Boogie Board Sync: An Awesome Research and Writing Tool for Historians

BOOGIE-BOARD-Sync-9-7-eWriter-Zwart-en-OranjeAre you an historian who would like to go paperless, but can’t quite seem to kick your pen and paper habit? If so, you should check out and try Boogie Board Sync. This tablet captures handwritten notes or drawings and wirelessly transfers them to your smartphone or Evernote account.

In this post, you will discover Boogie Board Sync, a writing tool that has increased my productivity and helped me to go almost paperless.


Boogie Board Sync


[simpleazon-link asin="B00E8CIGCA" locale="us"]Boogie Board Sync[/simpleazon-link] is a tablet device that functions as a notebook.

This lightweight tablet comes with a stylus that feels good to write with. It has internal memory that will save around 200 written pages before you need to sync it with your computer or Evernote account. All notes save and transfer as PDF files.


Field Test Review

boogie-board-syncI have been using my boogie board since February. I use it to take notes at meetings, when I am reading, and when I am doing some quick research.

I am one of those historians who desperately wants to be paperless, but cannot rid myself of pen and paper because I retain information best when I write it down. I have tried using a stylus with my iPad, but this practice never felt natural; it lacked the feel and sound of pen and paper writing. Boogie Board feels different and better to me.

The Boogie Board stylus has a weight similar to my Pilot Precise V5 pens (my pen of choice), writes with a fine nib, and when placed on the Boogie Board screen, it has the familiar resistance and sound of putting pen to paper. Writing on Boogie Board feels natural.

To date I have saved just over 200 paper pages by taking notes on my boogie board. The pages sync to my designated Evernote folder through a bluetooth connection with my smartphone.

Major Plus: I have found that if I print my notes, as opposed to writing them in my script, Evernote can search them when I perform a keyword search.



I love my Boogie Board Sync, but the device does have three downsides:

1. You cannot erase within your note.

With the exception of a full-page erase option, the Boogie Board stylus cannot erase a written mistake. If you make a mistake when you write your note, just like pen and paper, you must cross out your mistake and move on.


4b005262ffd6391b6b20299ebe70eb052. You cannot gather like notes into a single PDF file from Boogie Board.

Each page of notes saves as a single page. Sometimes I will take multiple pages of notes on a single book or subject. All of these pages sync individually to Evernote. If I want to save these pages as the one document they comprise, I use my DocScanner app to consolidate them. This adds an extra step to my organization process.


3. You need the case.

If you intend to travel with your Boogie Board in your backpack or briefcase, you will need to purchase the [simpleazon-link asin="B00G41F2LQ" locale="us"]folio case[/simpleazon-link]. The screen marks up easily when jostled among items in your bag. The case adds an additional $20 to the $85-$95 price tag of the Boogie Board.



If you desire to be paperless and keep your pen and paper writing habit, then [simpleazon-link asin="B00E8CIGCA" locale="us"]Boogie Board[/simpleazon-link] is a fantastic tool.


Share Your Story

What awesome tool are you using that has helped you with your research and writing?  


Increase Your Productivity with Pocket

Pocket Ap BannerLate last year I downloaded Pocket, an app that allows you to save online articles, blog posts, and videos for later. It has quickly become my favorite app and productivity tool.

In this post you will discover why I love Pocket and how it has increased my productivity.


2 Problems Solved by Pocket

Pocket helped me solve 2 problems.

1. Every day I want to read more web-based content than I have time for.

Pocket helps me read more of this content by capturing and saving it for later.


2. Pocket has helped me turn idle moments into productive periods.

I used to get frustrated every time I had to wait more than a few minutes for the T (subway), bus, a cashier, or for the Celtics to play better basketball.

Now I pass these moments productively.

I take out my smartphone, click on Pocket, and feed my mind with the interesting articles I have saved.

The best part: I can read my articles without an internet connection.


Pocket-Web-Browser-ExtensionPocket and Your Web Browser

Pocket is seamless to use.

Using Pocket's web browser extensions you can save the content in your browser with the click of a button.


Pocket and Feedly

FeedlyFeedly has a Pocket extension in its user interface.

The Feedly Pocket extension allows you to save blog posts right from Feedly.

Often the Feedly Pocket plugin will save you from having to go to the actual blog post to save the article.

Unfortunately, the Feedly Pocket button doesn't always work well.

If a blogger shortens their post, Feedly's Pocket extension will save only the content you see in your Feedly browser. If you want Pocket to save the whole article, you have to click on the article title in Feedly and save the article to Pocket from the blog webpage.


TweetbotPocket and Twitter

Pocket also has extensions for popular Twitter apps. (I use Tweetbot.)

People circulate a lot of great content on Twitter.

Each time you see a tweet with an link to an interesting article, you can click the appropriate button or tab and save the article to Pocket.

You can also tweet an article you like or save it to Buffer right from Pocket .


EvernotePocket and Evernote

If all of those features weren't enough to make you fall in love with Pocket, here's one more that may send you over the edge: Evernote integration.

