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How and Why I Use Evernote

Like all business owners I know, I’ve got more to do than time to do it. Without a system to stay productive I would get very little done. I’m often asked to reveal what tools and tactics I use to get more done and that’s what today’s post is all about.

Evernote iPhone AppI use an app called Evernote as my primary productivity tool. I’m not the first to write about Evernote – the techies and hackers have been raving about Evernote since its inception in 2008 and the adoption and growth numbers seen by Evernote speak to its mainstream like acceptance.

But, like so many great tools without a system and logical way to bring them into your everyday reality, they can become just another distraction. So, I want to give you a little of the logic of how I use Evernote.

Like millions of people my thinking on productivity is influenced by David Allen’s Getting Things Done. One of the core premises of the book and teaching is that by getting everything into a system that you know won’t fail, you can relieve a great deal of the stress that comes from trying to make sure you don’t forget something important. Listen to my interview with GTDs David Allen here for a good overview.

Why I use Evernote

I have adopted some the principles of Getting Things Done, but have greatly simplified them and that simplification is where Evernote really shines. Evernote has grown from humble roots of a stripped down note taking tool to powerhouse suite of software services and applications that can be used to run entire organizations, but the simple roots remain.

Evernote is my giant file cabinet for anything I want to capture. It is simple, yet brilliant and most important, perhaps, is that all my activity in Evernote syncs over the air to every device I use. This allows me to work on my laptop, iPad, iPhone or any computer I happen to stumble upon and know that the data is the same everywhere.

In simplest terms what I do for a living is consume, write and share information – oh, and I also delete a lot of email and attend the occasional meeting – so my system is built largely around making it easy for me to discover, retrieve, produce and distribute information.

The function that makes Evernote so easy to adopt for this purpose is the ability to add and capture information in numerous ways.

I can send Evernote an email with content and files attachments

  • I can upload text, voice messages and images
  • I can drag files from my computer to Evernote on my desktop
  • I can save a file to Evernote from the print dialog command
  • I can clip any web page or web content directly to Evernote while I surf
  • I can write text notes directly to Evernote
  • I can add photos directly from a camera
  • I can add scans with ability to search them

So, you see there really isn’t any form of content analog or digital that I can’t capture. By adding tags to items you can file them in folders and make them fully searchable.

Again, just because you can do these things doesn’t mean you will. Evernote won’t be that useful to you unless you devise a system that makes it easy and logical to use and you start using it habitually for a month or so.

Here’s my system for using Evernote

  • I create separate folders for things like blog post ideas, research for my books, and each project I identify and then happily clip, take notes and email ideas to Evernote as I visit my RSS reader, read my email, meet with clients and surf throughout the day so that I know everything gets captured.
  • I use Evernote as a tickler file by creating folders for each month of the year and adding reminders of future actions into each. So, now when I need to file some report quarterly I find a reminder when I review that month and add it to the to do list. Every time I have something that I know I want to follow up with in the future I stick it in that month’s file and add a date to the front of it so it comes up when I review the folder. (We’ve all been asked to follow up with someone in three weeks and this keeps it and the email exchange in the system)
  • Because I can get info into Evernote in so many ways and some many forms I also create and maintain lists of things I want to track of find later, like gift ideas, books to read, vacation ideas, wines and music. If I have a great wine I snap a photo of the label and shove it into that list.
  • I have folders for random thoughts and when I hear, see or read anything that I want to capture I use my iPhone to capture it or a service called Jott to quickly record a voice message that’s transcribed and added to Evernote.

Evernote has become the central nerve center of my work and its usefulness has spilled over into every facet of day to day life.

I check in every morning to create a list of action steps and to dos and then routinely add content throughout the day. The secret (once more for emphasis) is that its so integrated into every tool I use so it is easy to create a routine to use it.

The one thing I don’t put in Evernote

While I could easily create to do lists with check boxes and all in Evernote I choose not too. I fire up Evernote and most days draw up my to do list from a combination of appointment commitments, project commitments and information from inside Evernote folders and then I record them in ink in a Moleskin notebook.

I’ve intentionally kept this step analog as I feel a very strong pull to keep some aspects of my work and life rooted in things that are non digital and offline. While it is easy to get sucked completely into the appeal of an entirely digital world, I can honestly say that I can’t be as creative or inspired unless I employ all of my senses and the act of writing on paper somehow connects and fuses my human particles with those of the digital world in a way that I can feel. (Wow, hope that didn’t scare anyone, but there’s something in my brain that needs paper.)

I work through my to do list each day and fuse my actions and sparks of brilliance into Evernote in real time and as they enter my thoughts. The more I put into Evernote the more I focus on being creative, knowing that I come there and find everything that I want to keep.

Some additional resources

So, how are you using Evernote

The 5 Deadly Sins of Voice Mail

telephoneAs a marketing or even simple communication tool voice mail is pretty dead. The telephone, a form of communication that has received only minor tweaks in the last 100 years, just doesn’t provide much to like these days. My perfect telephone would have a status feature, like IM, and transcribe all calls and responses and store them via email.

