Evernote – Become more efficient and productive today!

by Matt Mecham on August 24, 2011

in Articles, Evernote


I’m sure you’re like me. No, not really, really, ridiculously good looking; totally unorganised. I have paperwork stuffed into folders, stuffed into cupboards with heavy things moved in front to prevent the door from falling open. The back of my desk is a graveyard for lost post it notes. One day in the future an advanced civilisation will discover them and become curious about the features that didn’t make it into IP.Board 2.1. I have A-Z folders with everything stuffed into A, B and C (I ran out of room in A and B). I have box folders with long forgotten contents. I have an email client that has emails since 2007 with some in folders but most in “Archive”. I have receipts fading away nicely in a box and copies of my tax returns in PDF form somewhere in the vastness of my hard drive(s). Just like my hairstyle, my organisation is a mess.

Or maybe you’re obsessively organised and have everything in neat little folders, in neat little boxes in neat little closets. Your computer is the very model of modern efficiency and you have a few apps on your iPhone and a few apps on your computer to keep track of everything.

Or maybe you’re somewhere in between. It really doesn’t matter, Evernote will change your life and make you more efficient and productive than ever before. We’re all bombarded with input every day. Emails, instant messaging, phone calls, texts, even letters through the door. Some of these items are for your information, other items need actioning. It can be tough just keeping all this stuff in your head.

So how can Evernote help? Evernote’s tag line is “Remember everything”. So what does it do? Well, it does ‘everything’. Of course, such a flippant answer is too broad to offer any real insight so lets break it down a little.

It’s sort of like a digital assistant. Sort of like a massive searchable, taggable and shareable storage system. You can store text, photos, files and more.

It’s free (with a very reasonable premium subscription model for more space) to download. You can get it on every platform known to man. Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.

Everything you add is synced to Evernote’s servers and made available to all devices instantly. Write a note on your Mac and it’s available on your iPhone. This is the first major selling point as we’ll see in a bit.

Furthermore, if you add a PDF to a note, it will embed it and allow you to search the PDF from the global search box. This is a very powerful feature on its own. Another great trick is when you upload a picture, it’ll run it via its own OCR software and make the text in the image searchable. That’s bonkers! It really is the future!

The real beauty of Evernote is not what it does but how it does it.

So with this gigantic swiss army knife on an application, how do you tame it enough to make it useful? First, I strongly recommend you go now and read Michael Hyatt’s marvellous Evernote blogs. Most of the concepts I use came from his ideas. Seriously, go now. But remember to come back! There may be cake. (This is a lie)

Let’s start with the basics. The meat of the application is notes, notebooks and stacks. Notes contain the data. They can be as simple or as complex as you need. You can add tick-box widgets for simple to-do lists. You can add formatting, rows, columns, attachments and more.
Notebooks are collections of notes. Let’s say you want a place to store all your passwords. You’ll create a notebook called “Passwords” and then drop notes into that notebook.
Stacks are groups of notebooks. To create a stack, simply drag and drop a notebook onto another notebook. You can see my stacks in the screenshot.

It’s tempting to go nuts and create a notebook for everything you can think of. I strongly suggest that you restrain yourself to begin with and create the minimum needed. You can add more as your confidence grows.

Also remember you can tag notes which allow you to quickly locate notes from all your notebooks that share a common theme. I have tags for “passwords” and “ftp”. These list all the notes that contain – yup – passwords or FTP information.

How do you get data into Evernote? Well, obviously you can use the application, be that your desktop app or your mobile phone’s app but you can also use the web clipping widget to save whole or part of webpages; you can email notes to yourself (this alone is great as we’ll see in a minute); you can even print to Evernote (on a Mac at least, not tried on a PC).

Using the app is as simple as hitting the “New Note” button or icon. When you register your free or premium Evernote account, you get a unique email address (like johndoe.12345@m.evernote.com). Go ahead and add this to your Address Book on your devices.
To print to Evernote, simply select File > Print and choose the “Save PDF to Evernote”.

So that’s the basics covered. Here’s a few examples of how I’m using Evernote right now:

Emailed Receipts
I purchase a heck of a lot of stuff online. When I do this I get an email with an order number and other data you’ll need incase something needs to be returned or otherwise recalled. When I get a receipt email, I forward it to my Evernote email address (told you to add that to your address book!). What’s more, you can use special syntax in the subject line to move it to a specific notebook and add tags.
Here’s the syntax: Note title @Notebook #Tag
For example, I might use: 2011-08-24 Dixons Touchpad @Personal Receipts #payment

If it’s a business expense, then I use: Subject @Work Receipts #payment #expenses

When it’s time to put my expenses into my accountancy software, I just list all items tagged with “expenses”. When I’ve added them in, I remove the “expenses” tag. Easy!

Password and Serial Key Storage
This is quite obvious, but it’s handy to have all your passwords and serial keys in one place. If you select text and right click, you can encrypt the text so that you need to enter your Evernote password to view it. Great for your mobile phone as it works there too.

Hardware Lists
In this house there are two printers that often need ink. Sometimes I’m in a supermarket and remember I’m almost out so I go to the ink aisle and stare at all the different boxes desperately trying to remember what my model number is.
In my ‘Personal’ section, I have a note that lists the model numbers of these printers so I can look up this information quickly. In fact, you can list everything that needs replacement parts such as bulbs, paper, etc so you can pick up stuff when you’re out.

I’m using Evernote to craft this blog entry right now. I can leave it and come back to it or finish it off later on my iPad when I get more time. A simple enough idea but it works really well.

We quite often have development calls at IPS. We usually run through a variety of topics and make decisions and plans. I use Evernote to make quick notes of what we’ve discussed so I don’t have to keep it all in my head. I can even email this to the other participants if they wanted a copy.

Go Paperless
I have tax returns in files and boxes, I have bank statements in folders and invoices and receipts scattered in various locations. None of this data is at my finger tips, neither is it quickly searchable.
I’m starting to scan all this data in and destroy the hard copies. I can always print out a copy if I need it and as my Evernote data is backed up online, I don’t have to worry about losing it or it being damaged.

Even if you’re no longer receiving paper bank statements, Evernote can help maintain records of your bank accounts. Periodically you can log into your online bank and either download a statement and add that into Evernote, or print a copy of the page to Evernote or take a web clipping. This makes the data searchable and you keep a copy at your finger tips.

A family member has a birthday soon and you’re in a store and see a gift they might like. You vow to remember it but forget two minutes later. Now you can take a snap on your phone and send it to Evernote for later browsing.

I’ve purchased a fair few paleo recipe PDFs over the past few months. They sit looking all forlorn in a folder on my desktop. I rarely remember to read them when I’m downstairs cooking. I’ve dragged them into individual notes and tagged them up. Now I can search for a recipe inside all the PDF E-Books I own from one app on my iPad while in the kitchen.

Of course, I’m also using Evernote for shopping lists, reminders, random notes, handy SVN/MySQL/PHP code snippets, URLS, forum posts and other notes.

I won’t claim that Evernote is unique. All of the items above can be fairly easily emulated with a bit of creative app and text editor usage. The strength of Evernote is that it is all under one roof. It is searchable, it’s synced to your other devices and it’s all backed up to a remote server.

How cool is that?

Do you use Evernote? Do you have any tips? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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