Automate your Note Taker HD filing with Hazel

2 Sep 2012

My two previous posts have covered automating actions on files with Hazel and taking notes with the Note Taker HD iPad app. In this post I’ll show you how to automate the process of filing your Note Taker HD notes into a folder on your Mac.


First, here’s the procedure you’d have to follow without Hazel doing the work for you.

  1. Name your Note Taker HD note to something that makes sense so you’ll recognize it later.
  2. Export your Note Take HD note as a PDF and email it to yourself.
  3. Create a set of folder on your Mac to store the notes you create.
  4. Check your email and drag the attachment to the appropriate folder.

That doesn’t sound so bad, but why not make it even easier and enhance your geek cred in the process.

Tag your notes

I mentioned in my Note Taker HD post that you can tag any document with as many tags as you need. That’s the key to this workflow. I have a 1on1 tag as well as a set of tags that include the first names of my staff. The screenshot below shows what it looks like when you assign tags to a document. You can also assign a given tag to a set of documents in one step. In this case I’m assigning the tags 1on1 and Jay to the notes I just took during our weekly 1-on-1 meeting.

Export from Note Taker HD

The next step is to customize the settings Note Taker HD uses when it exports files. You can customize practically everything, but you only need to change two things in this case: the filename of the document being exported and the subject of the email message Note Taker HD generates when it sends that file as an attachment. You only need to do this once.

The settings are template driven with variables assigned to the day’s date, the list of assigned tags, the document’s name, etc. The variable names are surrounded by curly brackets in the export settings. Here are the settings I use:

Email subject

{today-y-m-d} - notes - {firstpagename} - {firstpagetags} #dropbox

Filename for Output

{today-y-m-d} - notes - {firstpagename} - {firstpagetags}

The variables should be fairly obvious here, and there’s a complete list of the available variables in the Note Taker HD help.

Send PDF to your Dropbox

In order to get Hazel to process your files you need to get the files into a folder on your Mac that Hazel is monitoring. In my case that’s a folder named Action in my Dropbox. You’re using Dropbox, right? Here’s a link to create a Dropbox account if you don’t have one yet. (I get some extra space in my account if you sign up using that link.)

Unfortunately, unlike Evernote and some other similar services, there’s no email address associated with a Dropbox account that allows you to add files automatically. To accomplish that requires a third-party tool. In my case I’m using IFTTT (If This Then That), an amazing web-based service that makes it possible to create “recipes” to handle complex tasks that connect other services in interesting ways. Check out the list of recipes to see dozens of examples of IFTTT recipes created by others.

The recipe that drives this workflow takes an email sent to trigger@ifttt.com with the tag #dropbox in the subject and adds it to ~/Dropbox/Action on my Mac. Hazel takes it from there. You don’t have to use #dropbox by the way. That’s simply the tag I chose for my recipe.

Rename and file your notes

Hazel watches my Action folder and applies a series of rules that perform specific actions whenever the rule is matched by a file in the folder. I created a Hazel rule that watches for the characteristic pattern of date, “- notes -” string, and tags indicating that the file contains notes from a 1-on-1 meeting.

Now you can see why the tagging in Note Taker HD is so useful. My Hazel rule looks at the filename to see if it contains the string 1on1 and another string following that which it assumes is the name of my staff member. If that pattern is present, Hazel knows it’s looking at the notes from my 1-on-1 meeting with someone. The Hazel rule also looks for a MeetingYear-MeetingMonth-MeetingDay pattern that matches the YYYY-MM-DD string at the front of the filename corresponding to the date I created the note. Finally, the rule uses a pattern which assigns a variable (or “token” in Hazel’s parlance) to the name of my staff member denoted by the tag immediately following the “1on1,” in the original filename.

The pattern matching capability makes it possible create variables that can be used elsewhere in your rule. Here I reuse those MeetingYear, MeetingMonth, and MeetingDay variables to rename the file to something simpler without the tags I exported from Note Taker HD. I also use the StaffName variable to add the specific staff member’s name to the filename.

Finally, the Hazel rule moves the file from my Action folder to a folder where I keep copies of all the notes from my 1-on-1 meetings. I use another Hazel feature to sort the files into subfolders based on the year and the staff member’s name.

The result is a nicely organized hierarchy of folders that won’t get too unwieldy and will allow me to go back and find my notes from a particular 1-on-1 meeting quickly.

I hope you can see some ways that this workflow could be modified to fit your needs. I’m already thinking through some additional examples in my own work, and I’ll post them here as I implement them.

2 responses to Automate your Note Taker HD filing with Hazel

  1. Nice post. I like the thought process. I used NotetakerHD a lot. Its a great program and Dan Bricklin was very responsive when I had a few issues. That said, I’ve moved to notability as it has the zoom feature that was my price of entry. It also syncs with Box.net and Dropbox which is a plus. I’ve not tried the whole tagging bit.

    Overall, I’ve moved to a text based approach as I don’t need to translate the written parts into text to send them out. Some of my workflow is here: http://www.scrubbs.me/my-notes-blog/2012/9/29/more-on-ipad-note-taking-work-flow

    • I like Notability too, but I find that I usually want to use my stylus for hand-written notes during meetings. I like how easy it is to enter typed notes into Notability–much easier than with NoteTaker HD. If it automatically flowed typed text around drawn images, that would be really cool.

      The tagging bit has become a crucial part of my Hazel workflow though so I’ll stick with NoteTaker HD for now. If I were to move to a 100% typed note taking solution I’d probably just use Evernote since I already use it as my Internet scrapbook and like it quite a bit. I agree with Dan Bricklin’s responsiveness, by the way. It was cool to get a personal email back promptly from such a tech luminary.