“Companies don’t innovate, people do.”


Just read a very interesting MEDIUM article by Peter Sims: How Andreessen Horowitz Is Disrupting Silicon Valley about how venture capital is being disrupted by talent management driven by CRM (Customer Requirements Management) systems. The title sound bite of this post comes from Peter’s article.


Three thoughts came to mind about GTD in reading this article:

  1. Because we GTDers are focused on seeing the world outside-in and keeping our projects moving, we don’t have a GTD equivalent of CRM, or a strategy to exploit networks, in particular, a strategy like Andreessen Horowitz’s. A.H. sees network power as coming from the outer-most edges of the network. When GTD people are embedded in get-it-done corporate cultures, team building gets crowded out by relentless execution. Perhaps too much individual-contributor execution when the world is becoming network centric.
  2. There should be dramatic increasing benefits of people employing GTD TOGETHER. CRM systems as Peter Sims describe’s A.H.’s, look a lot like shared GTD systems. But we don’t see shared GTD systems, CRMs are not really GTD. We don’t see shared GTD systems disrupting industries. My second thought was, “What is wrong with this picture?”
  3. My third thought was related to the first two: “Why not?”

GTD Teams

Yes, GTD has “Waiting For” buckets, and we all use address books and jot down notes about when and why we met someone. In a way, like senior executives who encounter a new business fad, we can kill the idea of needing team GTD with “Really, we’ve always been doing [insert business fad here].” But GTD team practice is a pallid picture of the promise.

And don’t forget the apps. There is Twillo (thanks John) that uses my beloved card metaphor to allow teams to share. There is Microsoft’s SharePoint. There is Evernote for teams. There are more apps for GTD and teams than a sane mind can keep up with. But these have not taken off. Tons of tools. No critical mass? Why?

Because GTD is about evolving a system that works with each GTDer’s individual brain. GTD as practiced, is idiosyncratic, individualistic, and evolutionary.  And the BIG ANSWER to getting teams to work together, is uniformity. CRM systems work by imposing a rigid, interlocking, pull-together-or-perish, uniformity on how people work. Uniformity is monolithic, and take-it-or-leave, and freezes work into fixed patterns.

If you’ve ever worked with another GTD person, and had a collaborative review, and come away amazed at how productive the encounter was, you’ve touched the potential. The problem is, I’ve been doing GTD for 5 years, and I’ve had exactly one of these encounters. Why? Probably because as a GTDer, I focus not on the edge of my trusted system, and bridging to others. But rather, on the core of my trusted system, and staying on the GTD wagon.

Perhaps the limit of GTD to transform teams lies not at the core of trusted systems. But at their edges. The innovation that will unlock GTD for teams, will come from an individual who can enable individual trusted systems, to work together.

OneNote vs. Evernote vs. Dropbox


I’ve edited this post in light of having gone back through my GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) history, and looking at the different trusted systems I’ve evolved over the four years of using GTD.

  1. Title graphic has been recomposed to put GTD at the center. Ouch! When I realized I missed this in the original post. Ouch I say!
  2. Last graphic has been recomposed dropping Google Drive (unreliable) and swapping back in Dropbox. This will take some work as I have to squeeze down from 30 gigabytes of storage to 20 (the most storage I can have for free on Dropbox).
  3. Last paragraph has been edited to put both OneNote and Dropbox into project management (I use them both for project files).
  4. Added a fourth like about OneNote (Read on!).

This is not a full on review, but I’ve been using OneNote daily for a month, so I thought I’d *reflect* a little on how I like OneNote, and how it compares with Evernote. Just rule of three likes, dislikes and reflections in this post.

What I like about OneNote:

