Expand Evernote’s usefulness with the Web Clipper

Here at Unclutterer, we love Evernote. I’ve often called it “my external brain,” and consider it just that. I’ve used it to create a digital journal, manage recipes, and Erin has used it to organize her busy family life. Today I’ll talk about an oft-overlooked feature: the web clipper.

Evernote’s web clipper can be added on to your web browser to act as a useful go-between from the internet and Evernote. That is to say, it lets you quickly move information — links, articles, quotes, etc. — from a web browser to Evernote without requiring you to open the software. It’s fast and saves a lot of time. Today, I’ll show you the basics of using the Evernote web clipper.

Installation

Go to evernote.com/webclipper to download the version your browser needs. You’ll be guided through the simple process. From there you’re ready to go. To do what, exactly? Let me explain.

Use

I’m using Safari for Mac in this article. While there will be slight variations across browsers and operating systems, everything will be largely the same.

I often use Evernote to save online articles I’d like to read later. I can save the URL, open Evernote, find the appropriate notebook, create a new note and paste in the URL, but that’s too many steps. The web clipper makes it much easier.

Once installed, just click the little elephant icon that launches the web clipper (the installation process will put the icon front-and-center on your browser for you). When you do that, a new window appears (right) with five options:

  1. Article – Save the entire article as you see it.
  2. Simplified Article – Save just the text, stripping out ads and other non-essential images.
  3. Full Page – Grabs everything you see on that web page.
  4. Bookmark – Only grabs the URL.
  5. Screenshot – Takes a screenshot of the web page (or a portion thereof).

Below that you’ll find the “Organize” section. From the drop-down menu, select the notebook you’d like to use as a destination. You can add tags and even “remarks” (brief notes to yourself) for future reference and context. It all takes a fraction of the time you’d spend by launching the software itself.

Grab only the text you want

This is a super cool feature. As soon as you click the little elephant, you may notice a little yellow square next to your cursor. This is the highlighter, and it lets you grab just a portion of the the text on a page. Simply click and drag to highlight it in yellow, then click Save on the Web Clipper.

Share your clips

Once you’ve grabbed a clip, you might want to share it. After clicking Save as described above, you’ll be presented with a new window that offers to share what you’ve just saved. Click the drop-down menu for several options, including email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and more. This is useful if you’re coordinating information for a family trip, group work project, and so on.

This was just a brief overview and I hope it prompts you to check out this often-forgotten feature. It saves me a lot of time and lets me save a lot of great info I might otherwise forget.

Build a visual to-do list in Evernote

We’ve written about Evernote several times on Unclutterer, and for good reason — it’s a fantastic service. I use it as my external brain, having it “remember” things for me, same as a scratch pad, text editor, or journal.

Many people, myself included, use Evernote as a to-do manager. I combine the to-do item with the photo notes feature, and I’ve got a visual to-do list.

When you create a new note in Evernote, you’ve got five options: Text, Photo, Reminder, List, and Audio snippet. In the instance of a visual to-do list, create a Photo. Using the Evernote app on your smartphone, simply take a photo of that long-lingering project: the baseboard that needs replacing, the drywall that could use a patch, the past-its-prime laundry basket that needs to be put out to pasture. Now you have an image representing the task that needs to be completed. But you’re not done yet.

You can add text to any note, so be liberal with the notes. “Buy two-by-four to replace this baseboard” or “Get a laundry basket while at the mall” will do nicely. Take it a step further by adding tags. Try tags like “high priority” or “low priority” and then sort when it comes time to do things. Or, tag by context with terms like “errands” or “home.” Perhaps you’ll sort by tasks for work and those for your personal life.

Now, a visual list like this won’t work for everyone, but often times quickly glancing at an image will quickly jog your memory. Also, you don’t always have time to stop and write things down. Snapping a quick reference photo can fix that problem. Additionally, Evernote is so ubiquitous that your list can be instantly synced to almost any device.

Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools

I’m a confirmed gadget nut, and therefore many of my preferred tools for productivity and organization are electronic, including hardware and software. Yet, I still keep and use a paper notebook almost every day because I love my paper calendar and notebooks. This can be hard to reconcile. I am continually asking myself questions, such as: Why am I writing things down twice? And, um, where did I do that recent brainstorming session, on my notebook or computer?

