Using Workflow.app to Save Expenses to Evernote (via Brett Kelly)

I’ve been diving deep into Workflow.app (iTunes Link) in preparation for an upcoming Mac Power Users Episode. (The show should hit your feeds Monday) While I’m really enjoying the power and simplicity of Workflow, I will admit that I’m not that creative in coming up with my own unique workflows from scratch. However, I have become proficient in taking workflows that others have created and tweaking them to meet my needs. 

Earlier this week, my pal Brett Kelly posted his workflow for saving expense receipts to Evernote. This struck a cord for me because I too use Evernote to manage all my receipts and I keep a notebook with all potentially tax-deductible expenses that I go through when preparing my taxes. I downloaded Brett’s workflow and modified it a bit so it would better fit my needs. Before you read about my changes, you should first read about Brett’s workflow and how it works

I updated the expense category list to better suit my needs and instead of using this variable for the name of my note, it became a tag. You could do either, but this better fits into the way I use Evernote.

I use a uniform naming convention when naming my notes that includes the date as the first part of the note title (See this article from David Sparks for more insight). So I created a step in the Workflow to get today’s date, format it using my preferred naming convention and insert this as a variable into the note’s name. This way every note will start with the date the image was taken (which can be adjusted later if needed) in the YYYY.MM.DD format.

Speaking of formatting dates, I have notebooks titled "Tax Receipts YYYY" for every year dating back the last few  years. Because I'm currently working on my 2014 taxes while saving items in to my 2015 Tax Receipts folder there are several times of the year when I have multiple folders active. I want to make sure my note is saved in the proper folder, and I don't want to forget to update my workflow when the new year rolls around. So I created another step to get the current year, save it as a variable named "Year". I then add that Variable to the end of the notebook name "Tax Receipts". This means Workflow always saves my receipt to the proper notebook and I don't have to worry about updating my workflow when the new year rolls around.

 I prefer to have a bit more description in my titles for the receipt, so I have Workflow prompt me for a description of the item which will be inserted in my note title. Therefore the final title of my note will look something like this: 2015.02.25 Business lunch with David  $25.15

Brett's action had Workflow then prompt him to take a photo of the receipt. I played around with trying to integrate Workflow with various iPhone scanning apps but was unsuccessful (if anyone can make this work let me know.) So I had to settle with using the iPhone's camera App itself, but I did want to clean up the image a bit before saving it. So I added a step to edit the image. This will allow me to crop and rotate the image as necessary to clean it up before saving the image to Evernote.

Finally, I prefer to save all my receipts as PDFs rather than images. So I dragged in the "make PDF" action after the photo action. This converts the image to a PDF before creating the note in Evernote.

If you want to download the final workflow you can do so here. Please feel free to tweak it to meet your needs.

I should also take this opportunity to mention that for my fellow Evernote fans, Brett Kelly is the man who *literally* wrote the book on Evernote. If you are still looking for ways to up your Evernote game, you should check out Evernote Essentials. Brett also joined us on an episode of MPU discussing Evernote.

242: MPU 242 – Troubleshooting with Joe Caiati | Mac Power Users

This week on Mac Power Users, David and I talk with former Apple Genius Joe Ciati about troubleshooting your Mac. We discuss removing adware, explain Activity Monitor and Console, how to diagnose hardware and software problems and when you can attempt to fix something yourself and when its time to call a pro.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

241: iCloud in 2015 | Mac Power Users

This week on Mac Power Users, David and I dive deep into the state of iCloud in 2015. We talk about the various services, where you should trust it, where you should take a pass, how it integrates with other services and peek at the new Photos.app.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

BusyContacts 1.0 is released

BusyMac, the makers of my beloved BusyCal has introduces v 1.0 of BusyContacts. As we’ve discussed on Mac Power Users, managing contacts can be difficult and OS X’s Contact.app is by no means a tool for power users. When I learned last year at Macworld/iWorld that BusyMac was jumping into contact management, I was ecstatic. 

