We’ve all experienced this — as soon as you sit down to start your workday, you’re instantly overloaded with information to consume.
One email with a link to an interesting article quickly becomes several articles, creating a series of tabs that each lead to more and more content. Cutting through the noise to find valuable inspiration is difficult. Once your workday really starts, meetings, project notes, and other working documents begin to cloud things even more. Staying organized can be overwhelming.
As an Experience Designer at Handsome, it is critical for me to learn continuously. I read as much as I can to find inspiration, stay on top of current trends, and research my clients’ industries. This quickly creates a rabbit hole of content where inspiration can get lost, or where I can get derailed from my work if I’m not organized. Some of what I read might not be relevant to the current project I am working on, but may relate to something in the past or become super valuable in the future. Additionally, I think my own FOMO keeps me reading and searching for the next article that sparks an a-ha moment. Thinking about ways to stay organized while retaining all of that information I read gave me an idea.
At the end of 2016, I decided to track every piece of content I read in 2017. I wanted to write an epic “What I Learned from Tracking Everything I Read” blog post. I use Evernote for note-taking at work and thought it would be a great way to track my accumulation of content as well, keeping my work and inspiration organized in one place. As it turns out, I read nearly 600 articles on Medium last year…
After doing a bit of reflection, I realized the value of this task was not in the blog post or even the articles I read on their own. Instead, I realized I had created a system within Evernote for tracking everything I consumed. The organizational method which supported this system gave me a whole new way to process, collect, catalog, reflect and better recall all of that information.
After a full year dedicated to this process, I realized I was also able to:
- Increase my focus through intentionally consuming quality content.
- Conquer imposter syndrome by more clearly reflecting on everything I read and learned.
- Eliminate time wasted spent searching for something I read months ago.
- Free up mental RAM by externalizing what I read, giving my brain time to think.
The following 3 methods helped me keep track of the different content I absorbed all within Evernote, which anyone can adopt to achieve similar results. The more I familiarized myself with Evernote, the more I realized its power to keep ideas and inspiration accessible and organized.
One note before getting into the details — Don’t be too hard on yourself. There will be times where the process doesn’t work, or you forget, or you just don’t have time, and that’s okay. This method is only one way to help you streamline your inspiration and allow you to develop your own encyclopedia of knowledge that you can quickly reference when you need it.
Get ahead, so you don’t get behind.
One of the most important parts of getting organized and being able to use any of these methods is starting with a solid foundation. The two most powerful features in Evernote that will help you do this are Notebooks and Tagging.
Notebooks are where your notes live in Evernote. Each time you make a new note, it gets assigned to a notebook. Personally, I have notebooks set up for work, personal, and passion projects. You can also create stacks of notebooks that are related to each other. For example, I have a work stack, and every time I start a new project, I start a new notebook named after the project, and then I add it to my work stack. This allows me to quickly find all notes related to a project, while simultaneously keeping my work and personal projects separate.
Tagging is just one way to help you search for your notes faster. However, Evernote’s search function has become so powerful that some will argue tagging isn’t necessary. For me, tagging gives me the peace of mind that I can quickly and easily find something that gets lost or filed in the wrong place. There is no right or wrong way to tag — find a system that works for you, and just start using it! At first, it may feel unnatural, but as you continue doing it, it will become second nature.
Automate as much as possible.
Because I do 80% of my online consumption on Medium, I found a way through the free web-based service If This Then That (IFTTT) to add an article I “clapped” to a specific note in Evernote. Thus, automating the process of tracking what I read. Tools like IFTTT or Zapier allow you to connect different channels or tools to create simple and basic automations for specific functions (i.e., If I post a picture on Instagram and then wish to post that same image on my Tumblr.) There are thousands of different automations that you can run, or you can create one from scratch. Luckily, IFTTT already has Evernote and Medium incorporated into their system, so setting up new automations is simple. Before this method, I wrote the title of the article I read in a note and then added a hyperlink to that article. Once I created this automation, it streamlined my process by eliminating those time-consuming steps.
To clap or not to clap? That is the question…
A note to Medium power users: You might be thinking, “Well, if you are clapping every article you read to add it to your list, then you aren’t using the clap for what it is meant for,” and, I disagree. Think of it like this: There is a quote that goes, “If a street performer causes you to stop walking and watch, you owe him a buck.” In the same way, if an article gets my attention and keeps me reading to the end, I think it deserves at least one clap. I can always give it more if it excites me, I think it’s well written, or if it is just a fantastic article.
Take advantage of Evernote’s powerful Products
Evernote has other powerful apps that can be used to help you stay organized and to streamline other processes. Two others I find useful are the Web Clipper extension for web browsers, and an app for your phone called Scannable.
Web Clipper installs onto your web browser and lets you take screen captures of articles, quotes, images, or anything else you find interesting, and saves them in a notebook. I recommend using a tagging system when you “clip” something, and then put it in its proper notebook to keep clips organized as you go. Otherwise, clips will pile up and become difficult to find when you’re looking for them later.
Scannable is a mobile app that allows you to scan paper docs and then file them digitally within Evernote. It is simple to use and integrates flawlessly. I love paper documents, and at times feel like a hoarder keeping piles of them around. Scannable allows me to offload these documents quickly, put them in a safe and secure place, and be able to find them just as easily later on. It helps lessen the feeling that I might need this document again and prevents me from throwing it out.
After you create your own system to track all of the content you consume over the course of a year, quarter, month, or even a single week — take some time to sit back and reflect. Think about how this process has impacted your work, and your ability to recall all of the information you’ve organized over that period of time. See where you can improve this process to better fit your own workflow and make it your own.
I would love to hear from you about your own processes or ways to improve this one. Drop in a comment about anything else you’ve found useful for tracking inspiration.
I’m John, an Experience Designer at Handsome, in Austin, TX. We’re a holistic experience design agency. In partnership with our clients, we create deeply connected brands, services and products that enable powerful relationships between businesses and people. From research and strategy to design and implementation, clients like FedEx, Audi, Nickelodeon, AMC, Facebook and Keller Williams trust us with the ongoing transformation of their brands and businesses. Hit me up if you want to learn more.