Keeping on top of my projects is important, so I’ve begun to formally address the incongruence between my paper and digital tools.

The system I’ve discovered to solve my dilemma was inspired by a recent episode of The Fizzle Show. The Fizzle Show is the podcast of the website Fizzle.co, which offers insight and advice for those working on building a business. Episode 99 featured insights from Mike Vardy and Shawn Blanc, two self-starters whom I admire. It was in listening to their conversation that I came upon a system.

Shawn and Mike discussed the practice of keeping a “productivity journal.” They use it to formally write down progress the’ve made on goals, both little and small. It’s a nice bit of motivation, reinforcement, and history. At the end of a week, month, or year, they can look back at what they accomplished and what was left incomplete. Right away, I wanted to adopt the practice. But how?

I love writing in a notebook. It’s just fun, and I do it every day. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to find entries via electronic search. I’m a big fan of Evernote, which acts as my digital “cold storage.” Fortunately, there’s an easy way to marry the two that doesn’t take a lot of time or require me to write and type the same information.

Enter the Evernote Moleskine. It’s a Moleskine notebook that comes with some Evernote branding and, more importantly, an Evernote Premium subscription. Finally, the Evernote Mobile apps are tuned to recognize a page from the notebook and snap a crystal-clear, searchable image. Now, when I complete my entry in the notebook, I snap a photo of it with the Evernote app, give it an appropriate name and tags, and I’m good. The program recognizes my handwriting and makes it searchable. I had the pleasure of writing in a notebook and I’ve got a searchable, indexed copy in a digital app that I trust and is nearly ubiquitous.

I’ve tried to abandon my notebooks, but I just love them and feel motivated to work when I sit down with a nice, fresh page and a pen. This system of reconciling paper and electronic isn’t perfect — it would be easier to pick just one — but, honestly, it’s working fine and the time it takes to photograph and name an entry digitally is minimal. If you’re like me, straddling the analog and digital worlds, this solution might also work for you.

Digitize user manuals for less clutter, easy retrieval

User manuals are a necessary evil. When you bring home that new TV, blender, or printer, you set it up, try it out, and tuck its user manual away somewhere. Chances are you’ll never look at it again. But, you might, and that’s why you can’t throw it away. So, it gets tossed into a junk drawer or set on a shelf in the basement or crammed into the closet with all the other manuals you’ve stashed in there, just in case. These things are the definition of clutter. They sit around and do nothing for years and years. Wouldn’t it be great to store them completely out of sight yet have them instantly available, whenever you need them? Digitizing them is the answer. With a little bit of time and some free software — plus one very cool trick — you can achieve User Manual Nirvana. In this article, I’ll show you how to:

  1. Get manuals into your computer.
  2. Use the nearly ubiquitous Evernote to make your manuals accessible from your digital devices.
  3. Ensure that every manual is ready as soon as you need it with NO searching required (the cool trick).
  4. Reduce frustration and repair time around the house.

Get manuals

The first step, of course, is to find digital versions of your paper manuals and get them into your computer. There are several ways to do this, and I’ll cover three.

Go To The Source

You best bet is to look online, and your first stop should be the manufacturer’s website. For example, here’s a link to the manual for HP’s Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One Printer. If you can’t find the manual you’re after by visiting the manufacturer’s site, you’re not out of luck.

Check Third-Party Websites

User-manuals.com offers a large selection of user and service manuals, mostly for large appliances. The manuals on this site aren’t free, and will charge you about $8.99 per manual. The site’s search feature works well, and lets you narrow your inquiry by brand. Another option is theusermanualsite.com. It stores thousands of product manuals and a huge, searchable list of brands and products. What’s really nice is that theusermanualsite.com is supported by an active community of users who will respond to your requests. Theusermanualsite.com requires a free membership. There are other manual sites available, but I’ve had the best luck with these two.

Scan It Yourself

If the manual is not too long, scan it. Many are only long because they contain several languages. You can scan the two, three or four pages that are in your language and disregard the rest. If you don’t have a scanner, don’t worry! There’s a great iPhone app called Piikki that’s useful in this situation. It’s meant for taking photos of receipts, but really you can use it with any piece of paper. Piikki is very good at identifying the edges of paper and grabbing a readable, useful image. From there, send it to your computer.

