“Everything has an end. Except sausages, which have two”
(Norse proverb)

My work has three ends actually: they are listed in the title and are related to programming and man-computer interaction. We’ll see in a moment why I am mentioning them. My goal is to show that you need two of them in order to simplify your life and your work: weekends and backends.

Well, it may seem obvious that you need weekends (i.e. some 2-3 days relaxing breaks from normal activities) every now and then. They help declutter your mind, regain lost energies, try out new things, spend time with people you care for… I guess you got it already! Pretty much every work or lifestyle permits a break from time to time, or at least I hope so! If this is not the case, I may suggest you a quick and irreversible change of pattern. I’m serious: ask your boss for a change, deal for new conditions and, if all else fails, quit as soon as it can be done. This can be a very long topic to discuss, and it’s beyond the purpose of this post.

About a back-end… hum, what’s a back-end? Let’s bring out our trusty Oxford Dictionary (chek it out here):

“(Computing) Denoting a subordinate processor or program, not directly accessed by the user, which performs a specialized function on behalf of a main processor or software system: ‘a back-end database server'”

By extension, it is the part of a software that makes work what you actually see working: it stores and retrieves data, makes calculations, relies on calls to other software and services to obtain pieces of information, runs algorithms. In a business or editorial context, this is what you would call a back-office: people doing researches, keeping track of numbers, delivering reports…

Taking one step back, since we want to implement strategies and processes to simplify our lives, both at work and in other contexts, the first logical step would be to automatize whenever possible. In order to do that, we need something to act as our own backend and back office.

My personal solution, and the one that will be explored in many posts to come is to use the software Evernote, available at the link for all sorts of platforms (Windows, iOS PCs and devices, Android devices, web-application). What’s that? They used to advertise it with the catch-phrase “Remember everything“, which is not so great and sounds like anything a good camera can do. Now they say “Your life’s work. For everything you’ll do, Evernote is the workspace to get it done.” Better, catchy, resonating with our goal, but not very descriptive yet. For a nerd like me, I’d go with “Your readily available, reliable, search-based free-form database“. As you might have expected, the marketers at Evernote know far better than me!

Let me briefly review the reasons behind my definition:

  • Readily available: always with you, in your pocket, on your PC, everywhere you can access a browser. For the kind of automation we will describe, sometimes you don’t even need to directly operate it.
  • Reliable: time- and fact-proven. Reliable servers, reliable service. Never had a down in almost 4 years (at least, nothing I noticed or that otherwise impaired me).
  • Search-based: It is automatically indexed and everything inside is searchable (even handwritten notes, if your calligraphy is not like mine!). It is like Google on steroids for your content at the point of your fingertips.
  • Free-form: unlike relational or hierarchical databases, you don’t need a specific IT training to set it up.

As I was writing the end of this post, at least three things were handled automatically by Evernote, working in synergy with other apps:

  • Saved a YouTube video for later reference, I wanted to have a look at some books mentioned inside.
  • Recorded a change in a digitized handwritten note and saved a backup copy.
  • Received and saved an Amazon order confirmation and a delivery confirmation, skipping my email inbox entirely, while at the same time making them readily available with a simple search.
  • Other things I did manually, like saving two of my son’s drawings or manage my to-do list.

Stay with me, and we’ll see how to set up Evernote and get it to act as our personal virtual back office! If you have any comments or questions, please don’t be afraid of posting them in the comments below.

For today, as Jim Morrison says, “This is the end, beautiful friend”.