Quick Tip: Use Evernote to back up your blog in real time

photo by joe.ross on Flickr

I’ve been using Evernote to go paperless (see previous posts here) and have come across some difficulties, particularly with using Evernote on the iPad. I’ve found the following websites very helpful, as models to copy, and also because they inspire creativity:

  1. The major difficulty of course is that unless you are connected to the Internet, the iPad version of Evernote will only show the titles of the notes and not the content except for notes which you created on the iPad itself. It is possible to get the Evernote iPad app to display notes but to do that you need the premium version, which offers off-line notebooks.
  2. iPad displays Evernote differently from on the PC: it has no sidebar and cannot display nested notebooks or tags. Everything is flat.
  3. The flat display makes searching in tags cumbersome. You can’t click on saved searches (or at least I haven’t figured out how yet) but have to type in the searches each time, which is a pain, especially if you have tags with names that begin with !’s or other punctuation. On the iPad therefore I am more likely to click directly on a notebook or a tag to find what I’m looking for, whereas on my computer I would click on saved searches. Also, you can’t search for a certain tag within a notebook, only across all notebooks.
  4. whether to use tags or notebooks. The notebook and tag  structure is important. Why? Because notebooks and tags are where you usually start to look for something. Daniel Gold and others remind their readers that you can use the sophisticated search function to look for items and therefore a large number of tags and notebooks is not necessary.
  5. another, unexpected, difficulty is deciding whether something is a to-do item or a reference item. Previously, I had been storing everything as a reference item, creating a huge number of notebooks and tags in the process. After reading Daniel Gold’s excellent guide to using Evernote for GTD, I then swung to the other extreme and stored everything as a to-do item. Typical. After realising that I was dithering over how to tag certain uncategorisable  to-do items, (because they weren’t to-do items but rather Project Support Materials or simply reference materials for Someday/Maybe potential projects)  I decided I needed to rethink my reference structure. At the moment it looks completely flat with GTD and Reference all listed in a line.
  6. I’m a teacher, but most of the GTD and Evernote guides seem to be written by business types or computer programmers working on time-delimited projects. So I made each of my classes a project and assigned each one its own notebook. But are my classes meaning long-term tasks that require zillions of sub-tasks and never get completed? And if they are, what happens to David Allen’s concept of a project, namely any action that requires more than two steps? Shouldn’t each class have its own tag rather than a notebook? In fact, now I think of it, each class is more like a “context”.
  7. What difference does it make whether something is a notebook or a tag?
    1. it makes a difference when it comes time to look for something
    2. it makes a difference when it comes time to archiving something, although this can be a red herring because one of the attractions of using GTD and Evernote is that you learn more efficient ways of working and particularly retrieving information when you need it. (Dave Allen asks when does your mind usually tell you that you need more batteries for your flashlight? When you switch on the flashlight and it doesn’t work. If your brain was smart says Allen it would remind you when you were passing the battery section in the supermarket.) For example, I still tend to think in terms of hierarchies of folders instead of simply using the search box. So, because a folder or notebook is still the first place I go to to look for something, it makes sense (i.e. it saves time) for me to archive things in folders or notebooks.
    3. it makes a difference because in the ever note sidebar notebooks are listed first and if like me you’ve got a ton of notebooks you won’t see your tags at all unless you scroll down
    4. the above doesn’t make a difference on the iPad because you can only see either tags or notebooks at a time not both
    5. speaking of notebooks and tags I’ve just seen this comment by Daniel Gold: “My projects begin with a master note which I tag “.ProjectX”. I do not make my projects separate notebooks. This would lead to what I think an unwieldy collection of notebooks in a Project stack. Plus, I like to have the notes reside in 1 notebook + multiple tags that I might need to add on later. The projects are listed under a parent project tag, then a child Active and child Inactive.”
    6. Brooks Duncan recommends creating an Inbox to throw everything into, then process later. He also suggests making your Evernote Inbox your default notebook. This is neat, because when you phone in your notes you don’t have to specify the notebook. Some folks suggest using an “Inbox” tag rather than a folder or notebook. The disadvantage of that is, when you phone notes in, you’ll have to designate the tag. I don’t think there’s a setting for choosing a “default tag”.

I’m beginning to think that if I really use the search function effectively (assuming I can learn to do that – old habits die hard) I don’t need notebooks or tags.

I haven’t figured out yet what to do about my Project Support Materials. Should they get their own notebooks? Should they be tagged PSM and then shoved into the notebook for that project? Or should each material get tagged PSM as well as a tag for its associated project? All of the above? I like to consider my options!

I’m also going to simplify my Notebooks to the following:

  • !todo (the various contexts will be identified with tags, not notebooks)
  • Reference (which will include past, completed, inactive or dormant Projects)
  • Projects
  • Personal (for registration details, passwords, phone numbers and other confidential stuff)

Michael Wheatfill’s divisions look useful, too:

  • Inbox 
  • Projects 
  • Lists
  • Read – Review
  • Someday – Maybe

I’ll probably subdivide the Projects notebook into a stack which can then hold 1 level of subdivisions, maybe “Work Projects” and “Home/Personal Projects”, but that leads to the apple of temptation of making more levels, and that’s “old-style thinking” which I’m trying to break away from. Anyway, Evernote won’t handle further subdivisions, and even creating stacks is a little cumbersome.

[Philosophical aside:  Perhaps the real purpose of notebooks and tags in Evernote is visual. In other words it is the sight of your notebooks and tags that reminds you of the structure of your work and your working day: says “this is what you’re working on, this is what needs to be done”.  as Bobby Travis writes in Getting things done in Evernote with only one notebook, “I’m visual, and it helps me immensely to have an actual Inbox that I can look at with just one click.” Daniel Gold writes that in nested tags, you don’t necessarily have to tag an item with both the parent and child tags.  Why not? And if not, what’s the point of the parent tag? Daniel writes, “the parent tag acts as a placeholder for your tags”. Structurally you don’t need the parent tag so obviously a placeholder is a visual reminder that this tag is part of that overall category.)]