Keeping the Workflow Simple


Recently, I decided I wanted to reestablish the practice of daily writing, following the model of But I didn’t want to use that site, I wanted what I wrote to be searchable, and I wanted to be able to write just about anywhere.

Figuring out the “write anywhere” piece was simple. I was fortunate enough to acquire an iPad not long ago, and a bluetooth keyboard to go with it. There are lots of apps available for producing text on the iPad. I checked out Elements 2 and Byword, both of which can handle (and even preview) Markdown, which I want to learn. They both also work well with ProfHacker favorite Dropbox. (Byword also works with iCloud, for those who prefer that). I liked both, but ended up going with Byword, for two reasons. First, it has the ability to keep a running word count, so I can easily tell when I get to 750. (Elements 2 can provide a word count, but it requires taking my hands away from the keyboard and tapping the screen, then tapping again to get back to what I was doing. In Byword, all I need to do is glance down at the bottom of my screen.) Second, Byword has a corresponding Mac application, so if I’m at my computer, I can pick up my writing in the same minimalist environment.

Making everything searchable required more thought and experimentation. The obvious solution was to dump everything into Evernote. The problem is that Byword creates text files, which Evernote can store but not search. Evernote *does*, however, search PDFs just fine. And Byword already uses Dropbox.

So I thought I had the perfect, “don’t even need to think about it” solution. All I’d need to do would be to set up Wappwolf’s Dropbox Automator to watch the Dropbox folder I was using with Byword, and tell the automator to (a) convert any files it found to PDF and (b) upload them to Evernote.

Unfortunately, there were two problems with that. First, Wappwolf wanted to grab the file I was working on while I was still working on it! Not good. So I had to change the setup and have Wappwolf monitor a different Dropbox folder, to which I’d manually move the file after I’d finished with it. The second problem was that the PDF conversion in Wappwolf turned out to be unreliable for me. Sometimes it would work, but other times I’d get error messages, and the file never would go through. So much for automation.

There had to be an easier way, I thought. And indeed, there was—and while it isn’t wholly automated, it takes no more than a few keystrokes after I’ve finished with the day’s writing. Byword has an export function, and one of the options is to export as plain text via email. It’s possible to send items to Evernote via email, and choosing the export option just mentioned pastes the entire contents of the file into the body of the email, so Evernote will be able to search it. If I add @notebookname to the subject line, Evernote will even file the text in the appropriate notebook. That’s not exactly the automated setup I initially had in mind, but it’s easy, and it does the job.

I wish I’d thought of this process first. Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest one.

Have you ever made something more complex than it needed to be, only to later discover a much simpler solution? What did you try first, and what ended up working better for you? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by zemanta]

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