I’ve used a ton of note-taking apps. I even asked on my other blog a while ago for recommendations for what to use. My friend Nina recommended Evernote and I looked at it. The idea of paying $45 a year to use an application seemed slightly high in this day and age of cheaper and cheaper software.
Eventually, however…I came around to it. And I’m very happy I did.
(Pay the $45. Just do it. Not only do you get more storage and the ability to use Evernote off-line — which you will need, believe me — but these guys deserve to make money for making a good, useful product.)
The best advice I got on using Evernote is go all in. Put everything in there. And I do. Everything goes in there. (Exceptions are in the last section, at the bottom of this blog.)
Here’s how Evernote works: imagine a big filing cabinet (named “Evernote,” natch) that has up to 200 drawers. Each drawer is called a “notebook.” Each drawer can have one level of drawers within them (sub-notebooks), but you still only ever get 200 total. (And you only get one level down — no multiple nestings of notebooks here.) Each piece of information you stick in the cabinet has a title, a body of information, and tags. It can have other information too — a URL (if you clip a webpage), a location, an alarm — but for right now, let’s stick with the main bits.
The title should be self-explanatory. The “information” in a note can be text, a photo, a PDF, a sound clipping, or a presentation (like Keynote). Or any mix of these elements. And then, there are the tags.
Tags are the really beautiful thing about Evernote. You can have as many tags as you want (well, 100,000, and even I can’t use that many) and they can be anything you want, because you make them up.
I read one web page that said, “If you use tags wisely, forget about notebooks.” And I thought… Oh wow, that is so right.
Remember that big filing cabinet? What if it just has one drawer? And you walk up to it and say, “Give me everything you have on San Francisco tech stories.”
Boom. Everything flies out that was tagged “San Francisco” and “tech.” If other notes are labeled “Los Angeles tech,” they remain put.
I don’t have to remember how to file stuff. I just have to tag it correctly.
In addition, if I don’t tag stuff correctly, Evernote has a great indexing function. So if I ask for everything having to do with New York but I forgot to label some notes that contain the words “New York” in the text, Evernote will pull those out for me too.
Once I realized how powerful this was, having everything in Evernote made my life so much simpler.
What do I put in Evernote?
- Interesting newspaper articles and blog posts. I used to use Yojimbo for this. No more. Now I use Evernote for one-stop shopping
- Pictures of medicine bottles
- Reading material I’ve gotten for online classes
- Emails with important info that I will lose if I keep them in my mail app.
- A picture of the local drugstore’s pharmacy hours, which are not available on Yelp and my husband is always forgetting if he has time to run by there on Sunday.
How do I put it into Evernote?
- Web clipper: Evernote provides these to be installed in various browsers. When I land on a page I want to save, I hit the Evernote button and a side bar pops up, asking me where I want to save it (usually the notebook I call “Cabinet”, nomenclature I took from Michael Hyatt) and what tags I want to give it.
- Widgets: iOS 8 added widgets, and the first one I added everywhere was Evernote. Sometimes the widget doesn’t clip the article correctly (bad formatting), but when I find it again in the Inbox the URL is attached to it and I can reclip from another browser.
- Scannable: Evernote’s new app for scanning receipts and business cards. It’s great.
- Drag and drop.
- Email: This may be my favorite. When you sign up to Evernote, you get an Evernote-specific email address. I forward a LOT of stuff to this address and the notes just pop up in Evernote next time I sync.
- ScanSnap scanner: I have the ix500, but not the Evernote-specific one. It’s easy enough using my ScanSnap to get scans into Evernote. It’s fast, it does things double-sided, and it puts them in whatever format (PDF, JPG) I want.
It has not taken long to put together a couple of thousand notes in my Evernote account.
How do I find anything?
- First and foremost, I use tags. I tag everything. A receipt for some software I might need for my business? I’ll tag that with “business, software, receipt, writing, 2015, taxes.”
If I do a search on “business taxes 2015”, everything I’ve tagged with all three of those tags will pop up.
- Evernote’s indexing. It’s great. It will search PDFs (premium-only) and other text of documents. It can search handwriting.
- I do use a few notebooks, but some are definitely better maintained than others. Inbox is the catchall, the default notebook. Periodically I have to go through there to tag everything and move it elsewhere. I have a notebook (Writing) with subnotebooks (one for the Drusilla Thorne series, one for Publishing Info, one for another series I’ve been playing around with).
Resources I used to figure this out
When I started using Evernote, I did lots of web searches and fell down lots of rabbit holes trying various things people recommend. Some people lead way more organized lives than I do, that is for sure.
- I read a couple of books: Evernote Essentials and Evernote @ Work. I honestly don’t remember what I might have specifically learned from either.
- Brett Kelly, author of Evernote Essentials, has a blog filled with tips.
- Michael Hyatt’s entries about Evernote.
- “Evernote Scott” does a lot of YouTube videos. I think I learned some good tips from him.
- When I was going to be hella organized and do everything a la GTD, I watched this series of YouTube videos. I did not manage to get organized. This was not The Secret Weapon’s fault. If you’re a GTD maven, this may be very useful for you.
I’m sure there’s a ton of other resources out there, but the best way to do it is to start using it (and tag everything).
I also haven’t used it for collaboration (which is tech Evernote is selling hard). Apparently there are good sharing functions, which would be really useful.
I haven’t tried Microsoft OneNote. I understand OneNote is great and there are lots of things it can do. It was, however, very late to the Mac party, and I have no intention of moving from Evernote to OneNote.
I do still use a separate grocery shopping app, GroceryIQ, which I finally have working the way I want. I would be willing to move to another, better app, but I haven’t been happy with any of the ones I’ve tried so far, so I’m sticking with this.
I use WriteRoom as a dumping ground for random snippets of info, but there’s no reason I have to. I could use Evernote for this purpose too.
Lastly, I still use Day One as my daily diary, but I don’t write in it nearly as often as I should!