  • The tabs. OneNote lets you have tabs on the top or right side of your notebook. This is a clear win over Evernote where notebooks (the equivalent of OneNote tabs the way I use both programs) are rigidly stuck in a list at the side of your screen, or in a rigid grid of notebooks in the main window.
  • Sub notes. If you create a tab for a project, you can insert notes underneath the project and indented from the parent tab. Again, a clean kill improvement over Evernote. From a GTD perspective this has helped me to focus more on the work, and less on the housekeeping of organizing the work.
  • Linking. You create [[aroundwhatyouwanttolink]] and the note is automatically linked to the parent project list. For GTD people this allows you to have each project on a tab that you start from the master list of all projects. Just create [[NewProject]] on your master list of projects, and *poof* you magically have a new tab named NewProject, now, get to work!
  • After a couple days, I have to add one more thing I like about OneNote … the connection between Microsoft Outlook and OneNote. I can drag an email into OneNote and choose either to have a PDF of it (printing to OneNote) or just an embedded copy of the email. This is not a clear win over Evernote as I can also capture email to Evernote from outlook. But, the thing is, because OneNote is a “family of Office” product, I intuitively knew that the link would be there. Evernote’s linking to email has to be discovered separately. My impression is that both OneNote and Evernote are improving their linking over time.

What I don’t like about OneNote

  • The canvas. Evernote’s canvas is static, text-based, and more intuitively appealing to me. In OneNote, whenever you click the mouse too far away from what you’ve already typed, you create a new text window. Which does automatically scroll down when you type something in any other text window. This is an example of too much flexibility for me. I find myself creating only one text window per note, and then being sure to add new thoughts to that single window. Static canvas, clear win for Evernote.
  • Too narrow a focus. OneNote focuses on you, your keyboard, and your projects. So it does not *feel* like a document management (or reference filing) system. Another clear kill for Evernote. I am forever adding a note to Evernote, and then much later taking that note out of my GRAPHICS or INBOXNOTEBOOK (the two big capture notebooks in my Evernote use) and either moving it to a project notebook, or copying the contents, pasting the contents into another note, and deleting the first note. OneNote is more narrowly focused than Evernote. I would not think about putting 14,000 articles and clippings into OneNote, for example.
  • Adding new text after a pasted-in graphic. I can’t figure out how to get OneNote to allow me to create new bullet lines in an outline, from clicking on the clip, hitting right arrow, and then either return or shift return as needed.


  • OneNote vs. Evernote, like Evernote vs. Dropbox is not a choice of one tool OR the other. They overlap in functionality. But OneNote is a lot more competition for Evernote, than it is for Dropbox. Here is what the overlap *feels* like to me. 
  • Both OneNote and Evernote are (to my liking) overly rigid. I’m still looking to be able to re-arrange virtual note cards on a virtual desk top. And, to be able to arrange notebooks in relation to one another. But OneNote and Evernote allow note arranging little if at all.
  • Project focus is an area that OneNote excels in, and where Evernote is weak. I applied for a project management job at Evernote this year, and won the opportunity to work a test problem in new products. But, alas, no job was forthcoming despite my ENTHUSIASM and ranting and railing about Evernote as a platform. But, OneNote, if it shows nothing else, indicates how Evernote could up its game in the project management sphere.
  • Evernote is a platform. OneNote is an application. OneNote feels like Excel or PowerPoint, a point-focused app that captures and structures analytical thinking. Evernote with its open API, back end infrastructure, and plug ins for browsers that make ripping just the information you want out of a web page, easy, feels like a platform.


In David Allen speak, OneNote lives in the land of projects and project plans. Evernote lives in the land of reference filing, and Dropbox and OneNote live in the land of project organizing infrastructure.


What is GTD Warm Boot Step #1?

Where Does a New Work Flow Start?


The Author @ HP Boise Legal Circa 2001

The last time I had a cube in corporate America, the cube came with 4 walls. Apparently, a few things have changed since “back in the day.” Today a cube is truncated into a
c | u | b | e so that four people put together have four walls. So I’ve got a corner or 1/4 of a cube.

Ironic Math Question: Is a corner of a square, a square root?

Back story, at HP I asked that my cube have zero work surfaces. Instead I ordered two lobby chairs that had tablet arms for laptops. And on the chair I used, installed a long work surface that reached from the right table arm to the left. Top down my cube looked like this.


The fun thing about this set up was people would come in, sit down and say “Why is your cube larger than everyone else’s.” This was fun, because my cube was not larger than everyone else’s. Same as.

And same as brings us back to desk 1.0 at new job in the insuranceville company town.


It is only natural to feel a moment of remorse for moving from my dungeon desk (see below) to a corporate environment with a uniformity fetish. However, life is bricolage (RestartGTD link) and constraints set you free (see previous post).

