How I Organize Evernote

Photo by Lauren Mancke

Over the past couple years, I think I must have tried every sort of “everything bucket” personal knowledge base app available for Mac. I’ve spent hours setting up the “perfect” system only to realize it didn’t work a day later. I read about and watched countless setups posted by people who had working systems they swore by. They all seemed to be suggesting the same things:

I read about and watched countless setups posted by people who had working systems they swore by. They all seemed to be suggesting the same things:

  • an inbox for incoming notes
  • a reference notebook
  • a small number of notebooks for active projects, if at all
  • and use tags extensively

But for some reason, I kept hitting a wall. No matter which app I used, the “tried and true” system just wasn’t working for me.

And then it hit me.

Isn’t everything I’m putting into my knowledge base reference material?

Everything I’m saving in Evernote is getting saved because I want to refer back to it.

So I scrapped the big Reference notebook and went with a simple plan. I’d keep the inbox, and create notebooks for each Area of Focus (area of my life, if you’re not a GTD person).

Suddenly everything clicked. There wasn’t any friction when deciding where something should go. Everything I store in Evernote falls neatly into one of the distinct areas of my life and, therefore, fits within one notebook.

Admittedly I’m still working out tagging, but thus far, the search function is working so well, maybe I don’t need to worry about complicating things more.

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An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

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Image Courtesy of  Dose Media

Now that classes are back in session, I’ve had a few weeks to fully test out my notetaking set up. While a number of things worked well, others needed definitely needed work. I realized quite quickly that the multi-app notetaking lifestyle did not work for me.

Evernote

2048x2048bbEvernote has become the backbone of my personal knowledge management system.

I’m really not a fan of Evernote device limits, so I’ve tried incredibly hard to avoid using it over the years, but I recently caved and bought a premium subscription (thanks to an educational discount). The ability to easily add and tag any type of information is something other apps, like DevonThink or Bear, haven’t been able to match.

Anything I think I might need to recall later like important emails, meeting notes, interesting articles, screenshots of error messages, and common troubleshooting steps all end up in Evernote. I also keep any annotated PDFs and notes from classes or quotes from books I’ve read here.

Noteshelf

2048x2048bbEvernote falls incredibly short when it comes to taking notes with the Apple Pencil. Writing or annotating within the app is laggy and requires more mode switching than I’m willing to put up with.

I’ve ditched GoodNotes, Notability, and MyScript Nebo all in favor of Noteshelf due to its ability to sync directly with Evernote. Its organizational structure is very similar to GoodNotes and offers a writing experience similar to what I enjoyed in Notability. It also offers the ability to draw perfectly geometrical shapes which was one of my main reasons for using Nebo. I found Nebo’s handwriting to text conversion more of a really cool gimmick than actually useful in practice.

My one gripe with Noteshelf is its lack of support for iCloud Drive, which is my primary cloud storage for any active projects. For now, this means an added step of needing to use the share sheet within the Files app to add any PDFs rather than using the built-in import feature. Hopefully, they’ll add it in the future.

Annotating PDFs and Taking Notes in Class

For class, I’m using Noteshelf in conjunction with Evernote.

Before class, I import the PDF copy of the assigned article and annotate as I read. During class, I use split screen to continue marking up the article we’re discussing on one side of the screen in Noteshelf while taking any text notes in Evernote. After class, I add the annotated article (synced to Evernote) to the text note created in Evernote so that everything’s stored in one place.

Interviewing Employees

I’m also using Noteshelf for employee interviews. Like GoodNotes, Noteshelf allows me to have a single notebook for a round of hiring. The system my university is using for on-campus jobs allows me to receive a single PDF booklet of resumes for every round of hiring. Prior to the interview, I insert a template page for taking notes behind the resume. Once the round of hiring has finished, I export the entire notebook containing resumes and interview notes to Box for archival purposes.

Apple Notes

2048x2048bbWhile Evernote is my primary location for storing any sort of reference material, I’m still using Apple Notes for things I need to quickly access such as carryout menus, wishlists, and other lists I’ve shared with friends and family.

