Sunday, 2 December 2012

Evernote as a laboratory daybook

I started using Evernote three weeks ago.  I've been trialling it as my "daybook" at work, where I keep my notes of all meetings, projects, and any work-related items.  It's been very successful, so now I've switched over to it in entirety, and retired my hardbound logbooks.

One of my Evernote "notebooks" is my daybook.  For each day I keep a single note that's the "miscellaneous" stuff, plus a separate note for each scheduled event (lecture, practical, seminar, student supervision, project meeting, committee meeting, whatever).  I put a little thumbnail picture -- of the person, or something iconic for the meeting, in the note, which then shows up in the snippets window.  I've also made a set of "day" icons for the single "miscellaneous" note, that show the day, date, year, and week of term/vacation.  These thumbnails allow me to scan the snippets and usually find the correct note rapidly, without needing a search.

the end of last week
At the beginning of each day I add new notes for the meetings from my diary, and edit the "create time" to be the start time of the meeting.

I use templates for each of my semi-regular meetings.  When it's the day of the meeting, I copy the note from the template notebook, where it already has the right date and time.  When I know the time of the next occurrence (known in advance for regular meetings, sometimes agreed in the meeting, sometimes not agreed until after the meeting), I edit the template accordingly.  This means my template notebook also acts as a mini calendar of future appointments.  I found this useful within the first couple of weeks. I had forgotten to set the time of my next meeting with a student; still with the date of our previous meeting, their template was noticeably languishing at the bottom of the list, reminding me to do something about it.

At the beginning of a meeting, I select the relevant note, and can start typing straight away.  Also, I can "search" for the name of the meeting, and then the snippet window shows just these.  So I can quickly go back to an earlier meeting (eg, to look up what we agreed to do for this meeting).

Each meeting note has three sections:

  • pre-meeting notes: preparation for to the meeting (for a committee meeting this might be reports on any actions I've discharged; for a seminar it will be the speaker's abstract, etc; I also add links to relevant documents)
  • meeting notes: I have a 7" Netbook with a useable keyboard -- I've found I can type notes fast enough if it's on a table, or perched on my lap (although this is a bit uncomfortable on some chairs)
  • post-meeting notes: for example, any clarifications or further information I've looked up after a talk -- I find it useful to clip a few sentences from a relevant website to help illuminate some point a speaker has made

Rather than keep big pdfs in Evernote, I keep them in my Dropbox, and just put a link in the note.  Also, I can link to specific gmail conversations, for example, the one containing the agenda and minutes of the meeting.  This is a great aid to going paperless.

I use Evernote on my netbook for taking meeting notes, and on my main machine for making notes while I'm working at my desk.  A couple of times I've closed the netbook, sat at my desk, and started updating the meeting note, only to discover I haven't given it time to synchronise.  I now manually synchronise before I close the netbook.  However, I haven't lost anything, since Evernote keeps both versions, and puts them in a "conflicting changes" notebook.

One issue I have is with the automatic choice of image to use as the thumbnail in the snippet view. It automatically chooses "the image with the largest smallest dimension" (btw, it took me essentially no time at all to find that link, as I'd clipped it into Evernote when I was looking for it originally).  That's almost always the wrong choice for me: I want a thumbnail icon, such as a small photo of the person involved, which nearly always has the smallest largest dimension.  Since I often take whiteboard photos to accompany technical meeting notes, I can end up with a bunch of identical-looking whiteboard thumbnails!  I would much prefer being able to override the default.

But apart from that v minor niggle (and the printing issue noted below), I'm finding this almost perfect as a daybook.

Caveat: if you need to keep a formal logbook, with date stamps and signatures, you will need to find a way to print out your notes -- which is easy for a single note, but non-trivial as a batch exercise.

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