One big constraint of the new work space is books. Perhaps you have seen my picture in my library around the internet …

Spitzweig 1850

Alas, no more shelves, ladders, or extraneous reference materials. The internet is some compensation, but Mostly I’m shifting my references into Kindle and where possible, PDF files.


GTD Start Up

I decided to start with a 3×5 card heavy GTD setup. One idea, one piece of paper. Then, a manila folder for each project. In slinking around the supplies room if found a lot (20) diagonal folder holders that were “locally available” to install without causing any drama. So, here is what my desk looks like when I arrive in the morning.

When I first arrive in the morning I move my monitors out of the way, up to the shelf, and then do a relaxed mind sweep. At least for now, I’m arriving at 8:00 am which is a scosh before my group, so I can take 10 minutes or so to allow ideas to bubble up, write them on cards, and then organize the cards into groups (columns).

My new boss (who no, has not read GTD … yet …) is great at emailing me projects, hints, tips, etc. So my first week, I started by taking her emails, cards where next actions were captured during conversations, and then hacking out an initial set of projects. Each project gets a folder, and a diagonal slot at upper right on my desk. Cards get filed in project folders.

This physical folder organization has felt to me like it has helped trust to develop fast. If I’m not at my desk, the information is available for my boss to walk up to the folders, find the project she is concerned with, open the folder and see:

  • At the very front a list of next actions for the project. Think of an excel spreadsheet list that has completed tasks and next tasks.
  • The individual 3×5 cards with next actions on them.
  • Supporting materials for the project (most of which she has lent me, so this is great for her to be able to “pull back” materials she needs)

I also have a “Projects” folder with a list of all the individual projects. This list has been handy as my boss is on the spot with her boss and her peers about what I’m going to be doing (this company has a strong norm of close monitoring of new employees).

That is the initial set up so far.

bill meade

Number 3 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

TLDR: Why people set up and then don’t use Evernote

  1. The first reason is that implementing GTD changes too many things at once.
    So, Evernote, even if it is installed and working, won’t be used. Evernote is a sub-casualty of the 83% failure rate of GTD implementations.
  2. The second reason is because we blow off the GTD weekly reviews, infecting our GTD system with guilt that comes into focus (like a magnifying glass starting a fire) when we sit down to use Evernote. End result is we stop sitting down to our computers and stop using Evernote. *Note* This is also why people stop using Outlook, Omni-Focus, etc. for GTD.
  3. The third reason why GTD people don’t use Evernote after implementing it, that Evernote can be implemented in too many ways. And, … no two ways to implement Evernote agree. Too many choices to an overwhelmed brain = no choice. So, stop web surfing about Evernote, and start experimenting with your own work.

If you too have abandoned Evernote while trying to implement GTD, please share why?

Done! Good! Now go buy something to organize with, on Amazon! Invest in organization.


Why GTD people stop using Evernote is a surprisingly popular topic. So, I’m going to identify a couple more of the big reasons that GTD people stop using Evernote. This post is about reason 3, how the many alternative ways of implementing Evernote, stop people from using Evernote.


Source: .com

The perfect illustration of a GTD user implementing Evernote is not just a deer in headlights. The perfect illustration is a deer in a dozen of the spot lights used in police helicopters to run down fugitives.

User: “I think I’ll try using Evernote”

  • {event} Client installation on an iPad happens
    (10% of users who attempt to install quit here)

    • Wait, what? Why aren’t people installing Evernote on their PCs first? Seems that the PC is passing in influence. See RestartGTD’s Browser De Jure page for GTD viewership. GTD like it or not is becoming an iPad thing.
  • {event} Account setup happens
    (50% of potential users quit here)
  • {event does not happen} Opening Evernote for the first time on iPad
    (25% of potential users quit here)
  • {event} User opens Evernote for the first time

Even if we give Evernote 100% of the loyal users who open Evernote on their iPad for the first time, Evernote has still lost 85% of its users by the time a user opens Evernote for the first time.

Worse success rate than a David Allen GTD seminar!

Of course, I could be wrong about the percentages above. Still … Evernote is computer (desktop or laptop) first. With its new users swarming in from iPad and iPhone land, there are going to be a lot of wasteful problems (from the perspective of GTD).

