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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Evernote: The unofficial eBook...

...to capturing everything and getting things done

I read this book in December last year to obtain some information how GTD could be implemented in Evernote. As I use a combination of Evernote, Zendone and Google Calendar for my GTD system, I did not follow the book religiously (though Zendone is recommended in the book as alternative way). Nevertheless it helped me to organise my notes better and to rethink some of the concepts I use.

Daniel Gold, the author of the book (his blog) says "Evernote is a life management tool" (Chapter 2) and motivates the use of it. He begins with explaining so-called Master Notes for Travels and Meetings. All the note templates described in the book can be downloaded, so this is a huge plus for buying the book.

In chapter 3 GTD is introduced and the following chapters are following the main steps collect, process, organise, review and do.

In the collect phase, the author concentrates on the concept of "Inbox Zero" and this has helped me very much to keep my mail inbox organised. In general this means to decide for every e-mail, if it needs further processing. If so, use your Evernote E-Mail-adress to forward it to Evernote.

Afterwards, the process phase is about deciding, whether the note in your Evernote inbox is an action or a reference. This is a very important difference, even though this is very often forgotten.

The next phase (Organise) is about the tags the author uses to organise his notes. As a user of Zendone , this is the part which I use the least. Nevertheless it helped me a lot to overthink the way I work with projects, contexts and areas of responsibility.

Afterwards, Daniel Gold discusses the topic of using several notebooks. Although you can do your whole organisation of notes with tags, it makes sense to create different notebooks, if you need offline access to certain notes, sharing of notes and organising reference material. I applied his suggestions and have for example a "Training" notebook (fast offline access), a notebook for me and my girlfriend (sharing) and a notebook called archive (reference material).

Another structure I use in my daily life is the so-called "Master Project Note" in which I store all my current projects. The author recommends a "Master Next Action" and a "Master Client Note", too.

The book ends with some words about the Review phase (Daily and Weekly Review) and the Do part, mainly this is about Saved searches.

The main part of the book is, as you can see in this review, about the organisation of notes and it has helped me a lot with this part of my GTD system. If you need some information on that, I totally recommend this book. It is especially useful for Evernote users, who are searching for an uncomplicated GTD system.

If you want to buy the book, you can either use this link or you click on the banner to open the store by an affiliate link:


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top 5 ways for problem-solving

As an office worker who sits in front of a screen all day, I sometimes face tasks, I just cannot solve. And unfortunately it does not help to stare at the monitor. Therefore I have tested the following 5 steps as the best methods to get it done. I would very much recommend to try them in this order.


1. Take a  breath
First of all close your eyes for a few seconds and take 5 deep breaths. The oxygen will help you to think more clearly. Sometimes this is all you need.
2. Go grab a coffee
This did not help? Try to stand up and walk around. I use this time to get a coffee or tea. Most of the time, even when I do not think about the current issue, I have a flash of genius, which helps me to solve the task.
3. Do something else
A good option if you are stuck with a problem, is to do another task. There is always something, that can be done, which is better than staring at your screen. For example, answer some e-mails, just do not think about the issue.
4. Ask someone else
With "ask someone else" I do not mean to request the solution from another person. It happened several times that I have started explaining an issue, just to find out, that the solution is very easy. This is connected to the fact, that you see the problem from another point of view. If you do not want to disturbe anyone, try to explain it to yourself. Ask yourself what information you have and what is missing. It is a good exercise to learn to examine problems from different sides.
5. Sleep over it
A lot of times, I wanted to solve a problem before going home, but just could not wrap my head around it. Next morning it was only a matter of minutes to get the solution. Sometimes a night sleep can do more for your task than hours of working.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Google I/O 2012

I have found the Google I/O gadget on the Google Developer pages and I am happy to publish it here as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Flipboard for Android

I have recently downloaded the Beta Version of Flipboard for Android and installed it on my HTC Flyer. As I have already described Flipboard for iOS is the perfect tool for reading news and getting a quick look at what is going on in your social media accounts.

When I started the app first, I was informed that my screen is too large for this version of the app but it works nevertheless. The reason is simple: The app looks like the iPhone version and therefore is not optimized for a 7 inch screen. In the release note of the current update, it is emphasized that this version is for smartphones.

 Flipboard for Android

First of all, the app looks really good. Even more important Flipboard has accomplished to transfer the experience from the iOS devices to Android. This is especially great for people like me who own devices with both operating systems.


One big advantage of the Android OS are widgets. Fortunately Flipboard offers two widgets in the current version (4x1 and 4x2) which show a preview of a current article.

