Getting Organized with Evernote

Brass Tack Thinking - Getting Organized with EvernoteI heart Evernote. I’ve mentioned that more than once, and because of my unnatural affection for an application, I presume that everyone has discovered its wonderful-ness. But not so, it seems, because a tweet last week uncovered lots of folks who either don’t know about it, or have kicked the tires a bit and never quite figured out why it’s helpful.

I think of Evernote as one comprehensive virtual organizer, idea bank, and file system for pretty much everything I do. Yeah, you can take notes with it, that’s easy. But you can also snap and upload photos of stuff, tag and sort your notes, take voice notes and dictation, even take a picture of your handwritten notes to save for later. It’s not just about remembering stuff, but it’s about having the stuff I want to remember organized in a way that makes sense to me, and searchable so I can find it easily later without fuss.

So I certainly can’t dictate to you what you should do, but I can run down some of the ways I use Evernote in hopes that it gives you a bit of an idea of your own.

(Note: I’ve no affiliation with Evernote and they didn’t bribe me with ponies or anything to write this. I’m just a fan.)

The Advantages

There are two major things that make Evernote so indispensable for me: it’s syncing abilities, and how easy it is to search and find stuff.

Evernote has apps for my iPhone (and for many other mobile platforms, check your app store), iPad, MacBook, and a web version. Once you have an account (free), ALL of them sync between one another, seamlessly and automatically. So having all my notes in one place, whether I’m static or on the fly, is a critical piece for me. It’s what keeps me using the application consistently, and having it be a central repository for stuff. I keep personal AND professional stuff in Evernote, because if it’s all centralized, I never have to wonder where I stashed something.

The web application is the one I use least, but it’s cool in that it allows shared notebooks, so you can use it to collaborate or coordinate information with others.

It’s also got a great tagging feature to help you sort your notes and information, and it’s utterly searchable. Even cooler? You can snap pictures of your handwritten notes and upload them, and you can even search *those*. Nifty, huh?

What I Use It For

As I mentioned, Evernote is somewhat of a central hub for me, alongside Google Docs for the big stuff (like the book I’m writing with Jay). Just a few places I use it heavily:

I have a separate notebook for blog post drafts, and one for blog post ideas. I draft my posts in Evernote so I don’t run the risk of losing them in a WordPress glitch. For post ideas, I’ll either start a new note with just a title or add a few blurbs in the text field to remind myself of the context. This is awesome for grabbing those fleeting ideas when I’m on the fly, because I can throw them in my phone and when I get back to my laptop later, they’re already synced. I also use the voice notes feature to dictate ideas and thoughts to myself when I’m driving or otherwise can’t be typing.

Meeting Notes & Project Plans
Because I work remotely, I have a lot of meetings by phone or Skype, so Evernote is where I take my notes. I keep conference notes there, and even snap photos of whiteboards or other physical notes. At events, I can even take pictures of business cards and upload them for later so I don’t lose the cards themselves during travel.

I also keep outlines for big project plans in Evernote, because I prefer a very stripped-down, simple to-do system, and Evernote lets me add to-do items right in the notes, complete with little check boxes. It helps me keep my entire project map in one place and easy to reference. I’m a pen and paper person, too, so I do a lot of the messy brainstorming on paper, then either take a picture of the notes I want to keep handy for easy reference, or move the good bits to an Evernote notebook and then do the rest of the structured planning in there.

Save Documents
Hate email attachments and keeping track of them on your hard drive? Yeah, me too. So for the stuff I know I’m going to need later, I often use the unique email address Evernote gives you when you sign up to email attachments to myself and save them in Evernote instead. Central repository, remember? If it’s all in one place, I know where to go to look for it.

The Book
I’m using Evernote to capture ideas for the book, take notes for interviews we do, links to reference later, snip bits of research and stuff from the web (I’m also using Delicious for bookmarking and Google Docs for the heavy writing). Because I have all the notes in a single notebook, I know I can always find what I need and keep myself organized.

Reading Stuff Later
Evernote makes a nifty bookmarklet that allows you to easily clip snippets of text or full pages from the web to find and reference later (even offline). Whether it’s a site I want to come back to, a quote or reference I want to save, or an article I want to read, I can plunk it all in Evernote in it’s respective notebook and have it handy for next time instead of sifting through bookmark lists.

Personal stuff
Again because I can use it on the fly on my phone AND have the advantage to all of my stuff being in a single spot, I use Evernote for lots of one-off and incidental personal stuff. I have a file in there for “house wish list” where I snap photos of design and renovation ideas I’d like to tackle someday at home, or a spectacular piece of furniture that I can’t yet afford, but want to remember for inspiration someday.

I keep the grocery list on there, books I want to read, new bands and music to check out, and I’ve got a notebook for recipes, too. Why is that awesome? Cart my iPad into the kitchen, stick it on it’s stand, and read the recipe from the counter while I’m cooking. I take pictures of wine labels at restaurants that I love and want to find later.

I have locked files in there with prescription information (man I hate realizing I need a refill and not having the information with me, so this solves that).

How About You?

