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How I use Evernote to support my sketchnoting practice

Posted: - Modified: | process

I’ve drawn many sketchnotes, which are real-time visual summaries of presentations or other sources of information. I often need to find a particular sketchnote or set of sketchnotes. For example, if someone’s curious about a book, I like being able to send them my sketchnote of it. If I’m convincing a conference to hire me for sketchnotes, it helps to pull up sketchnotes on similar topics. I also like browsing through sketchnotes and illustrations (both mine and other people’s) for inspiration.

Organizing my sketches

After drawing my sketchnotes using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and saving them as PNGs, I use a right-click shortcut to send them to Evernote. This adds them to the !Inbox notebook that I set up. Then I move them to the !Sketchnotes by Sacha Chua notebook, which I share publicly at . The ! at the beginning of the notebook names makes sure that they get sorted near the top of my list of notebooks.

This is what a sketchnote looks like in my Evernote notebook:


I tag my sketchnotes with various keywords to help me find things again. For example, I tagged my recent FITC sketchnotes with fitc, fitcto, conference, fitcto13, and design. I sketchnoted a panel, so I tagged that one with panel too. I like keeping track of the tool I used to create sketchnotes (I sometimes need to search to find examples), so I tagged these with x220t as well. Selecting multiple notes makes it easy to add or remove tags.


Then I can use tag:____ searches to find collections of sketchnotes, and I can right-click on the set and export the attachments to a directory if needed.


Because most of my sketchnotes are published on the Web (either on or at, I usually use Google to find my sketches if I remember keywords from the title. This has the benefit of being immediately shareable with people, too. For example, I might search for sacha chua sketchnote handbook to find my visual book review of Mike Rohde’s sketchnoting primer.

If I need to look for something within the body of the sketchnote or if I’m searching while not connected to the Internet, that’s when I take advantage of Evernote’s offline synchronization and image search. Evernote has some nifty optical character recognition that lets you find text (even handwritten text!) inside images. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. I’ve shifted from writing script to printing my letters in order to make it more legible, and that helps the search as well.

This is how awesome it is. I can search for “science” and it will highlight the hand-written text inside my image. Again, it doesn’t always match up, but it’s pretty awesome!


Building my visual vocabulary

I want to get better at drawing concepts in different ways. I started building a visual dictionary by drawing concepts on index cards, but it was difficult to flip through and handling concepts with different keywords was challenging. Evernote makes a great platform for building your own visual dictionary. I use Greenshot to capture sketches and snippets from the images I’ve drawn or the ones I’ve come across on the Web. I configured Greenshot to save all the images to a directory. I periodically import all those images into Evernote and rename the notes based on the keywords I think I’ll use to find them again. I merge similar items, too.

I browse through this visual library occasionally, and I also use it to look up specific concepts that I want to challenge myself to draw more creatively. I like looking at different ways people have drawn things. Here’s an example for “Twitter:”


Getting inspired

I clip other people’s sketchnotes and illustrations into another notebook for inspiration so that I can learn more about layouts, colour schemes, and great ideas for visual expression. Here’s a sample from my Inspiration notebook:


The Evernote Web Clipper is super-helpful. When I browse the Web, I use it to clip images, pages, or PDFs. The clipper links the note back to the original page, so I can easily go back and view things in context.

How this influences my style

Knowing that my notes are going to be shared and indexed by Evernote influences the way I draw. As mentioned, I tend to print my letters instead of writing in cursive. I also draw roughly horizontal text with good contrast and without too much going on in the background. This makes it less ornate than other sketchnoters’ styles, but people appreciate the clarity, so it works out. It’s a little odd drawing for people and computers, but it’s useful and worth it!

Other thoughts

I started off with a free Evernote account (60MB monthly upload), but I found that the premium version (USD 45/year) worked really well for me in terms of offline synchronization and increased upload size. I’ve approached the 1 GB limit only once. =)

I’d love better ways to randomly browse through my Evernote collection, which would be great for jogging memory. I also want to be able to flip through the notes quickly, like with a 5-minute slideshow. (Similar to rapid serial visual presentation, perhaps?) I may just have to sit down and code these things myself. I’d like to visualize my notes, too, and someday build more integration for Emacs or Freemind/XMind. (Currently waiting for Evernote to support out-of-band authentication.) Filing and tagging could be better with more quick shortcuts, and more keyboard shortcuts in general would be nice, too. Much room to grow!

