Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Effectively Using Evernote

Over the years, I’ve been accused of hating Evernote. That’s not true. Not in the least. I’ve used Evernote on and off (on at the moment) for quite some time and while I’m not as enthusiastic about it as some people are, I do find Evernote to be a very useful tool.

One aspect of Evernote that’s both exhilarating and frustrating is its flexibility. In it’s early days, Evernote’s tagline was Remember everything. Now, it’s The workspace for your life’s work. Both encourage people to do everything in Evernote, even though Evernote might not be the best place to do much of that work.

Most people I’ve talked to or have coached have told me that they only only need Evernote for a small number of tasks. Those tasks are small in number, but of great importance to them.

But thanks to its nature as a blank canvas, Evernote can be a bit overwhelming — they don’t know where to begin. Here are some tips that can help you effectively use Evernote.

Think About How You Want to Use Evernote

It’s easy to say I want to use Evernote for everything. That’s a surefire way to use it for nothing.

Before you start using Evernote, think about how you want to use it. Three common uses of Evernote are:

  • Personal organization
  • For business
  • For school

Then, break down what you want to organize. For example, if you’re using Evernote for personal organization, you might want to collect recipes, plan trips, create checklists and to-do lists, save interesting articles to read later, and collect serial numbers and warranty information and user manuals in one place.

Try to focus on one two areas in which you will use Evernote. Be sure that there’s a clear delineation between the two. I use Evernote to mainly for writing, but I also mix in some personal use. To ensure a division between my two uses of Evernote, I set up a structure to keep them apart.

Set Up a Structure

Freeform is fun. Freeform is easy. But keeping your notes and work freeform is a sure route to disaster. Even with Evernote’s search feature, it will take more time than it should to find what you need to find.

Organization and structure are key when using Evernote. The basic units of organization in Evernote are notebooks and notes. Notebooks, obviously, are collections of notes. I organize my notebook in a tree. The structure of that tree is based on what I want to remember or what I want to do.

I have notebooks for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Ideas for articles
  • Notes for articles (which also include research)
  • Blogging

Here’s a look at some of the notebooks that I use:

My notebooks in Evernote

Notice that some of the notebooks have notebooks under them. That structure is called a stack. The stacks let me further organize my notes — I can have a top-level notebook, and add related notebooks to the stack which lets me quickly find what I’m looking for when I need it.

I can easily see what notebooks I have and can quickly find the notes that I need to find.

Be Very Selective About What You Save

It’s easy to dump everything that you come across into Evernote. It’s a convenient place to dump things — interesting or funny quotes, links, images, and more. But even if you carefully organize your content in Evernote, the tool can quickly become like that certain closet in your home — a place where a lot of cruft piles up.

Instead, focus on collecting the information that you need and the information that you will use. Doing that will streamline the amount of information that you need to deal with in Evernote and can help prevent you from clogging it up with ephemera.

Do a Periodic Purge

Evernote is like any other tool — digital or otherwise. There will be information in it that you will no longer need, which is obsolete, which you will never get to, or which you’ve forgotten about. It happens to us all. And, yes, I’m not immune!

Every six weeks or so, take some to to go through your notes. Then, ruthlessly expunge items that are older than six weeks. Obviously, you won’t be doing that for everything (such as product serial numbers and warranty information). But the itinerary for the the trip last spring, or the link to a funny video? Get rid of them.

Think back to a post in this space from earlier in 2014. Do you think the person who collected 365 notes for possible blog posts got through a big chunk of those ideas? I’d say not.

Stuffing notes away like a squirrel hoards nuts isn’t going to do any good. You’ll just increase your digital clutter. You’ll just add to your cognitive overhead.

Instead, be honest. Be brutal.

Final Thought

These suggestions won’t work for everyone. But if you’re struggling to keep yourself organized with Evernote, then give these a try. They just might work for you.

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