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Is There A Benefit To Tech Automation?

Kennedy-Mighell ReportThere is a very good chance that if you are reading about productivity on the Internet, the author (including yours truly) is promoting the benefits of automation.

Speaking for myself, I am all for automating as much as possible. Whether it is using something like TextExpander, Hazel, File Juggler, or iOS keyboard shortcuts, I am always looking for ways to have my computer do the work for me.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell called the Kennedy-Mighell Report, and the episode was The Benefits of Tech Automation: Why Attorneys Should Opt In.

Even though the podcast is on the Legal Talk Network, I don’t think this episode is necessarily exclusive to lawayers.

When I started listening, I expected the usual automation rah-rah, but to my surprise it turned into an interesting discussion of automation tools and whether it is even worth automating many of the tasks we productivity nerds take for granted.

Whether you agree or disagree, sometimes it is helpful to check your own biases. The episode is embedded below, or you can visit their page for more.

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Evernote Post-It Notes – Crazy Like A Fox?

Evernote Post-It NotesI have to admit that when Evernote announced their partnership with 3M and released Evernote-branded Post-It notes, I thought it was more than a little goofy.

Post-It notes? Really? I am not a sticky note person myself, but I know many people are. What is so wrong with normal Post-It notes that there needs to be a special Evernote version?

I was happily living my life ignoring these products, until I attended a few conferences and talked to people who use them all the time and they all seemed to really like them.

I decided it is time to try them out for myself, so I ordered a pack on Amazon (they are a bit cheaper there). I decided to buy the 4-pack because it comes with three months of Evernote Premium.

I also decided to test it with non-Evernote sticky notes. More on that below.

Evernote Post-It Notes

Why Are These Post-It Notes Evernote-y?

As far as the products themselves go, there is nothing too different about them. You use them like you would any sticky note (I assume you know how to do that).

The key is the four colors that the notes come in. You might call them blue, pink, green, and yellow, but you would be wrong. In fact, they are “Electric Blue”, “Neon Pink”, “Limeade”, and “Electric Yellow”.

The magic happens in the Evernote mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. They have a special Post-It camera mode that is specially designed to recognize Post-It notes.

You use the Evernote app, put it in Post-It mode, and take the picture.

Evernote Post-It Camera

The Evernote app will recognize the sticky note, clean up the image, and create a nice looking note in Evernote for you.

Evernote Post-It Yellow Note

Post-It Automation

That’s interesting and all, but many apps will auto-detect the edges of a document and clean up the image. Big deal.

This is where the special Evernote Post-It colors come in. Buried in the settings of the Evernote mobile app[1], you can have Evernote take actions based on the color of the Post-It.

Evernote Post-It Note Rules

For each color, you can have the note automatically go to a certain notebook, add a certain tag, and/or create a reminder.

Evernote Post-It Automation Rule

For example, in this screenshot I had all four colors set to go to a Sketches notebook, and for Limeade (aka “green”) notes I asked it to tag it with Project4.

Evernote Post-It Notes Tagged

Capture Quality

Whenever I have seen the Evernote Post-It Notes online, the examples have always been written/drawn with big chunky black marker.

I decided to try it with a blue ball-point on an “Electric Blue” Post-It.

Evernote Post-It Blue Ballpoint

It turned out surprisingly well. If the text looks a little sketchy, that is due to my pen running low on ink and not due to Evernote’s app.

What About Normal Sticky Notes?

I know what you are thinking – do you need to use special Evernote-branded Post-Its?

I wondered that too, so I gave it a try.

First I tried a “normal” yellow sticky note. No electricity here.

Evernote Normal Yellow Sticky

The Post-It camera did crop and clean up the image, but even though it is yellow, apparently the yellow is not “Electric” enough. It didn’t move it to the Sketches notebook and it did not tag it.

I was at the dollar store and noticed this pack of off-brand sticky notes that look suspiciously like Electric Yellow and Neon Pink.

evernote-postits-dollar-store

 

Would the Evernote Post-It camera recognize a $1.29 CAD 2-pack? Let’s find out.

Evernote Sticky Yellow
Evernote Sticky Pink

Amazingly, the Evernote app on iOS does see these dollar store sticky notes as Electric Yellow and Neon Pink and files them away. Wow!

