Evernote's Power in Combination With Automation PlatformsWe all know Evernote is pretty powerful on its own. I often call it my "life dashboard," as it records so much of what goes on in my life. My task list, my reading list, even my business cards all live in Evernote. What's cool, though, is how Evernote becomes exponentially more powerful when using automated integrations. It's one of those little task/big time savings things. If you can set it up to automatically take care of some of the small tasks you do everyday, you'll actually save a tremendous amount of time. In this Evernote tips post, I'm taking you through three that I have found to be immensely useful. I have the same philosophy with these integrations that I do with my GTD implementation--practicality and simplicity. An elegant system is a high-functioning system. These are also goal oriented. I'm not moving data around in the cloud for the sake of exercising electrons. I'm going to approach this post from a problem-solving perspective, as opposed to writing about the cool things you can do with each platform.
Evernote Tip #1: Automatically Emailed Daily Report of Priority TasksAlthough, because of my weekly review, I usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to be tackled on any given day, it's still productive to get a look at the high priority items that are waiting to be addressed. I wanted to figure out a way to have an email sent to me each morning of just my open, high priority tasks so that I could review on the bus going to work. Obviously, this is way beyond Evernote's built-in capabilities. Let's take a look at SmartSheet. If you've tried to manage a team via task lists on a Google Spreadsheet or Excel file, you know there are real limitations to the collaboration aspects of those tools. SmartSheet is sort of a spreadsheet built specifically for collaboration and project management, and it does a really phenomenal job of it. Right now, in my "real" job, I'm using a gigantic SmartSheet to coordinate the activities of 12-15 people across four teams. I've also used the app to manage a redesign and rebranding of more than a dozen websites around the world, build really awesome Gantt charts, and communicate priorities and potential problems our leadership teams. Because of those applications, I know that SmartSheet's capable of reliably firing reports with highly parsed information, perfect for this use case. But there were two issues: automatically getting the information into SmartSheet and keeping that information synced (so, when a task goes from open to complete) and getting SmartSheet to parse out the specific information I wanted to see.
Problem 1: Syncing information to SmartSheetInitially, I was using a convoluted IFTTT recipe to move the note title and tags over to SmartSheet. It wasn't super reliable and I had lots of problems with getting this to work consistently... sometimes items wouldn't be synced, sometimes only part of the information made it, etc. Amazingly, SmartSheet added very basic Evernote integration about the time I was thinking about this...serendipitous. Over at SmartSheet Labs, you can set up SmartSheet to suck in the information from a specific Evernote notebook. You simply tell it what fields you want and populates a sheet with the information, automatically updating at regular intervals. If, for some reason, you just want to keep an archive of all the notes you throw into a certain folder, this is the perfect way to do so. Problem solved, super simple.
Problem 2: Parsing the InformationOk, so we have this mass of information in SmartSheet, and we need to parse it down to our open, P1 tasks. Only thing is, I don't move my tasks out of my task notebook--I simply add a "complete" tag once done, and use Evernote's searches to filter out any tasks with that tag. Easy enough, right? Use SmartSheet to filter to exclude "complete" and "P2" or "P3" tags. The problem is that all tags get imported into one cell, so you cannot reliably filter the information. This flummoxed me for a bit. I had to put the effort aside until I could find time to learn a bit more about SmartSheet's text formulas, because the solution here lies in using a formula in another column to determine if "P1" or "complete" exists in the cell in question. SmartSheet is still a young platform, and the formula capabilities are not nearly as mature Excel. Eventually, I figured out that using the =FIND("complete", [Tags]4) returns the position of the first letter of the word "complete" in the cell, and 0 if the word is not present in the cell. I don't care about the position, but this means any non-0 task is complete, and any task with any number greater than 0 is an open task. This makes filters super easy. When setting up the report, I simply tell SmartSheet to list any tasks with a number in that column greater than 0. When I add the "complete" tag in Evernote, the change is synced to SmartSheet, the formula returns a non-0 number, and the task disappears from my task list. Same concept for the P1 tag. In the screenshot here, task 1 and 4 will appear in my daily report. Task 2 has no P1 tag, and task 3 is complete. I really can't say enough about how useful SmartSheet is for small teams. As I mentioned, it's still the new kid on the block, so some features are missing, but they've got the core there and you can usually find a workaround (like this one) to achieve what you need. And, hey, now you know how to get a task list emailed to you every morning! Productivity awaits!
Evernote Tip #2: One-click Open Item Task CreationOne of my pet peeves is people who don't respond to emails. There can be a variety of reasons for this--from confusion to straight up laziness (you know who you are)--but either way, not getting a response not only negatively impacts my productivity, it's just damn rude. Infuriating. For a long time, I used Boomerang to resurface emails emails after a set period of non-response. Boomerang is great, and I still use it for times when I need responses during the course of day, but it takes a few seconds to get the reminder set up, and then the email gets filed somewhere that I've never totally understood. Also, Boomerang would randomly log out, and getting it logged back in is not a real problem...but it'd just be one more thing in an already busy day. Besides, I wanted a list that I could review in my weekly review. I found two ways that are simply easier, requires less thought and fit my workflow better. Both are driven off of clicking the star in Gmail. The first method uses an IFTTT recipe to pick up the starring action and create a new note, with the email's info, in my task notebook in Evernote. It also automatically adds the tag "waiting" to the note. Using a custom search, we can create a one-click method of displaying all the open emails in my life. The second method, and the one I actually use, also picks up on the starring action, but Zapier then creates a new row with the information in a SmartSheet list I've titled "Open Items." I have additional columns in that sheet, where I can review the list of open items and update the status. This is pretty similar to the above method, but I actually implemented it before the direct Evernote/SmartSheet integration was available. There's a much more elegant way to achieve this one-click task creation with that integration, but what I'm doing right now is working, so I haven't bothered to revamp it. I'll do so sometime in the future.
Evernote Tip #3: Meeting Notes Automatically CreatedLet's get this out of the way: meetings are the absolute worst. Meetings are God's way of punishing humans for the having the hubris to evolve beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. I hate meetings. Hate them. Hate them so much that I would rather debate the merits of Kanye West's sparkling personality than attend one more meeting. I honestly believe meetings are the biggest negative impact to productivity in the American workplace. Why? I'm glad you asked. Do a quick count of the meetings you've attended in the last month that:
- had an agenda.
- had an agenda that was sent out before the meeting.
- stayed focused on the issue at hand, instead of being mired down in tangential issues or examples.
- was not hijacked by the strongest personality in the room.
- started on time.