Many years ago, I signed up for a free Evernote account. I played around with it for a short time, but then abandoned it, in part because I had a hard time understanding it. Then I took a second look and it’s been transformational!
Evernote is basically a digital filing cabinet for … EVERYTHING … accessible ANYWHERE … on ANY DEVICE … that can be shared with ANYONE you wish. This is handy, to say the least, for all. For a pastor, speaker, blogger, or author it’s huge. Imagine being able to save, search, and reference any illustration, web site, article, or document wherever you are and whenever you need it.
So that you will not miss out on Evernote’s benefits due to an inability to grasp its functionality, as I did, I’ll tell you how I best understand it, and how I set it up for super functionality.
Notes, Notebooks, and Stacks–Oh my!
Evernote uses the metaphors of Notebooks, which contain Notes, and can be stacked in, well, Stacks. That’s it.
A Note can be just about anything digital, or that can be digitized: documents, notes, receipts, PDFs, presentations, audio files, web site clippings, photos, emails–you name it. Notebooks can be shared with other users–more about this key distinction later. A Stack is a way of keeping related Notebooks together. Additionally, Notes can be tagged.
While the Note, Notebook, Stack, and Tag metaphors are fine, let me tell you how I think of them, which directly influences how I’ve set up Evernote for the greatest functionality.
What’s my Metaphor?
I had a college professor who would ask, "What’s a metaphor?" and answer, "Cows to graze in." (Metaphor = "meadow for;" get it?)
Maybe the Note/Notebook metaphor unlocks Evernote’s potential in your mind, but it didn’t for me. That may be why I abandoned it the first time around. Here’s how I began to think about Evernote’s organizing structure that caused the light switch to come on and the angels to sing!
I think of Evernote as my limitless file cabinet in the cloud. Evernote’s Stacks are the drawers in the file cabinet. Inside these drawers are file folders (or maybe file pockets, because the size is unlimited), which are the Notebooks. These file folders contain documents, Evernote’s Notes. So...
Evernote = File Cabinet
Stack = File Drawer
Notebook = File Folder
Note = Document
You can see how many people are using Evernote to fulfill the promise of a paperless office. Previously, I’ve never found anything that was truly convenient and useful enough to prompt me to feed my file folders to the shredder. Now, I save almost no paper. Everything gets scanned, snapped, and filed in Evernote.
Tag, you’re it!
Now here’s where it gets interesting…and incredibly useful if you set it up right. The final piece of the Evernote metaphor puzzle is the Tag. Each Note can be tagged with any number of Tags. Of course, you can then search by Tag or Tags. Therefore a Tag can serve as a virtual file folder.
Tag = Index or "Virtual" File Folder
This means one document (Evernote Note) can "live" in an unlimited number of virtual file folders. Re-read that last sentence and then pause to consider the glory of its implications. This is where Evernote as a file cabinet gets better than paper–far better.
Suppose I have filed away a quote by Dave Ramsey about debt that references a verse in Proverbs that I used in a message (sermon) called "Get (Debt) Free." If I have tagged it as such, I can reach into my Evernote file cabinet and find that one quote Note in each of these virtual files:
"Get (Debt) Free"
Set Evernote up correctly, and you’ll always have together everything related to a particular topic, business, category, speech, or resource. Tagging, plus the ability to search all text (even text in pictures and scans), means you’ll never have to remember where you filed something again. Ever.
(Since I’ve been using Evernote for a while now, I notice that some people forget about tags entirely, relying completely upon its ability to search for text. The advantage is you save the time of tagging everything. The disadvantage would be sometimes your searches would miss relevant notes. A note may talk about giving, but if you search for generosity you won’t find it. Or you may get bunches of irrelevant results that happen to include the word, like searching for "giving" would when you’re interested in generosity.)
But to experience this virtual filing bliss, you need to organize Evernote for maximum efficiency.
Organizing principles you must understand to set up Evernote well
I am thankful that when I was organizing Evernote this time around, I found Michael Hyatt‘s article on his Evernote setup. He did it "wrong" the first time, so you and I don’t have to.
After first creating about a bazillion Notebooks to organize his work, he ditched that approach in favor of using Tags as the primary way to organize his Notes, for the reason stated above: Tags let a Note live in multiple virtual file folders. Notebooks are limited in two ways, although they do have one redeeming feature that make them super useful. First, the limits.
A Note can only call one Notebook home.
If you use Notebooks as your primary way of organizing your Notes, you’ll limit yourself because a Note can only call one Notebook home. If you create a Notebook called Quotes and place Dave Ramsey’s gem in it, that’s the only place you’ll find it. Browse your "Dave Ramsey" Notebook and it won’t be there.
Plus, you can’t have a bazillion Notebooks. Evernote’s Notebook limit is 250. That might sound like a lot, but in time you may find it limiting.
You can however have a bazillion Tags, or more precisely, 100,000, which should be more than enough for even the most "organized" (read "obsessive-compulsive") among us.
Therefore, I have as few Notebooks as necessary, and depend on Tags to organize my Notes into nearly limitless virtual file folders. In fact, I only create a Notebook if I want to share its contents with someone else. That’s the feature of Notebooks that really make them useful.
Share and share alike.
The redeeming unique feature of Notebooks is the ability to share them. You will have Notes or groups of Notes that you will want to share with others. Put them in a Notebook to be shared.
Notes in shared Notebooks are accessible to the people who need them, while the rest of your Notes are safely in your care and out of sight from prying eyes. But because you’ve organized all your Notes with Tags, you can pull out your virtual file folder and find in it everything you want and need regardless of the Notebook it’s in. See how awesome that is?
I create Notebooks for groups of Notes I want to share because notebooks make it possible to share.
Tags make Notes easy to organize and find.