How to Use Evernote and Workflow to Build a Book List – Fast
I don’t know if it’s something about my face or the way I use the Internet, but it seems I can’t go more than a few minutes without having a book recommended to me.
Sometimes it’s a casual, off-hand mention by somebody who read a book once that’s somewhat related to the current discussion (and the person citing it couldn’t care less if I went on to read it or not). Maybe it’s one of those year-end blog posts where the writer outlines their 65 favorite books they read that year. Or maybe it’s an impassioned plea from either friend or stranger:
“If you only read one book ever for the rest of your life, it absolutely must be [whatever book they’re talking about]!”
Either way, yeah. Book recommendations. Oodles of them. And much of the time, I think that, yes, based on what this person is saying, I might enjoy reading that book they’re talking about.
But unless you’re really on top of things (spoiler: I’m not), most of these notions disappear into the nether of your mind about eight seconds after they appear and you will likely die having never read the book.
I wanted a system, kids; a low-friction way to capture and evaluate book recommendations. From there, we build a book queue: a list of books we want to read, ideally in the order we want to read them. Then, when it comes time to start a new book, I’ve already got a curated list from which to choose it.
It won’t surprise you that Evernote works great for things like this.
Starting is easy enough: create a new note in Evernote called “Book Queue” (or “Book List” or “I love waffles” — doesn’t matter, really). That’s where your list of books will live.
Since it’s Evernote, you’ll be able to read and update your book list no matter where you are. It’s fancy stuff and a big part of what makes Evernote so frickin’ cool.
But updating your book queue can be a bit tedious, especially on a mobile device:
- Copy the name of the book
- Look it up on Amazon and make sure it’s available
- Copy the link to the Amazon product page for the book
- Open your book queue in Evernote and paste the title and Amazon link
The link is important if you’re a Kindle lover like me. I want to have the Amazon URL of the book so I can just tap, buy, download, and start reading. Quick and easy. Still, that’s a lot of steps.
Luckily, I’ve found a way to remove all of the cumber from this process using a fancy new iOS app called Workflow. If I’m looking at an Amazon book page, I just tap the “Box Arrow Do Stuff” button at the bottom of the screen:
Workflow installs a “Run Workflow” menu item that lets me—you guessed it—run a workflow without leaving the current app (Mobile Safari, in this case):
From there, I run my “Save Book” workflow:
The workflow (which you can grab here) performs the following steps:
- Create a variable called
urland set the value to the current page’s URL.
- Download the contents of
urland grab the page’s title, then set a variable called
- Attempt to remove some cruft from the page title; all I want is the name of the book, so I remove words like “Amazon” and “Kindle.” This doesn’t work perfectly, but it does the job well enough.
- Create a simple Markdown link using the page URL and book title:
[ptitle](url). I then convert it to rich text (giving me the title of the book linked to the Amazon page).
- Append the rich text link to the end of my Book Queue note in Evernote.
It works like a charm:
If you already have Workflow on your iPhone or iPad, you can download the Workflow straight into the app (though, you’ll probably want to change the name of the Evernote notebook where your book list lives — it’s the last action in the workflow).
If you don’t already have Workflow installed, it’s a mind-blowing app. No joke, I haven’t been this excited about or impressed by an app in a good long while. Totally worth grabbing.
(Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn)