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How to Use Evernote and Workflow to Build a Book List – Fast

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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:

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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):

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From there, I run my “Save Book” workflow:

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The workflow (which you can grab here) performs the following steps:

  1. Create a variable called url and set the value to the current page’s URL.
  2. Download the contents of url and grab the page’s title, then set a variable called ptitle.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Append the rich text link to the end of my Book Queue note in Evernote.

It works like a charm:

Book_Queue_—_Evernote_Premium

 

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.

Happy reading!

(Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn)

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 25 comments
John B - December 23, 2014

Hey Brett – qq: Why wouldn’t you just use Amazon’s wish list? Just curious.

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    brett - December 23, 2014

    Good question, John. Basically, it comes down to two requirements I had for this functionality:

    1. Be able to quickly append a new book to the list from an Amazon product page (regardless of whether I’m authenticated with Amazon or not)
    2. Have access to the list with as few taps as possible

    Amazon’s wish list facility would certainly have done the job, but using the wish list presupposes that I’m logged into Amazon and that I can get back to the list super quick to grab something new.

    And, if I’m honest, it was a chance to make something fun and useful using a fun new app 🙂

    Reply
Burton - December 24, 2014

1. If it’s a kindled book, just send a sample to your Kindle. You don’t need to be logged in.
2. Whether or not it’s a kindled book, use Evernote web clipper to send it to @booklist or tag it as #booklist.

Now, this does not give you a single note, but if you need that, an occasional merge in Evernote will do that.

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Maury - December 26, 2014

I am now convinced to check out Workflow. Also, I would suspect that using Amazon wish only would skew Amazon to pester the bejesus out of me with recommendations based on my wish list. I wish to keep them out of the loop until ready to purchase.

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Brett Whistler - December 31, 2014

Brett…I’m digging the workflow! So how would I accomplish the same thing from my Mac?

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    brett - December 31, 2014

    You could probably cobble something together using AppleScript or even Keyboard Maestro. If I get time over the next few days, I’ll see if I can’t put together a version of this process for OS X.

    Reply
Mike - December 31, 2014

Have others had luck running this script? I’ve tried to run it from Chrome and Safari and it keeps crashing on the Get Name step.

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    brett - December 31, 2014

    Can you comment here with a page you’re trying to capture that’s crashing the workflow? I’ll try to update the workflow to handle more edge cases (since it doesn’t handle many at all, right now).

    Reply
AustinWhite - January 2, 2015

Works well with book links from iBooks store as well !

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DonnieLawson - January 2, 2015

Very nice!

I pay for Zapier and use IFTTT for various Evernote integrations. I should check and see if one of those apps can perform a similar function. Or maybe I should just download Workflow.

I still curse Apple under my breadth every time I have to leave the Kindle app to make a purchase…

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SarahLawn - January 7, 2015

This is so great. Love it – thank you

Inspired by this I created a workflow to photograph hand written journal pages and send them to Evernote (with a standard title/date stamp and tag etc) with one shortcut – cool 🙂
I agree that “Workflow” looks like it has heaps of potential- thank you for highlighting this app.

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JulieRichards - January 11, 2015

Hiya Brett
I’m intrigued by the Workflow app, but reading through your steps on using it left me a bit bewildered!! Any chance you could devote a blog post or newsletter to a Workflow guide for techno-dummies?

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GenevieveCrabe - January 14, 2015

Must get Workflow. Thank you for the tip!

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Gerry Robinson - January 18, 2015

Work flow for ios. Is Anyone creating a version for Android?

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João Freire - January 18, 2015

Hi,

The workflow is crashing with me also.
But I don’t think that the problem is in the workflow it self but in the app.
And that is making me more carefull using the app.

Reply
RandallMcelwain - January 18, 2015

crashes every time I run Save Book

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JohannesKarow - January 19, 2015

Crashing with me also.

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Bill - January 19, 2015

Thanks for the heads up on this app, and the nice write up, Brett. Good work!

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RobinYelverton - January 19, 2015

Ok. I’m diving in and trying workflow. It’s sounds great so I’m giving it a try. Hope it’s as great as it looks.
Thanks for the info!

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EllenSweeney - January 19, 2015

I can’t get the workflow to process either. I keep getting a message that says. “Could not find any Evernote notes with the specified criteria”. I created the note title and the notebook. Would love to get this working! Any Suggestions.

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EllenSweeney - January 21, 2015

Evernote updated their app and now the Save Book workflow is working fine. Thanks Brett!

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SeanOliver - January 21, 2015

Spaces and special characters in the note or notebook name seem to break the workflow.

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Rebecca - February 1, 2015

Can’t get this to work. Have created a note in archive called Book Queue. Added those details to the workflow itself. It runs but nothing is added to the note in Evernote. Not sure where it is going wrong. Any ideas?

Reply
    brett - February 9, 2015

    Make sure the Archive notebook already exists in your account (and that it’s cased properly; “archive” v. “Archive” etc.).

    Reply
Alice Johnson - February 7, 2015

Very cool! I had downloaded workflow when it first came out, but it wqs limited in what it could do. As a booklover and a geek who also loves Evernote, this workflow is great! Works for me just fine, though I am getting some extraneous characters in the text it saves to EN, so need to see if I can get Workflow to make it cleaner.

Reply

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