Spring Cleaning Your Digital Spaces (the Evernote Way)

Tips & Stories

Spring Cleaning Your Digital Spaces (the Evernote Way)

Posted by Lolitta Gevorkova on 19 Mar 2016

Posted by Lolitta Gevorkova on 19 Mar 2016

Spring is my favorite season. Forgotten flowers begin to wake from their deep winter sleep, the morning breeze is just the right temperature, and best of all, it’s the season for getting your life squeaky clean and organized.

I love to clean and organize my physical spaces. It takes my mind off of the not-so-fun things and seeing finished tasks puts a smile on my face. When spring comes around, I take my decluttering up a notch and feel like no one can stop me.

One space I used to neglect was my digital world, or what I used to call my digital no man’s land. My home and desk were clean, but my computer and phone were a cluttered mess. I had hundreds of flagged emails, a disorganized Evernote account, articles that I wanted to read saved on a bunch of different platforms, and a browser stuffed with bookmarks.

I manage social media accounts for a living and then go home and manage some more (my personal accounts)—I live and breathe social media notifications. I didn’t know how to handle it all so I ignored it… and the stress kept piling up. Finally, I reached a breaking point. I started to declutter my digital life and the stress began to melt away. Here’s how I did it.

1. Inbox Zero

Inbox zero is an email management approach that seriously works. The goal is to keep your email inbox clear, archiving or deleting anything you don’t need to act on, and putting everything that does need an action in its appropriate spot. My road to inbox zero was simple. I followed HubSpot’s step-by-step instructions and reached my goal in about an hour.

Then I took their instructions one step further and added an Evernote workflow. For important emails like travel itineraries, coupons, and information from the landlord that I’d like to store for later, I use the email into Evernote feature. With this feature, I’m able to send these emails directly into my notebooks titled “Upcoming Travel”, “Coupons”, and “Apartment Misc”.

Behold: My new, beautiful, and super-organized inbox.

inbox-zero

2. Social Media

Social media is overwhelming. You simply have to recognize that you can’t keep up with the speed of information and messages that are being thrown at you. The best advice that I could ever give someone is that you don’t have to be on all of the platforms available to you. Personally, I think it’s best to be on the platforms that you find most entertaining and where you genuinely connect with friends and loved ones. Professionally, it’s important to understand that you should be on platforms where your community is most active, versus being on every social media platform out there.

Also, purging is your best friend.

Purge accounts:

  1. I wrote down a list of platforms I was using and how those platforms brought value to my life (for example, Facebook allows me to keep my family in other parts of the world up to date on my adventures).
  2. Then, I deactivated or deleted any platform that didn’t improve my life in some way.
  3. Finally, I concluded that fewer accounts = fewer things to feel like you “have to catch up on.”

Limit notifications:

Social media notifications are distracting and addictive. Here’s a few ways you can reduce them.

  • Turn off your social media email notifications. For Facebook, go to Settings > Notifications > Turn off the email notifications. While you’re here, turn off all of the other notifications that disrupt your day. If you’re receiving email notifications from other platforms, do a quick Google search on how to deactivate these.
  • Turn off social media notifications on your phone. Do you really need to be checking and replying to likes and comments from your friends all day long, especially while at work? Negative. Go into your device settings and turn off notifications for any app that isn’t truly essential.

Post less:

I know it’s tempting to post about every single thing that happens in your life, but you must resist. Compulsive posting leads to compulsive checking for responses, and more time staring at your phone and computer. This one is definitely the hardest for me. Mostly because I truly think everyone needs to know how much I either hate or love my cup of coffee at the moment (currently love it).

IFTTT 💚’s Evernote:

Sometimes you ‘Like’ tweets that are just amazing and you never want to forget them. But when’s the last time you actually looked at your Twitter ‘Likes’ tab? Here’s where IFTTT comes to the rescue. IFTTT is a service that lets you create “recipes” to connect apps that are essential to your workflow. One of their Evernote recipes lets you save your favorite tweets into Evernote. Every time you ‘Like’ a tweet, the recipe will grab it and send it to an Evernote notebook titled “Fav’d Tweets.” Neat, right?

Twitter to Evernote via IFTTT

3. All those browser bookmarks

Dreaming of a simple and clutter-free browser? So was I. The solution is to say no to browser bookmarks and say yes to Web Clipper. I removed all bookmarks for sites I don’t visit regularly and clipped the important stuff into my Evernote account. Web Clipper is like a save button for the web, allowing you to clip inspiring LinkedIn profiles, YouTube videos, research articles, you name it, right into designated notebooks.

Clip that blog post!

4. You can’t read all of the things on the Internet

The Internet is flooded with informative, educational, and entertaining pieces of content. Unfortunately, you can’t read them all. You can resolve to read only what matters (or at the very least, what will entertain you), but even this is difficult. For most of us, it takes a certain level of organization just to free up reading time.

