Evernote is ubiquitous nowadays, it’s almost become a part of the internet culture, at least when we talk about productivity, creativity and entrepreneurship. And for a reason: it’s a fantastic tool that lets you organize your thoughts, notes, web clippings, audio recordings and more, in the way that best fits you. But I’m not here to praise Evernote; if you’re reading this you’re probably already sold on the subject.
What I’m going to give you is my way of organizing things in Evernote. Now, there’s simply as many ways of organizing your notes in Evernote that there are users (which is 100+ millions user by the time I’m writing these lines).
In no way I would imply that my system’s the best, but the goal here is to provide you with an example, and hopefully inspire you in to find your own organizational system. Or you can simply use it, as is. No two users have the same needs, and one workflow might particularly fit one while not the other. But Evernote can adapt to both. That’s the beauty and power of Evernote
So without further ado, here’s how I organize and use Evernote to stay productive in my work.
The purpose of Evernote (if you still wonder)
Evernote is a productivity powerhouse, there’s no doubt about it. So much actually, that it can replace many different tools at the same time, although—that is a personal opinion—not everything should be done with it. For instance, with Evernote, you can create Todo lists inside your notes, but to me, it’s more of a convenience than a truly useful feature. it is simply not as powerful as a dedicated Todo list manager such as Todoist or Wunderlist. There’s even a presentation feature that can be launched from a note, but I’d rather use Powerpoint or Keynote.
Now that I’ve talked about what I decided NOT to do with Evernote, let’s talk about where it excels.
Well, for starters, it’s just what it has been designed for: a note-taking app. I’d go further and call it a brain-dumping station. The true power of Evernote comes from putting into it ALL of you notes and generally all you think of and might want to reference to later. The ability to have text, written, drawn, or audio recorded notes make it the most intuitive, quick-to-use and relevant software for note taking.
Add on top of that a comprehensive, efficient notebook and tags system, a top performing [OCR](Wikipedia link), and you have the recipe for the perfect place where to put all your notes, thoughts and ideas.
Oh, and I almost forget the web clipper. Whenever you come across stuff that you would like to refer later to, simply clip the current page and off it goes to your Evernote account, where it’s stored forever. Even if the site you clipped disappears overnight, you’ll still have the full web page (or a bare bones stripped version if you chose so ) available in your Evernote account for consuming whenever you want to.
I use Evernote to dump everything I have in mind before it disappears into oblivion. Startup ideas, blog post topics, daily reviews of my goals, insights, discoveries, ideas about the different projects I’m working on… and of course clippings of website articles that I find super useful.
One additional thing that makes Evernote invaluable to me is the ability to quickly scan and file all the receipts, invoices and all those kinds of physical paper that tend to clutter my desk and shelves when I don’t take care of them. With Evernote I can scan them (I don’t even need a scanner, using the Evernote app for iPhone makes it a breeze) and store them all in my Evernote account. On top of that, you can apply labels and keep your freshly digitalized papers neatly organized by putting them in the right notebooks. Finally, the integrated OCR makes it incredibly easy and useful to search for a text snippet inside your scanned papers.
I got this idea from Adam Dachis’s Lifehacker post How I Went Completely Paperless in Two Days.
Now let’s get to the meat of the article: how I organize my Evernote.
What notebooks I have in Evernote
First, notebooks. There’s two trends when it comes to the notebooks (notebooks are the “folders” you put your notes into). One advocates the use of as many notebooks as needed, while the second one recommends to keep your notebook count to a minimum. I tried both approaches and chose the latter, but I’ll urge you to try and see for yourself what works best for you. To me, it’s more about keeping things simple, if not minimalistic; I feel less overwhelmed with 5–7 notebooks than with 10 or more.
On a quick side note, let’s talk about the limits of Evernote. The company advertises free unlimited storage (which is quite neat in itself), but there is a limitation to the number of notebooks, notes and the size of your notes you can have. Let me address any of your concerns immediately: the number of maximum notebooks, notes and tags you can have with one account is way more than you’ll probably ever need in a regular use of Evernote or even an advanced one. Limits currently are:
- 100,000 notes
- 250 notebooks
- 100,000 tags
If you need more than 250 notebooks or 100,000 tags, I strongly suggest revising your way you organize your notes. And before reaching 100,000 notes, I think you have a lot of time. Let’s say you create at an absurde rate of 50 notes per day, you’ll reach that limit in 2000 days which is roughly 5 and a half year.
The situations where these limits would be a hurdle to you are extremely rare. So don’t take those limits into account when trying to figure out what your system should be like.
The only restriction that can be frustrating is the 60MB upload limit on free plans, although I rarely hit that limit when I used to be on the free tier.
Now that we know we won’t be limited by system restrictions, let’s see precisely how I organize my notes.
I have a total of 6 notebooks. I tried different systems, and previously had more notebooks—between 10 and 20—but I found out that having less notebooks makes it easier for me to organize and find my notes. These 6 notebooks are:
Let’s see their purpose, in order.
.Inbox first, obviously, is where I put any new note by default. Just like my mail inbox, most of the time when I don’t immediately know or want to think about where a note should go, it lands there. For those who wonder, the period before the name is just a way to make it appear in first position, since Evernote automatically sort your notebooks alphabetically.
When I have an idea, an insight, see something interesting and want to quickly capture it and return to whatever I was doing, I simply put it in the .Inbox notebook, as I know I can get back to it later to figure out which tags and notebook I should assign the note to.