I know there are more of you out there using Evernote because you tell me how much you heart it, too. Tell us about your tips, clever uses, and ideas for making the most of Evernote and let’s see if we can’t convince some of those folks who haven’t quite found the magic in it yet.

Oh, and if you’re an enthusiast and want to find other Evernote nerds? They’re even doing meetups now.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Was this helpful at all? Did it give you an idea or two? Let me know in the comments.

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  • James

    I am one of those who left Evernote, only to come back later. I originally used it as a note taker on my iPhone, but got a little frustrated with the lack of local storage and formatting options. This was a while back, granted (the iPhone app has local storage now) I ended up coming back to it recently while doing genealogical research. It is the world's best tool for that, because you can take typed noted, photos and scans of written and historical documents, and clips from the web and sort, tag, and search them later. I used to just bookmark sites and go back later, but it is difficult to find that little tidbit that you remember again. Evernote makes that easy.

    Another app that pairs very well with Evernote is Instapaper. Instapaper duplicates the web clipping function of Evernote, but in a different way. It strips all ads and web formatting out of the page and delivers it back with white background, large crisp text, and any included photos. Instapaper integrates directly with my iPad newsreader, Reeder, and Twitter client, Twitteriffic. It is a great way to dump a link to read later and keep going down your list of headlines or tweets. Unfortunately, Instapaper only stores 250 articles. It is meant as a short term tool, not long term storage. This makes Instapaper and Evernote perfect partners. For the majority of my articles, I just read them and delete them. For the ones I would like to preserve, however, I just send them over to Evernote using the email address. I love how I can select the notebook and tags right from my email subject line, so I don't even have to open Evernote to move the new clip.

    The other thing that got me back to Evernote is “mobile scanning.” There are a couple of apps for the iPhone that use its camera to take a scanned image of small docs and white boards. You can do this with the camera alone, but JotNot allows clipping and formatting of the image based on the kind of document it is. I started using it for expense and warranty receipts. JotNot amps up the brightness and contrast so the text is readable, no matter how dim the pic was, and the outcome is legible and searchable in Evernote. You can enter your Evernote info in the app and get a dialogue with your Notebooks and Tags built in for easy exporting. If you have to keep up with receipts for work, this is the best tool for it. It also works great for keeping up with business cards.

    As you can see here, the basic nottaking abilities may not be enough to hook everyone, but if you dig a little deeper, there is so much power in under Evernote's hood.

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  • Mike Handy

    I used Evernote a lot before google wave… Adding the chrome extension wave means Evernote is just a second rate utility to me! I would still recommend it for some but personally it just isn't collaborative enough! My 2 cents!

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  • Adukes81

    I'm so glad I found this. I am downloading this now!

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  • Chieze Okoye

    I’ve been thinking about using Evernote more extensively for a while, but I could never get myself to fall into a pattern with it. After reading your writeup, I just might give it another go.

  • Anonymous

    Great, now I feel guilty about rarely using my Evernote account. I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with my Gmail-as-todo-list, Google Docs, Moleskine notebook, Dropbox, Printed-to-PDF websites system. So now there’s one more thing I can load stuff up to and then promptly forget all about.

  • Carrie Turner

    You listed all the things you like about Evernote…was there anything you didn’t/don’t like?

    Also, does anyone know if it syncs to Android? Thanks!

    • Rodney Daut


      Yes Evernote syncs to Android.  It syncs to my Android phone perfectly.

  • JEBworks

    I’ve been using Evernote for a long time now but never explored it as you describe here. Have got to do more with it myself and get less side tracked by other apps I come across and then try and discard. Nothing I’ve tried so far outperforms Evernote. Thx for the primer.

  • Chuck Frey

    Interesting timing: I just wrote a post about how I’m using Dragon Dictation on the iPhone along with Evernote to capture ideas:

    Love it! Thanks for illuminating some additional uses that I hadn’t thought of!

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  • Beth | B Here Today

    Hi Amber, Thanks for this thorough review of Evernote. I’ve been using it at a basic level for a couple of months but now that you’ve done a broad-stroke cool-features list, I’m eager to dig in. I’m guessing you operate pretty efficiently. Are you good enough to just create an extra hour or two in the day?

  • Jennifer Wilson

    Hi Amber, I’ve just installed Evernote (yesterday) and I came across your post in my rss feeds. Thanks for the ideas! I’m excited to get started.

  • Dominique Dejonghe

    nice blogpost about your evernote use.  Most interesting for Evernote power use is the Evernote Essentials eBook.  Have a look here: (affiliate link)

  • Dominique Dejonghe

    nice blogpost about your evernote use.  Most interesting for Evernote power use is the Evernote Essentials eBook.  Have a look here: (affiliate link)

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  • Evgenia Grinblo

    I haven’t heard of Evernote either but I am going to try it after reading your post. It sound incredible for the same reason it scares me. What happens if there’s an Evernote glitch instead of a WordPress glitch? Seems terrifying to lose all that information. That said, I shall be hoping for the best and trying it out shortly. Thanks, Amber! 

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  • Rockguy29

    I use it to take pic of my work schedule so I always have it along with notes of any changes. I have about 1600 notes in my account

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