In all honesty, if Apple adds tagging and a more robust organizational system, I’ll have a hard time sticking with Evernote, but for now, this is the combination that seems to work best for all my needs.

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One Month with the 10.5″ iPad Pro

Today marks officially 1 month with my 10.5″ iPad Pro, and unlike my previous iPad, this one is actually still being used. It hasn’t evoked any magical feelings like my Airpods did and still continue to do, but it’s certainly a device I know I don’t want to live without.

Accessories

I quickly realized that in order to make the most of the iPad Pro, it needed accessories – lots of them. I can’t even imagine using the iPad Pro without the Smart Keyboard or Apple Pencil. Keyboard shortcuts alone immediately made the iPad more usable for me, and the Apple Pencil has converted almost all of my note taking (and coloring) from paper to digital.

Not wanting to ruin the gorgeous edges of the iPad, I picked up a MoKo Translucent Slim Hard Plastic Bumper Protector. I’d prefer to have something with more color, but the options that work with the Smart Keyboard thus far are slim. I also picked up a magnetic sleeve for the pencil which allows me to stick it to the Smart Keyboard. Looking for a bit more protection for when the Pencil is thrown in my bag, I bought a Belkin Carrying Case and Stand. Unfortunately, the Pencil doesn’t fit into the case with the magnetic sleeve though. For now, the case lives on my desk at work, providing a nice place to rest my Pencil as I work, as well as, storage for the extra tip and adaptor.

Use Cases

One of the most surprising things about getting the iPad Pro is how quickly and seamlessly it replaced other devices in my workflows. I find it much less of an inconvenience to work from my iPad Pro than my Chromebook or Dell laptop when installing updates on my Macbook Pro. All of my favorite apps are available and ready.

Additionally, my iPad Pro has become my go to devices for nearly all meetings unless there’s no table for me to type at. I bring up the meeting agenda in Google Docs on the left half of the screen and use Evernote for my own personal notes on the other half of the screen. I’ve not missed my laptop once in these cases, but if the need were to arise, I could access it using Screens.

The iPad Pro has also become my go to “couch-surfing device”. Not only is it an incredible smart remote, thanks to the Harmony app. I can use apps like TV Cast to stream video to my TV or just use it to play games like Mini Metro in my spare time.

I even find myself using it to read Kindle books. I still prefer reading on the Kindle, but the iPad’s in my hands more often, therefore it gets used more often.

Where It Falls Short

I love this device, but I simply can’t use it as a primary device yet. The Smart Keyboard just doesn’t work well for typing on anything but a solid surface. Therefore, I find myself still resorting to my laptop in cases where I need to do work and don’t have a stable surface available.

Another limitation is with automation. As a heavy Keyboard Maestro user, I rely on automation to perform many day to day tasks on my Mac. With no Keyboard Maestro for iOS, it’d take significant effort on my part, which I’ve yet to invest, to configure these in an app like Workflow. That being said, a big portion of my Keyboard Maestro use is text expansion. Working in customer support, text expansion is essential to my workflow, so much so, I even considered switching back to TextExpander. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow third party keyboards to use the Smart Keyboard, so for now, I’m stuck doing a good portion of my work on my Mac.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the iPad Pro is AMAZING as a general use computer. As far as using it for anything more, it’s getting there, but it’s not quite there yet.

Some Thoughts on Notetaking on the iPad Pro

Update: An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

Despite being an Apple fangirl of sorts, I haven’t owned an iPad since the iPad 3 (also known as the “new iPad”, the first iPad with Retina, or as I remember it, the dreadfully underpowered iPad). I was never a huge fan of it, found trouble justifying its use, and ended up selling it when I moved.

A few weeks ago, I became the proud owner of a 10.5 inch iPad Pro courtesy of my job (Space Grey, 256GB, Wi-fi, if you’re curious). I suppose running the tech demo space on campus has its perks. Much to my surprise, I’m loving it. In fact, when running to meetings, I’m finding myself reaching for the iPad Pro and leaving my Macbook Pro in my office.