I Am Almost A Believer

As I said earlier, I am not really a “post-it note guy”. I mostly make notes digitally or in my Wipebook.

I still think the idea of Evernote-branded Post-Its is a little goofy, but I have to admit that the execution is excellent.

If you are someone who uses sticky notes and you are an Evernote user, it may be worth giving it a try (again, it is cheaper on Amazon). The free Evernote Premium months make it almost worth it if you don’t stumble across a dollar store find like I did.


  1. On iOS, at the time of writing tap on the gear icon near the top, go to General, then Camera, then Post-It Notes.  ↩
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Fujitsu ScanSnap: Stop Progress Window Popping Up On The Mac

ScanSnap in a MeetingAfter you press the Scan button on a Fujitsu ScanSnap, a progress window pops up showing you what the scanner is doing.

If you, for whatever reason, don’t want that to happen, you can turn that progress window off on the Mac.

Over on the ScanSnap Community, they have a helpful tutorial for toggling this behavior:

How to Do Background Scanning on a Mac.

Although active windows are great to show the scanning progress sometimes they can get in the way of your work flow. There is a quick and easy way to deactivate the pop-ups on your Mac just by changing a couple of settings.

I think I still like to see what is going on, but that’s a great little hidden setting if you want to keep things a bit more quiet.

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Create Fillable PDF Forms With Nitro

Tax Forms This WayThis past weekend, I finally implemented Mike Vardy’s excellent 1Password Emergency Kit so that if I get hit by a bus, my wife will know how to get into all our stuff.

Mike’s kit is a helpful PDF form, but since I have the handwriting of a four year old, I prefer to type it. Unfortunately, this PDF is not a fillable PDF, so I fired up Nitro Pro 9 for Windows to fill it out.

Add Form Fields

Just open up the PDF in Nitro and hit the Forms tab at the top.

Then hit the Text Field button and you can either draw the text field wherever you want to enter text, or double-click on the form.

Nitro Add Form Fields

If you need to, you can adjust the look of the text field by adjusting the Properties tab under Form Tools.

Nitro Form Properties

Rinse and repeat for each field you want to add to the form. It doesn’t have to be just text boxes. You can add check boxes and any other type of form element you’d like.

Once you get started, it goes pretty quickly.

Fill Out The Form

Hit the Select tool on the left, and now you can go through and fill out your fancy new form fields.

Nitro Fill Out Form Fields

You can then save the PDF or print it out.

Dear Nitro

In case you are reading this, it would be awesome to have a feature similar to Create Form Fields For Page in PDFpen Pro for the Mac. It goes through a document and automatically creates form fields where it detects them on the page. It is pretty awesome.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about creating forms in Nitro, they put together this handy video.

I like to fill out forms on my computer whenever possible. If they’re not already a fillable PDF, it is easy to make them that way with something like Nitro on Windows or PDFpen on the Mac. Do you fill out forms on your computer? How do you do it?

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski)

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Supermom vs. Super Mom By Vanessa Hayes

Supermom vs Super MomAs far as I am aware, I am not a mom. I’m certainly not a super mom. I can say with reasonable confidence that my wife has me beat in all super mom aspects (sometimes she whips up a batch of muffins in the morning before heading off to her corporate senior management job – I’m lucky if I can make my smoothie without it exploding).

However, I enjoy the work that Dan Hayes and Vanessa Hayes do on their Simple Life Together podcast, and when Vanessa released her book Supermom vs Super Mom: Simplicity Tips for Busy Moms: A Simple Life Guide to Getting Organized, Finding Margin and Embracing Simplicity for Moms I decided what the heck, I’ll pick it up and maybe get some good simplicity tips.

I bought it when it first came out, but because of the weird way that I read books, I haven’t gotten to it until just now. Since I am currently on a train heading down to the World Domination Summit, I figure it is a good time to write about the book since WDS in 2011 was the first time I met them. If you look closely in this picture, you can see Dan, Vanessa, and I all listening to Leo Babauta in his “class on the grass”.