Pocket allows you to archive articles you like in a personal archive. However, you may prefer to keep all of your favorite articles and reference materials in Evernote.

Pocket gives you that flexibility from their mobile apps. (You need to use Evernote Web Clipper to save a good article from the Pocket web app.)

In fact, Pocket allows you to choose which Evernote notebook and tags you would like to file the article in and with.


The Thinker by RodinConclusion

If you want to turn idle time into productive reading (or video viewing) time, try Pocket.

Not only will the app increase your productivity, it will do so for free.


What Do You Think?

What is your favorite app? Why do you love it?


Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: An Overview

Time management lessonWould you like to know how to better manage your time, writing, and research projects? A reader who took my reader survey asked me to explain how I manage my time, writing, and research projects. So by reader request, this 2-post series will broadly explain how I use the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of organization and project management.


Getting Things Done

The main idea behind GTD is that you need to free your mind of anything that draws your attention away from what you need to do. The easiest way to free your mind is to set aside time to brain dump on a piece of paper, in an Evernote note, Word Doc, or a GTD-optimized app such as OmniFocus, IQTELL, Asana, or Todoist.


Initial Organization: Brain Dump & Action Steps

BrainstormList every project you need to complete and everything that is weighing on your mind.

Do not limit yourself to work related-ideas, write down everything weighing on your mind.

When you have finished writing down all of your to-dos and ideas, look over your list.

Your list may look like a mishmash of words: “Elkanah Watson,” “pharmacy,” “speed read.”

Turn this jumble into actionable steps by adding verbs to the items on your list: “Write article about Elkanah Watson,” “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy,” “Learn to speed read.”

Adding the verb is important because it transforms your mental note into a defined action you can take; verbs turn to-do lists into action lists.

Next, sort your action steps into projects and single-action items.

Single-Action Item: “Pick up prescription at the pharmacy.” I need to go to the pharmacy once to complete the task.

Projects: “Write article about Elkanah Watson” and “Learn to speed read.” These items are projects because I must complete smaller tasks before I finish these larger tasks.

For example, my action steps for “Write article about Elkanah Watson” may include: • “Read Flick Dissertation about Watson” • “Consult Watson’s Men and Times of the Revolution” • “Brainstorm what aspect of Watson’s life to write about” • “Draft outline of article” • “Draft article” • “Edit article” • “Submit final article to Journal of the American Revolution.”

All of these steps will help me complete the larger project, “Write article about Elkanah Watson.”

Take the time to brainstorm the actions steps you need to complete each larger project on your list. It will likely take you several hours to brain dump, organize your single-action steps and projects, and create action steps for each of your projects, but it will be time well spent.


Getting-Things-Done-FileWork vs. Personal Lists

If it will help you stay organized, you can further organize your projects into 4 different lists: Work, Personal, Work: Someday/Maybe, Personal: Someday/Maybe.

Place your work-related projects on your work list and your personal projects on your personal list. The Someday/Maybe” lists are all the items that you wish to accomplish in the future. They could be places you would like to travel to, skills or languages you would like to learn, topics you would like to write about.


Keeping Your Mind Focused

Aside from your action-step lists, GTD has 2 other important parts that you need to manage your projects and keep your mind focused: 1. Write down every idea that comes to you and store them in an “inbox-type” folder (physical or electronic) and 2. Frequent Reviews.



In order to keep your mind focused it must be free from distraction. Every time you have a thought that springs into your mind you need to write it down and store it in a place where you know you will not lose it. This action will give your subconscious the security it needs to let go of the distracting thought.

A trusted place can be a notebook you carry with you, an Evernote notebook, or a note taking or project management app on your smartphone. The trusted place should also be something that you have ready access to whenever you need it. I use Omnifocus on my smartphone as my trusted inbox.



Reviews are reminders. They keep your mind focused on the tasks and projects you need to complete by giving your brain the peace of mind it needs to focus. Reviews involve looking over each project on your work and personal lists and reviewing the action steps for each project. Reviews help you stay on top of what you need to/want to do so you do not forget.

By reviewing your project lists and inbox every so often, your mind will be able to focus on the projects you need to get done because it won’t have to waste time trying to remember everything that you need/want to do.



Reviews are essential to getting and staying organized and focused. Since they play such a vital role in how I manage my projects, I will devote tomorrow’s post to how I conduct my reviews.


Did You Know?

Did you know that you can now sign-up to receive Uncommonplace Book posts via e-mail?

Never miss another post or special series such as this one that features an extra post. Subscribe using the subscribe box on the right-hand side of this post.

Stay Tuned  for “Project Management with the Getting Things Done Method: Reviews.”


Work Flow: How I Organize My Research and Writing

On Friday September 27, from 10:30am to 1:30pm, I will teach an interactive course at Grub Street called “How to Organize Your Writing, Ideas, and Research.” This seminar will show writers how they can use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to better manage their ideas and research. Preparing for this seminar has caused me to think about how I use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to organize my research and writing.


My Work Flow


Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool that helps researchers collect, organize, cite, and share their research.