For example,

  • once the person who has followed the steps above sees their Evernote account, what will they see? None of their existing information. = #EvernoteProblem
  • how can we fix this?
    • By installing Evernote Web Clipper and Clearly for a week or 10 days, so the user has some web-browsing history built up, that s/he will recognize when Evernote first opens. = #EvernoteProblem
    • By *distracting* the user to next import their paper with a scanner (scroll down to the file cabinet picture) before they open Evernote. Oh, crap, this requires Evernote to be installed on a PC with a scanner. Oops. = #EvernoteProblem
    • By scanning directly from scanner to Evernote on iPad or phone.
    • Without something drastic, can we fix this?


= #EvernoteProblem * #GTD Problem = .15 *.17 = Success Rate of Evernote & GTD

.15*.17=.03 Or, 3%


How can trying to implement Evernote with GTD be a good idea if it kills off an additional 14% of successful GTD users beyond what David Allen’s Company experiences?

  1. Once a GTD user puts their information into Evernote, it becomes easier to do reference filing correctly, than to not do reference filing. Reference filing is a keystone GTD skill. This helps *a lot* with people staying with GTD!
  2. Those 14% of GTD users were going to fade anyway. I *think* this because I talk to people who are “formerly known as GTD users” and they say “I use about 50% of GTD. I was really into it at first, but then it became too much to keep up with.”
    • Why? When I ask, “Do you use Evernote web clipper?” they invariably say “What is Evernote Web Clipper?”
    • Hypothesis: 14% of GTD users would be saved if they tried Evernote for their reference filing.
  3. Evernote is a platform, not a well-known, habitually used product. So what?
    • So … the marketeers at Evernote are clueless at how to help people who have a dozen police helicopter spot lights in their eyes. Platforms give markets new-to-the-world-capabilities, marketing people are trained to more efficiently sell old-to-the-world-capabilities.
    • So … in GTD terms, a new platform allows us to experiment with new degrees of freedom in organizing. The way our brains work with new platforms is trial and error. Our brains will try using the electronic tools, then pull back and compost on how the new platform *feels*. Then, confidence in a new way to use the tool appears from nowhere, and we implement the tool. And iterate improvements from there.


Don’t web surf to figure out how to use Evernote. Experiment with your own next actions, projects, reference filing, and inboxing. See what pleases you and run with that. When you feel *hindered* by Evernote, stop doing that. 

You can start with paper, that worked for me! See GTD Time Lapse for my 5 year history of GTD evolution.

You can go all digital. That did not work for me. I went back to paper + Evernote.

The trick is to start. Don’t think “I can’t start without the perfect system.” Think, what can I improve the most, with the least effort. Or, better, what would be fun to really focus on and improve? After 200+ MBA students, I think getting a ScanSnap and Evernote going as your reference filing system can’t be beat.

Whatever you do, keep evolving your GTD. GTD is like a bicycle. When you stop moving, you fall over.

bill meade

What is Evernote Clearly?


Clearly it is … not all that clear … what Clearly is …

Evernote has a web page at: https://evernote.com/clearly/guide/ that shows you how Clearly works and what you can do with it.


Given that Web Clipper exists … why does Clearly exist? And do I really need Clearly?

Q. Why does clearly exist?

A. I don’t know.

I *speculate* however, that there is a technology industry programming story novella behind why Clearly exists in parallel to Web Clipper. So, here we go …

In the big inning, was Web Clipper. Evernote *intuitively* understood that they needed an on ramp from the internet. So Web Clipper was developed. I *hypothesize* that Evernote whipped the slaves (in as much as Evernote can whip slaves who the company pays to have employee houses cleaned twice a month) to get Web Clipper done quickly.

This is not that big a deal except, creating Web Clipper created a team with a common bond of being whipped slaves (who have their houses cleaned for free). Programmers anywhere in near approximation to the word TEAM require me to point out the mother of all knowledge-worker-team books PEOPLEWARE by DeMarco and Lister. Because software teams are special, awesome, and if they release a product, powerful in nerd culture.

Then someone not on the Web Clipper team had an idea of making a “more pure” tool to bridge from the internet into user databases.


No. I do not have any leaked proprietary information Evernote. I’ve just seen this happen many times, at so many companies, that the finger prints of this kind of bifurcating product effort, do not even belong to the individual perpetrators. They belong to class events.

