Dr. Mac's Digital Shoebox Strategy for Storing and Finding Stuff Everywhere

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #145


Where do you store all the little bits of information that don’t fit in the usual places like Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, and such? You know what I mean—all those little bits of text, images, movies, or sounds that you hope to refer to in the future (if you can find them).

Little bits of info you might wish to archive come in many forms: notes you’ve written to yourself, phone numbers that don’t belong in your Contacts database, webpages you want to refer to offline, receipts, invoices, recipes, tips, clever sayings, and ever so many others. To make it more complicated, some of these bits can only be viewed on a screen; others are URLs for web pages; and many are on physical bits of paper. 

Over the years I’ve tried many approaches to the digital shoebox (StickyBrain, Yojimbo, and Bento to name just a few) and have concluded that the perfect system needed to be three things: Easy to use; easy to add items to; and easy to find things with. 

I currently use a pair of third-party apps that work beautifully together (as well they should—they’re both made by the same company) as my digital shoebox. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about Evernote and Skitch, which are both free and available for both OS X and iOS (as well as on the Web).

Evernote is the workhorse in my digital shoebox scenario with Skitch playing the sidekick. Evernote accepts almost any kind of input, so I can drag almost any type of file — image, movie, sound, Word document, PDF, URL, or almost anything else I can drag on my Mac — onto its Dock icon to instantly add it to the Evernote database. I have thousands of little bits in there already and I can still find what I need in seconds.

Notebooks (lower left), tags (not shown) and search (upper right) make it easy to find what you need quickly and easily in Evernote.

Then, there’s the Evernote Web Clipper extension for Safari, which lets me grab entire web pages and save them for offline viewing with a single click. Or, I can tag them with keywords and assign them to specific notebooks (which I think of as my shoeboxes) I’ve created in Evernote before I save them. Either way it’s fast and easy.

Evernote also includes a clipping menu (and keyboard shortcut) that lets you: type a note of any length; capture the screen, a window, or a rectangular selection of the screen; or record audio, and then save the note, screen shot, or audio to Evernote.

Add text, screen grabs, or audio from Evernote’s clipping menu.

Another useful tool is the Print to Evernote service, which appears in the PDF menu of Print sheets and dialogs. It’s fast and easy; if something can be printed on your Mac, you can send it to Evernote as a PDF just as easily.  

When it comes to hard copy — stuff like receipts, recipes torn out of newspapers or magazines, handwritten notes and drawings, and the like, Evernote integrates ever-so-slickly with my Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 scanner. As long as Scan to Evernote (PDF) is selected in the ScanSnap Dock menu (as shown below), I feed the scanner a sheet (or up to 15 sheets) of paper and it scans both sides if necessary, converts everything on both sides to a searchable PDF, and then adds the document to Evernote, all with no additional effort on my part.

Scan to Evernote (PDF) sends whatever I scan directly into Evernote.

I can assign the newly scanned documents to a notebook or tag them with keywords if I so desire. Or not. Since they’re searchable PDFs, I can usually find what I need in seconds using search, so most documents go into my default notebook without tags.

Last but not least, I use Skitch to document anything I see on my Mac screen that I might want to save. I grab a lot of bugs and typos and things-gone-wrong, but since Skitch is always available by keyboard shortcut, and it saves the files to its own database (rather than leaving all those messy screen shot files strewn across your desktop), I grab with complete abandon, just in case. I can always throw them away later if they turn out to be unimportant.

Skitch also includes a pretty good set of annotation tools, but its best feature (at least for me) is that it automatically sends every screen shot — annotated or not — to Evernote.

A system like this is only truly useful if it’s available everywhere you go. Fortunately, there are excellent Evernote and Skitch apps for OS X and iOS, as well a Web version, just in case. And everything syncs beautifully among my Apple devices, so those thousands of useful little things are with me wherever I go (as long as wherever I go has Wi-Fi or cellular Internet access). 

So that’s my story — my Evernote database is packed with thousands of little things I wouldn’t know what to do with otherwise. And even if I did know what to do with them, I’d never be able to find them without Evernote. And that’s what makes this system work for me — it contains all the little bits of info I’ve collected in a single place (the Evernote app) on all my devices. I like Evernote so much that I gladly pay $50 a year for Evernote Premium.

There is one last (and totally unrelated) thing: If you’re an AT&T mobile customer, you can now use Wi-Fi calling on your iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, and 6s Plus running iOS 9 to make and receive calls and SMS messages over Wi-Fi, a blessing if your cellular signal is weak or unavailable. While T-Mobile and Sprint have offered this feature on some devices, it’s a welcome first from AT&T.

Try it—you’ll like it! I did and I do!

And that’s all he wrote…