If you ever call me you’ll notice that I suggest in my voice mail message that you send me an email, so there’s a pretty good bet that if you leave a message the barrier to a call back might be high. It’s not that you’re not important enough, it’s just not how I work. If you’re calling someone because you have something you would like to sell them, then you better not commit one of the following sins or you can forget about a call back.

No reason for call

This is one of the worst. You call someone and say, “hey Bob, this is Sandy, give me a call.” Even if Bob and Sandy are best buds this one is a crime. There’s a good chance that Sandy just needed to know what time the meeting is today and should leave that info for one of a dozens possible ways that Bob can respond. If Sandy really wants a call back because she wants to sell Bob something, then this borders on silliness.

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My Favorite Tools and Processes to Automate the Routine

Technology can be a great thing when it comes to getting more done. It can also be a way to wall yourself off from real engagement with human beings, but that’s a post for another day.

jottToday I would like to share a handful of tools and the actual processes I employ to get more done with these tools. I think it’s important to set-up routines that allow you to free up time to do the big things, the things that really make you money in the long term, so I don’t use technology so much because I love it, I use it because it allows me to spend more time engaging humans – and that’s where the real money lies.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of each of these tools, in many cases I many use one simple function, but that’s the trick sometimes, sifting through the hype about a tool and finding how to make it work for you.

  • Evernote
  • This handy little note taking application works for me because it syncs across offline, online and mobile devices. I am a list maker in the Getting Things Done style and this is my daily to-do as well as my idea pad.

  • Jott
  • Jott allows you to use voice messages to create actions. I call Jott and add appointments to Google Calendar. I call Jott to send an email to my staff or entire network of Duct Tape Coaches while driving down the road. I call Jott anytime I think of something I want to file and remember.

  • Delicious Firefox plugin
  • I’ve used the Delicious bookmarking tool since its inception, but my favorite way to use it is to post content to web pages. When I find a mention of Duct Tape Marketing in the news I right click and add to delicious with the Firefox plugin and use a special tag that produces and RSS feed. I’ve added that feed to a web page and viola! content added through surfing.

  • Central Desktop
  • This is a large and comprehensive tool that I use for my intranet and project management. My favorite process though is that I can email a task to a staff member and Central Desktop adds it to a task list for that person.

  • TripIt
  • TripIt is an online travel itinerary tool. I travel a fair amount and all I have to do is forward air, hotel, and car confirmations to TripIt and the tool builds an itinerary, including maps, local weather and events, and adds them to the mobile app so I can view at a glance. It also pushes out flight alerts for delays and gate changes.

  • Google Alerts
  • Google will send email or RSS alerts for any search term I want to save. I’ve set up a dozen or so terms that track and this tool brings them to my inbox as they happen. This is how I track brand mentions, for example, to use with Delicious plugin.

  • TextExpander
  • This application allows me to create unlimited text, emails, code snippets, etc, and paste them into any application with a few designated key strokes. I have dozens of email responses that are thoughtfully crafted, but used over and over again for questions and requests that come my way often. I have chunks of HTML code that I use over and over again and evoke with five keystrokes.

  • MyBlogLog
  • This is, among other things, a tool that allows me to track traffic to my blog in real time. What I love about it is I can know instantly when someone has linked to my blog and go jump in the conversation, adapt content accordingly and analyze where traffic comes from minute by minute. This may seem obsessive, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve joined a meaningful conversation because I knew about it in real time.

  • TweetDeck
  • This is my Twitter management tool of choice. I use this easily monitor mentions, search terms, hashtags, DMs and lists. Twitter isn’t very useful unless you can do this at a glance. The tool also has all the tools I use to engage in conversations and manage my account. Facebook and LinkedIn status updates are built in as well.

What automation processes and tools have you employed to be more efficient throughout your day?

7 Virtual Collaboration Tools I Use Daily

Drop BoxCollaboration, outsourcing and virtual workforces and offices are trends that are here to stay and getting even hotter as companies look for ways to work more efficiently and cut overhead costs.

Low overhead is one of the competitive advantages of small businesses and each new online technology that supports getting work done without employees makes this even more so.

Today I would like to share 7 of these tools that I use every day without fail. Some you may have used some may be new to you. Most are free, some I pay for. (Hint: I would pay for the free ones but they don’t ask me to)

Dropbox – online file storage and sharing. This is simply a high powered FTP site, but the interface and workflow is so great. I use a desktop application from dropbox and simply drag files there and they are stored online automatically. I can share folders with anyone and when they upload files they show up on my desktop. I can even set-up public folders so anyone can send large files without clogging email.

