Evernote – for Human Memory

Evernote is one of the best productivity tools on the web. They bill themselves as the global platform for human memory. At least they limit themselves to humans. Whew.

In short, Evernote is a simple and elegant solution for capturing all the elements of data you encounter and need to store for potential future recall.  Physicians are inundated with information more than any other professional and Evernote can help.

So, you are wondering exactly what you can do with this tool? Here is a short list:

  • Capture notes – written and voice
  • Organize your photos
  • Clip information from web sites
  • Organize your PDFs and Microsoft Word files
  • Store receipts

That’s just a sample list based on the primary ways in which I use the product. It gets better…while you can sort of do all those with your file folders on your computer, Evernote stores things so they are available from any browser and virtually any device you might use (except a crappy old flip phone if that’s still in your repertoire). Further, the way in which the tool helps collect and organize your objects is far more elegant than the built in file/folder structure on computers…oh, and there is powerful search using tags and even recognition of words from handwritten materials.

Previously I wrote about my LiveScribe Echo pen….Evernote is the perfect compliment. It’s the chocolate to Livescribe’s peanut butter. LiveScribe files sync straight up to my Evernote account and make sure the results and not the tools or process remain the focus.

Last, I want to address the difference between Evernote and virtual hard drives like Amazon’s CloudDrive, Box.net or DropBox. Both categories of services specialize in keeping a given set of data in sync across multiple machines…they are virtual hard drives. If you were inclined, and your time is not worth much, you could make Evernote into a kind of a Dropbox or Dropbox into a kind of an Evernote. However, the differences are what make each designed for a specific job and I’m an advocate of using the right tool for the job versus spending your time monkeying around.

Dropbox’s focus is files. It’s also great for file sharing using the public directory. (It allows large file sharing – over 50mb – Evernote does not).  Evernote focuses primarily in textual and image content. Evernote allows more versatile and customizable organization in the forms of notebooks and tags (instead of just nested directories).  To summarize, I use DropBox to store my bulk files and I use Evernote to store materials I need to search, recall or use on a periodic basis. Those are just a few of the differences. The reality is these tools can be used differently depending on your needs, work habits.

I suggest you create an Evernote account and commit to using it for a few weeks. See if you have any desire to go back to file/folder structures on your computer after that.

LiveScribe Echo SmartPen Rocks!

I have been a note-taker since developing the habit in high school. For me, the process of taking notes is as much about getting engaged in the talk/conversation as it is for future reference. In the past few years I have tried to shift my note-taking habits from archaic pen and notebook to digital options.

The iPad was a nice improvement….but still it lacked. Often my notes have a doodle or sketching element as I try to depict something visual. I annotate, draw arrows etc. I also find it annoying to type while involved in a discussion…it feels very “court-reporter.” Bottom line, it’s still just a heck of a lot easier to do these things with a pen and paper than a finger and glass screen. But I refuse to ditch technology and take a whole step backward to kinda go forward….follow? Now I don’t have to.

I was recently in a meeting and a colleague pulled out a very sophisticated looking pen from his satchel. The topic of conversation in the meeting for the next ten minutes revolved around his slick contraption called a LiveScribe Echo 8MG Smartpen. I thought for a moment I heard a choir of angels singing from above…this thing is a great middle ground between old school analog note-taking and modern technology. The pen works with specifically designed note pads and records both what is being written in the pads AND the audio if desired! You simply connect the pen via USB port at the end of the day and your notes are uploaded to your computer.

It gets better. LiveScribe syncs with any number of programs…Facebook, Google Docs and the holy grail of them all Evernote. What makes this even better than just capturing a picture of notes and storing it on my computer is the ability to add tags. Now, if I really want to find something I know was noted in my tablet, it’s far easier to find than scrolling page by page.

Notes can be stored as .PDF files and audio even the audio recordings can be exported. You can even save/create a “Pencast”…which is a Flash movie of your writing overlaid with the audio recording. Genius. (Note: with a separate program called MyScript you can convert your clearly written notes into text.) It seems to me, these features are really valuable for consultants, attorneys and students to name a few.