I used to have articles saved in all sorts of platforms that I would never actually read because there was just so much to cover. Thankfully, I found a fix to this information overload dilemma in Jamie Todd Rubin’s Feedly > Pocket > Evernote reading and research process.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 2.20.39 PM

I now use Feedly as my RSS feed, with different feeds set up for personal interests and work inspiration. Every morning, I’ll give my feeds a quick scan. If I see something promising, I save it to Pocket to read later. Once I get some free time, I grab a big ol’ cup of coffee (and try not to tweet about how it tastes) and read away. Now, not every article that I read is really awesome, so after I’m done I’ll archive it (in Pocket). But every now and then, I’ll come across something so thought-provoking that it must live in my Evernote account so I can access it forever. The trick here is to be as selective as possible with your reading material.

5. Organizing your Evernote account

My Evernote account is a sacred place. It’s where I digitize everything that truly matters to me. But sometimes, I stick stuff in there when I’m in a rush, neglect to delete notes that are no longer relevant, or simply forget about notes that, if I saw them again, would fill me with joy.

With that in mind, I find that a regular Evernote clean-up is helpful to not only keep things up to date, but also to resurface inspiration and memories, like a screenshot of that first Facebook message my fiancé sent me.

Here are some suggestions for cleaning up your Evernote:

  • Shortcuts: Delete irrelevant shortcuts and replace with current ones.
  • Notebook stacks: Create an “Archive” stack for notebooks you want to keep, but don’t want to see every day.
  • Notebooks: Delete notebooks with only a couple of notes or combine notebooks that have only a few notes each if the theme is relevant.
  • “Untitled” notes: Search for “intitle:untitled” and title any notes that need one. Delete empty notes.
  • Notes: Do this when you have a bit of time and tackle notes by notebook. Each day, go through, say, 5 notebooks and rid of all the no longer relevant notes in there.
  • Trash: If you have organizational OCD-like tendencies, you’ll probably want to look through your Trash notebook to make sure that you didn’t accidently delete anything important. Then empty it. Frequently.

You have 1,440 minutes each day to split between resting, eating, working, family, personal time, errands, housework, and many other things. You don’t want to waste your limited minutes on being caught up in hundreds of daily notifications and unnecessary stress over digital clutter.

What steps have you taken to declutter your digital life?

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20 Comments RSS

  • Fida

    I heard of inbox zero and got a head start. I never heard of the others. I will be getting to work on them. Thank you for the tips!

    • Lolitta

      Fida, great to hear. You’re most welcome!

  • Tobias Johansson

    The webclipper no longer works for Firefox. 🙁 It says not compatible with new versions of Firefox. Has it been discontinued?

  • Anon

    Here what I realised while using both using Pocket and Evernote: I don’t need to use Pocket because I already use Evernote. With only one extension – Evernote Web Clipper I can save article to only app — Evernote and read it later. And I also have Premium account so my articles are available offline.

    • EdH

      I have used both EN and Pocket at the same time and after Pocket said they would try inserting advertising in their free account, I decided to try Evernote for saving articles to read later. I’ve been doing it about a month and it is working pretty well!

  • Scott

    Instead of Pocket, I use Instapaper. In fact, I don’t review on Instapaper any more. Anything that I cannot save directly to Evernote using a plugin, I will save to Instapaper then use an IFTTT recipe to drop it into Evernote. I then deal with it in Evernote.

  • Ellyn Collins

    Will the inbox zero theory work with Outlook?

    • Alison

      I’d like to 2nd this query.

    • Patrick

      Absolutely! This process can be applied to any email program.

    • Rick Clark

      Absolutely! I’ve been using Inbox Zero for about a year and a half. I created folders in Outlook for “Archive”, “Defer”, “Delegate”, “Doing”. Then, you can create a “Quick Step” in Outlook with the following information: “Move to folder – Archive, Mark as read.” Then assign it a shortcut key of CTRL + SHIFT + 1. I have similar ones for the other folders, but my favorite is a Quick Step with “Reply All, Move to folder – Archive”. That will let you reply and archive the message with Ctrl + Shift + 9. Anyway, if you can get away with it, check your mail twice a day around 11:00 and again at 4:00. Some people say check it only once a day. You won’t believe how much more productive you will be.

  • Leigh

    I have a policy of never ending a day will anything in my in box. Each day I file the emails I want to keep, delete the ones I don’t and take action on the rest. Never end the day without an empty inbox…so now I see it is a thing called mailbox zero. I am good with that I just call it being tidy. I use Evernote to save information on the web. Love the organization of subjects.

  • S. Whitmore

    I started using Pocket as a pre-filter for Evernote, because I found it easier to skim through and delete chaff in the Pocket interface than directly in Evernote. Now that I have a Kobo Glo HD e-reader which integrates with Pocket, this workflow is even better. I don’t keep anything in Pocket long-term; I either delete it immediately or, if it’s a keeper, I archive it — which triggers an IFTTT recipe to copy it to Evernote. Occasionally I go through and empty my Pocket archive since that content has already been saved to Evernote. I also use IFTTT to bring things in to Pocket automatically (via RSS feeds, etc.), so I get a lot of stuff there, but only the real keepers end up in Evernote. Curating on an e-reader that eliminates ads and other distractions is a real boon, IMHO.