WDS Zen Habits Meetup

While I’ve established that I am not a mom, I found that the book has a lot of great tips that you can implement immediately. One area I really liked was her S-I-M-P-L-E method for organizing. We have some areas at home that are a bit, shall we say, disorganized. I’m going to apply this methodology to those and see how it goes.

I don’t think I have ever said this about a book, but the Appendices are almost the most valuable part. There are specific sections for specific types of clutter, and there are routines she outlines that can really make a difference.

For example, there is a fantastic appendix on dealing with paper clutter. If you want to learn to create an overall paper plan, the book is worth it just for that chapter alone.

While targeted to moms, I think Supermom vs Super Mom could be valuable for anyone who wants to create order at home and get their stuff and routines under control.

Full disclosure: At the National Association of Professional Organizers conference in Phoenix this year, I went out to dinner with Dan and Vanessa and they bought me a burger called The Green Monster, and there may have been one or two Lumberyard IPAs involved. However, I had purchased the book months before this dinner, and the deliciousness of The Green Monster did not influence my recommending this book.

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EagleFiler Is A Great Mac App For Going Paperless

EagleFilerA Mac application that has been on my to-do list to check out for years is EagleFiler. I know that a lot of DocumentSnap readers use it to go paperless, so I finally decided to take a look. I don’t know what took me so long.

You can class EagleFiler as an “everything bucket” application. It allows you to save pretty much anything in it, and you can structure your information however you’d like.

EagleFiler View PDF

Evernote for People Who Don’t Want To Use Evernote

I am not sure how much the developer would appreciate this (especially since I believe EagleFiler came out first), but I think of EagleFiler as a great Evernote alternative on the Mac.

It allows you to save documents, take notes, clip web pages, save emails, and organize research.

For going paperless, EagleFiler does have some advantages over Evernote as far as I am concerned:

  • Your files are stored locally. There is no server component, so the worry of having sensitive information in the cloud goes away. (If you want to store your documents in the cloud, you do have options).
  • You can encrypt your EagleFiler library locally.
  • Your files are stored in the regular Mac folder system. Nothing is stored in a proprietary database so if EagleFiler disappears tomorrow, you don’t have to figure out how to get your information out.
  • You can create folder structures to your heart’s content. You aren’t limited to Evernote’s flat hierarchy.

Given all that, EagleFiler allows you to add tags to your files and has a great search ability, much like Evernote.

Getting Information Into EagleFiler

If you have existing files outside of EagleFiler, you can drag folders and files in and it will create your folder structure from them.

EagleFiler also has a great clipper function. If you have a file selected, are viewing a web page, or viewing have email messages selected, hit the clipping shortcut (by default F1) and the information will be automatically imported.

If you want to add some notes, give the file a title, tag etc. at the time of clipping, you can hit Option-F1 and it will pop up an options box.

EagleFiler Import Options

There is also an import folder. Anything that gets scanned or saved here will automatically be imported to EagleFiler

EagleFiler Import Folder

Web Clipping

If you are viewing a web page, hit the quick capture key and it will clip the page to Eagle Filer, downloading all images etc.

EagleFiler Clip Web Page

Double-clicking on it will take you to the URL in your browser.

You can control how pages get saved. For example, you can have it create a PDF which can be handy.

EagleFiler Save Page PDF

Saving Emails

One nice benefit of EagleFiler is the ability to save emails from your email program. If you capture messages from Mail.app or Outlook, it will save the messages to your EagleFiler database along with attachments and information about the message. This gets them out of your email program and into a long-term storage location where you can apply tags etc. along with other files and documents. I can see this being great for project and client work.

Information such as sender and date are also preserved.

EagleFiler

Some Things That Would Be Nice To Have

Some may feel that the fact that EagleFiler does not have a server component is a plus, but others will see it as a drawback. A benefit of Evernote is that your files can be available anywhere without you needing to think too much about it.

With EagleFiler, you can accomplish this by storing your EagleFiler library on Dropbox. Thanks to the fact that EagleFiler doesn’t store your documents in a proprietary database, this means that your files can be accessible from any device. However, you do need to be careful that, for example, you don’t have the EagleFiler database open on more than one computer at the same time.