Of course, you can also take a photo with Evernote and get it right in your database that way. More on Evernote later in this post.

A quick note before I move on to the next section. Don’t overlook “homemade” manuals and similar supplements. A few years ago, I had to replace the belt on our clothes dryer that turns the drum. While I had the machine apart, I sketched how it came apart, where the parts belong, and how it all fits back together. Today, I’ve got a scan of that drawing for future reference (and yes, I got it back together again).

Now that you’ve got your digital user manuals, store them in a fantastic, nearly ubiquitous digital database called Evernote.

Evernote can be your digital database

We’ve written about Evernote before and for good reason. It’s a dead-simple way to store just about anything that’s digital, from manuals to ideas, from music to packing lists. Best of all, it’s nearly ubiquitous. There’s a version for just about any device you own, as well as the web. I treat Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. Evernote stores information in what it calls “notes.” Similar notes can be grouped into a “notebook.” In our case, one note will be one user manual, and all of those notes will be gathered into a single notebook called, you guessed it, “Manuals.” Here’s how to set things up.

Create a Notebook

First, create a notebook. Fortunately, the process couldn’t be simpler. On the left-hand side of your browser window, right-click (that’s Control-click for you Mac users) on the grey area where it says “Notebooks” and select “New Notebook.” Name it “Manuals” and you’re all set.

Create a Note

The exact steps required to create a note depend on the device you’re using (iPhone vs. Mac vs. Android device, etc.). I’ll review how to do it in a web browser, as that’s the same for everyone, and leave you to suss out the (similar) process on your computer/tablet/smartphone of choice.

  1. Navigate to Evernote.com and log in.
  2. Tap “+ New Note”.
  3. The note creation screen appears. Enter a name for you note (like “DVD Player Manual”).
  4. Click “Show details” and enter “manuals” as the tag. This is important as you’ll see.
  5. Click the attachment icon (it resembles a paperclip), navigate to your manual and attach it to the note.
  6. Select “Manuals” from the Notebooks drop-down menu to put it in the proper notebook.
  7. Click “Done”.

That’s it. Repeat the process with all of your manuals. Once you’ve done this on one device, those notes will be available on every other device that you have that runs Evernote. Adding them can be boring, but now for the fun stuff.

Find manuals when you need them

I promised to teach you a cool trick. This isn’t it, though it’s still pretty nifty. You can search for a term in Evernote and then save that search so you don’t have to type it over and over again. Plus, Evernote is smart enough to update the results for you.

In the Evernote app for the desktop, enter “manuals” in the search field and hit Return. Look at the results to make sure they’re accurate, then click on the File menu, and then choose File and then Save Search. Give it a nice name (I suggest “Manuals”) and you’re all done. From now on, all you need to do is click the search field and “Manuals” will appear there for you. Just give it a click.

Here’s another cool bit: saved searches sync across devices. That means, once you’ve created the saved search on your computer, it will be available on your smartphone as well.

OK, here’s the super-cool trick I’ve been promising you.

Access manuals from the appliances themselves

While doing research for this article, I came across this brilliant idea from author Jamie Todd Rubin. His idea is to use QR codes, Evernote, and sticky paper to create almost immediate, no-search access to your digital user manuals.

QR Codes are those funky, square-shaped boxes of scanner code you might have seen, similar to the one at right. A QR Code reader (like this free one for the iPhone), can read the information it contains and perform a resulting action, most often opening a web page.

You can make your own QR Codes for free with a tool like this one at KAYAW QR Code by providing the link you’d like it to point to. Every Evernote note has a unique URL. To find it, simply open the note in your Evernote app and select Copy Note Link from the Note menu. Then make a QR Code with that URL, using the free QR Code generator linked above. Once that’s done, print the page, cut out the code and stick it to the side or back of your printer, blender, DVD player, what have you.

Now, whenever you need the manual for that device, all you need to do is scan it with a free QR reader app and presto! Evernote launches and opens that exact manual for you. No searching, no typing. Ingenious. If you don’t want to use the Note URL from the Evernote app, open the target note in a browser and copy its URL. That will work, too.

