How can I use EverNote effectively

I love Evernote. So much that I store everything from my bookmarks using Evernote Clipper, code snippets I regularly use in my programs to my wedding plans and favourite recipes.

However, with all that data, you need to ensure you’re indexing your content correctly so it can be easily found again. Think of it as Google for all your stuff. If properly indexed, anything you need is a few key strokes away. If not, well good luck finding that note about which type of fruit your mother in-law is allergic to before she arrives for dinner.

Setup a default, “catch-all” notebook

The first step to organizing your Evernote is to setup a default “catch-all” notebook. This is where you quickly store notes for later tagging. It’s also the default notebook when sending emails to Evernote (a great feature I’ll cover in a minute).

Most people will name this Notebook “!inbox”. The reason for the exclamation at the beginning is to ensure its always displayed at the very top when sorted alphabetically. It will always come before notebooks starting with number or letters.

Make a habit of processing any notes in your catch-all notebook next time you’re on your computer.

Less notebooks, more tags

Adding too many layers of complexity defeats the purpose of being able to easily find the information you need. Everything that can be done with notebooks, with a few minor exceptions, can be done with tags. Still, I see many people using tons of Notebooks. There’s no need!

I only have three notebooks.

  • !inbox (my catch-all)
  • personal (anything and everything non-work related)
  • work (anything work related)

Thats it! The rest is done with tags. In my “personal” notebook I have thousands of notes! You might be thinking “how the heck can you find anything!?”. The key is proper tagging.

Proper Tagging Technique

In order to find and sort your notes, you’ll need to come up with some “tagging techniques”. I use at least two tags. One will be the “type” and the other a “descriptor”. Often you’ll have multiple descriptors and sometimes multiple types.

Lets say I found a great asian recipe online. I would tag it with “recipes” (the type) and “asian” (the descriptor). The first step is to figure out the “type” of note. The type, I find, is the name most people would use for a notebook. So if your instinct would be to create a “Recipes” notebook, you know your tag needs to be “recipes” instead. The second is the descriptor. This ones a little harder. Because Evernote already provides a powerful search that indexes all contents of your note, you need to be careful not to tag redundant information. Lets use the asian recipe as an example. We’ll assume the recipe is for a spicy stir fry. We could tag this with “stir-fry” and “spicy” in addition to “asian” but those keywords already exist in the note itself. Simply searching your notes for “spicy stir fry” that have been tagged “recipes” and “asian” would yield the same result. Also note that if you had a “western” spicy stir fry, it wouldn’t show up.

Lastly, normalize your tag names. I like to always use lowercase and dashes in place of spaces. So “Stir Fry” becomes “stir-fry” and “Recipes” becomes “recipes”. If you like it the other way around, go for it! The key is to be consistent.

Learn to use the search bar

The search bar, in combination with tagging, makes it very easy to quickly perform searches on all your notes. To search for keywords with a specific tag you can do:

tag:recipes tag:asian spicy stir fry

Typing that into the search bar will search all notes tagged with “recipes” and “asian” for the keywords “spicy stir fry”. The search bar has many other syntax options for filtering your notes. Play around with it to see what it can do!

Create shortcuts for common tags

If you find yourself constantly looking up notes under a single tag, make it a shortcut! To create a shortcut in the Evernote desktop client, drag a tags name to the bar on the left. Now you can click that shortcut anytime you want to browse that tag specifically!

Use email

I can’t stress how important this one is. I use it a couple times per day! Evernote allows you to create a private Evernote Email Address that you can email anything to. It will convert all emails to notes automatically. Not only is this a great way to store important emails that arrive in your inbox (think vacation itineraries, legal documents or shared recipes), but its also a great way to store information you find on your mobile device. For example, when I find a great article on my iPad, I’ll use the “Email To” function to send the article to my Evernote email address. This arrives at my catch-all “!inbox” notebook as a link. Next time I’m at my computer, I open the link in my browser and save the article using Evernote Clipper so the entire articles contents are now saved as a note and available anytime I need it.

Use your imagination and have fun! You’ll quickly find that Evernote is a great way to store anything in your digital life!

How do you use Evernote? I’d love to hear about it.