One of the first workflows the iPad Pro challenged me to reevaluate was notetaking. The Apple Pencil gave me a way to take handwritten notes digitally, and as someone who makes every effort to go paperless, I jumped at the chance. I tend to prefer handwritten notes in a number of circumstances throughout my day:

  • Planning out my day
  • Meetings
  • Interviewing new employees
  • In Class
  • General notes and doodles

After trying a number of apps, hoping to stumble upon the perfect one, I’ve come to the conclusion that one app may not be the way to go in cases like these.

Day Planning

For planning my day, I prefer Notability. While the majority of my planning is done through Google Calendar and Omnifocus, I still do appreciate having a detailed list of everything I need to do in a day to check off as I go. Only important things are in Omnifocus, and until manual sorting is added, the list is often out of order from when I actually plan to do it. Notability provides the best format for writing out my day, Bullet Journal style, and I prefer the Subject/Divider with individual notes organization.

Meetings

I actually gave up handwritten notes in meetings. I think part of me prefers the privacy of typing on a propped up screen as opposed to scribbling on my screen laying flat on a table for everyone to see. For this, I’m using a split screen set up with the shared meeting agenda in Google Docs on the right and my personal meeting notes stored in Evernote on the right. (You read that right, I’m using Evernote. More on that in a later post).

Interviewing Employees

This was the scenario that drew me to the iPad Pro. Several times a year, I have to hire a number of students to work in my office. Such is life when your employee pool is based on a group that leaves every 4 years. My prior workflow involved printing out resumes which I’d review and annotate. Candidates that made the cut are invited to an interview. Before each interview, I’d print out a checklist that I’d take notes on as the interview progressed.

For this workflow, Goodnotes was perfect. Unlike Notability, notes are organized into Notebooks with actual pages. Goodnotes allows me to have a single notebook for a round of hiring. Another feature that makes Goodnotes the winner is that I can set the page template to be the interview checklist. Instead of printing a new checklist for every candidate, I just swipe to a new page now.

In Class

While I’m not in a class at the moment, I can see Goodnotes being my pick for taking notes in my classes too. The ability to annotate articles and store handwritten notes side seems best suited to this app. Classes also lend themselves to Goodnotes’ notebook format nicely as well.

General Notes and Doodles

For simple notes, I’m finding myself using Apple Notes. Apple Notes doesn’t offer as many ways to customize the writing style, it does offer a nice feature of being available from the lock screen. In iOS 11, a simple tap to the lockscreen with the Apple Pencil opens up a new note. This is perfect for jotting down something quick.

(Tip: In Settings > Notes, you can tell Apple Notes to display lines or grids when writing handwritten notes instead of just a blank canvas.)

Honorable mention:

There’s one app that I don’t use all that often, but it’s so darn cool I’ve not managed to remove it from my iPad just yet, and that’s Nebo. In terms of organizing notes, Nebo’s structure is a lot like Notability, but it has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Scratching through something you’ve written erases it (like crossing it out on paper, but better) Drawing lines between letters or words separates or joins them.

And then there’s there are the features that are just magical. Double-tapping on handwritten text with your finger converts it to text. This also works with diagrams and mathematical equations. In the past, I’ve spent hours on my Mac crafting professional looking diagrams and flow charts to explain workflows to my colleagues. With Nebo, the process takes minutes.

Do you have any tips or tricks for notetaking on your iPad Pro? Another app mention? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’re using.

Update: An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

My Personal Reading Workflow

Having recently joined a book club, my personal reading habit has started returning back to normal levels.  Having recently wrote about how I read for grad school, I thought it might be interesting to detail how I go about reading for fun too.

First things first, I almost always pick the Kindle version when possible. They’re delivered instantly, don’t take up any space, and I honestly prefer the reading experience more than I do with physical books. I get most through my local library’s website, but occasionally I will buy them through Amazon or check them out through the Kindle Lending Library. Since Kindle Lending Library books have to be read on a Kindle (not just the app) this is usually last resort, but it’s nice for books that aren’t available from my library that I don’t want to buy.

