New thoughts on Evernote

I have written about Evernote here before and continue to be an enthusiast for the product/service. I observe that I am far from alone, as they claim to have something over 50 million users worldwide. It is very much the “control panel” for both my business and personal lives. It is the default place that I keep information and documents, enabling me to seamlessly access stuff from my PC, iPad, iPhone or any Internet connected device.

Previously, I have given some tips on using Evernote, many of which still stand. However, I have changed the way I work recently and I wanted to share my new approach …

In the past, I used a small number of Evernote notebooks – essentially 2: one for personal stuff and the other for business – and used a wide range of tags to categorize notes. This worked fine, but I realized that it took more mouse clicks to get to a specific note on my PC than I liked. So, I started thinking about other options.

I read an article about someone who used a great many notebooks, without too much care about what notes went where, and almost no tagging. He relied on search to find everything. Although I can see how this would be workable, as Evernote search is very powerful – it finds text in notes and in attached PDFs and JPEGs, it was too random for my taste. But it did suggest a new direction.

I reorganized my data into a larger number of notebooks [I have around 20], which are grouped [stacked] as “personal” or “work”. Within these, I use a minimal amount of tagging, where it helps me categorize notes. I also take care with the subject line of notes – it is either pure text or starts with a date in ISO-style format [either YYMMDD or YYYYMMDD]. I display in reverse alphabetical order, which pushes the text titles to the top and shows the most recent dated notes immediately below.

This can be illustrated by example. I have one notebook for business travel. I have a single note, a template, which is just a mega-checklist of things to deal with when planning a business trip. This has a textual title, so it sits at the top of the list. Each time I start planning a trip, I make a copy of this template, give it a title starting with the date of travel and customize the list as required. My notebook always shows the template at the top followed by recent and upcoming trips. No tags are used for notes in this notebook.

Another example of a quite different notebook is a personal one which documents my house. There is a note for each room, which contains information about the room – measurements, colors, models of furniture etc., jobs to do – and may have attachments, like the PDF manual for an appliance which is installed in a room.

A key benefit of my new notebook structure is ease of sharing. Evernote essentially provides two ways to share a note or a notebook. A single note may be shared by obtaining its unique Web URL and giving that to another person. They can then read the contents, grab attachments etc. An entire notebook may be shared with another Evernote user. I, for example, am sharing a few notebooks with my wife. It is useful for her to have access to all my business travel plans. For the house, her being able to update the notes in that notebook is also handy.

I still see a place for search and tags. In my recipes notebook I might search for every occurrence of “Brussels sprouts”, having already filtered using the “vegetarian” tag. I have also got a special, easy to add tag: “$”. I add this to very commonly used notes or ones that are pertinent to my immediate needs. I just need to choose All Notes and then assert this tag and I get a short list of useful notes.

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