There you have it: digitize your user manuals to greatly reduce clutter, keep them close at hand on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and use QR code stickers on your devices to let THEM retrieve your manuals for you. Have fun.

Comparing low-distraction readers

Services like Instapaper, Pocket and Readability are great for saving articles for later reading. But sometimes I want to read something right when I find it and, better yet, with a clutter-free layout like those services provide. This is when an in-browser reader like Apple’s Safari Reader, Instapaper’s Text Bookmarklet and Evernote’s Clearly come in handy.

Each has its own pros and cons, but which is the best? Everyone has their preferences, but I took a look at three options and picked my favorite. Here’s what I found while comparing Safari Reader, Instapaper Text, and Clearly:


Safari Reader

Apple introduced Safari Reader with Safari 5. Like the others, it offers a distraction-free reading experience by presenting an article without ads, sidebar images, headers or footers. Instead, you get a center-aligned, black-on-white version of the article with any inline images intact. Plus, multi-page articles are displayed in one flow. That’s it.

It works by first detecting an article or post on a web page. Once it has, a grey “Reader” button appears in the URL field in place of the RSS button. Click it to view your article in the Reader interface (Command-Shift-R works, too).

The article appears on a white background in the center of Safari’s window. Also, the Reader button turns purple while the Reader view is active. Finally, a scrollbar on the right allows you to navigate the article.

There are several tools available while Reader is active. Move your cursor toward the bottom of Safari’s window and the toolbar appears. From left to right, you’ll find “-” and “+” re-sizing buttons, as well as options to email or print the article. Lastly, a big “X” closes the Reader UI and restores the original website (clicking outside of Reader does the same).

Pros

The best thing about Reader is that it works as advertised. The black text looks great and is highly legible. It loads quickly and lets you adjust the text size, print and share via email. Plus, it’s only available after a web page has fully loaded, so advertisers aren’t cheated out of impressions.

While Safari’s Reader for the Mac isn’t my favorite (more on that in a minute), it absolutely shines on mobile Safari. Especially on the iPhone. Typically I dislike long periods of reading on the iPhone because the screen and text is so small, but Reader fixes that. It commandeers the screen completely (unlike on the iPad, which still shows the toolbar and any open tabs), with big, legible text on a lightly textured background that just feels nice. An unobtrusive share button offers several options, like tweet, print, add to reading list and more.

Cons

My main gripe is that Reader doesn’t fill the browser window. Instead, the original web page is seen behind the Reader presentation. Even though it’s grayed out, I’m still aware of it, which defeats the “distraction-free” aspect. In fact, it’s a deal-breaker. Sorry, Apple.

Customization is also limited, though you can alter its look with a little work. It’s nice to re-size the type, but compared to others, it doesn’t do much. Finally, it’s restricted to Safari.

Reader is nice on the Mac, super on the iPad, and, hands-down, fan-flipping-tastic on the iPhone.


Instapaper Text Bookmarklet

Instapaper offers a bookmarkelt that lets you read an article in the service’s text view without saving it to your collection of stories. It offers black text on white like with Apple’s Safari Reader, but with more options for customization.

By default, the Instapaper Text Bookmarklet centers your text on a field of white. The customization tools are hidden until you click the font icon at the top left. Options include re-sizing the type, and I clicked the button 22 times and was obliged each time.

You can also single- or double-space the text and adjust the column width. Again, it seems happy to stretch the text as wide as I like, easily filling my 24″ display. Finally, there are four fonts to choose from: Geneva, Times, Helvetica and Veranda. There’s no button to send to Instapaper, however. For that you’ll need a different bookmarkelt.

Pros

Right off the bat I’m happy because it fills the browser window. Instapaper Text also offers more customization options than Apple. It also loads quickly, and is quite legible. Since it’s a bookmarklet, it’ll work in any browser and, like Safari’s reader, it displays multi-page articles on a single page.

Cons

Can’t think of a one.


Evernote Clearly

I found this one recently and have been test driving it. Like the others, Clearly (formerly Readable) presents your target article without ads, a sidebar, header or footer. It’s an extension, not a bookmarkelt, and is available for Firefox and Google Chrome. Once it’s up and running, a click sends the article to your Evernote account. But, the single click action isn’t what I love most about it.

