One of the core concepts of GTD is the process of capturing all the bits of information that flow into your daily life and storing them in a trusted system until you can process them later. What complicates the whole situation of capturing information is that you have to deal with both analog and digital information flying at you from both sides. You get post-it notes pasted to your monitor, you get email receipts, you get paper receipts, you get text messages, etc. The fact that you have a ton of information coming in that are in two incompatible formats means that you potentially have more “collection buckets” than you should which only serves to diminish the effectiveness of the GTD process.
Although some GTD’ers are die-hard fans of either analog capturing or digital capturing, my philosophy is to find a system where you can live with both - because let’s face it, paper isn’t going away anytime soon. That capturing system for me is Evernote and in this blog post, I’ll describe some applications on how it can be used in a dual analog/digital environment to collect and manage all the stuff that flows into your life.
1. Capturing Typewritten Notes
This is probably the most simplistic approach to capturing information using Evernote, but it’s still worth mentioning here. Saving a typewritten note in Evernote is as simple as clicking on the “new note” button and typing away. Evernote automatically saves as you go, so there’s no need to worry about having to save your note before you exit. This application is great for when you’re working away at your computer and some random task or thought pops into your mind. You simply create a new note in Evernote and then keep working away. You’re also able to do the same thing on the go with the Evernote smartphone app.
2. Capturing Your Emails
Email capturing is probably the single best Evernote hack that you can set up because it enables you to clean out your inbox, knowing that all your emails are sitting safely in your Evernote software. You can either send emails to your Evernote account manually, or have your email system automatically forward a copy of all incoming emails over to your Evernote account.
One of the prime benefits of storing your emails in Evernote is that you’ll then be able to leverage Evernote’s powerful search features to find what you need. All it really takes is a few choice key words to bring up the email and any other relevant information that you want. Evernote will even save the attachments that come with your emails, so you'll have access to all your documents as well.
3. Capturing Multi-Media Into Evernote
You’re not limited to inputting text by any means in Evernote. The software allows you to capture audio recordings, video from your webcam and digital ink from a stylus. I can’t say that I use these options too much myself, but if you’re more inclined to take notes this way, it’s available for you.
4. Capturing Your Website Clippings
See something on a website that you want to capture? It's pretty easy to do with Evernote's web-clipper plugin. Just install the plug-in and it allows you to clip parts or the entire webpage with a click of your mouse. This is a great option if you're doing research or you're a writer collecting reference material. A somewhat hidden feature that many people aren’t aware of is the fact that Evernote will also allow you to clip images and screenshots which can be useful for people like web designers.
5. Capturing Paper by Scanning it
Getting around paper is virtually impossible these days. You’ll always have receipts and documents that get sent to you in paper format. Generally, you’ll need a high level of resolution with important documents for them to be accepted by organizations like the IRS, so in these cases, the camera on your smartphone won’t suffice. However, migrating your paper documents into Evernote is simple if you have a scanner handy. Most inexpensive multi-function printers these days have a built-in flatbed scanner that is plenty powerful enough to digitize your paper documents. If you’re more of the road warrior type, then a company called Doxie manufactures a cordless scanner that integrates perfectly with Evernote, making document scanning portable and simple.
6. Capturing Paper With Shoeboxed.com
One of the drawbacks about digitizing your own documents is that it can take a tremendous amount of time using standard office equipment if you have a lot of documents to digitize. Let’s face it, productivity isn’t exactly increased if you’re sitting in front of the office scanner all day long. But never fear because there's a great service out there called Shoeboxed that will digitize all your documents for you. Shoeboxed works similar to Netflix. For a monthly fee, they send you pre-paid envelopes to your location. You fill the envelopes with all the documents that you want digitized and send it back to their secure processing facility in North Carolina. They then digitize all your documents with IRS-grade resolution and make those images available to you on their SSL-encrypted website. The nice thing about Shoeboxed is that they integrate directly with Evernote, so as soon as they digitize your documents, they are sent directly to your Evernote account. This is a great time saver if you have a lot of receipts and documents that you need scanned every month. I highly recommend it.
7. Capturing With a Smartphone Camera
Evernote pushes the envelope of what you can do with the 1.0 digital snapshot. Sure, you can take snapshots of friends, family and locations and send it to Evernote, but to limit yourself to just that application would be a mediocre use of a smartphone camera and Evernote.
The game-changer here lies within Evernote’s OCR technology that allows it to read text within digital snapshots. Why is that important? Well, if your images contain text, then that means that they are now searchable just like any text document you have in Evernote without any added tags or notes attached to that photo.
So let's say that you were passing by a restaurant and you wanted to capture their menu for later. Well, so long as the name of the restaurant is legible in the photo, Evernote should be able to read it and you can do a search for that restaurant later on. Or let’s say that you’re taking off in an airplane and have to shut off all your electronic devices, but just at that moment, you get the idea of the century. You write it down on a cocktail napkin to get it out of your head and when you’re allowed to, you snap a photo of that napkin with your Evernote app and not only is it saved, but OCR is also applied to it making your text searchable (granted that you have neat handwriting).
If document quality isn't too much of a concern, then your camera makes for a pretty nifty portable scanner that you have with you wherever you go. This generally works best on smaller documents like notes, journal entries and receipts. There are apps available for your smartphone that will enhance the image of the document by automatically adjusting the contrast so that the text pops out more, but I’ve found that the Evernote widget apps work just fine. This application works great for meetings and conferences where there is group collaboration on a master document or a whiteboard. You can document those collaborative notes with your smart phone and send it to Evernote.
If you need your handwritten notes transcribed into text, then a great service that will do that for you is idictate.com. You simply upload your handwritten document image to their website and a human transcriptionist will transcribe your handwritten notes into text.
8. Capturing Audio on the Go
The Evernote smartphone app gives you two great ways to capture audio. You can either capture straight audio, or you can use the native voice-to-text software on your phone to have your note mechanically transcribed as well. This is great when you don’t have a free hand to type or you want to capture something quickly while you’re on the go.
A pretty neat service called Quicktate integrates directly with Evernote and leverages the accuracy and power of real live transcriptionists to automatically convert your audio files into written text for you. This is a great service if you prefer accurate transcriptions of your words, or if you do quite a bit of dictation. The service is inexpensive and much more accurate than the software on your smartphone can ever be. Quicktate will automatically transcribe any voice audio file uploaded to your Evernote, so it’s also a great option if you do interviews or want to transcribe your recorded meetings.