OMG I’m so OCD (Or Digital Tools for my Digital Toolbox)


I have a new goal… I’m trying to significantly reduce the amount of paper that I file and store. I’d like to eliminate three huge filing cabinets and shift everything, or nearly everything, to a completely online and mostly paperless system.

I’m planning on using Evernote to do this in combination with the camera on my iPhone and a couple of scanners. I want Evernote to become my digital filing cabinet for everything that’s not already organised online in some other system.

I’ll get to that soon, perhaps in the next post. But to cut a long story short, Evernote has a couple of major shortcomings that don’t make it a perfect tool to do what I want. However, nothing else really comes close so I’ve figured out a couple of workarounds which I’ll share shortly as well as my strategy.

First though, I wanted to outline what digital tools I’m already using and how I’m using them. Currently, I use the following:

  • Google Apps for Business for hosting my business and other emails. I’ve got this organised through my local Google genius, John Curtis at Kloud.
  • Dropbox and Google Drive for cloud-based file storage. Dropbox is probably a little easier to work with, but Google Drive just integrates perfectly with the Google Apps email client. And comes as part of the Google Apps package anyway.
  • Google Docs for writing projects where I need to share content or collaborate, such as on the new Diploma course that I’m about to start writing. This is also part of Google Apps.
  • Basecamp for student and project management. I’ve looked at lots of different student and learning management applications. None of them do what I want. In fact, now I break out in a rash when I start looking at them. So I built my own system using Basecamp, which is a project management tool. This is worth another post as well at some stage as our system is pretty damn cool. Basecamp is part of the 37 Signals suite of tools which also includes the next one on my list.
  • Highrise for contact management. This is where we store all our work-related contact details including past and present students. It’s more sophisticated than what we use it for, but at the moment we just need a contact management system which is cloud-based.
  • Survey Monkey for online surveys. I’ve currently downgraded my subscription because I’m not using it at the moment, but I’ve used it a lot in the past and I can see myself using it again in the future.
  • Mail chimp for email marketing. I’ve only used this a few times, and I’m terrible at marketing, but I could see some great uses for this in the future – particularly if we can launch our online Spotify store.

So I’m getting to Evernote… A lot of things like my banking and tax records are already online with the banks and IRD so there’s not much that I really need to store in a physical format. Everything that doesn’t fit into one of the applications listed above is going to go into Evernote. This includes:

  • Random journal articles.
  • Handwritten notes.
  • Conference notes and handouts.
  • Instruction manuals for gadgets and other things.
  • Stuff I’ve found online that might be useful for future projects.
  • Extra stuff that relates to the course I teach, but that I don’t currently use.
  • Publications from the NZQA, TEC, and other organisations.
  • Business development notes, scribbles, courses and other related material.
  • Ideas for new projects, products, courses, and businesses
  • Personal details including medical notes, important documents, and other stuff that doesn’t have a place.

Currently, things like this get hole punched, put in cardboard folders with big flexible clips (like what you see doctors and nurses using), sorted into long narrow boxes, and then filed in the filing cabinets.

Evernote’s system kind of replicates this with a hierarchy of notes (like the stuff in my list above), notebooks (like my cardboard folders), and stacks (like my boxes). Evernote acts like a filing cabinet to store all of this.

Also it uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to make everything searchable including my handwritten notes.

The nearly fatal flaws in the Evernote system relate to sharing and collaboration. All of the applications in my list above work really well for remote work, sharing, and collaboration. So here are my problems:

  • Evernote allows me to share notebooks but I can’t share “Stacks” which are like my boxes of file folders. This is not a deal breaker but it messes up the hierarchy of the filing system when you share stuff.
  • There are also some issues around using the web interface for Evernote when it comes to moving notes from a personal notebook to a shared notebook that you aren’t the owner of. This is almost a deal breaker because I need my assistant to scan a lot of things herself and move them into the shared folders that I’ve set up.

They sound like small things, but they are major stumbling blocks to how I want to be able to work – which is (potentially) remotely and from any device or platform with nothing stored locally on any particular hard drive or device.

Coming up… How I solved the problem

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

Leave a Reply