Basecamp – this is an online project management tool that allows you to set-up projects with collaborators and customers and manage all manner of communication, file and document sharing, and chat. I use this with the Duct Tape Marketing Coach network as a form of Intranet.

iLinc – virtual collaboration is great, but sometimes you need to work in real time, face to face (sort of) iLinc is web and video conferencing tool that really shines when it comes to online collaboration. You can work on documents together via the web, video chat, access files and programs off each others desktops and visit web sites together with a live browser – so you can take someone to a page and walk them through a real demo or sign-up process. Disclosure: iLinc sponsors my podcast.

SimpleEvent – this is a free conference call service, but it has a ridiculous amount of features. I love to put together meetings on the fly and have multiple folks join. I also use it to host my large web meetings for the audio portion. I can have up to 96 full talk to talk and 1000 talk to listen on at once. There’s no scheduling, it’s always on and always live.

GMail – this is just big, fat, free, email service, but I love the way it works and takes advantage of being fully online. You can run your own domain through GMail (I use it to send as I don’t have to worry about my local ISP quirks when I travel) and create multiple profiles for all your various rolls in life. I use Google Talk for IM and it’s built right into GMail.

Jott – Jott allows you to record voice memos that get turned into email text. You can set-up boxes for anyone you collaborate with and send notes as you wiz down the freeway. You can create groups for distribution, post appointments to Google Calendar, and even update your twitter feed all with voice messages.

Google Calendar – Another Google tool, I know, but I like setting up calendars and sharing them with collaborators and also tapping the fact that these calendars produce RSS feeds so I can publish them in cool ways to websites and have anyone I give access produce content for those sites. Also sync with desktop and phone calendars over the air.

I know there are lots of great tools out there to do everything I’ve mentioned above. So, what tools do you use for virtual collaboration.

Yes But Would You Pay For It?

I think the true test of many of the Web2.0 offerings out there is whether or not somebody would pay up a little cash for a service that is or was free.

For some I use I would say no, others maybe, Jott – I just did. Jott came out of beta recently with a host of new features – including two pay options. I use and love the tool so much I’m now willing to pay for. That’s a pretty big compliment because once something is free, it’s tough to move to a paid model.

My favorite new feature is a software called Jott Express that has become my daily to-do list manager. It sits on my desktop and syncs with Jott messages I give it for projects.

Here’s an overview I Jott I posted on the Digital Nomads site

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Is Voicemail the New Spam?

I read a post recently on Techcrunch that prompted the question in the above title. Most of the comments on the Techcrunch site were very anti-voicemail. It seems, particularly in tech circles, that email, IM and Twitter are the preferred method of contact.

So, what about small business. Is leaving sales or service related voicemails a waste of time or worse – something akin to spam?

I must admit that my own use of voicemail has dwindled significantly over the past few years. The use of text messaging, mobile phones with visual voicemail and email that comes to the phone has put me out of the habit of responding to and leaving voice messages.

However, there are certainly prospects and occasions when it is a necessary tool. Having said that I do believe you must be more strategic in your messaging. As silly as that might sound a messages that goes something like, “call me when you get a chance” or “just checking to see if you got my email” are really a form of spam.

For voicemail to be effective in terms of marketing you must use it to share some form of vital information or pass on specific details that may or may not involve a reply or further action from the recipient. Anything less and you may just be adding to information overload we all suffer from.

The use of services such as Jott or Spinvox that can turn voicemail into email messages is definitely on the rise and may be the best way to bridge your use of voice messages to a more suitable format.

Your Favorite Web Things

The managing editor of a publication asked me to identify my favorite web tools for small business and I thought that sounded like a tremendous thing to ask you too.

Give me your top 5 favorite web sites or tools.

web tools

Here’s mine at the minute!

  1. Google Reader – read all my favorite blogs on my mobile browser
  2. Friend Feed – see and search the social activities of my community in real time (you can even know what music I listened to today)
  3. Jott – record phone message and have it sent as email message to myself or my contacts
  4. del.icio.us – great source of content ideas and view into what’s popular today
  5. Google Analytics – I’m hooked on those page overlays

New Jott Feed Feature Reads Blogs for You

Listen to this site on my phone with Jott Feeds I’ve written here before about a tool that I’m nuts about and it just keeps getting better. It’s a service called Jott (here’s a site search for my past coverage of Jott) and the basic function is that you call in and leave voice messages to yourself or others and those messages are transcribed and sent out via email. (Way handy for that brilliant idea that comes to you on the Tilt-O-Whirl of life.)

This week they added another very interesting feature called Feeds. With a free Jott account you can now add RSS feeds and dial in and listen your favorite blog or news update service posts on your phone. This won’t be for everyone, but imagine what a great tool this is for sight impaired individuals.

Either way, go get a Jott account and poke around a bit and I’m guessing you will find some uses. ie: I use Google Calendar and I can post a calendar appointment by speaking it into the phone.

Click on the orange image and create an account and listen to my latest blog post. (Another tip for bloggers – hearing your writing read is pretty eye opening and probably will help you write better or at least most like people speak.)