Journal, as the name suggests, is for journaling. It is where I put all my daily reflections, insights, but also my ideas for projects, apps, websites… Almost every day, I do reflect on my day and review what I’ve done, how I felt, and what can be improved. I write everything down and it goes into this notebook.
Knowledge is where I store everything I save using the web clipper. Most of the time it’s blog articles that I find super useful and want to keep for later reference—not for reading later, I use Pocket for that purpose. Sometimes I also save useful website content or pictures, anything that I find myself really liking and know I will comme back to multiple times later.
Projects is where I store all my project-related notes. I currently have two blogs and I’m working on my startup, so every note that’s related to one of these projects goes here. Blog topics, business insights, gathered data, ideas of things to try, etc. all go in this notebook.
Reference is the place where I put all my papers, my file cabinet if you will. I decided to go paperless last year and while I didn’t reach 100% yet, almost all of my receipts, invoices, bills and administrative stuff live in this notebook. I scan every paper I get or save emailed invoices and receipts there.
Misc, as the name suggests, this notebook stores everything else that doesn’t fit in my other notebooks. I don’t want use the Inbox notebook for that, because like my email inbox, I want it to stay clean so I can easily organize my notes when I go through it. But there are always notes that don’t really belong in any of my other notebooks, some that are more or less temporary, like a product I think of buying, some temporary passwords, pictures…
Using tags in Evernote
My tags are somewhat organized in parallel of my notebooks. They have their own hierarchy and purpose. While a tag can sometime be used across multiple notebooks, most of the time each notebook contain the his own set of tags.
I’m not going to list every single tag I have, but generally, I have sets of tags for each notebooks. Each tag allows me to have an additional layer of hierarchy so I can have an overview of all the notes related to a certain topic more precisely than looking at the contents of an entire notebook.
There as are my main, top-level tags:
- Entrepreneur tags, which contains sub-tags like business, marketing, productivity, startup, networking.
- Papers with tags like bills, insurance, banking, corporate, taxes, health.
- Personal notes which let me organize all the notes in my Journal notebook, so, for example, I can separately see all of my diary entries, or just project ideas.
- Sport: contains tags such as workouts, recipes, diets.
- Tech includes apple, how-to, wordpress, etc.
- Templates: it’s one that I created recently, but find really useful. I found that I often have notes sitting here and there for the sole purpose of having them at hand when I’ll need to reuse them, so I created a templates tag to gather them all.
All the tags are self-explanatory so I won’t go over what I put where.
That’s it. Each time I create a new note, either I know instantly in which notebook it’ll go and which tags to assign, and I’ll send it there, or I let it in the Inbox notebook until I can come back to it later to figure out where it should go.
Other useful tricks
I use the Shortcuts section of the sidebar easily accesse the notes I view daily. Ok, not sure if I can call this a “trick” as it’s pretty obvious, but it’s still useful. I have 4 notes as favorites, which are:
- Mantra, where I write statement about who I am or want to be, and how I must act in order to be successful. I read it every morning.
- Planning: all the tasks I want to accomplish by the end of the week.
- Yearly goals: like the above, but for the current year.
- Ongoing work: for my ongoing projects, I write down what was the last thing I did and what’s the next thing to do. It makes it easier and faster to get back to your work when switching between multiple tasks that span across several days.
To actually write my notes, half of the time I use Byword. I love Markdown and unfortunately Evernote doesn’t support it, so when I want to quickly write structured notes I’ll use Byword instead. The great thing about Byword (aside that it’s a fantastic focused writing tool) is the ability to directly publish to Evernote, through a small one-time fee upgrade. This costs $5, which may seem a bit expensive for just one feature but to me it is definitely worth it. If you find yourself writing and publishing often to your WordPress blogs, Tumblr, Medium or Evernote, it’ll save you a lot of time.
Before I purchased Byword, I had the same publishing process with Sublime Text, using this plugin.
Evernote really shines when you use it everyday. The more you fill it, the more useful it becomes. It is there to collect your thoughts, help you organize projects—not in the project management fashion, but rather as tool for gathering data, knowledge and insights—and be able to efficiently search all of it later.
It’s literally the place for dumping all that’s in your brain.
Everyday, whenever I have an idea or an insight, or something specific that strike me and know I will want to take a moment to think about it later, instead of interrupting whatever I do, I’ll fire Evernote and write it down in my Evernote inbox.
If I stumble on something really interesting that I think I’ll probably want to read again later, I’ll add it to my Knowledge notebook using the Web Clipper. Note that I said read again. As I said, it’s only for things I will use multiple times. Articles I just want to read once will go to Pocket instead.
Every evening, I’ll sit down and doing what I call “Reflect and refine”. It’s a process where I:
- Create a note with the day’s date as the title.
- Write about what happened during the day, write down my thoughts on how I worked, how I feel about it (so, reflect)
- Identify areas where I can improve (refine).
I’ll then put a tag reflect and refine on the note so I can later come back and see all of these notes in one place.
That’s it ! No other tricks in my bag. That’s how I use Evernote on a daily basis. Of course, this way of organizing your notes in Evernote might not work for you as well as it does for me. There are plenty of other ways to use Evernote. I’d simply suggest that you give my way of using Evernote a try, see if it suits you, then decide if you keep doing it or not.
Perhaps you will find some things to keep, and some other to improve on or change. This is exactly what I did to find my workflow: I browsed different resources on the subject, picked practical uses here and there, then came up with my own processes after a while.
This is why Evernote is great: one of the numerous things that make it so powerful is that you can use it just the way want.