Doing Research with Evernote

Evernote is the primary tool which I use to keep my research materials, scraps of ideas and other notes. This post will discuss a three step process of researching any topic and how Evernote can help it make it more effective.

TOOLS I USE

Evernote Corporation created a number of products/applications which are key elements of my research process and come handy at different stages. It’s a very neat power pack allowing you to gather and process different types of media and information.

Evernote desktop client

WebClipper – browser extension

Clearly – browser extension

Skitch – desktop client

THE PROCESS

The process I follow is very simple but having it clarified made it much easier for focus on the specific stages rather than jump back and forth.

1) Find a topic

2) Collect

3) Process

4) Organise

Find a research topic

Ideas come and go. They are spurred by events, things we see, read etc. Yet what often happens, when we seek something todo all of a sudden there are no ideas available. Whenever an idea strikes, I make the point of capturing it and sending it to Evernote. If for example, I have an idea for a new blog post I put “PostIdea” in the title, if it’s a different type I type “IdeaPad”. Then I rely on saved search to bring up either in a single list of notes which I can review. Once a topic is selected I move to next phase.

Collect the information

Depending on a topic there maybe a multitude of sources of information relevant to what I’m researching. If it’s on the web I use a combination of Google and Duckduckgo to search through it. Anything that looks interesting whether it’s a quote, a whole article, image or PDF document gets saved into Evernote through use of WebClipper. Sometimes I’m not sure if I whole article is worth capturing and in such case I would bookmark it into Pinboard and then during processing decide if it’s worth keeping.

If I have other sources of information like email exchanges I can forward them straight into Evernote using my special email address. To see your individual address check your accounts settings.

For documents and files I rely on very neat feature called Folder Pickup. All I need to do is save files into the predefined location, wait couple seconds and check Evernote client. You can check the details of the folder location and the import settings under Tools>Import within desktop client.

Images are either taken straight from the web or through screenshots of pages that I specifically need. All it takes is to press “Win+PrtScr” and select the area to capture. Skitch comes handy for this too but I use it more for processing information.

Process

Once I’m happy with the volume of the information that I have it’s time to look through it in more detail and what’s worth. This allows me to understand what I have, figure out key concepts, note most important points and potentially discover new areas to look at.

When it comes to reading and extracting useful points the most effective tool for that is Clearly. Not only it removes all the unnecessary webpage elements leaving only the main content. It also overlays the page with plain background making the article easier to read. Clearly allows for highlight text you find interesting and send the whole article and highlight into your Evernote account.

Copy and paste is a handy way to gather the material but to better understand the concepts and retain information for longer it’s good to type your own reading notes. If I’m doing that I have one a note in a separate window and the switch between the material I’m reading and the note’s window. Once I’m done I makes sure I have the link to original content saved in the link field of the note. This way I can always refer to it when necessary or at least know where it was published.

What I would sometimes do is simply to grab a bunch of quotes from a single article and let Evernote create a series of notes which I then merge into one. It’s neat approach if you want to grab a large number of items without worrying about manual processing of them.

If I’ve captured any images or graphics that I want to analyse and review I use Skitch. This app has only a handful of features but they are very well designed and thought out. I can Annotate an image with highlights, text and arrows it’s very easy and effective. Since Skitch and Evernote desktop client are well integrated all it take is a single click of a mouse to move between the two. See a sample below.

Organise

Last but not least is organising stage of notes. Although Evernote has excellent search capabilities I personally still prefer to organise information in some form. Evernote allows for assigning tags to notes or creating specific notebooks which are note containers. From what I’ve seen the decision on the approach is very personal matter as some prefer the flexibility of tags, were others like the silo structure of a notebook. I happen to rely on both and use notebooks to store all the notes related to a particular project and then assign tags as way of indicating their status or specific theme they belong to. Once the project is closed, depending on the number of notes that I’ve created I would simply merge them on to one. Alternatively as I prefer to keep the folder structure light I would assign a specific tag to all notes related to particular project and then move them into a project archive folder.

This is how I manage research using various tools provided by Evernote. Do you have a process for managing your research? Do you have any tips for making it better? Please share in the comments section.

Is email your work?

Very often we find that after a long day we haven’t made that much of a progress and all we can remember is email and the countless number of of the messages we’ve gone through.
On the other hand email provides us with instant gratification of completion. Simply take one message, respond to it and problem solved. If compared to few hours of continuous effort to close out a project not wonder email wins.

When someone takes a day to respond does this annoy you? We came to expect that since email provides instantaneous delivery people will behave in the same way. For many few hour response time is not acceptable. However we tend to forget that email is just one element of work. Unless you work in client service team and receiving requests via email you have plenty of other responsibilities. Managing email is only one of them.

What’s in your job spec?

Lets start at the beginning. When you look at your job description does it say deal with email? Most likely not.

For majority to of people the job spec includes things like reporting, writing, attending meetings and discussions, gathering information, routine tasks etc. Sure some of responsibilities will involve dealing with email but the connection is always indirect. Yet somehow we end up spending majority of our days dealing with email and complaining that we are not doing what we were supposed to to.

How much value?

When email came about initially it was this great tool for instant communication. When letters took days to deliver, email was this tool to deliver messages instantaneously.
Nowadays many people have this expectation that we should respond to email very quickly. Yet they forget about two things. Each of us receives plenty of mail, so when sender thinks he’s creating one to one connection for recipient it’s one of many connections to deal with.
Secondly we have limited number of hours at our disposal hence we need to make very smart choices and allocate time where we receive the most value in return.

Better choices

Since we can spend our working day on countless activities each similarly important we should consider following question: does responding to email is more important than working on a project Y or task Z? Unless you work in a call center and dealing with email and your primary responsibility it’s more than likely that you can wait few hours before responding.

Question

Before your start a new day and dive into unread messages consider what bring more value.
Can emails from yesterday evening wait until lunch time so that you can spend some time on this important project?