  Flipboard Widget

I think, it is great, that a lot of popular iOS-only apps get an Android version, too (e.g. Instagram and Instapaper). Those are not the promised Android exclusive apps but finally there is a better awareness, that apps for both platforms are important.




Monday, May 21, 2012

My Evernote versions - Part 3/3

In this part of my Evernote series I write about the editing functions in the different Evernote apps and conclude my impressions. Please go to part 1 and part 2 to read what I have reported up to now.


Edit notes


As it is almost impossible to compare each detail, I will concentrate on a few key points of editing notes.


The content of tables created in the desktop version, can be edited on all versions except for the Android version. Unfortunately on the mobile devices and in the web version there is no possibility to create tables or to edit the table structure itself.


Images can be edited in the iPhone and the iPad version, i.e. moved around by copy/paste. The Android version shows the images in an extra bar to open them. There is also a quick link to Skitch. Once edited in Skitch, the image can be saved back to Evernote by one touch.


Android enables you to add files directly from your device's file system. This
function is not available on iOS due to system restrictions.


Nevertheless the iOS platform offers the most functions to edit your text. Additionally to the format functions from the Android platform (e.g. bold), the text can be marked or a link can be created. There are also given default formats for sections and subsections. This is a function I could also imagine for the desktop version, so that you can format your text in a standardized format very quickly.


In my opinion, the main task for Evernote is to align the edit functions for the different systems. For now I create/edit most of the notes in the desktop version. On all other systems, I use Evernote mostly for quick check of a certain information.

The solution on iOS/Android could be to offer template sets. A good example for this is Springpad, which lets you choose between several templates (like tasks, check lists etc.).



I do not want an additional app for all of this (like Evernote Food for meals and Evernote Hello for contacts) but this is the direction I would go. Sometimes the solution is even brought by third party apps. So I was able to create checklists with Egretlist (which I have already described here), long before I was able to do this in the Evernote iPhone app.


Conclusion


The desktop version is the center of my work with Evernote. It is by far the most responsive version and offers the most extensive range of functions. Mainly the use of shortcuts makes it easy to have a quick access to the most often used functions.


The Android version has some unique functions for creating and opening notes and is therefore my device of choice, if I want to look at my notes very quickly.


The iPhone and iPad versions have strengths in editing notes. The iPad with its large screen is therefore particularly useful to process notes on the go.


The web version is for me the perfect solution, if I have no access to the desktop version, as it is a very powerful web application. If I have the choice though, I would always opt for the desktop verision.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Evernote versions - Part 2/3

This is the second part of my comparison of the different Evernote versions. In the first part, I described some general functions, now I will continue with more specific requirements. 

Open two notes


I open several notes at once, for example when I need information from one note, while working in another one. In the desktop version, a note can be opened in a seperate window by double-click on it. The web version has not such a comfortable function, but it is possible to open the web application in two different tabs.


The mobile versions cannot offer such a function due to system restrictions. Nevertheless it would be comfortable to "remember" a note, to enable you to switch back and forth quickly.

Select several notes

Sometimes I want to work on a batch of notes, for example to archive the notes of a finished project all at once.


The web version sports the perfect solution for this use case. If you select several notes, those are rendered with a preview of the notes, as seen below. Beneath of that there are the most important functions. All notebooks can be selected in a drop-down box and tags can be added via a search field. This is the perfect solution for this use case.


Notes selection Web version


That is why I never understood, why this function is not the same in the desktop version. If you select more than one note, just the last selected note is shown in the note window. Even worse, if you want to change the notebooks or add tags you have to right click on the selected notes. Under "Move Notes" only the last notebooks are assigned, so normally you have to click on "Notebook..." to see the notebook you want.


Notes selection Desktop version

If you click on "Tag Notes..." there is unfortunately no search box, but a list of all tags. If you have a lot of tags, and this is the case for me, this is really annoying. But as I have read on one of my most favourite German Evernote blogs a solution is coming, so in the current Beta it is displayed in the desktop version as it is in the web version. I think once again this critique will be outdated after the next Evernote update.


-- Update on 2012-05-06 --


In the current update for the desktop version the preview for several selected notes was aligned to the web version.


Notes selection Desktop version (update)

-- Update end --


My iPhone and Android version do not have a similar function. Though the iPad lets you select several notes when touching one note for a few seconds. Now notes are shown with a yellow frame. This would have been perfect for changing folder/tags, but you only get the opportunity to share these notes via twitter and facebook or delete them. I hope this function will be added with the next updates.