The note pads come in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, or you can print your own “dot” paper as long as your printer is capable of 600 dpi resolution or greater. The 8MG version of the pen ran me $180 on Amazon.com. I picked up a replacement pack of ink cartridges for less than $10.

Thursday I am going to discuss a long-time favorite of mine: Evernote. The combination of the LiveScribe pen and Evernote is like the combination of peanut butter and chocolate in a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

Where Are The Movie Stars?

I had to share this post by Bill Simmons the sports writer. Bill’s recent post caught my attention because it was about the lack of legitimate Hollywood movies stars (and correspondingly the lack of decent movies); the post seemed out of character for a sports writer. After all, what do sports and movies have in common? Read Bill’s column to find out. I’ll just say, that I rarely have the patience for a post of this length, but this one was so well done (and very funny), and he made some great comparisons to sports, that I found it worth the time to read it all the way through. Let me also add, I kinda like Ryan Reynolds and Will Smith…but now that I have read Bill’s column, I absolutely concur…they are formulaic and more often than not there is little quality acting involved in their movies.

“Every NBA team starts a home game the same way: by announcing the visiting team’s starting lineup, then turning out the lights and cranking a song that’s either hip-hop happy or gratuitously goose-bumpish (like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”). Within seconds, a JumboTron highlight-video launches with a dopey slogan like “Our Time Is Now” or “Rise Up.” It’s crammed with awkward close-ups, dunks and alley-oops, as well as players muttering things like, “This is our city” and “Let’s do this.” The video almost always ends with the team’s best player staring into the camera and screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!” or “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” Then, the lights turn back on and they introduce their starting five.

How did this become the blueprint for starting an NBA game? I have no idea. But any franchise lacking a good-enough “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” guy needs to decide something: Should it finish the video with a barrage of dunks, or with its by-default best player screaming as the closer even though he’s not really a star? Deep down, the team knows this decision symbolizes everything. You can’t win without a legitimate “LEMME HEAR IT!!!!!!!!” guy; pointing this out in the opening video is almost counterproductive. That’s what made it so interesting when, on Opening Night against the Celtics last October, the Cavaliers embraced their LeBron-less plight. Their video ended with Mo Williams screaming incoherently and turning into a fireball. The subtext?

This is our best player. It’s Mo Williams. We just wanted to prepare you guys now.1

In Hollywood, that Mo Williams dilemma hangs over everything. They make too many movies and don’t have nearly enough stars. That’s a problem. Their solution is to “create” stars, leading to a bigger problem: They’re effectively forcing actors like Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds down our throats like big clumps of broccoli. Why not worry about finding quality scripts and making quality movies instead? That would require real work and real ingenuity. It’s much easier to make superhero movies, sequels, anything with aliens, anything with the world about to blow up, and anything that could carry “3D” in the title. That’s how we arrived to a point in which the following two facts are indisputable.

Fact: People believe Will Smith is the world’s biggest movie star (even though he doesn’t make great movies).

Fact: People believe Ryan Reynolds is a movie star (even though he isn’t).

That’s all you need to know about Hollywood right now. Everyone is complaining about the quality of this summer’s movies (probably the worst ever), this year’s Oscar race (potentially the most ghastly in years) and a general lack of imagination by the studios (it honestly feels like they gave up), but really, everything comes back to Will Smith and Ryan Reynolds.”

Read the rest of the post from Grantland HERE

Happy Independence Day! – Calvin Coolidge

As we enter the holiday week-end, Leon Kass provides a terrific tribute to America in the Wall Street Journal using a famous speech by Calvin Coolidge. His words ring true as if they were delivered yesterday rather than 85 years ago.

“For an antidote to such thoughtlessness, one cannot do better than President Calvin Coolidge’s remarkable address, delivered to mark the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1926. While he celebrated the authors of our founding document, Coolidge argued that it “represented the movement of a people . . . a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.”

History is replete with the births (and deaths) of nations. But the birth of the United States was unique because it was, and remains, a nation founded not on ties of blood, soil or ethnicity, but on ideas, held as self-evident truths: that all men are created equal; they are endowed with certain inalienable rights; and, therefore, the just powers of government, devised to safeguard those rights, must be derived from the consent of the governed.