For example, I worked for a general manager at HP who built a high performance team around his product. The high performance team got their product (a not-HP3000) to out-perform the HP3000.




So, in our novella, the *insiders* are the Web Clipp-istas. And, the outsiders are the Clearly-purists. Once you have true outsiders within a company’s software ecology, you have evolved a new species of team that defines itself in being “not” the defacto internet-to-Evernote team. The result of two software teams doing similar but-politically-separate things is …


Source: Cafe Press Your Team Sucks

For example … IBM’s “black” team (DeMarco & Lister Kindle Book L1849 Chapter 19). A gelled team inside IBM that delighted in making other software teams cry.

Think of the Web Clip-istas as Bill Clinton, and the Clearly-purists as the Republican party. As the republican party develops TRUE differentiation, Bill Clinton would shift to “the middle” and suck out the differentiation’s soul like a dementor … 

Source: PrestigeDetail.Ca

So, now we know the ecology of two teams running in parallel inside Evernote, why does Clearly exist? Well … initially, it was because Clearly did something that Web Clipper did not do (stripping out useless screen elements). Today, however, Clearly exists as the reading-R&D function for the Web Clipper team.

Wait, what?

Web Clipper has moved to incorporate the functionality developed by the Clearly team. So now with clearly you have A LOT OF OPTIONS (see red arrows) about what to capture …


… and, Clearly, has few options.  When you use Clearly, it is cleaner than using Web Clipper because Clearly takes you right into the “simplified article” view (2nd red arrow above). Usually this works. Sometimes not. When “simplified article” does not work, Web Clipper is head and shoulders above Clearly in functionality.

So, Web Clipper by having Clearly’s “back” is the superset of functionality. And clearly, is the cutting edge.

Back to the question: And do I really need Clearly?

The simple answer is “no.” All a GTD person needs is Evernote Web Clipper. Evernote Clearly though awesome, though powerful, though it be ahead of Web Clipper, is the product of the marginalized software team.

Web Clipper in its myriad options (red arrows in image above) has more capabilities than Clearly. More to learn in the short run, but more simplicity in the long run because you only have to learn one tool.

Web Clipper folk, time to find something more cutting edge to do at Evernote.com! Web Clipper’s product manager is the “Bill Clinton of Evernote” and resistance is futile. Bill will assimilate you.

Bottom Line for GTD people:

Install Evernote Web Clipper, and ignore Evernote Clearly.

bill meade

What is Evernote Web Clipper?

Web Clipper is …

Evernote has a web page at https://evernote.com/webclipper/guide/#1 that shows you how Web Clipper works, and, what you can do with Web Clipper. I have not read Evernote’s entire web site, but it seems to me that Evernote is as meticulous about not mentioning GETTING THINGS DONE as David Allen is meticulous in avoiding mentioning electronic technology. The purpose of this post is to explore the roles Evernote Web Clipper can play in a GTD trusted system.

*Aside* David Allen is the master of the game of organizing. I yield to no one in admiration for the refined, focused, and effective system that Allen has made GTD.

But …

… if I were David Allen, I would be pushing a two “gateway” technology tools to catalyze GTD implementation. For example:

  • Dual-sided-single-pass-50-page-input-scanners. Currently the ScanSnap iX500 is the top rated scanner in customer satisfaction (based on Amazon revues). A professional scanner is a gateway technology because it allows you to get paper out of your face. My 94,000 page massive filing system took four long afternoons to import to computer.
  • Evernote. Because once you have all the atoms of your “might-have-a-next-action” converted to electrons, you need a way to Google your electrons to find documents as you need them. I wish that Evernote had competitors, but right now, there just are none.

Zooming Out …

There are three GTD universes that trusted systems need to interact with: atoms, bits universe (email, web pages), and images (physical stuff reduced to bits or images):

The reason we have headaches about all the stuff we have to do, is that all the objects in all three of these domains will live in our brain if we do not have a better way to manage them.  GTD is a better way to manage all the “stuff” objects in these three realms, but implementing GTD is hard.  Why is implementing GTD hard?