Create note links


One of my favourite functions in Evernote is the ability to create a link from a note and add it to another (and even in other applications). For me it is an absolut vital function, as I use it to summarize all necessary notes for one project. As far as I can see it, this is only possible in my desktop version.


Stacked tags and notebooks


I work a lot with stagged notebooks and tags. These can be added and edited in the desktop version quite comfortably. These functions are almost perfectly recreated in the web version.


Stacked notebooks Desktop and Web version


These configurations are also shown in the Android app. There is also an intuitive filtering method for tags. If you select one tag, there are only tags shown that are tagged to notes with the chosen tag. 


Stacked notebooks Android version

The iPad and iPhone version have no similar functions for the stacked tags and notebooks.


That was second part of my Evernote series. Please check also the introduction and come back next week, when I post the final part.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Evernote versions - Part 1/3

Evernote has always put a lof of effort in implementing its application on all of the important platforms.


I use Evernote on the following devices / systems:
  • Desktop app on a Windows notebook
  • The Android app for HTC Flyer (with Android 3.2.1)
  • iOS app for iPhone 4s and iPad 2
  • Evernote Web app in Google Chrome
For me it is important, whether I am able to use my favourite functions on all devices. My reference point for the comparison is the desktop version because it offers the most functions and I do the main part of my work in the windows version of Evernote. One last sentence before I start: I do not think, that I know every function in each version, as I use my devices in very different situations and for different purposes. If I say that one function is missing, which can be found/done by a workaround, please tell me. I would be very pleased to update this here.

General Look & Feel

The desktop version has a very simple three-column layout (which can be configured). On the left there are your notebooks and tags, the second column shows a preview of your notes and the third column is the note itself.


Evernote desktop version


The Android version has a menu bar on the left to select notebooks and tags on the upper left and some administrative features at the bottom (configuration and synchronisation). If no special notebook or tag is selected the whole area shows previews of your notes. These are only little tiles which show the text and if available an image preview. Above these notes there is another bar for some shortcuts, e.g. create a new note.


Evernote Android app


The iPhone version is a list with small previews of the notes. At the bottom there is a bar with functions for selecting notebooks/tags and the search. In the middle there is a "+"-symbol for creating new notes. The iPhone design is great and I have seen it in a few other apps (e.g. the new Springpad version) though I do not know, whether Evernote was the first one.


Evernote iPhone app


On the iPad the note previews are shown in the form of file cards. Above these is the menu bar with the selection for "all notes", "notebooks" and "tags". Below the notes there is button for new notes and functions for configuration of the app.


Evernote iPad app


The web version is built very similar to the desktop version and does a great job in delivering the options to configure the layout (e.g. the preview of the notes in the notes list).


Evernote Web app




Create new notes


The most important function for a note taking app is, well, creating notes. This  is possible on all systems. So for me it is interesting, whether this can be done in a quick way.


The desktop version is, as most of the time, the winner in this category. The simple reason is, that there is the possibility just to use the shortcut "ctrl-n" to create a new note. Additionally there are other possibilities to create notes very fast while working in other applications like creating a screenshot note with the shortcut Win+PrintScreen or the Webclipper for different browsers.


Thanks to the widget function in Android, Evernote supplies a simple 1x1 widget, which instantly opens the form for adding a new note. It is the first icon on my homescreen. An additional widget can be configured to show several shortcuts, i.e. for adding photo/audio notes.


For the iOS systems, there is unfortunately no possibility like adding notes via a widget. For creating a note, firstly the app has to be opened and secondly the "+"-button has to be touched. On the iPad this is really fast. On the iPhone, however, this feels too slow. For that reason, I use Tap2Ever Free  instead of Evernote for quick note taking.


For the web version there is only one button for creating a "new note".

Create shortcut links in workspace


The desktop version of Evernote has a shortcut bar in which certain notes, tags or saved searches can be placed. I add the tags and notes that I want to focus on currently, e.g. projects.


In Android it is possible to add certain tags and notes to the homescreen. This is a comfortable function. Notes can then be opened by one touch. If you want to show the notes for a certain tag, a window is opened and by "go to Evernote" the required tag is opened.


The iOS and web versions do not offer such a function.


That was part 1, next week I am going to publish the second part of my comparison of my different Evernote versions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing a bachelor thesis with Evernote

I am currently in the process of finishing my Bachelor thesis. This is the reason why I have not posted a lot the last weeks.

Just today, I noticed, how vital Evernote was during the last weeks. As I am so used to the comfort Evernote supplies, I cannot imagine, what my writing process would have looked like without it. I do not want to go into detail about what I wrote, but I think, my practices can be useful for this sort of work.

