Evernote has become my personal knowledge base and my go-to place for storing and finding all kinds of information. In this post, I share my secrets on how to organize Evernote.
I used to store notes in Outlook. I had a cork board where I pinned physical paper notes. For storing PDF files and scanned documents, I used Dropbox. The occasional post-it note would float around on my desk until I got time to type it into my Outlook notes. I even had a physical box to store newspaper clippings.
What do all these things have in common? With the exception of the box, where I today store complete newspapers and magazines depicting world events, they are no longer needed. I use Evernote. Today I have more than 1.300 notes in Evernote.
The Evernote concept
Evernote is an application that consists of notes. The notes are organized in notebooks. You can organize the notebooks in stacks, making it easier to navigate between a large number of notebooks without losing the overview.
Evernote is completely platform independent. It runs on your computer, your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It runs on your Android phone and tablet, as well as in your browser. Synchronization is flawless across all platforms and offers off-line access on all of your devices.
Evernote has some limitations. 100.000 notes, and 250 notebooks. A note can only reside in one notebook at a time. Notebooks cannot be nested. The number of tags is limited to 100.000, and you cannot have more than 100 tags in a single note.
It integrates with a ton of apps and services. I use it with Outlook, IFTTT, and Newton. For a complete list, see their App Center. They are currently running a beta with Google Drive, I will for sure have to try this.
Evernote partnered with Moleskine in 2012. The Evernote Moleskine notebook lets you transfer handwritten notes into Evernote using the Evernote app.
How to organize Evernote
There is no right or wrong way to organize Evernote. My advice is that you organize Evernote in the same way you live your life. I have been playing around with different ways to organize Evernote over the years, and I think that my current setup could at least spark some ideas on how to make Evernote work for you.
Evernote is my personal knowledge base
I use Evernote to store all kinds of information, everything from favorite quotes and what I want to do on my next vacation to career plans and blogging ideas.
I said earlier that you should organize Evernote the same way you live and organize your life. What I mean by this is that in life we all have multiple roles and contexts.
If you have a family, then “family” can be a context where you plan vacations. “Home improvement” is the place for all those projects, plus things like the color code on the paint you used in the kitchen. If you have kids then, in your role as a parent, you would have to follow-up on things like “Health”, “Education” and “Activities”.
Most of us have to work. A natural context is then “Work”, with sub-contexts like “Career” and “Pension” On a more personal level “Health and Medical” and “Hobbies” would be common contexts to group information by.
How I organize Evernote
I’m using stacks to group my main categories. I use the notebook titles for subcategories. I always include the stack title at the start of the notebook title, in order to make things sort neatly. Interestingly, I have found that this method of organization has spilled over to my folders on my hard drives and Google Drive. It is just the natural way to store and find information.
This is parts of the outline of my Evernote stacks and notebooks:
- DWL – Blogging
- DWL – Posts
- DWL – Posts – Focus Horizons
- DWL – Posts – Shirt collars
- IT – Adobe
- IT – Adobe – Lightroom
- IT – Adobe – Photoshop
- IT – MS Excel
- IT – MS Windows
- IT – MS Word
- IT – Other
- IT – Social Media
- Other – Misc
- Other – News clippings
- Other – User manuals
- Other – Vacations
- Other – Vacations – Europe
- Other – Vacations – Europe – UK
- Other – Vacations – USA
- Other – Vacations – USA – New York
- Personal – Health
- Personal – Interest – Drinks
- Personal – Interest – Education
- Personal – Interest – Food
- Personal – Interest – Photo
- Personal – Interest – Travel
- Work – Career
- Work – Education
- Work – GTD
- Work – Leadership
I addition to this, I have a Notebook named “**Inbox” (The ** at the start of the title is to make this Notebook stay at the top of the sorting). This is my standard save-to folder. I also have a Notebook called Reading. More about that later.
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How I use Evernote
Save from the web
The Evernote Web Clipper is a browser add-in that enables me to save articles, or parts of articles, from web pages. Before a trip, I will save all my travel documents as PDF files in Evernote. I also have a picture of my passport and drivers license, in case I lose it. Even if I lost all my belongings, I could log on to a computer to find the most important documents.
Gather information and ideas
Before writing a blog post, I will create a notebook for this post and start noting down ideas as well as saving background material that I find online. When I feel that I have enough I will start writing, and sometimes I even do this inside Evernote because of the offline feature.
Share your information and let others contribute at the same time
When planning vacations, I will share a notebook with my wife, letting her comment and add information. This is also a great way for a team to brainstorm ideas without having to meet.
Save emails to Evernote
This function lets me save an email from the Outlook desktop client to Evernote. The Outlook 365 add-in also shows related information from Evernote.
My notebook called Reading is available offline on all my computers, my tablet, and my phone. This enables me to save those long articles and read them later, even if I have no WIFI connection.
Evernote is very search friendly, I find it mostly unnecessary to tag my notes. The only exception is for those keywords that are not in the text.
The key to succeeding with Evernote
From time to time I meet people that tell me they have tried Evernote but could not get it to work. The most common error they have been doing is to use Evernote as just another place to add stuff. They do not take advantage of Evernote’s versatility, and they do not organize their notes in any particular order.
If you have trouble finding stuff in your desk drawer due to lack of oversight and organization, you cannot expect to solve the problem by adding just another drawer. In fact, what you are doing is to multiply the number of places something might be.
The key is to take full advantage of Evernote and consolidate your stuff in fewer places. Evernote’s ability to search in notes and attached files, combined with the ability to organize notes, notebooks, and stacks according to your needs, makes it a very powerful tool.
Evernote and Getting Things Done
I use Evernote for what’s called reference information in GTD. This is my “one trusted system” as David Allen likes to say, for generic reference material.
Some people are running their entire GTD system in Evernote alone. To be honest, I cannot see why you would want to do that when you have tools like Todoist around. If you would like to try to use Evernote that way, David Allen has an official guide for how to get started.
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Should you upgrade?
Evernote’s free Basic plan is a good start, but it has its limits. To get the most out of Evernote, I would recommend upgrading. The Basic plan only syncs between two devices. This is not enough for most people today.
On a general note, I would recommend paying for Evernote for the sole reason that you are supporting a great company, making sure that this awesome product is here to stay.
If you upgrade to the Plus plan, you can sync across all your units, and you will have offline access to all your notes. At this level, you can add notes via email and get support.
If you choose the Premium plan, PDF files and Office documents are searchable. You can view the history of your notes, as well as related notes. This means that any Google search will also show results from your Evernote account. These features are the reason why I chose the Premium plan.
Why wait? Sign up for Evernote now.
Disclosure: By using the above link, I will get three months free Evernote Premium if you sign up for the Evernote Premium plan. Please trust me when I say that I do not get paid for product reviews, and will never promote products that I have not tried myself.