Since EagleFiler is not strictly a “document management application”, it doesn’t have any PDF editing or OCR capabilities built-in. For PDF editing and manipulation, you can open the PDF in Preview or PDFpen, and for OCR there are AppleScripts supplied to have PDFpen perform OCR. Of course, this means that you need to own PDFpen.

If your PDF is already searchable (and these days most good scanners have OCR capability), EagleFiler will read the text perfectly with no additional software needed.

A Great Choice For Storing Your Documents On The Mac

The more I use EagleFiler the more I like it. It is $40 (a one time fee, unlike Evernote). There is a free trial, so you can try it out and see how you like it. If you want to purchase it and buy me a beverage while doing so, you can use this link.

I know there are lots of rabid fans of EagleFiler out there. If you use it, leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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PrintFriendly – Easily Save Web Pages As PDF

PrintFriendlyI was at my parents’ place for our regular Sunday dinner, which is another way to say our weekly tech support session.

My father asked me if there was an easy way to take my DocumentSnap articles (hi Dad) and other web pages and save them as PDF. I told him I’d look into an easy way to do it that would work on all his devices.

As usual, the DocumentSnap community did my work for me and the very next morning, awesome reader John sent in a tip for a free web service called Print Friendly.

At its simplest, Print Friendly has a big box on their website where you can paste in the address for any web page you want to convert to PDF.

Print Friendly home page box

When you hit the print preview button, you get a nice window that lets you print the page, save it as PDF, or email it to someone.

Print Friendly Results

Because this is happening in the browser, it should work on pretty much any device. Here it is on iOS – you don’t need any special app or anything. You can generate a PDF and the save it wherever you normally would save PDFs.

PrintFriendly on iOS

If you don’t want to bother with copying and pasting the URL, there is a bookmarklet that you can put in your browser that will let you create a PDF from whatever page you are viewing.

I like these little tools that do what they do and do it well. If you find yourself wanting to save pages as PDFs for whatever reason, Print Friendly is not a bad way to do it.

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Evernote Premium Users: Share Notebooks With Non-Premium Users

Evernote PouringEvernote is a great way to store information for your own reference, but it becomes even more powerful when you use it to share with others.

Sharing is easy to do, but it becomes slightly complicated because there are different types of Evernote accounts:

  • Free: Self-explanatory.
  • Premium: Additional storage, sharing ability, and other features. $5 USD a month or $45/year.
  • Business: Additional features for businesses who want more administrative control.

A common question that comes up is how sharing works between different types of accounts. Can Free members share with Premium members? Are the notebooks read-only or can they be edited?

This post will run through some of the permutations.

What This Post Does Not Cover

  • Sharing individual notes: Any account can create a link to share an individual note with others. That’s not what we’re talking about here – we are only going to cover sharing entire notebooks.
  • Evernote Business: We won’t be getting into sharing business notebooks here. We’ll only be talking about sharing Evernote notebooks between Premium and Free users.

Sharing Notebooks From Free Users

Free Evernote users can share notebooks with Premium users and other Free users.

There has been a notable change in behavior recently (as far as I am aware).

Previously, Free users could only share notebooks and have them be read-only.

Now it appears that Free users can share one notebook and allow other users to view and modify notes.

For example, here you can see that I am using a Free user to share a notebook with another Free user. I am able to allow the recipient to View notes and activity and Modify notes.

Evernote Free User Sharing First Notebook To Modify

Now when logged in using the recipient’s account, I am able to modify the note and those changes are synchronized back to all users.

Evernote Free Shared Notebook Modified

When I try to share a second notebook, I can still share it, but the recipient will only be able to view the notebook contents and will not be able to make changes.

Evernote Free User Sharing Second Notebook Read Only

Sharing Notebooks From Premium Users

When you are an Evernote Premium user, you can share a notebook with anyone (Free or Premium) and give them the ability to view or modify notes.

Evernote Premium User Sharing Notebook

In this example, a Free user added a note to my Premium-shared Recipes notebook.

Evernote Premium Notebook Note Created By Free

So there you go: Premium users can share notebooks with anyone, and allow anyone to modify them. Free users can also share notebooks with anyone, but can only create one notebook that can be modified by others.