What is the source of these ideas, and their singular combination in the Declaration? Many have credited European thinkers, both British and French. Coolidge, citing 17th- and 18th-century sermons and writings of colonial clergy, provides ample evidence that the principles of the Declaration, and especially equality, are of American cultural and religious provenance: “They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.” From this teaching flowed the emerging American rejection of monarchy and our bold embrace of democratic self-government.

Coolidge draws conclusions from his search into the sources. First, the Declaration is a great spiritual document. “Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man . . . are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. . . . Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish.”

He also observes that the Declaration’s principles are final, not to be discarded in the name of progress. To deny the truth of human equality, or inalienable rights, or government by consent is not to go forward but backward—away from self-government, from individual rights, from the belief in the equal dignity of every human being.

Coolidge’s concluding remarks especially deserve our attention: “We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. . . . If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things which are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.”

Read the full Journal article HERE

Email is Killing Us

Everyday I wade through an ever increasing number of emails. It has reached the point where I can only quickly scan my accounts looking for relevant communications.

TED curator Chris Anderson took up this very same problem on his blog noting that management of email messages can consume the better part of a work week. Below is Chris’s post and his call to action.

Houston, we have a problem.

We all love the power of email connecting people across continents. But… we’re drowning in it.

Every year it gets a little worse. To the point where we can get trapped spending most of our working week simply handling the contents of our in-boxes.

And in doing so, we’re making the problem worse. Every reply, every cc, creates new work for our friends and colleagues.

We need to figure out a better way.

But how?

Here is the key cause of this problem:

The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.

Because even though it’s quicker to read than to write, five other factors outweigh this:
– Emails often contain challenging, open-ended questions that can’t rapidly be responded to
– It’s really easy to copy and paste extra text into emails. (Email creation time is almost the same. Reading time soars.)
– It’s really easy to add links to other pages, or video (each capable of consuming copious gobbets of time)
– It’s really easy to cc multiple people
– The act of processing an email consists of more than just reading. There is a) scanning an in-box, b) deciding which ones to open, c) opening them, d) reading them e) deciding how to respond f) responding g) getting back into the flow of your other work.
So the arrival of even a two-sentence email that is simply opened, read and deleted can take a minimum of 30-60 seconds out of your available cognitive time.
This means that every hour someone spends writing and sending email, may well be extracting more than an hour of the world’s available attention — and generating a further hour or more of new email. That is not good.

It is in fact a potent ‘tragedy of the commons’. The commons in question here is the world’s pool of attention. Email makes it just a little too easy to grab a piece of that attention. The unintended consequence of all those little acts of grabbing is a giant rats nest of voracious demands on our time, energy and sanity.

To fix a ‘commons’ problem, a community needs to come together and agree new rules. That’s why it’s time for an Email Charter. One that can reverse the escalating spiral of obligation and stress.

I have reserved the url emailcharter.org for the finished product. [Update, June 29. The Charter is live!] But first let’s figure out what the charter should be. Let’s do this as a crowd. It’s a shared problem. Let’s come up with a shared solution. It will only work if lots of people agree to it.

The Charter must focus on reversing the underlying cause. We need a world where it is much quicker to process email than to create it. Bearing that in mind. Here are some candidate rules for an Email Charter. (And btw, much of this applies equally to other online messaging, such as Facebook.)

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email gobbles at the other end — even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

2. Be Easy to Process
This means: crisp sentences, unambiguous questions, keep it short. If the email absolutely has to be longer than 100 words, make sure the first sentence is clear about the basic reason for writing.

3. Choose Clear Subject Lines.
Here are some that don’t work:
Subject: Re: re: re: re
Subject:
Subject: Hello from me!
Subject: next week….
Subject: MY AMAZING NEW SHOW starts next week at the Vctory Theater at 113-86 Broad Lane, every night 8 PM 6/7–7/12
Here are some that do:
Subject: TED Partnership Proposal
Subject: Rescheduling today’s dinner with Sarah G.
Subject: Noon meeting cancelled (eom).
EOM means ‘end of message.’ It’s a fine gift to your recipient. They don’t have to spend the time actually opening the message.

