Evernote: Tuesday Tool Tip

Notebook software is the 300 pound canary of productivity tools. Those who haven’t ever used them can be baffled by the simplicity and vagueness of the concept. “Note-taking software? Why do I need that? I have scrap paper and a pencil, don’t I?”. Blah, blah, blah, and that person probably also walked five miles to school uphill both ways. I shouldn’t be too insulting, as I used to be one of those people.

I have now seen the light, especially after Evernote helped me maintain at least a shred of sanity during an unexpected move in which I managed to find a new place to live and move in two weeks. I find that it is the very vagueness and simplicity of the concept that makes notebook software such a powerful tool. They provide you with an information ecosystem that enables you to organize both your work life and personal life.

Evernote has three levels of hierarchy. Notes can be in a notebook and a notebook can be in a stack. This is the big difference with OneNote, which has many more levels of hierarchy, as many as you want. I hope Crystal will do a tool tip on OneNote so you can compare the two. Right now you can get a start by looking at our guide to Notebook Software. To get back to Evernote, some people prefer its more free-from design, particularly as anything can be found using Evernote’s search capability.

Evernote wants to be your tool for remembering everything, thus its elephant logo. So one feature of Evernote is its device agnosticity. There is Evernote software or apps for almost every platform – all the major browsers, Windows, Mac, many mobile devices and tablets including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Nook, and more. Does not seem to be available for the various flavors of Unix/Linux yet, but that is the last major OS for it to conquer.

As part of being an individual’s information ecosystem, Evernote connects to a wide variety of other hardware and software. Each Evernote account has its own email address, so you can add a note to Evernote via email. A number of scanners now include Evernote as a destination for scanned files. Evernote is a channel on ifttt, so you can write ifttt recipes to, for example, archive all your tweets or WordPress blog posts in Evernote. Some of the third-party apps expand on Evernote’s basic functionality and are listed on the Evernote Trunk page. For example, Evernote does not provide templates (OneNote does). An app called Kustom Note does provide templates for Evernote. Disclaimer – I’ve only looked at Kustom Note briefly, not gotten it to work yet, but it does display some nice templates.

Evernote can include a variety of note formats, such as rich text notes, audio, and graphics (excluding video). Take a photo of a handwritten note, for example, or scan it, and Evernote will run optical character recognition (OCR) on the note and the text will be searchable. With Evernote’s Web Clipper, available for most browsers, you can add all or part of a web page to Evernote.

Let’s go back to my recent move. After getting a notice tacked to my door that I had 45 days to vacate my old apartment as it had been sold and was being demolished, my first step was to start looking at apartment sites (well, actually, my first step was to roll up into a ball and scream). I created a notebook in Evernote called Apartment Find. I clipped into it sites about apartment complexes of interest. I then could add information to that note such as a call to the complex verifying apartment availability and dates. I looked up the complex on the Apartment Ratings site with reviews of complexes (which, overall, is enough to persuade you to never ever move), and added notes about the reviews. As I narrowed down my options, I started adding more and more information on the few sites I was most interested in, including questions about that complex with the answers obtained from the apartment managers. Once I decided on a place, I then noted what I needed to take with me to fill out an application, get the credit check done, and sign the lease. Once the lease was signed, I found a mover, and started making notes on what I needed to do, for example take my cat to be boarded – clipped details such as hours and directions to the kennel into the note. Made notes about who to notify about changes of address and marked those off when done. Made notes about priority of items to move – for example, make sure the entertainment center and the electronics went in last and out first, as I had an appointment with Comcast the afternoon of the move. Made notes on appointments to get gas and cable hooked up. Made notes on items to be bought – new cleaning supplies, etc. and possible items of new furniture, including clipping web pages from Ikea or other suppliers. Anyway, that is the picture of an example. Evernote’s blog has examples of how people from all walks of life are using the software.

This blog, of course, is interested in tools for higher education, and again notebook software has a lot of utility. Since PDFs can be attached to a note, it can help keep track of what’s been read for a class/research project. Many schools at all levels of the education system are encouraging students to use notebook software to keep a portfolio of school accomplishments. Create a mind map for a project and store it in Evernote, with another note that is a project-specific to-do list. Both professors and students can keep a notebook for each class, attach the syllabus, add notes on due dates, scope of assignments, questions to ask the professor, and more.

There is no one software that is the holy grail of productivity, but notebook software is as close as we have come so far. Life is complicated. Stay on top of it with the notebook software of your choice.

Whiz! Bang! Tilt! Twirl!

My co-blogger Crystal turned me on to a book by Maura Nevel Thomas called Personal Productivity Secrets. I have now read the first chapter and am already impressed, and taking my time thinking about it (given that I am an overeater, I think of this as taking time to digest what I’ve read).