  1. Because we have to recognize all the stuff that we are carrying around in our subconscious. For example, how many projects do you have? Common answer “10 or 12” actual answer >300. Understanding how one is organized before GTD, is sure to overwhelm.
  2. Because to get all the objects in our subconscious out of minds, we have to take their real-world counter parts (atoms, bits, and images) and move them into a trusted system.
  3. Because we have to build a trusted system before we move anything.
  4. Because we are afraid we will “do it wrong” when building our trusted system.
  5. Because doing steps 1 through 3 is exhausting and it takes a pretty big investment to accomplish these steps. And, life does not stand still while doing steps 1-3.

What does this have to do with Evernote Web Clipper?

Glad you asked!!! Because Evernote Web Clipper is the principal means of moving important “bits stuff” from the world, into your Evernote database.

This image is an idealization of how the world should work to on-ramp stuff-with-next-actions (STNA) into an Evernote reference file system.

Q: What is Evernote Web Clipper?

A: The principal on-ramp to move bits from the world into your Evernote database.

Q: Why is this a big deal?

A: Because when you have captured the bits your subconscious is diligently not-forgetting, and your sub conscious sees that it can trust your system. Your brain will go through the-mother-of-all-defrags and you will reclaim massive quantities of now-empty memory slots to renew your creativity and amplify focus power.

In this analogy, why is a scanner so important? Because a scanner is an on-ramp for all your paper into your Evernote Database. And, once the atoms have been turned to bits and brought into Evernote, you can recycle the atoms and gain two physical degree of freedom over your work environment: (1) Elimination of clutter, and (2) Rearrangement freedom as you can CraigsListFree your file cabinets and take back tons of office space. And, you reclaim memory slots increasing creativity and amplifying focus power.

What about Web Clipper on tablets and Smart Phones? It appears that Evernote has not gotten there yet. So Evernote gets a Janus (my little marker for stuff that isn’t in Evernote yet, but I find does make it in over time) as I predict this will happen.

800px-Janus1Source: Wikipedia

I did find, however, Jonathan Mergy’s web site where he has a workaround to simulate Evernote Web Clipper for iPhones and iPads. I am an Android, so I have not tested this. But once you install Web Clipper and get accustomed to it, you instinctively reach to click on Web Clipper when you are using your phone or tablet.

bill meade

Appendix A: Basic How Tos:

To see several of the things Web Clipper can do:

  • Go to https://evernote.com/webclipper/guide/#1






Evernote abandonment poll

Reason #1 GTD Users Abandon Evernote sparked 50 times the page views of a normal RestartGTD.com post.

Today I’d like to:

  • Ask GTD users who have abandoned Evernote … Why? Or,
  • Ask non-GTD folks who have tried and abandoned Evernote … Why?

GTD users fill in this poll: Choose one best answer or write in a better answer

Non GTD users fill in this poll: Choose one best answer or write in a better answer


I wish Evernote had 2 more card capabilities than it has now …

Thing 1: I wish that in addition to letting me take notes and stacking them into a rigid list or matrix, I wish that Evernote would give me project desktops where I can drag notes around like I do on my dinning room table.

For example, here are electronic note cards arranged on a virtual (cork) dinning room table.

This virtual card organization was constructed with “Note Board Web” by noteboardapp.com and took me about 20 minutes to construct.

Why is a virtual dinning room table important?

Because of GTD’s natural planning model (chapter 3 *note* kindle version of GETTING THINGS DONE is $5.99 today!!!). For my brain, getting one idea, one piece of paper (or one Ever-Note) is my “at-bat” and then having the empty table to lay out all the cards that are relevant to my weekly review is getting to first base. Grouping the cards into projects is getting to second base. And when my thinking has developed enough cards that I can rough out the organization of a project, I’m at third base. Doing the work once it is organized gets me to home base.

Dinning room table is the playing field of organization for my brain. The problem with Crome bolt-on solutions is that they are not-integrated with the rest of my information management. Consequently, I get excited about them, and then stop using them. This functionality needs to be inside Evernote in order for the transactions costs to be low enough, for dinner-table-organizing to be feasible.

Thing 2

The second wish I have for Evernote is transparent atoms-to-bits interface for 3×5 note cards. Yes, crazy. But, follow me into a use model for a few steps.