In 2006, I started using Zotero as a bibliographic and citation tool, and as an organizational database for my dissertation research. I liked the fact that Zotero was free and that it was less tedious than the notecard system my advisor had introduced me to. I also liked that Zotero made my research portable via my laptop and searchable with tags and keywords.

Zotero served me well for my dissertation. It helped me organize my data, collect bibliographic information from the web, format my footnotes into the Chicago Manual of Style, and generate a bibliography.

However by 2011, I found that I wanted a more powerful program. Zotero became slow and ‘clunky’ to use as my database surpassed 16,000 entries.



In 2010, I began using Evernote in conjunction with Zotero.

I use Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. In fact, I got rid of 5 physical filing cabinets by scanning my records and filing them into Evernote. Evernote is where I keep all of my journal articles, manuscript photocopies, teaching materials, notes from various projects, seminar and conference notes, and my research notebook. I also use Evernote to organize my household records.

The Evernote app for my smartphone allows me to take my filing cabinet with me wherever I go. The ability to carry my filing cabinet with me has been immensely useful. Not only can I look up an article on-the-go, but I can also immediately record any ideas I have or research leads I find into Evernote.

I believe Evernote is the “Goldilocks” of organizational tools. Users can electronically store their research materials and find what they need with a click of a tag or a keyword search. Evernote’s new enhanced OCR search can even locate some handwritten documents.

Despite its great capabilities, I have not been able to wrap my head around the idea of using Evernote as my research database. Part of the reason for that is that I need a database that allows me to manipulate my notes to appear chronologically or by topic.

After reading rave reviews about DEVONthink on the web and in the AHA’s Perspectives early last year, I started to play with DEVONthink Pro.


DEVONthinkDEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink manages information. The program archives e-mails, PDFs, scanned documents, MS Word documents, PowerPoint slides, iWork files, and websites.

I started using DEVONthink in February 2013. I find that it excels as a large database. I use Smart Folders to manipulate my notes so I can view them any way I need to.

DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence feature helps me write. When I look up a note or document transcription, the A.I. feature recommends other records with like content that I have stored in the database. (Recently, Evernote added a “Related Notes” feature at the bottom of its notes that performs a similar function).

Also, DEVONthink is fast. DEVONthink searches faster than Evernote because it is based on my hard drive. Although I could use DEVONthink as a digital filing cabinet, I don’t because it lacks the portability of Evernote.


Summary of Work Flow

Presently, I employ all three programs to organize my research and writing. I use Zotero for bibliographies and citations, Evernote as my filing cabinet, and DEVONthink as my research database. My method may seem cumbersome, but my brain likes knowing that my research is separate from everything else. Moreover, by the time Evernote came out with its “Related Notes” feature and OCR search capabilities, I had already paid for and started to use DEVONthink.


What Do You Think?

What does your work flow look like? What software do you use to organize your research and writing?


Read Faster: How Amazon Kindle Makes Research More Efficient

kindleRecently, I posted how Evernote has modified the way I work as a historian. The Kindle Touch also has changed the way I work for the better. Amazon Kindle helps me read faster and more efficiently with its my clippings feature. For reading, I find my Kindle better than my iPad because it is lightweight, easy to hold, and easier on my eyes. I am also a big fan of Kindle's "My Clippings" feature, which Amazon does not include in the Kindle app.

As with the Kindle app, the Kindle device allows you to make notes and highlight text.

To highlight text on the Kindle Touch you briefly hold your finger on the word that starts the passage you want to highlight and then trace your finger to the final word of the excerpt.

When you lift your finger off the device the software asks you whether you want to highlight the text or add a note.

If you press the "add note" button the Kindle gives you a blank note bubble where you can write down your thoughts on the passage.

Unlike the Kindle app, the Kindle device adds all of your highlighted text and notes to a file called "My Clippings," which you can access via the home screen or from your PC or Mac. The fact that you can download and modify this file on your computer represents the best part about the Kindle because it is can be a HUGE time saver.

I use a pencil to bracket passages and make margin notes when I read a book.

After I am done reading, I spend a lot of time transcribing these important passages and notes into Zotero or Evernote.

The "My Clippings" feature saves me a lot of time. When I finish reading a book on my Kindle, I load the "My Clippings" file onto my computer and then cut and paste my note and passages into Zotero or Evernote.

Although I love my Kindle, it does not always make my work easier.

Not all of the books I want/need to read have page numbers associated with them.

This presents a problem in that I have to look up the passages I highlighted in the actual book in order to properly cite them. Sometimes this process cancels out the time I saved by downloading the "My Clippings" file. As I have yet to find a way around this problem, I sometimes have to decide whether or not it might be better to purchase the hard copy of the book over its eBook version. My decision usually comes down to the weight and size of the book and the price difference between the two formats.

With that said, the Kindle has increased my productivity.

I read more with Kindle. Whenever I go out I slip my Kindle into my purse, briefcase, or backpack so that I have it when I sit in waiting rooms, travel, or find myself with a free moment. If the eBook has page numbers I also save a lot of time using the "My Clippings" feature to keep track of and transfer my notes into my research files.