I’ve mentioned Evernote in two previous posts (here and here). It and OmniFocus (posts here and here) are two of the three software applications I use most frequently. The third isn’t an application that I use in the traditional sense of “use.” I don’t start it up and work with it. It’s just always sitting there in the background silently doing its job. “It” is Dropbox.
Most of you are probably familiar with Dropbox. It stores files in the cloud and keeps them synchronized across computers. I have Dropbox installed on my MacBook, my iMac at work, my iMac at home, my iPhone, and my iPad.1 Any file I save to one of my Dropbox folders on one device is automatically to the same folder on other devices.2 That means when I save a document from my MacBook or anywhere else (whether PDF, Word, Excel, CSV, plain text, or Markup) it is (almost) immediately synced to every other device I have. Since I have versions of Word and Excel on my iPhone and iPad as well as on my other computers, it means I can read virtually any document I save on whatever device I’m working with at the moment.
That’s my key to going paperless to meetings. For meetings I organize, I prepare notes (in plain text or Markup – more on that in next week’s post). For regular meetings (like staff meetings in The Graduate School) that I want to have accessible and easily searchable, I’ll write in Markup and export the result to Evernote using Byword. For other meetings, I’ll write in plain text, save the result in an appropriate folder in Dropbox and open the note on my iPad directly.3
The key to all of this is that everything I do that’s related to my main duties, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of The Graduate School, finds its way into an electronic document that’s stored in my “Graduate School” folder in Dropbox. I don’t have to think about syncing. I don’t have to designate one machine or device as the “mother” device on which I work. I can work on any of my devices and have the results accessible from any of them – provided that I have Internet connectivity.
For my MacBook and iMacs, that’s not a problem. They have local copies of everything. I can work on the local copy even without an Internet connection. Dropbox will upload the results when I’m connected again. If I happen to work on the same file separately, Dropbox will notify me of the conflict and duplicate the file so that nothing is lost.4
Some of the apps I have on my mobile devices can download files from Dropbox into local storage. If I know before I go to a meeting that I’m going to need a particular document, I’ll download it ahead of time – just to make sure I have a copy if there are connectivity problems during the meeting.
Dropbox isn’t the only way to do this, of course. There’s iCloud (from Apple), OneDrive (from Microsoft), Box, and probably others I don’t know about. I’m not claiming that Dropbox is the best alternative. It’s just the one I’ve been using for 8-10 years, and it works very well for me. There’s a lot more that it can do (including Paper, which I have not investigated), but what I’ve described here are the key functions that I use more than 95% of the time.
- With the latest release of iOS I don’t really need to have Dropbox installed on my iPhone or iPad. The builtin Files application can connect directly to Dropbox. ↩
- It’s a little more subtle than that. You can choose which folders you’d like to sync to any particular device. I’ve chosen not to sync any of my work files to my home iMac, for example. ↩
- Since nearly every meeting I go to is associated with work, the Markup files that are exported to Evernote sit in one of my Dropbox folders. I end up with two copies, but that’s OK. Some times it’s easier simply to open the file from Dropbox. Other times it’s easier to open them in Evernote. Either way, I know that they’ll show up in an Evernote search if they’re relevant. ↩
- Except for the time I lose reconciling the changes. ↩