Pros

If looks are everything, Clearly is a bombshell. The whole point of these things is to display an article so that it looks great and is pleasant to read. Clearly succeeds better than the rest.

A click on the themes button on the right sidebar reveals multiple thematic options. By default there are three themes to choose from: Newsprint, Notable and Night Owl (pictured above). A fourth option lets you create a custom theme, with control over almost every aspect of how Clearly presents your pages. Finally, there’s a button to print the article and another to send it to Instapaper.

Cons

It’s not available on Apple’s Safari browser.


Conclusion

Evernote’s Clearly is my new favorite way to read articles without distraction in my browser. Yes, Instapaper is backed by a tremendous service that I love, but so is Clearly. Like I said, this is a beauty contest more than anything else and the team at Evernote has done a stellar job with Clearly. I’ll still send articles I wish to save to Instapaper, but will enjoy stories I want to read as I find them with Clearly.

Back up your mobile photos automatically with IFTTT

The last time I wrote a post about IFTTT a few people sent along questions about how it might be used to back up photographs you take with a smartphone. I can understand this desire as I haven’t always transfered photos from my phone to my computer as often as I should have. Two years ago, I lost a phone to the Delaware river, and many vacation photos went with it. My now-in-place IFTTT recipes would have prevented the loss of images. Here’s how to set up an automatic backup of your mobile photos. You’ll want to download Evernote, Instagram and IFTTT. (As an additional step, Dropbox is optional.)

First, a quick look at the applications.

Evernote

This app, above all others, is my external brain. When I’m processing “stuff,” which is anything that isn’t where it ought to be, it generally falls into one of four categories:

  1. An action step
  2. A project
  3. Reference material
  4. Trash

Evernote holds my reference material. This is information that doesn’t require an action but might be useful in the future. Evernote stores information in “notes” that are gathered together in “notebooks.” As of this writing I have 44 notebooks and 263 notes. Some examples are “Books to Read,” “Erin’s Wedding” (my sister), “Gift Ideas” and “Receipts.”

In this case, I’ll create a notebook called “Instagram Backups.” It will hold all of my photos for me.

Evernote is available across nearly every platform, including Apple, Windows, iPhone/iPad and Android. I wouldn’t want to work without it.

Instagram

The social photo-sharing app is owned by Facebook and on smartphones everywhere (it’s available for the iPhone and Android). It lets you take photos, apply a variety of artistic filters and share easily with family and friends. You can even note where you took a given photo. It’s useful and easy to use.

IFTTT

IFTTT (If This Then That) is the scripting tool I’ve mentioned previously. You can create helpful, automatic little “workflows” without having to know any code or specialized computer programming. It’s my favorite thing to come out of the Internet in a long time.

Putting It Together

The idea here is that IFTTT will notice when you snap a photo with Instagram and place a copy in Evernote for you. This creates a backup and makes that photo available to you across every device that’s running Evernote for you. To get it working, follow these steps.

  1. Log into IFTTT and enable the Instagram and Evernote channels.
  2. Click “Create a Recipe.” The “If this then that” prompt appears.
  3. Click “This” to choose the “trigger.” Navigate to Instagram and click it.
  4. Several options appear. Choose “A new photo by you” and then click “Create Trigger.”
  5. The prompt returns with Instragram in place of the “This.” Now, click “That.”
  6. The “Action Channel” list appears. Click “Evernote.”
  7. Select “Create image note from URL.” This will create a new note in Evernote with your photo attached.
  8. Several options appear. In the field labeled “Notebook,” enter the name of the notebook you created in Evernote. In my case, it’s “Instagram Backups.”
  9. Click “Create Action.”

The screen will look like this:

That’s it! Now, every time you shoot a photo with Instagram, a copy will be sent to Evernote automatically. Nice!

I mentioned that Dropbox was optional. (Dropbox is an online back up service for your computer. There are numerous online back up services available, this is just an example.) If you want to use it as your backup repository instead of Evernote, follow the steps above swapping Evernote for Dropbox (or whatever service you use). Or, make a second recipe with Dropbox to create two backup copies simultaneously. Have fun!