You can find Evernote at , and you can use it over the Web, on computers, and on and most smartphones. =) It rocks. Also, if you’re curious about having me do sketchnotes for conferences, presentations, books, blog posts, etc., check out . Hope these tips help!

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Reflections on sketchnoting TEDxOCADU

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, kaizen, process

I sketchnoted TEDxOCADU live, and my new workflow is working out well. I’ve been moving more of my sketchnotes over to – do folks still want to see them here? Might be handy. Anyway, I like reflecting on what worked well and what I can do even better, so this blog is still the best place for that.

For TEDxOCADU, here were my experiments:

Set up all the layers and saved them as placeholder PNGs beforehand so that I didn’t have to type in filenames or look up speaker names.

  • Sketched during the dress rehearsal, and reused many of my images during the actual conference: great for knowing where people are going, although I still stuck with fairly regular layout.
  • Used Dropbox to get the Twitter links, copied the URLs, and set up my list of hashtagged and linked tweets using ClipMate: great for tweeting things on the fly with just my laptop
  • Set up a gallery page for updating throughout the day
  • Set up a link to track clicks for my gallery page
  • Double-checked WiFi access: so much better than tethering through my phone
  • Followed up with social media / web person in case they needed help getting the images up on the official site
  • Eventually remembered to set up Google Analytics on – added this to the checklist of things to do when spinning up a website…

Here are some things I can tweak next:

  • Add more images to my ClipMate library
  • Have a smoother delegation workflow so that I can get my sketchnotes typed in
  • Figure out how to integrate text into the gallery view; maybe project-sketchnote relationship?
  • More graphics! More! More!
  • Don’t forget to have Archivist or some other Twitter archiver running in the background
  • Consider Tweetreach or some other Twitter analytics report?
  • Set up tracking links for each image, too, or always send people to the gallery page
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My digital sketchnoting workflow

Posted: - Modified: | process, sketchnotes

2013/07/29: Update: Watch the episode or read the transcript!

Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook (see my sketchnotes of it) focuses on pen-and-paper sketchnoting. I really enjoy digital sketchnoting, although there’s a bit more of a barrier to entry in terms of hardware. I’ve figured out a pretty sweet workflow for live-publishing conference/event sketchnotes so that you can catch people while they’re looking at the Twitter hashtag. Mike and I will be talking about digital workflows and tips for one of his podcasts, and I wanted to sketch my thoughts/talking points in preparation.

Click on the image for a larger version of the sketchnote.

20121212 My digital sketchnoting workflow

Not specifically mentioned there because it’s more of a blogging setup, but WordPress + NextGen Gallery + Windows Live Writer + Text Templates plugin = great.

Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.

Like this? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes. Want me to sketchnote your event? Know of any interesting tech / business talks coming up? I’d love to hear from you!

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Tweaking my scheduling process for delegation

Posted: - Modified: | delegation, process

Scheduling stresses me out. I’ve had several calendar hiccups before: wrong dates, ambiguous locations, no contact information (or incorrect ones!), and so on. I want to fix that so that I can get better at meeting people and following up.

What would success look like? I think it would be awesome to get to the point where I can easily set lunches, coffees, and calls with people. This is how that process might look like:

  1. I bump into people in person or get an email from them. If I meet them in person, I scan in or take a picture of their business card and add it to my file.
  2. I introduce my assistant through e-mail and ask him/her to schedule lunch/coffee/a call. I use an e-mail template on my computer or a snippet on my phone to make sure that I include all the information necessary. My assistant also refers to a note with my preferences and processes.
  3. My assistant contacts the person and negotiates schedule / location using or manual scheduling through e-mail, following up in case people don’t respond. If possible, we’ll suggest a venue with good WiFi near the person’s office or location. He or she would create a calendar entry for the meeting as well as travel/preparation time around it.
  4. We have a task board where I could see where people are in the process, so I can be sure that nothing slips through the cracks. My assistant updates it, and we review it periodically.