  1. Have an idea while you are at lunch, jot it down on a 3×5 card, as you proceed through your healthy salad, you have a few “builds” on the initial idea. Some of these go on the original card, others go on additional cards.
    • *Note* I find that capturing ideas initially goes 100x faster on 3×5 cards for some reason. Your mileage may vary, but mine, … does not.
  2. Back at the office, you feed the brainstorm 3×5 cards from your lunch, into your (most excellent) ScanSnap iX500 and somehow it automatically knows that these are a special class of note: i.e., note cards.
    • This may seem preposterous, but if, unlike me, you bought Evernote’s version of the ScanSnap iX500 it already knows the difference between receipts, documents, business cards, and photos. No reason that we could not differentiate 3×5 cards into “note cards”. Check out this control panel in Evernote (that does not work because I bought my iX500 before Evernote offered its iX500 *Note* I AM NOT BITTER ABOUT THIS!!!).
  3. Now you have your 3×5 cards in Evernote….
    3.a. It would be super cool if Evernote could read your hand writing (Note, this is a future capability of Evernote), or at least allow you to enter the words it is uncertain of on each card.
    3.b. It would be super super cool if you could annotate the electronic card with Skitch, and Evernote were able to keep track of layers of a note just like Photoshop does.
    … and you add to the note with text and/or Skitch diagrams.
  4. Crap, you have to go to THAT MEETING where no laptops or tablets or phones are allowed around the table. What can you do to avoid wasting the time while superiors listen to themselves? Easy peasy! Re-print your 3×5 cards so you can continue to add to each one already captured, or, capture new 3×5 cards. Everyone will think you are taking notes! No problem, Evernote re-prints your cards (on 3×5 card stock, or 8.5×11 or ledger paper or European paper, or whatever your printer can handle.
    • *Note* to Evernote coders, I’m OK with you printing out a 2D bar code like the one below, on each note so that you can do Step 6 below. 

While I was in a previous job, I learned that if you try to copy US currency on color print device, the output document will have an invisibly encoded message about the serial number and IP address of your device. So Evernote coders I’m doubly cool with you encoding invisibly on the print so that you can tell when new information is incoming to an existing note. 

  1. You go to the meeting, you have further ideas which you capture on the note cards printed in step 4.
  2. You return to the office and scan the note cards you embellished in step 5, AND EVERNOTE IMPORTS THE DATA AND UPDATES THE ORIGINAL NOTE WITH THE CHANGES IN A NEW TEXT LAYER!!!! And, if you drew pictures, an additional graphics layer is created as well.
  3. Repeat steps 4 through 6.

The second wish that I have is much trickier than the first. It requires Evernote to understand notes a more complex and crazy-human, way. Humans are forever scribbling changes on documents. If you’ve ever seen attorneys in contract negotiations, you’ve seen them scribble changes into a contract, and then initial the changes. What I’m hoping for is an Evernote that is smart enough to managed unlimited versions of contracts. But, I can use for my humble 3×5 note card habit.

Transparently importing and exporting 3×5 cards (or their logical analogues) would win my vote for Evernote becoming “Nike for the mind.

bill meade

Janus-ed in Evernote

800px-Janus1Source: Wikipedia

I’ve been playing around a bit more with Evernote searching and have found another “JANUSIAN” anomaly. As I explained at the end of my last post, when Evernote does not do what I want, I am patient. I don’t complain. I wait for them to catch up to my expectations. The second face of Evernote/Janus is the functionality coming in the future!

This morning I have been investigating how Evernote plays with Microsoft Word files. Here is an example of some MS Word files that I have stored in a note about how to teach remedial Excel.

*Aside* Remedial Excel is a crash 2 hour course that helps executives who don’t know how to use Excel formulas. As a class, formula-less executives are terrified that people will find out that they don’t know how to create or edit formulas in Excel. So I run this class one-on-one with folks to get them privately up to speed. If you need remedial Excel help, email me. /*Aside

As you can see from the attachments, I have 8 Microsoft Word .docx files in this note. When I open the note, and type in .docx in the search box (upper right) however, only one of the notes is highlited in yellow. Hmmmm….

If I type only “.do” in the search box, every attachment is highlighted … including the .xlsx file and .pptx file … and two occurrences of the letters “do” in the text of the exercise.


I would expect Evernote to find all 8 occurrences of .docx inside a note in attachment file names, and Evernote found one. That seems like a break. Turn the other cheek Janus!