Frankly, part of that first chapter terrified me. She went through several of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and every single one of them applied to me. Symptoms such as intolerance of boredom, many projects underway at once, difficulty getting organized, procrastination, trouble following through, etc. are symptoms I live all the time. However, she goes on to say that one doctor believes that many people in our highly-connected, high-stimulus world have a culturally-induced Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). The theory is that the brain gets addicted to anything that provides a high level of stimulus, including the stimulus of constant computer/social interactions made possible by new technologies.

I was reading these words on my Nook Color e-reader and tablet (it has full web browsing capabilities) while in my recliner. On the left arm of the recliner sat my laptop. On the right arm was room for the Nook, my smartphone, and my telephone I use with a VOIP service. The telephone only has a microcontroller, but the VOIP box has computing power. I look across the room and see my Tivo, which is also a full computer running Linux. All this computing power for one person, and it doesn’t count my office computer. These devices have some overlapping capabilities, but each has its strengths for different tasks. Mostly what they do, though, is keep my brain busy.

A further hypothesis Thomas posits is that while this level of stimulus has some good effects, it also means the brain is not giving any time to deep, reflective thought. It is this quiet time of mulling over ideas that the brain makes connections and uses creativity to solve problems. These were not entirely new ideas to me, I had seen similar in William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry. Powers solution is pretty simple – take some time in your life to disconnect entirely from electronics and reconnect with your own mind and with the people you interact with face-to-face. Thomas promises much more; she offers a combination of process and tools that allow you to take control of your attention, that fragile thing so under assault in a world where people are so busy and so hyperconnected.

Another really important concept Thomas has is that so much of what we do is reactive. If we start the day with email, for example, we react to our emails and that can wind up taking the whole day. leaving one at the end wondering what has been accomplished. I started this post a couple of days ago, over the weekend, and have noticed exactly this tendency in the two days I’ve been back at work.

I thought it would be good practice for me to stop reading and see if I can think of my own ways to get accomplish more substantive work. Then I’ll compare mine to hers as I read more. First of all, I don’t think I can entirely abandon checking email in the morning. there are some things my job requires me to respond to. I know already that part of her plan involves to-do lists. I’ve played around with them but not made them a center piece of my activities. That is the first positive change I can make. Another might be to take 15 minutes in the morning to write – doesn’t matter what – a blog post, ideas for an article, perhaps a mind map of a project. People who have gotten into the habit of writing, from what I read, tend to produce more and find their thoughts are better organized.

A particularly difficult project would be deciding what to read. I have so many RSS feeds I follow that I’ve gotten busy and dropped all of them. I get a lot of email that I delete unread. Crystal does a lot of reading on PKM topics, I read more on the tools side, but it is still too much. Comments on how you keep your professional reading to a reasonable level would be welcome.

I’ll post more on what I read in Personal Productivity Secrets, whether her plan agrees with mine, and how well I manage to implement my own plan.

Teaching PKM in library research sessions

This is my first fall semester as an academic librarian (I was a special librarian for about fifteen years, though I worked mainly in institutes in universities).  Therefore it’s my first time meeting and teaching large numbers of beginning graduate students and putting my convictions about personal knowledge management to use in the graduate library instruction classroom.

I have been fortunate that most faculty who have invited me into their classes have accepted my proposals about  how to work with students.  Since I am the librarian who works with graduate students in humanities and social sciences, my first goal is to ensure that they recognize me as their personal contact in the library, and that they know how to get in touch and what I can do for them

If I have an hour and a half or two one hour sessions with them, I divide it into two parts, with the first emphasizing preparation: the personal knowledge management ecosystem and defining a  search strategy.  The second part consists of looking at databases and sample searches. ( If I have three hours, it’s usually because the department has asked me to talk about how to incorporate source material properly – which they often have labeled plagiarism).

In the first part, I have time (though barely) to talk about the chaos of thinking about research – how our brains don’t neatly wall off time for thinking about intellectual projects from the grocery shopping from getting ready for a conference with little Veronica’s teacher or trying to remember everything you have to discuss with the doctor this morning.  (I have often sold this to the professor as citation management program, but at this point I am usually getting new interest).  Once we’re searching a database, we often find material that is of general interest to us, or might be useful for another project, though not necessarily for this one.  So we need a way to save that, possibly with some attached reflections we will want to remember later – but without disturbing our current workflow too much (ah, now I’ve really got the professor’s attention; there’s no one who hasn’t had this happen).

I ask people how they manage their workflow.  With some, it’s color-coded note cards and highlighters – but sometimes, like earlier this week, someone is using Evernote and RefWorks or another citation manager.  It’s very effective if there’s a student available to talk about how to use EverNote or OneNote to organize their research, and to describe how to use a citation manager!

