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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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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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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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Going Paperless With Evernote Webinar Replay

Going Paperless With EvernoteLast week, I did six (!) webinars with Steve Dotto on Going Paperless with Evernote.

Steve has now put the replay online along with the bonus materials that I developed and the chat logs from a few of the chat sessions. You guys ask some great questions.

Click here for the Going Paperless with Evernote replay.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Doing the webinars was a lot of fun. If you have suggestions for other topics, feel free to let me know.

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Make Direct Evernote Note Links Again

LinksA few months ago, Evernote made a change to the way note links work when they are copied and pasted outside of Evernote.

A note link is a special link that will go directly to one of your Evernote notes. This can be helpful if you want to go directly to one of your notes from another application (for example, a calendar or to-do app).

Many power users were up in arms about this change, because when you click on one of these new note links, the note now opens in your browser in the web version of Evernote (https:// links for you nerds out there).

The previous behavior was to open the note directly in whichever Evernote application was installed on the computer or mobile device (aka evernote:// links). For example, the table of contents in my most recent newsletter issue is made up of evernote:// links.

Some may like this new change, but I am among those that do not. Thankfully, Jason Frasca put together a guide to creating note links as our forefathers did: Open Evernote Note Links Directly On The Desktop Again.

If you are like me and like to work exclusively from the desktop you have found this change to be frustrating.

So I tracked down the old Classic Note Links to force your Evernote Notes to open on the desktop directly.

Great tip.

(Photo by John)

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Fix Mac Spotlight Not Searching PDFs

Spotlight IconI received a Twitter question from awesome DocumentSnap reader (and awesome sculptor) Carol Griffin. She had a strange issue – after she upgraded to Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks, her scanned PDFs were not being indexed by Spotlight, and therefore she could not find them via search.

After trying some 140 character-at-a-time troubleshooting (“Are the PDFs on an external drive?” “Are the PDFs actually OCRed?”), she managed to fix the problem herself and I thought it was interesting enough to post.

Her solution came from this Apple article, and was basically:

  • Open the Spotlight privacy window.
  • Drag your hard drive to that window, telling Spotlight you don’t want your drive indexed at all.
  • Remove the drive you just dragged in from the list.

Seems weird, but this gives Spotlight the kick in the you-know-what to re-index your entire drive. After a while (it may take hours), Carol was good to go, as were many others who have had this issue.

If you find that Spotlight isn’t indexing PDFs that you think it should, this might do the trick. Thanks for sharing, Carol!

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