(Photo by Heisenberg Media)

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Cool OneNote and Surface Pro 3 Video

Sorcerer SupremeI haven’t used a Microsoft Surface myself, but I know it has its fans, as does Microsoft OneNote.

Windows users have used OneNote on a tablet for years and years. I remember someone demoing it to me at Gnomedex 2005.

The new Surface Pro 3 looks like a pretty cool device, and I came across this very enthusiastic video from Microsoft: Magic tricks with OneNote and Surface Pro 3, which I have embedded below.

The way that the hardware, software, and pen work together is impressive. I’m going to have to head down to a Microsoft Store to play with this.

Any of you using a Surface and OneNote together? What do you use it for?

(Photo by JD Hancock)

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Should You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Prune BonsaiWhen you go paperless, over time you will accumulate a lot of information. This may lead you to ask yourself an important question – how long should you keep your electronic documents? Should you prune them periodically, or should you keep them forever?

I need to be open and transparent right off the bat here – I do not prune my documents. To this point, I have taken a “you never know what you will need until you need it” approach and have kept everything.

That has worked for me so far, but there may be some very good reasons to have an electronic document destruction policy – especially if you run a larger business.

But I Want To Keep My Electronic Documents Forever

That is entirely your choice, but here are some things to consider.

Storage Costs

The nice thing about going paperless is that more document storage does not usually lead to more physical space being taken up. We don’t have to worry about file cabinets, boxes, or storage rooms.

You often hear “storage is cheap” when it comes to electronic data, and it is. You can get terabyte upon terabyte of cloud storage for free, and the price of external storage keeps falling.

Over time though, you may start hitting storage tiers where keeping more data leads to additional cost, which may be unnecessary.

Increased Complexity

The more information you keep, the more you will need to wade through when you or your users are looking for a document. Using a consistent and descriptive naming convention will help, but the less outdated and irrelevant information you need to wade through, the more effective you may be.

Legal Issues

This is mostly applicable in an organization, but keeping old documents around may open you up to legal risk. The more documents you have, the more discoverable information there is if you are involved in a lawsuit or audit.

It is sad for historic and preservation reasons, but there is a trend for organizations to get rid of documents as quickly as they can for these sorts of legal reasons.

There are some important caveats around this though, so read on.

Create An Electronic Document Destruction Policy

So you’ve decided that you want to start removing old information. Here is what you should not do: go crazy and start deleting stuff.

The first thing you will want to do is talk to your legal and tax experts to find out which records you need to keep and for how long.

Once you have sorted that out, it is still not to time to take a chainsaw to your document archive. You should create a formal document destruction policy.

For example, the time to delete documents related to a lawsuit is not when you are involved in the lawsuit. That is what is known as a Bad Idea (remember Enron?).

Rich Medina puts it well in his AIIM post 4 Things You Need to Know to Safely Get Rid of Electronic Stuff (Technical Term for Information Chaos):

The first step is to develop your Defensible Disposition Policy. This is the design specification that states very clearly the objectives that your methodology will fulfill. You should be able to defend your actions by pointing at your policy for defensible disposition, which shows what you intend to do, and then showing that you are following it. The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect – you don’t have to perfectly satisfy your retention demands. You do need to use the Principle of Reasonableness and act In Good Faith.

Some things you will want to think about:

  • What should be removed?
  • What should never be removed?
  • When should they be removed?
  • Who removes them?

Though it is specifically targeted at lawyers, Lawyerist has a good Sample Document-Destruction Policy.

Make Sure Everything Is Documented

You want to make sure that everything you do around document destruction (especially if you are an organization) is done carefully and deliberately.

When you destroy records, you want to make sure that the act of destruction is documented and shown that it is in compliance with your policy.

Document Pruning Strategies

Many higher-level document management systems have disposition features built-in that you can use.

If you are not using one of those systems, you can do things like set up smart folders on your computer to identify files in your archive that are of a certain age in a certain location and then go through those to decide which to delete.

Make Sure You Review And Update

Over time, you will want to review your policy and make sure that it is still relevant, and you will want to do some sample audits to make sure that the policy is being followed.

Do You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Do you keep everything (as I currently do), or do you prune your documents? If you are comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear below the sorts of things you delete and how you go about it.

(Photo by Tanaka Juuyoh)

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