Designing Better Processes with Evernote
I’ve been busy the last few months. In my early career as an independent consultant and contractor, I’ve met some notable and insightful lows with my highs. One of the biggest lessons can all be summed up into one general thought. How can I get better?
When we all seek to get better we find ourselves trying to uncover the secrets of our peers and colleagues because we all yearn to be like those who’ve come before us. Whether it’s design, development or branding, you will realize that all of these tasks work together and we want to find better ways to connect them all. No matter who we admire and copy, the basis of any technique all comes from one thing: process.
Everyone is scared of process, and there’s no wonder why. There are so many of them out there that trying to figure it out can be a daunting task. For the most part web designers would know the basic web design process (Discovery -> Content > Design -> Development -> Test -> Deploy… or something like that). At it’s core we really don’t deviate much from this. What I talk about in the following sections however are expansions and modifications of the process outside of the individual using a tool that are flexible with the process, for me that too has been Evernote.
Delegation & Automation
I can’t go on without mentioning books that have shaped my views on these matters. If you haven’t read these books yet I highly recommend them for their life changing advice.
- Decide by Steve McClatchy
- The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
- E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
- Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
These books help shape my framework on how to grow and improve my process and they gave me some helpful tips that I apply to my work to this day. The general and common takeaway from all of these books is that no one is an island. As big as the pill may be to swallow, the longer you go out on your own you realize that you can’t do everything yourself and you are not a machine. You will eventually need help. You will need to work closely with your team and master your tools to be the best you can be and also maintain sanity.
The books themselves deserve their own posts, but two of the key takeaways I’ve taken from the books that helped me improve my process are delegation and automation.
Delegation isn’t simply taking a task and giving it to someone else, but allowing someone with a deeper interest and understanding on a specific task to go all in on the task ultimately giving you the ability to focus on another part of the project. Ultimately the specialist might add additional value to the project on top of saving you time.
Automation is another piece of the puzzle. As a developer I get to use multiple tools, but thanks to services like Zapier and IFTTT you can connect and automate these tools based on what you want to achieve. Using Zapier, I tie Evernote to most services and tools I use in my projects Streamlining everything opens up the door for you to do more things.This helps share information across platforms and create a deeper understanding and insight to your design process.
I’ve primarily used Evernote for documentation. I’ve been using it for years now, but it wasn’t until recently I’ve come to appreciate the power of it’s new and existing features to make me more productive and enhance the projects I’ve worked on. I now use it in everything I do and I also recommend (and sometimes borderline force) my clients to use it with their company’s growing needs.
I now use Evernote to get more done and add more value to the projects that I work on. Below are a few examples of ways that I use Evernote to solve design problems and streamline processes. Along with notes I’ve added indicators to task that I either delegate (D) or automate (A) for a smoother process:
- Research (D) In terms of content and research, I collaborate with my assistant and project manager in Evernote to give tasks and receive notes using Evernote. I use Zirtual and have a dedicated assistant (whom I adore and don’t know how I can live without) and she helps me get my projects and ultimately my life together so I can focus on the bigger picture. How do we work together you ask?
- We discuss and review action items in an Evernote shared notebook. Once things have been clarified we go our ways with action items. In another shared notebook I collect and review resources and research to be used in my projects. This saves me a ton of time and allows me to focus on more technical aspects of the project.
- Scheduling (A) When I set a reminder with a special tag, it adds the reminder as an event to my Google Calendar. Once added, either my assistant or I can change schedule tasks according to project timelines or other events.
- Resources (A) When I get an email with notes, revisions or other assets I need for my projects. I use the Evernote Web Clipper Chrome Extension to clip the email to my project folder. For further breakdown and analysis, I tag the note to be backed up to Google Drive so I can give a more detail breakdown of the project and tie to my other documents.
- Inspiration (A) Taking from some notes from Steal Like An Artist, when I need design inspiration I go to a few of my favorite inspiration sites and application. When I find a selection of the ones I live most, I use Evernote Web Clipper. The beautiful thing about this is that your inspiration are saved and categorized for you to always go back and review or share with another designer. Merge other options and switch out sections to your liking.
- Collaboration (D) If you have the opportunity to work with another web designer, UX designer or a developer. Feel free to delegate this task to the teammate by organizing your inspiration screenshots in an “organize moldboard” that acts as the framework for high-fidelity wireframes needed for documentation or review with the client. If I need to makes note or review specific details that are directly tied to an interface I’m designing or analyzing. I use Evernote Web Clipper to take screenshots of the screen in mention and save it with my note. Where this comes in handy is that for every screenshot that I take, you are able to add an individual comment to that specific screenshot. This helps keeps notes in context by modularizing your thoughts as opposed to trying to think of everything in one go after you have compiled all of your screenshots. Later on I merge all the notes with screenshots together and organize to make sense to the person I am sharing them with.
- Communication (A) Also with email, I found myself writing the same email responses to prospective and existing clients over and over so I archived the most common ones and whenever I need to start with a similar response, I created a Zapier tasks that creates a Gmail Draft with the content template. From there I just modify to fit client needs and send it off. This helps facilitate faster communication when discussing and reviewing updates.
- Development (A) When I code, I personally like to talk my way through it. In this sense using Evernote, I document the task at hand and record it in what I like to call a “Process Journal” that breaks down my thoughts in “normal speak”. Doing this helps me to not get confused and helps me not to make something more complex than it needs to be. From here, I have an Evernote Sublime Package that is tied directly to SublimeText3 (my preferred editor) if I have existing notes on the project (either though my process journal or though a quick note/psuedocode I had on the go using the Evernote App), I can pull that note into SublimeText and have it side by side Also, if I want to add to existing notes that I’ve imported into sublime for contextual review. I can just edit and add to the note in SublimeText, save and re-sync the note back up to Evernote for future use.
Never Stop Improving
Processes can always be improved and they can grow or change depending on your next project. In this fast changing world who nows if Evernote will still be around 5/10/20 years from now (I pray). But regardless, it’s even more important that we think about our processes and how things connect together in order to communicate and collaborate to make the products and services that others will use better for years to come.