My first step was research. For every reference (literature etc.), I wanted to use, I  instantly added an Evernote note. These references were documents or websites that were included in that note. If it was a book I bought, I just added a link from Google Books or Amazon with a  picture of the book. I also had a list with ideas I maybe want to implement in my paper and for every idea I used note links for the source, so I could reference to it later.

I have tagged every note with the "project bachelor thesis" tag. With a link on the menu bar I could jump to my notes within a second. The main topics  of my thesis got a tag of their own. Thanks to the possibility of subtags, those tags were sorted under the "project bachelor thesis" tag.

I have created notes for each of my main results (diagrams, tables etc) and created a master note with note links, so I got a short table of contents. The idea for master notes comes from the Evernote eBook by Daniel Gold (affiliate link), which I would recommend you to read, if you are interested in using Getting Things Done® with Evernote.

For the first time I could use some of Evernotes great premium features, that I normally do not require.
  • PDF search in order to check, where I have read something
  • Monthly uploads to 1GB
  • Work together with the people that proofread my thesis
Unfortunately I am not able to use Evernote at work. The possibilities this would offer will be the topic of another post.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Flipboard - a cloud magazine

Flipboard, an iOS app for iPad and iPhone, was Apple's iPad app of the year 2010. The iPhone app was published in the end of 2011. Driven by pure curiousity I downloaded it instantly. Now it is one of these quite rare homescreen apps that I use on a daily basis.


The main menu of the iPhone app is designed in a tile style. Every tile represents a news section (e.g. Business and Politics), a social network (twitter and facebook) or a certain website. Additionally, there is an iPhone-only (Flipboard update from 2012-03-01) feature called Cover Stories which is meant to show the most important news from all your selected streams.



I use the news sections only for a fast skim of what is going on. For me, the core function is the integration of several social networks. For instance I have integrated GoogleReader, Twitter, facebook, Tumblr and LinkedIn. Normally, I do not open the Twitter app, instead I only open Flipboard. This is possible, as you can use the favorite and the retweet functionality directly in this app. This applies for the other integrations as well. Of course, you will not be able to replace the official apps for your social networks with Flipboard, but for the daily use, it is the best way to get fast impression of all networks.


One functionality, that really shows the love for details of the developers, is that you can even add a "read later" service (you can choose from Read it Later and Instapaper). In every article you read, you can just select "Read Later" to save it in the respective service.


Both the iPhone and the iPad app look great and make it a pleasure to navigate through the news.


-- Update on 2012-05-05: --
Flipboard is coming on Android.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hojoki - everything is in a flow

Hojoki is an extraordinary web app from Germany, a collaboration tool that integrates cloud apps in a news stream.

How to use Hojoki

When you sign up, you can add several cloud services (I use Twitter, Dropbox, GoogleCalendar, GoogleReader and GoogleDocs) to your accout. If there are any changes, these are added in a Twitter-like way in an activity stream.

For collaboration purposes, you can create projects and add people, who are Hojoki users, to your project team. There are two possibilities to show your activities in the project stream. First, you can do it manually for every new item. Second this can be based on rules, e.g. everytime a document that is created/edited/deleted in your GoogleDocs-folder "Project X", this activity is shown in your "Project X" on Hojoki.

The design is simple and and clear. On the left side of your activity stream, there is a list of your projects, where you can create new and configure existing ones. On the right bar there are filters (like "bookmarks") and additional information (my favorite: "Recent Files & Folders").

How Hojoki uses Hojoki

The service is perfectly explained by the developers in their blog: "How Hojoki uses Hojoki" - part1, part2, part3 and part4.

How I use Hojoki

One of the most recent integrations is GoogleReader. All starred texts are listed in your activity stream. It goes without saying that the GoogleReader tags are imported to Hojoki. If you add own tags to the article before starring, these are used to. This allows you to share articles about certain topics with a specified group of persons (e.g. tag "family"). Hojoki has mentioned this in their blog: "Bring social sharing back to Google Reader". In my opinion, this could be extended to other services like Evernote or ReadItLater. The documents and texts I save here fulfill different requirements for me, but could be also interesting for a certain group of people.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Egretlist - an Evernote TODO-List

Egretlist is a TODO-List-app for your Evernote todos, i.e. for notes with checkboxes, for your iPhone. It is a basic GTD app, where Evernote tags are used for the different GTD categories, like Next, Contexts and Projects.


