Improving How I Use Evernote

In the past month I’ve tightened up my GTD practice, and as part of that have I’ve relied on Evernote as my digital filing system. I want to talk about just some of the new ways I’m using Evernote on a day to day basis.

Creating Many Notebooks

Compared to how I used Evernote before, the biggest change I’ve made has been becoming aggressive with my approach to creating notebooks, tags, and notes. Before, I wanted to keep my Evernote data neatly organized in as few folders as possible and keep only the most structured data in them. One example was a single note that tracked in a hyperlinked list dozens of books I wanted to buy from Amazon. But Using Evernote like this was ineffective. The time it took to add information went up, and I couldn’t use the Evernote clipping tools. Using Evernote in this way also made me reluctant to create new notebooks or even about creating new notes and tags.

Wile re-reading Getting Things Done I came across a passage that said “Get comfortable filing even a single piece of paper that you might want to refer to later.” So changing how I used Evernote and getting comfortable with adding new data is exactly what I did. Being able to get really specific about where you want a note to go, and letting yourself create a new notebook for a single piece of information makes capturing a whole lot easier. When it comes to GTD, if your reference system isn’t capturing the information you need it to, then it’s bad system.

Creating Personal Data Archives

What I’ve noticed in the past year is that after introducing the Evernote Trunk, many more apps have integrated with Evernote. The biggest result I’ve seen from this is that a lot more of the applications I use have “Send to Evernote” built in. I really love having the option to export data to Evernote, especially when I’m on my iPad. I’ve started to use this a lot with apps like Instapaper, Penultimate, and Reeder.

For apps that don’t have “Send to Evernote”, most still always you to share via email, so I’ve set up my Evernote email address as a contact, and send a lot of information to my Evernote inbox that way.

As I send information from other apps to Evernote, I build a centralized collection of data that can support multiple media types, is searchable, is easily accessible, and is perfect for archiving any information in case I might ever need it in the future.

Creating Libraries

Something I’ve only just started using Evernote for is saving web articles. Saving articles from the net is something I’ve never been able to find the right solution to. I want access to the content of the article, as well as a link to the original source.

What I do now is use Evernote to store articles I’ve already read, and that I want access to in the future. I keep articles stored in different “library” notebooks, grouped by topic. This lets me save articles that I’ve all read (so there’s no confusion about what’s “read” and what’s “to-read”), I know the article is worth hanging onto for reference, and I can keep track of any subject I want.

Here are the libraries I currently have set up:

  • Analytics
  • China
  • Design
  • GTD
  • Programming
  • Social Media
  • Strategy
  • Writing

If I want to track sub-topics across articles I’ll use tags. I’ve created tags to track topics like “wire framing” for some Design notes, “contexts” for some GTD notes, “objective-c” for some Programming notes.

(The missing piece I haven’t figured out is how best to mimic highlighting passages from those notes.)

Creating Stacks

In the spirit of being aggressive towards creating new notebooks, I’m using stacks a lot more as a way to create a hierarchy of notes. Giving my Evernote collection some depth makes it easier to manage the larger number of notebooks I have. I have a stack for all my different libraries, a stack dedicated to products (ones I want and ones I own), and a stack to hold notebooks for all of my personal projects.

Capturing Physical Objects

Since upgrading to the iPhone 4S I’m making heavy use of it’s amazing camera to capture almost everything digitally.

There’s not much to say except that if I have something lying around that I could instead capture into Evernote and then throw out, that’s what I do.

Here’s a brief list of things I’ve started to capture:

  • Receipts
  • Workout records
  • Products packaging
  • Restaurant menus
  • Business cards
  • Notebook notes

One of my on going projects is to learn Mandarin. I use Evernote to store photos of any restaurant signs, street signs, and product labels I find. I translate the characters and save that information in Evernote for later if I ever want to reference a particular restaurant or product.

Creating a Paleo Recipe Book

Last month I switched over to the Paleo diet. To help make this easier I created a new notebook to be able to reference all of the paleo recipes I’ve started making. Recipes is a perfect example of information that you’ll probably want to access again in the future, and Evernote is the perfect way to store it.

It’s a real simple solution; With Evernote I store a photo of the food, the ingredients list, and the directions. Since I often have my iPad in the kitchen while I cook, I always use Evernote as my reference while I’m cooking.

So that’s how I’m using Evernote now. One of the best things about Evernote is that every new way I find to use it, makes it that much more valuable. Hopefully you can use some of what I’ve shared here.

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