When I introduce the subject of mapping, I can show them mapping subject terms, but I can also use a mind map to help them plot out a research project.  This one uses space on the left for their library research plan, and space on the right for an outline of the paper:

Generally, I stop this session at this point.  We have covered the general idea of the messiness of research, some tools for taming the chaos, and the steps that constitute a strategy.  In the next part, we will actually look at library databases and how to use them.

So far, the reaction has been positive.  However, I will follow these students, especially those in cohort programs, and hope to have the chance to assess the effectiveness in some more concrete way later in their programs.

Push vs Pull Learning

paranoia I’ve been catching up on some of my blog reading this weekend.  One of the bloggers I like to follow is Harold Jarche. His blog, Life in Perpetual Beta, focuses on learning in the socially networked world, both from the perspective of business organizations and from the perspective of academic and personal learning. His June 4th post, Pulling Informal Learning, refocused my thoughts on conversations we have been having in a tutorials committee at work. Conversations with graduate students have assured us that we are offering the kinds of topics in our workshops and training sessions in the library that the students want.  Yet attendance, while growing, is still low.  Students want the knowledge, but they want it when THEY want it.. not usually when our classes happen to offer it.  And the answers of when to offer the classes varies by individual.  They want the Pull learning that Jarche discusses in his post.

We’ve started creating short tutorials.. both screenshot instruction sheets and some 5 minutes or less video clips for short topics. We have also been using our research guides (we use LibGuides) to expand our class outreach.. most of our library classes have companion research guides with numerous resources on the topic of the class, as well as our PowerPoint presentation that they can download. But I feel like our grasp is still falling short.  We have so much to offer students to help make their passage through the university easier and more rewarding.. how to match up our knowledge and their attention is the challenge.

How have others been addressing these challenges?

Tuesday Tool Tip: Hojoki

Hojoki is another integrative web service. It isn’t like ifttt (see a previous Tuesday Tool Tip) but it does give you reminders of what you have done using specified cloud services. You get a daily and weekly roundup of what you’ve done using services including Evernote, Dropbox, Delicious, Twitter, Box, Basecamp, Mendeley, To Do Lists, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Drive, Github, Yammer, and more. At first I gave it a try on a whim, not thinking it would be terribly useful, but find I really like having something I can go back to to see when I posted a certain link on Facebook (I see this because links I post to facebook are saved to Evernote through an ifttt recipe), or what links I’ve recently saved in Delicious. If I were doing a lot of academic research, it would be more valuable in keeping track of actions in Mendeley.

Hojoki is, to no one’s surprise, another social site. You can create a workspace, configure it, and invite other people to work on it with you. This increases its value for academic workflow by allowing researchers at a distance to share information on their collaborative work. It doesn’t take much time to set up and then it runs automatically, sending you emails plus gives you a personalized web site with your timeline. It is to be hoped they will add more services, such as Facebook (your status posts only), WordPress, and LinkedIn.

Hajoki is simple. Sometimes simplicity is a beautiful thing.

The morning after I wrote the above post, I had an email from Hojoki saying my connection to Dropbox was broken, as Dropbox had recently made some security enhancements and changed URLs. It gave brief instructions on how to fix the problem, and had a link to a guide with detailed instructions including screen shots. At first I was irritated at the need for such a change, but later thought about what great customer service it was to notify me of the problem and give quality help on how to fix it. For a free web service, it is particularly nice to be so valued as a user.

Tuesday Tool Tip: ifttt

We are planning to offer a re-occurring feature on our blog called Tuesday Tool Tips. While not offered every week, these posts will describe tools that we find most useful or recommended by other trusted bloggers/sites.

Today’s tip is on ifft, which stands for If This, Then That.  If you use a number of social media tools, then you often spend too much time in repetitive tasks.  For example, you add a post to your blog, you then link to the post with a tweet.  ifttt wants to automate as many of those tasks as it can by providing you with snippets of code to accomplish a task without your intervention.  It does this by creating channels – that is, web services such as Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and many more.  “Recipes” trigger actions from one channel to another.  For example, every time a post goes up on my WordPress blog, add it as a note to Evernote, or send it to Twitter or Facebook.  Another recipe might be every time you update your Facebook picture, update the Twitter one as well.  ifttt has even created a couple of its own channels for a calendar and weather.  So, for example, one recipe sends email whenever the forecast for the next day is for rain.  Others send emails when new books or albums hit Amazon’s top 100 list.  Other recipes include such actions as add photos from Flickr or Instagram to a Dropbox folder.  As of this date, there are 48 channels available.

ifttt used well can save you time.  Used poorly, it can add more time wasters to your email or other media.  It is all in how you use the tool.

This kind of tool is so new that there is no name for the category.  I’ve considered web service synchronization tools and web services interoperability, then settled on integrative services. Let me know in the comments if you have a better name.