Once I’ve picked a book to read (and I’m usually reading a few at a time), I set up a project in Omnifocus. I have a template saved in Keyboard Maestro. Triggering it prompts me for the book’s title and author, and then generates a project with corresponding tasks for progressing in the book in 10% increments, along with one final task which I’ll get to in a second. I also add the book to my currently reading list on GoodReads just for good measure.

For the actually reading, I use either the Kindle app for Mac or my Kindle Paperwhite. Even several years old, the Paperwhite is still one of my favorite devices and my preferred way to read. As I’m reading, I take notes on or highlight anything that seems worth remembering using the Kindle app or Paperwhite.

Once I’ve finished a book, my final task before marking my book project complete is to export my highlights and notes. To do this I use a bookmarklet called Bookcision, which exports your notes and highlights in plain text. From there, I copy them into a repository. Any sort of destination will do. I’m currently using Evernote, but have used Day One in the past. I do this so that I can search across all my highlights and notes, which not only helps with recalling what I’ve read but helps to establish connections between books I might not have otherwise seen.

I hope this has been helpful. Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of and remembering what you read? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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An Updated Look at Digital Planning

Today, I thought I’d share an update about how my planning system has evolved. To my surprise it’s working out great, and yes, I’m still all digital. I’ve made some tweaks and changes here and there, but the main set up of my system has stayed fairly consistent.

  1. Calendar – Google Calendar
  2. Task List – Omnifocus
  3. Daily Habits – Habit List
  4. Information – Evernote, Box, Google Drive

My calendar set up hasn’t really changed much since my last post. I’m still using my many Google calendars, but I’ve gotten rid of some and added some new ones. As of now this is my list:

  • Personal
  • Finance
  • School
  • Work
  • Home (a calendar shared with my mom so that I know when she will be home)
  • Student Employee Schedule

The next part of my system is my task list. I wrote a few posts about how I used Things. For now, Things is no longer part of my system, and I’ve moved over to Omnifocus. I’ve had to sacrifice Things’ pretty UI, but Omnifocus has made up for it with features like due dates with TIMES and perspectives. I’ll save the full Omnifocus write up for another day, but for now, let’s just say, perspectives are life changing.

I keep my habits separate from Omnifocus. There are some things like going to work, working out when I wake up, or flossing where seeing the chain of consecutive days I’ve done the task serves as major motivation {Thank you Jerry Seinfeld}. For tasks like these, I’m using Habit List which seems to offer the best mix of customization and looks that I’ve seen.

All my information (files, reference materials, etc.) are stored in 1 of 3 places. Evernote is my place for general notes (e.g. reading notes, project ideas, random recipes, and other miscellaneous information I want to refer back to.) My university Box account holds all of my school and work files. Google Drive holds the rest of my files that aren’t work or school related. All of these sync to my computer and mobile devices so everything is with me at all times.

Bonus (Journaling and Health/Fitness Tracking):

I’ve been trying to do better at recording things that happen in my life. For those I use a few apps.

Momento serves as my “journal”. It pulls my various social media feeds in automatically, and I try to log 3 things I’m grateful for each night before bed here as well. I’ve found that it’s a nice way to wrap up the night in a positive way, and scrolling back through the days to see the little things that made me happy is also pretty cool.

I track my health using a combination of apps. With the Fitbit Force being recalled, I’ve switched to the Jawbone Up 24 as my primary fitness band. The UP app is pretty awesome, and it records my steps, sleep, and a plethora of other things. I still use my Fitbit Aria scale so I do still use Fitbit, but the scale syncs to MyFitnessPal which syncs with the Up band. I also use MyFitnessPal which seems to offer more options for logging workouts and food. Together these apps work great together. Just this past week, I had been waking up in the middle of the night, and without these apps, I probably wouldn’t have ever noticed that I was waking up at exactly the same time each night presumably due to something happening in my room at that time.

So I hope you’ve found this little overview of how I stay semi-organized. Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to hear more about anything.

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