to launch with 5 tabs open: Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Facebook, and my WordPress site. I can click a link in Gmail to get to Google Reader and read my news feed. If there is some interesting item in the news feed that I want to remember, I simple star it and can browse the list of stars when I feel the need. If I come across a blog I like, there’s no need to bookmark it because I can simply add it to my RSS feed. And if I come across something that I want to read later on, I can send it to Instapaper. (And Instapaper allows me to automatically send those items to Evernote, as well.)
With all of this cloud-based “bookmarking”, combined with mobile apps for most things that I do, I just don’t see the point of browser-based bookmarks anymore?
Do you still use browser bookmarks? Do they still help?
In part 2, I discussed how I am using my new iPad to do my fiction writing. In part 3 I want to talk about using it for note-taking and in particular, how it seems almost perfectly designed to be used at conferences and conventions.
When the original iPad was first announced, I had a mixed reaction. Without having it in my hand to play with, I was hard pressed to see how it could be any more useful than a laptop. In fact, there was only one area where I saw real potential for it and that was in the business conference arena. It would be nice to have a slim device to take to conferences, most of which provide wireless access, and on which you could get all of your programming, your schedule, as well as take notes without having to lug a laptop from breakout session to breakout session. As I have learned, the iPad has turned out to be much more useful than I ever expected. But its value at a conference really highlights what it can do for your productivity–to say nothing of your back.
As a science fiction writer, I attend a number of science fiction conventions each year and last weekend, I attended my first convention with my iPad, and sans laptop. Balticon, the annual Baltimore area convention, takes place in Hunt Valley about 50 miles north of where I live. I spend two days at the con, which I have written about here and here. But now I want to focus on how much I was able to do at the convention without a laptop and with my iPad.
I’ve been using Evernote for closed to 2 months now and I have been very impressed with it. I originally started to use it as part of my desire to go paperless at home (I’d already done so, more or less, in the day job). What I have found is that it is not only an effective tool for going paperless, but it helps to manage my writing life. It does this in several ways:
- It has replaced Google Docs as my idea file. Google Docs is a great tool, but if I was sitting in a restaurant or walking down the aisle in a grocery store, it was a little inconvenient to pull up on my iPhone. Evernote has an iPhone app that opens quickly and within a few seconds, I can have a the idea uploaded into my writing notebook. If I am pressed for time, I can make it a voice note and simple speak the idea, tag it and upload it. Then, when I want to review my list of ideas, it doesn’t matter where I am, I can pull it up on my iPhone, on the web, or on the application on my MacBook.
- Clippings! Clippings! Clippings! I read a lot of science magazines. If I find something interesting in, say, a New Scientist article, I used to cut the article out of the magazine and put it into a folder for later use. Now, I go to the web version of the magazine, clip the article using the Evernote clipping tool for Google Chrome, tag it, and it is stored in the cloud in my writing notebook, with everything else, easily searchable. No paper, and much easier to find and refer to than my old system.
- Paperwork. A writer’s life does involve some paperwork. There are contracts and checks, for instance. Now, when I receive these, the first thing I do is scan them in as PDFs and upload them to Evernote as a note. Evernote has OCR technology to make the scanned PDF searchable, so if I search for the phrase, “electronic rights”, contracts that mention these words appear in my result list. And I don’t have to worry about digging through a file folder to find them. Similarly, I use Evernote to capture my writing-related receipts. Come tax time, I have a saved search I use to pull up everything related to writing and taxes. Takes 5 seconds. Can’t wait to use it later this year and impress my accountant.
- Blog topics. Just like story ideas, I use Evernote to capture ideas for blog posts (this topic was captured as a note in Evernote some weeks ago). If I am ever at a loss for something to write about, I can pull up my list of blog topics, pick one, write the post, and then delete the note. It has been working beautifully.
- Writers group critiques. I read 2-3 stories/week for my writer’s group. Typically these stories are in Word, and I will use the Comments feature to mark up the file and make my specific comments in the manuscript. I then take that manuscript and create a note in Evernote with it. The file itself is an attachment to the note, tagged with the author and the fact that it is a critique. The note is my summary of the story, my actual critique which I give to the author. It keeps a nice record not only of all of the stories I’ve critiqued and for whom I provided the critique, but also what my critique was. And again, it takes up no space in my file cabinet
All of these notes are stored in the cloud and synchronized to my various devices so that I can literally access them anywhere, anytime. I can take my notes from story ideas and science articles, and add them to the research section of a Scrivener document to get started on a story with all of the information I need. If I am reading an old science fiction magazine and want to capture something on the page, I can take a photo in Evernote from my iPhone and the page is captured and the text scanned so that it is searchable.
Evernote has become an invaluable tool to help me manage my writing life. Who else out there is using Evernote to manage their writing life? And what innovative ways are you using it?