And, because Evernote added searching within MS Office documents about a year ago, maybe the Excel and Powerpoint attachments were included because they have “.do” inside. But, when I opened Excel and search for “.do” Excel says: “Excel cannot find the data you are looking for.” This may be a break. Or, it may be that I don’t understand what I’m saying when I search with a leading period in Evernote.

Hypothesis: the period must be altering the search’s meaning. Time to read Evernote’s search grammar … I’ll post anything surprising at a later time.

bill meade


Evernote OCR: A quick look

As a doctoral student in the late 1980s, I began reading biographies of scientists. The first biography I read was Charles Darwin’s Autobiography ($0.00 in Kindle store). Early in the book (p 54 L 800) Darwin talks about his organization system and concludes with:

"... by taking the one or more portfolios 
I have all the information collected during 
my life ready for use."

After reading this I sat back and thought “Whoa! What is today’s equivalent to Darwin’s organization?” and shortly thought “A database.” The next day I purchased the only portable computer I could afford, a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 with 32K of RAM and a four-line, 40-column display.

I would type in the good passages of every article, every book, and every magazine that I read. Then, when the Model 100 was full (about 4 hours of reading and typing) I would ride my bicycle from MSU’s library to my office in the bowels of Hubbard Hall and upload the data to my desktop computer via RS-232, then erase the Model 100’s ram, and bike back to the library and repeat the reading and typing.

Because laptop computers were totally out of my reach, after building a text database in AskSam of all these passages, I printed out all the key passages I had read on 4″x6″ cards in 8 pt courier font. I picked 8 point font in order to squeeze as many characters on a card as I could. I printed approximately 1,200 of these cards on my HP DeskJet (1988) printer. The DeskJet entered my life in 1988 when first introduced, I think I paid $800 for it. My wife had pre-authorized the purchase of an inkjet “… as soon as it is under $1,000.

Here is an example DeskJet card:

I kept the cards in long boxes and then went through the boxes repeatedly, card by card, and making connections across cards. These connections were then captured on other 4″x6″ cards in hand written notes. I have approximately 800 of these “linking” cards making bout 2,000 4″x6″ cards in total. Here is what a linking card looks like:

Going paperless with Evernote, I scanned in all my 4″x6″ cards and then recycled them. The purpose of this blog post is to show the results from a quick investigation of Evernote’s optical character recognition on my machine-printed and hand-written cards.

Evernote OCR: Machine-Printed Cards:

First, the recognition on machine-printed cards. I “tested” evernote by opening the card and then typing the content of the card into the search box for that card. Here is what that looked like:

You can see the text I’ve typed in to search for, in the upper right hand corner of the note, and the yellow rectangles in the note indicate recognition hits.

The result is that Evernote has a pretty hard time on 8 point Courier font text. After doing this quick test and thinking about it, I’m going to have to re-read these cards in order to sift through their content. I can’t count on Evernote to find words for me when they are printed small. This is not a criticism. Evernote is always growing and adding capabilities. I just need to keep in mind the current capabilities in accessing my information.

I’m not just being pollyanna about Evernote. When I first scanned my files, I had probably 8 gigabytes of files to upload, and could upload only 1 gigabyte per month. At the time I wrote Evernote and said “Can I please give you money so I can add all my gigabytes?” to which Evernote replied “Thanks for offering, but not yet.” And within 12 months, they created the “gigabyte amnesty” program where you can pay $5 to upload a gigabyte of extra stuff.  So I’m patient with Evernote.

Evernote OCR: Hand-Written Cards

Next, I tested how well Evernote could read my hand-writing. No *flames* please for my awful writing. I gave up on cursive at the first possible moment, and bought an electric type writer to substitute. Consequently I “print-scribble” rather than write.

Opening the note for the card at the very top of this post, I obtained this hit list after typing in every word on the card:

Again, there are quite a few hits, but, a text search is not yet ready for prime time. As of 3/2014 I must read rathe than search information captured in hand writing.

Using Evernote is a Janus-thing. Janus was the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, and transitions.


Using Evernote is great. A dramatic improvement to my organization and productivity. What I’m already accomplishing is face #1 of Evernote. But, as an Evernote user, I’m on the cusp of doing so much more. The so much more is face #2 of Evernote.

Click here to see Liz Parrish’s two headed elephant. The Janus-experience of using Evernote.

bill meade