Thought Leadership


By Colin Walls

When people ask me what kind of job I do, I say that I work in marketing for a software company and qualify that further by describing myself as a “professional enthusiast”. I think that sums up quite well the focus of all my activity in my working life. It suits my character, as I am, by nature, an enthusiast – I find many things interesting and, from time to time, get particularly excited about something. I tend to share my enthusiasm with anyone who will listen, which might be a little wearing for those around me, but they tend to be nice about it, even when they do glaze over.

So, today, I would like to share a recent enthusiasm with you …

I like to be organized. I learned many years ago that a key way to reduce my personal stress was to be in control of my life – or, at least, convince myself that I have some control. There are broadly two things that I need to keep under control: time and data. Time management [for me] is largely about the intelligent use of a calendar and To Do list [which I have written about before], along with a bit of help with planning using some project management software. Data is another matter.

In the past, data was largely bits of paper and its management was largely a matter of having a sensible filing system. In most respects, electronic data is no different, as it requires the same kind of treatment. You just need to have places to put stuff where you can readily find it again. The problem with electronic data is there tends to be so much of it. Over the years I have evolved various ways to keep my data organized. The starting point is a filing system using folders, but that alone is not enough. I have found that I need a framework to manage the mapping between activities – like writing an article, preparing for a seminar, organizing a trade show booth theater – and the relevant files. For a long time, I found that mind mapping could do a lot of what I needed, as I could maintain a free format representation of the project, with hyperlinks into the folders and relevant websites. This worked well, but my lifestyle has moved on and stretched its capabilities.

My requirement now is to not only be able to store and locate information quickly and easily, but to be able to do so from multiple locations. I use two PCs – one in my home office and one when I am traveling, I have an iPad and I have an Android phone. In an ideal world, I could access everything I want from all of these devices and maybe get to it from someone else’s computer too. I do not live in an ideal world, but I have found a tool/service that gives me an approximation: Evernote.

Evernote is a Web-based service for storing data. Its secret is that, in addition to having a very respectable browser-accessible interface, they also offer sophisticated clients for PC, Mac, iPad and numerous mobile phones, which improves the access to the online data and provides offline storage and synchronization. This all comes for free, but, for a modest charge, you can become a Premium user and gain access to additional facilities and capacity. There is a lot to say about Evernote, but I can only give you a flavor of its richness here. Perhaps I will return to the topic in future postings.

The key to Evernote is the concept of a “note”. A note is a text file, of indefinite size, which may or may not be formatted. In addition to text, it can contain images, embedded PDF files and hyperlinks to websites and local files/folders. A user can create any number of “notebooks” in which to store notes. An arbitrarily complex system of tags enables notes to be characterized for easy access. This is backed up with a very powerful search facility.

It would take several posting to describe in detail how I use Evernote, but I will offer an example to give you an idea. If I am working on a Web seminar, I would create a note for it containing the key information: title, abstract, date/time and To Do list. It would also contain a hyperlink to the folder containing the relevant Word and Powerpoint files. The note would be stored in my “work” notebook and moved to my “work archive” when the event is completed. I would tag it with “webinars”, to enable me to narrow my view of notes to just upcoming Web seminars, and include the date in the title to ensure the list is sorted sensibly.

I apply the same principle to other events, articles, blog posts, travel, vacations, book reading – the list goes on. I seem to find a new application for Evernote almost every day.

Please note: I have no business connection with Evernote Corporation. I am simply an enthusiastic and satisfied customer.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at