The first computer I worked on required as much floor space as a basketball court and did some truly amazing things – scary but amazing. Today, my mobile phone has exponentially more processing power than that monster and fits in the palm of my hand. I’ve seen a lot of changes in those 40-plus years. Not only did computers get smaller and more powerful, they’ve become a whole lot easier to use and a new generation of software engineers have developed some absolutely amazing tools giving us more time to do the things we love. Unfortunately, the human side of the the equation is still lost in the 20th century. Instead of creating new workflows to take advantage of the capabilities of today’s apps and services, we are doing everything we can to make those apps conform to our old, paper-based workflows. Yes, it’s better, but not exponentially better.
When I first started using Evernote, I was creating notebooks for each surname and copying notes and clippings into multiple notebooks when they related to multiple families. No wonder I didn’t find Evernote as amazing as the (much) younger techies did. Then, after spending time digging into how the app worked and experimenting with its features, I came up with a few basic workflows that not only make it easier to capture and organize notes and clippings, but to quickly collect them when I need them. Now, I have one Family Research notebook and a number of saved searches to make it easier to find my information when I need it. Instead of wondering in which notebook(s) I will save a note, I just start adding tags. Evernote does the rest. Is it exponentially better than my old paper system? Yes.
In reality, it wasn’t a light-bulb moment but rather an evolution. I was first exposed to the concept of tags when I started using Flickr back in 2005. Then I found tags in WordPress, my photo managing app (iPhoto), document management app (Yep) and even the Mac’s Finder (file management component). Next came saved searches and “smart” folders – which are basically the same thing. My digital world kept getting easier to manage, but my “Evernote epiphany” was when it all came together. Now this same basic workflow supports just about everything I do on my computer.
There is one down side to these technology-based workflows. They keep changing. Yes, I spend time learning the new features each software update brings and reviewing if/how my workflows will change, but I enjoy finding easier ways of doing things. Those who don’t handle change well may be better off with their existing workflows. Fortunately, now we all have options.