4. Short Does Not Mean Rude!
Let’s mutually agree that it’s OK for emails — and replies — to be really short. They don’t have to include the usual social niceties, though the occasional emoticon is no bad thing 😉 . No one wants to come over as brusque, so don’t take it that way. We just want our lives back!

5. Slow Does Not Mean Uncaring!
Let’s also agree that it’s OK if someone doesn’t respond quickly, or ever. I’s not that they don’t love you. They may just not want to be owned by their in-box. Avoid sending chasing emails, unless you’re desperate. It’s only exacerbating the problem.

6. Abhor Open-Ended Questions
It’s really mean to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. It’s generous to figure out how you can offer people simple yes/no questions – or multiple choice! “When you have a moment could you let me know if you’re A) firmly in favor, B) mildly in favor C) against or D) no opinion. Thanks!”

7. Cut Gratuitous Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email. If I say “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” You don’t have to reply “Great.” That just cost me another 30 seconds. If you must confirm, put it in the subject line with an ‘eom’.

8. Think Before you cc:
Cc:’s are like mating bunnies. Like Tribbles from Star Trek. Like spilling a tub of olive oil-coated spaghetti on a well-waxed floor. Like too many metaphors. Most of them are unneccessary, and they are hard to get rid of. The rule should be: for every additional cc, you must increase the time you spend making sure your outgoing email is crisp and that it’s clear who needs to respond, if anyone. And if you reply to an email, take care to ask whether you really need to include everyone cc’ed on the original email.

9. Speak Softly
DO NOT USE ALL CAPS IN THE BODY OF YOUR EMAIL. It’s rather like screaming at someone. And they’re hard to read – as are most unusual fonts and colors. Simple sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana work best. If you want to add some zing to your emails, design a personalized signature tag.

10. Attack Attachments.
Don’t use them unless they’re critical. Some people have all kinds of graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments at the receiver. Not cool. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could just as easily have been included in the body of the email and saved that extra click-and-wait.
If you send an invite to an event, it’s fine to include an attachment that announces it visually. But:
– If there is a URL, include it in text form so it shows up as a clickable link. Or make the whole image itself a clickable link. Not fair to expect someone to retype a url !
– Please include the location, date and time in text format so that the information can be quickly copied and pasted. That way it can quickly be added to a calendar. (And error free. You don’t want “The Knickerbocker Club, 7:30 PM, black-tie required” to morph into
“The Kickboxer Club, 7:30 AM, black-belt required”.)

11. Make it easy to unsubscribe
If you send out email newsletters, please make it easy to stop the flow. Letters that prompt rage are not helping your brand!

12. Think about the thread
Some e-mails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread which they’re responding to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut the crap!

13. Don’t reply when angry
Just walk away from the computer. Stamp your feet. Scream out the window. Do not send an email until your emotions have calmed. One rude, jerky email can tar you for life… and spark an even worse response.

14. Use NNTR
“No need to respond.” Use it in a subject line, right before EOM. Or use it at the end of an email. What a gift to your recipient!

15. Pay a voluntary email tax
The reason email is escalating is because it’s free. No one wants to change that… but what if at the end of each month, you quickly totted up how many emails you had sent, multiply by the average number of cc’s, and pay that number of cents into a personal book-buying account. You’ll end up with a lot of great books… and it might just pull you away from the goddam computer for a bit! Speaking of which…

16. Switch off the computer!
This could be the most important rule of all. If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider… calendaring half-days at work where you refuse to look at email. Consider… email-free weekends. Consider… setting up the following auto-response. “Thank you for your note. As a personal commitment to my and my family’s mental health, I now do email only on Wednesdays. I’ll reply to as many as I can next Wednesday. Thanks for writing. Don’t forget to smell the roses.”

Now it’s over to you. Which of these do you like? Which do you hate? Which need amending? And what new and better rules can you come up with? We’ll be monitoring the response carefully and will use the best of it to create the final charter. That will be something we hope people will link to in their email signatures. And maybe one day we’ll all get to live a little better, and write a little less !