From BusyMac: 

Here are some of the great features you'll find in BusyContacts:

  • Customizable Views — View contacts in a single-column Card View or multi-column List View.
  • Tags — Tags can be used for grouping, filtering and coloring contacts.
  • Smart Filters — Smart Filters are a powerful tool for filtering contacts, creating saved searches, and even applying custom view settings in the List View.
  • BusyCal integration — BusyContacts integrates with BusyCal by linking contacts to events in your calendar, providing flexible CRM capabilities for tracking past and future activities.
  • Activity List — The Activity List displays activities associated with the selected contact including calendar events, emails, messages, and recent social network posts.
  • Social network integration — BusyContacts syncs with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, combining contact information from each of these sources into a unified contact view.
  • Syncing — BusyContacts syncs with the built-in Contacts app on OS X and iOS through all leading cloud services including iCloud, Google, Exchange, and other CardDAV servers.
  • Sharing — BusyContacts allows you to share address books with read-only or read/write privileges through Exchange, Fruux, LAN, and other CardDAV servers.

I’ve been in on the BusyContacts beta and using it as my primary contacts manager for the past several months and I’ve been very happy. While I’m generally not a user of tags, I’ve already found them invaluable for contacts. I have tags set up for contacts for various organizations and groups as well as tags devoted to events. When I need to email someone associated with a certain group or event, I simply search by tag. I’ve also started tagging attorney contacts based on their area of practice, so when I need to find someone who focuses in a certain area, it’s a simple search.

BusyContacts has also been rock solid in syncing. Unfortunately since my office switched to Exchange 365 I’ve had a range of odd problems related to missing and duplicate contacts with Contacts.app. None of those problems have occurred with BusyContacts.

BusyContacts is available now for $49.99 and there’s a 30 day free trial. There is also a BusyCal + BusyContacts bundle for $79.98 as well as discount pricing for owners of BusyCal.

Disclosure: BusyMac has been a sponsor of Mac Power Users

240: MPU Live: Auto-Magically, with Kenny G | Mac Power Users

Last weekend was the first Saturday of the month which means it was time for MPU Live, a bonus episode of Mac Power users featuring feedback, tips and workflows from our listeners. In this episode David and I talk with Bonni Stachowiak, a professor at Vanguard University about providing better feedback, they also follow-up with listener comments about financial management apps, clarify FileVault, share their thoughts on antivirus, discuss upgrading your Mac with an SSD and share listener tips and tricks.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

239: Workflows with Adam Christianson | Mac Power Users

This week on Mac Power Users, David and I are joined by Adam Christianson. Adam is a long time friend and generally regarded as one of the first Mac podcasters. We talk about his history with Apple, life as a programer, experiences through the years podcasting and Mac User Groups.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Inquisitive Appearance on Relay.fm

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Myke Hurley for Inquisitive on Relay.fm. I’ve been a long-time fan of Inquisitive and the predecessor show, Cmd-Space, so it was a thrill to be invited.

Myke and I spoke about how I grew up with the Mac, how I came to ultimately pursue a career in Law, not computers, and the origin story of Mac Power Users. 

You can find the show on the Relay.fm site.

238: The Magic 20: 10 Apps and 10 Utilities For Your Mac | Mac Power Users

The question (or variation thereof) that I’m asked more than any other is to provide a list of apps for someone looking to become more productive on their Mac or iOS. I’ve published a list of my Favorite Things on this website which includes many apps, but finally David and I have published a podcast that addresses this very subject, at least for the Mac.

In the latest episode of Mac Power Users, we run down our top ten Mac apps for Mac Power Users and as a bonus, throw in our ten favorite utilities. I think this one will quickly become a MPU classic.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Screencasts Online Monthly Magazine: Simplifying Email

This month’s issue of ScreenCasts Online Monthly Magazine is now available in Apple’s Newsstand App. In the February issue you’ll find an article from me about simplifying email. 

The monthly magazine is packed with streamable versions of Don’s excellent video tutorials as well as articles, reviews and tips from authors including David SparksAllison SheridanWally Cherwinski and more. The magazine is free for ScreenCasts online Premium Members or available as a separate subscription or you can pickup individual issues. You can download it in the AppStore or find more info at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/

My Experiment with the Varidesk Standing Desk

I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual at a desk recently. For my day job, I spend most of my day sitting at a computer or hunched over reading. This fall I started a Masters program and in addition to spending about 10 hours a week sitting at a desk in a classroom, I’m now spending what once was free time hunched over a desk in study. After a couple of months, I’ve noticed these extra hours at the desk were starting to catch up with me in some pretty negative ways. So, I set out to try to correct my course before things went too far down the path.