This is the main menu. You can see it is designed like a real notebook. The app is completly designed on this principle. 


main menu of Egretlist


By clicking on "+" you add a task. You can also link attachments like pictures, links, audio notes to those tasks. These attachments are synchronized in the Evernote notes.


add tasks in Egretlists

task in Egretlist

As checkboxes are so last millenium I only use Egretlist as a tool for checklists. For task management my choice is Zendone


As I have recently found out, the developer MindsMomentum was bought by Evernote to build the coming todo app. Maybe you get a first impression what it will look like.







Sunday, January 29, 2012

Your desk in the clouds

Desk In The Clouds is another way of seeing your Evernote notes. The German developer, who won the student price at 2011s Evernote Developer Competition, gives you the opportunity to range your evernote notes like sheets of paper on a desk. It satisfies those users, that require a more creative way of looking at their notes, that is not bound to a certain order.


How to use Desk In The Clouds


In a box on the right you can pick any note you want and put it on your main desk, additionally you can have one desk for any tag in your Evernote. Every note is rendered as paper sheet and can now be moved and rotated. All notes can be resized, so that only a certain part of it is shown.


I like that the developer has added some nice details. The tags offered vary in size depending on amount of notes related and every tag for which a desk was added is surrounded by a gloss effect.


How I use Desk In The Clouds


In the introduction video there are presented some use cases for Desk In The Clouds. For me, the application is the perfect solution for my goal planning. In Evernote I have notes for every goal I set for myself. In Desk In The Clouds I can now order them hierarchically to differentiate between short term and longer term goals and to underline which goal supports another. As I am able to color the notes, I can even track, which goals are in progress and which are finished.


In my opinion Desk In The Clouds would be a perfect tablet app, so I hope that this solution will be developed for iOS/Android devices soon. I do not understand, why Evernote has not integrated that function in the first place. I am glad that Desk In The Clouds fills that gap. It is one more example for the possibilities the Evernote API offers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Codecademy

The  Codecademy offers a possibility to learn programming for free. I was just checking, whether I could forward it to others. Nevertheless I was really excited about the way the content is presented. It starts with very general programming concepts but dives deep into JavaScript language features quickly. I would recommend it as a great way to get a basic knowledge of programming, even in other languages. As there are only five courses today, I cannot predict, what is going to come.


My girlfriend, who has not much of a technical background, has begun working on the courses a few weeks ago to improve her programming skills and so far it worked.


In my opinion, to get a grip on basic web development is no harm. As a new course is sent every week, you should start today, if you are interested in learning programming.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zendone-“a beautiful productivity tool for Getting Things Done®”

I am using the Beta version of Zendone for several weeks now and want to share my opinion on it.


The main concept of plaindrops, the developer behind Zendone, is "using the right tool for the right job" for the Getting Things Done® process.


Collect & Process


To collect data, Evernote is their tool of choice. Every new note in the default folder (the inbox) is shown in Zendones process inbox. In this view all your notes from your default notebook are rendered. You are not allowed to skip entries so you are forced to process all input from first to last. This helps me a lot to focus on every item at a time.


Another thing I like is that I am now really using the Evernote inbox. Every input that comes in my life is just put into my default notebook. No tagging, no folders. Then, when I find the time, I know, I am going to process it. Obviously I could have done this before, but there was no real reason for it, so I always collected and processed in one step, which did not always bring the best result.


While processing you can decide for every input, whether it is a task (which you can assign to a project), a date (which is then entered in Google Calendar) or reference material (then it is just stored in Evernote). It goes without saying that tasks can be marked with contexts and persons to delegate.


Do


Every task can be added to a project and marked as next. If latter the task will appear in the do panel. In this sections you see all the next actions of your projects.


Organize & Review


The third and last panel, the review&organize, is where you can see all single and project actions. You can put them in the order you want, add new projects and tasks.

There are two predefined areas of responsibilty, "work" and "home". At the moment it is not possible to edit these or create new ones. For me, that is fine, as I think, it is not necessary, to separate your tasks. I use this as filter for tasks at my customers site and anything else.


What's left to say

These are only the main functions, just to mention it:
- a quickadd area for tasks
- a note pad for input (is added to the process inbox)
- shortcut support
- filter by context


plaindrops call their application "beautiful". I would support this impression, as the application is pretty much fun to use, because of its nice design. The developers obviously have accomplished to create a very fast, desktop-like application. 

Conclusion


Although we are talking about version 0.72 of the application it is already in a very good shape, so that I am able to use it for my task management. The development team puts a lot of effort in finishing the application and meeting user requirements, e.g. a waiting for list was just implemented.


Additionally I am very excited about what comes next, on the top of my personal priority list (and as far as I know on their priority list as well) is the iOS App.