It’s important to me that the process doesn’t make people feel like I’m standoffish or self-important. I also want to make sure that we don’t drop the ball even if I change assistants or take tasks back, so I want to use something like Trello to track scheduling status.

Here are some templates that I’m thinking of using:

Sample e-mail introducing the assistant and asking her to set things up

Hello, John!

I’d love to meet with you for lunch to discuss sketchnoting – my treat. Criselda (cc’d here) will be helping us set up something that works with your schedule. Criselda: Could you please organize lunch for maybe the second week of December? Thank you!

Sacha Chua

Sample e-mail from assistant

Hello, John!

I’m Criselda, and I’m looking forward to helping you and Sacha get together for a great conversation about sketchnotes. For lunch, would either Dec 10 (Mon), Dec 11 (Tue), or Dec 13 (Thu) work for you? 12pm usually works, but she’s happy to meet earlier or later if needed. Alternatively, if none of those dates work for you, you can check her availability at or send me a few dates and times that fit your schedule.

Also, where will you be at that time? If you’ll be near your office at 123 Anywhere Street, I can find a restaurant nearby. If you’ll be elsewhere, tell me and I’ll look for somewhere close – anywhere near the subway line would be fantastic. Got a favourite? We’d love to find out about it!

What phone number would be the best to reach you at in case something comes up?

Best regards,
Criselda Hernandez

Sample calendar entry

Subject: Lunch: John / Sacha – sketchnotes
Location: Restaurant Name (123 Restaurant Address St., Toronto)
Sacha’s phone: 416-823-2669
Your phone: 123-456-7890
Restaurant website:
On Yelp:
To reschedule, please contact Criselda at ______ . Need to reschedule on the day of the event? Please call Sacha.

<agenda / notes from e-mail>

Sample confirmation

Hello, John!

This is Criselda again. I’ve set up the calendar invitation for your meeting with Sacha for 12pm on Dec 13 at Restaurant Name. Please tell me if you’re having problems adding it to your calendar. If you need to reschedule, please feel free to get in touch with me. You can check for Sacha’s updated availability. If you’re rescheduling on the same day, please call Sacha at 416-823-2669. Thank you, and I hope you have a great conversation!

Criselda Hernandez

What do you think? If I used a process like this to schedule something with you, would you feel weird about it? What would make it better? Have you delegated or are you in the process of figuring out how to delegate! I’d love to talk to you!

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Process: Keeping notes of conversations

| connecting, kaizen, process, sketches

Process - keeping notes of conversations

I’m starting to use Evernote for more of my little notes, such as the follow-up notes after conversations. I like the way it can auto-title notes based on the current calendar event, and the search can pull in business card images as well as text snippets.

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Process: Reading nonfiction books

| process, reading, sketches

Process - Reading nonfiction books

Here I resolve to use book darts more often, to review my notes more deliberately, and to try sketchnoting ideas instead of being intimidated by the task of summarizing an entire book on a single page. I’m happy with the ones I did, but they’re hard to do because they require a much closer reading! <laugh>

I like drawing about how I do things. It’s more fun than describing the process with text, and I can annotate it with opportunities for improvement.

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Thinking about a visual process library

| drawing, kaizen, process, sketches

I had a good conversation with Craig Flynn and Ian Garmaise over bowls of ramen at Kenzo. We talked about visual communication and business practices. Craig has been doing a lot of consulting and training based on Toyota management practices, and he’s interested in helping people improve their visual communication skills.

One of the tools Craig mentioned was the feedback or suggestion sheet – a single sheet of paper that describes how things currently are, how they can be improved, and other notes. The company might compile hundreds or of these sheets. A decision-maker would then review them, spending about ten seconds each to classify the suggestion as relevant, irrelevant, something to do right away, something to investigate later, and so on.

Craig talked about how his descriptions were more complicated and less elegant than the ones that his mentor made, and how he was learning to make his descriptions clearer and more visual.

Ten seconds is an interesting limit. My sketchnotes let me review meetups and books quickly (see my Evernote notebook or the slideshow on my blog). I can apply Craig’s idea to that process library I’ve been thinking of building for a while.

Process - Process review

Might be an excellent way to practice!

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