Standing desks seems to be all the rage these days among the tech crowd, and for good reasons. There’s a growing body of research to suggest that sitting all day is one of the worst things you can do for your health. Several friends have bought standing desks or even treadmill desks. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and if a standing desk solution was right for me.

My desk pre-Varidesk

My desk pre-Varidesk

I work in a fairly traditional (read “stuffy”) office environment, so I’m somewhat limited in my options. I have an executive style desk and matching furniture so switching out my desk wasn’t an option. I also regularly meet with clients in my office so I needed something that was conservative in appearance. Finally, I wanted something that would switch from standing to sitting fairly easily. 

Finding a solution that would meet these requirements was no easy task. After some research, and consulting Twitter, I settled on the Varidesk. Varidesk is an adjustable desk riser that sits on top of an existing desk and allows you to switch from a seated to standing position by simply pressing levers on the side of the desk and raising or lowing the work surface. The Varidesk comes fully assembled and (with a little help form a friend) can setup fairly quickly. There are a number of different sizes to accommodate various size workstations. A 30’ “Single” is designed to work with a single computer or monitor while “Pro” and “Pro Plus” configurations are wider for multiple computer or monitor setups.

Since I use a Mac mini at the office with a single 24“ monitor, I selected the $325 ”Single Plus" model workstation which includes a recessed keyboard tray. Overall the Varidesk worked just as advertised, and raising and lowering the desk from the sitting to standing position was easy. I was also impressed by how sturdy the Varidesk was. At times, I found myself leaning on the extended Varidesk, and it did not waiver. Not once was I concerned that my computer or monitor would fall or was in danger.

Varidesk extended

Varidesk extended

In my time with the Varidesk, I found that I liked standing and working for many activities. More mundane tasks like responding to email, web research, and drafting simple letters were no problem. However, when it came to thought intensive-activities or activities that required referencing files, books, or other material I had on my desk or more serious thought, I found myself wanting to return back to my standard desk level. Part of the problem may have been the limited size of the Varidesk allowed me to only raise my computer workstation, and not my entire desk surface. This meant I couldn’t bring supplemental material to standing height with me.

Cable management was at times problematic, and on several occasions when I first started using the Varidesk I would inadvertently unplug my computer or monitor when adjusting it from the sitting to standing position. It took me a few days of experimentation, adjusting, and tying off cables. While I was able to solve the problem of cables becoming detached, that didn’t necessarily solve the problem of cable clutter. The pristine cable-free product photos don’t do a real office justice. The reality is when the desk was fully extended I had a half dozen or more cables that were dangling behind the now extended desk.

Side view of the extended Varidesk

Side view of the extended Varidesk

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Varidesk, and the one that ultimately lead to its return, was its overall size. While the Varidesk’s site provided dimensions, I really didn’t appreciate just how large the workstation was until it was sitting on my desk. To their credit, Varidesk has added additional product photos and dimensions to their site to give potential buyers a better idea of the overall size. While the Varidesk will no doubt fit on most desks and workspaces, when it is fully extended the overall reach of the Varidesk is significant. The Single Plus model extends outwards 41 3/4“ (just over a meter). Even when flat, the Varidesk will lift the work surface of the desk 4 1/2” (11.43 centimeters) which means you may no longer be able to use the space for other activities such as writing or reading.

Varidesk sitting flat on my desk.

Varidesk sitting flat on my desk.

After spending just shy of 30 days with the Varidesk, I learned that I liked the idea of a standing desk, but that this particular model standing desk simply wasn’t for me. I called up Varidesk and they processed my return, no questions asked, paid for the return shipping, and refunded my full purchase price including shipping. (I did save the original shipping package which made things easier.) 

I would be willing to try experimenting with a standing desk solution again. During my time with the Varidesk, I learned that generally, I enjoyed standing and found the more I stood, the more comfortable I was with the idea of standing and working. However, I’ve learned that I was probably unrealistic with my expectations in finding a standing desk solution that did not require me to compromise or adjust my current setup. and I may need to be willing to adjust. This may mean changing my office configuration and swapping out some of my existing furniture to accommodate a true adjustable height desk for my computer workstation to accompany a more formal desk for taking meetings. 

I enjoyed my time with the Varidesk and while it wasn’t the solution for me, I think it’s a fine product for the right circumstances and it has persuaded me to continue to search for the right standing desk solution for my workspace.

This article first appeared in the December, 2014 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/