Paperless with Evernote

Jul 2011

As a student, I get tons of paper everyday. The greatest issue with paper is finding the right one once it’s needed, without going through every single paper you have. Organizing paper is tedious.

This is where computers shine. You don’t even have to invent fancy directory structures; Spotlight in OS X, or Search in Windows can match you up with the right file with just a few keystrokes.

That said, paper has great advantages attached, too – it’s brilliant for e.g. sketching and brainstorming. I wouldn’t ever leave paper completely behind, I use my Moleskin frequently for these kinds of tasks, but that’s about the only paper I use. A hybrid-solution is Livescribe, I have one, and used it for some time, but eventually ditched it: the pros of writing notes directly on the computer outweighed the pros of using Livescribe, simply because I can type faster on my computer.

By being paperless you’ll use less time searching through your paper stacks, you’ll become much more organized, and you’ll always have your paper at hand.

Nowadays I scan everything with my Doxie, you can use any scanner, of course, if you don’t already have one though, get the Doxie. It’s compact, portable, scans in good quality and has hearts on it.

All the scanned documents go to Evernote for four reasons: first being that it’s all in the cloud, that means I can access my documents anywhere, which brings me to the second reason: great mobile apps. Third, the search functionality is excellent and that becomes even better due the final reason, OCR – Optical Character Recognizition – all my scanned document PDFs are scanned for text, and Evernote’s search will search through this text as well.

Picture example of Evernote's OCR

That means all your papers’ text are searchable by Evernote. It even recognizes handwriting. OCR happens in Evernote’s cloud and the metadata is synced along with your notes so it’ll work everywhere Evernote works.

Every sunday I scan new paper acquired during the previous week, the Doxie software puts the scanned papers directly into Evernote, I give it a descriptive title, throw out the paper, and I’m done. That’s it.

I don’t use tags, special notebooks, or any of Evernote’s other fancy organization features. There’s simply no need with Evernote’s fantastic searching capabilities. I only follow a simple syntax for my notes’ titles:

	<area> <title>

Examples:

  • receipt doxie scanner
  • sirupsen.com paperless post
  • recipe dad’s lasagna
  • physics potential energy

If I want to browse all my receipts, I search for “receipt”, if I want all notes containing “Doxie” I search for Doxie, and Evernote would return “receipt doxie scanner” and “sirupsen.com paperless post” to me. You should definitely get Evernote premium if you start using it for your scanned documents for prioritized OCR on their servers, more storage and to support an excellent service.

For quick scans on the go, mostly receipts, I use JotNot Pro iPhone – it works great and can throw the pictures directly to the Evernote app.

In classes I take notes directly in Evernote for several reasons. Typing on the computer is simply heaps faster than writing on paper, the only thing I miss from paper is the ability to make quick, rough illustrations.

As physics and mathematics are part of my school work I frequently have to put equations into my notes. Evernote has no built-in functionality that lets you do this, but LaTeXiT that comes with the MacTex bundle comes with a service that lets you transform LaTeX math to pretty pictures:

LaTeX equation transforming with LaTeXiT

Gives you:

Result picture from LaTeXiT transformagic

I’m no pro in Automator, if you happen to know how to create this functionality indepent of LaTeXiT (because LaTeXiT is slow), please contact me and I’ll include it here.