  • Patrick

    I’m a tech entrepreneur that recently discovered that I’m an information junkie addict. I realized I had to step up my digital decluttering game!

    I love reading and learning about new things, but I realized through the years the more information I consume the less productive I am. Consuming too much info causes mental & decision fatigue, it kills your will-power as the day goes on. Sometimes it’s better to know less but take more action.

    The first thing I did was export hundreds of bookmarks (dating back to 2001!) into an HTML file and saved it in Evernote. I wanted to declare bookmark bankruptcy but the OCD part of me had to archive it somewhere…just in case.

    I was disgusted with the hundred of articles saved in my Pocket app that I could never finish reading. I decided to turn off the information faucet…no more saving articles to Pocket until I catch up. I then create a Reading Inbox notebook in Evernote. In there I create different categories (i.e. Success, Skills, Health, Finance, Technology, Productivity, etc) and rank their level of importance with a number in front. All articles in Pocket app was sorted into these notes according to its category. I still prefer using Pocket over Evernote for reading. One of the main reasons is that Pocket app for tablets or mobile devices has a text to speech feature (Listen TTS). So when I’m doing a mindless task or taking a bathroom break, I can just listen to an article. If you ever start logging how long you take reading information on the web…it really adds up! Each week I reset my Pocket app to only include 10 articles to read max. With that high level of restriction, you are forced to prioritize on what you can consume. Whenever I read an important content in Pocket app, I tag the article with “synthesize”. This reminds me to save the content to Evernote as an article format and highlight key areas that I want to recall or revisit later for reference. There’s no longer that urge to read to just catch up.

    My Feedly RSS goes through the same process. I scan through for any important or relevant information I want to review and add it to my Evernote Reading Inbox notebook. Priorities are set with my Reading Inbox so I stick to the game plan. You can mix up your reading material a bit like read 5-7 relevant articles and 1-3 for leisure reading. No need to live like a monk in the digital age.

    I been practicing Inbox Zero approach for about 2 years now and I love it. I also have an app that blocks my Airmail app & Gmail from access until noontime each day. This helps me not waste time with email in the morning.

    This last month has been my most productive month for a long long time! My new system allows more clarity and I’m actually doing more work instead of constantly reading and not enough action. I hope my workflow will give you some ideas or inspiration to re-tweak any bad habits.

  • Suzanne

    Love the Inbox Zero concept! Followed the instructions exactly but I’m have an issue…In the “Needs Action Inbox” on the RHS every email I have ever labeled and moved out of my original Inbox is now in the “Needs Action Inbox”…How can I move them out of this inbox so it is cleaned up too???

  • Regina

    Excellent discussion. Evernote is something that is on my “to do” list and I have considered many times. I think it’s time to take the plunge and get started. Thanks for sharing.

  • Melissa

    I love the Feedly, Pocket, Evernote steps. I use all of these and this process is a great way think about how to use each app so info is not scattered.

  • billiama

    Helpful blog! I totally apply inbox zero to both my personal and work email accounts and it is a great de-stressor for me. However, I’m not so good in Evernote. My Evernote account is like my basement and I just shove it in. This blog is a great reminder to clean house in Evernote periodically.

    One additional housecleaning tip for section 5 that I’d recommend is to clean up your tags if you use them. I find that when I clip content on various devices or using the web interface it can be easy to mistype tag names and create a new, unwanted tag. These oops tags are easy to spot with a quick review of your tag list since they should be similar to an existing tag. Just retag the mistagged content and delete the oops tag from the list. You’ll need to do this on the desktop client so you can select and tag multiple notes simultaneously.

  • Severine

    I have had a love hate relationship with Evernote. It has been mostly love but lack of colour for my stacks and notebook (attention span/details) has made my digital life hard. I would also like to add further password to my stacks but hey…So 3 times I tried to get away.: twice to one note and Onenote failed me miserably within 24 of migrating. One time I wanted Apple note to work for me but really that was a no brainer. I have 4 emails account and inbox 0 with all of them. Evernote is my vault. I love it. Just like a long term relationship we have to accept each other’s little faults.

  • Tina

    Thanks for the great tips. Here’s a tip from me when trying to engage a global audience – don’t use the season as the hook. It’s autumn where I am and the content of post is just as relevant.

  • Andi

    Thanks for these tips. It’s time for my own spring cleanig. One question: Why do you use pocket in your work flow? Why not cut out the middle man and save any articles to a Evernote Notebook? I use Evernote as my Favorite Saving Tool in Feedly and use two notebooks: ..Read Later for any articles (with offline access on my phone) and ..Watch Later for any videos (which I usually only watch at home with wlan access). It’s just one long press and one click on the notebook I want to use. Do you see any specific advantages in using pocket?