I love Evernote for one big reason: of all the organization tools and techniques I have tried, Evernote has been the only one that I have stuck with and with which I have achieved a quite astonishing level of organization. Evernote allows for the organization and storage of just about anything. Initially a way to keep track of notes and bits of information, it now can be adapted for just about any purpose, from decluttering your desk or eliminating that shoebox of receipts to tracking recipes or sharing information. Evernote is available on just about every platform, Desktop, Web, Browser, Mobile and Tablet.
I use Evernote for personal purposes: keeping track of prime campground sites, which printer cartridge’s I use or my FSA receipts, and professional purposes: keeping track of expenses or project progress and ideas. I’ve been using Evernote for several years now (ever since I actually had adult concerns like bills in my life) and I have found very little I can’t do with it.
Before You Get to Organizing with Evernote
This is a pretty important step. In order to streamline your experience and make things as easy as possible (the only way anything works for me) is to make sure you have everything setup in advance, from hardware to software. At least install Evernote on your desktop and phone, but preferably any device that is YOURS and you use regularly. Low impact options like the web version or the Chrome App make access of your data a breeze from devices you don’t want to install the full blown app on (like at work). Next, install the Evernote Web Clipper, which is available for various browsers or as a bookmarklet. This will allow you to get cool stuff you see online into your notebook with the click of a button (it also astablishes a Web Clippings notebook in evernote, which we will discuss later).
Add Evernote to your contact list. Why? This way you can forward emails, for things such as bills, directly to Evernote and clean them out of your Inbox. You can get your Evernote’s email address by going to Tools -> Account Info. Emails sent to Evernote will go to your default notebook (Inbox).
Finally, set up your scanner. This is a HUGE feature and should not be missed. Make sure you have Evernote installed on whichever desktop is hooked up to your scanner, I have a wireless one but by default it will scan directly to a directory on my PC. Next, set up Evernote to watch your scans directory, and bring in anything it finds there. This can be done by going to Tools -> Import Folders. You should setup the import to go to either your Inbox or a Scanned Documents notebook. I’ll talk a little more about which I like more below. Now, whenever you scan a document, Evernote will automatically import it and get it queued up for OCR analysis so you can search your scans. Awesome!
Now That You Are All Setup
This is the “meat and potatoes” of the operation, where you’ll set up home base for all your document organization. Let’s start with your incoming notebooks. These are your “shoot for 0 notebooks” — notebooks that should hover around 0 items as much as possible. Similar to keeping your email inbox empty, these notebooks should only act as temporary storage for your information. On my setup I have the following “Incoming” stack:
- Scanned Documents
- Web Clippings
By separating my Inbox into three distinct notebooks I presort everything that comes into Evernote. I know whatever is in Inbox will most likely be either quick notes or forwarded emails, which are typically sorted or used briefly then deleted. Whatever is in Scanned Documents will usually be sorted and never thought about again, and whatever lands in Web Clippings will either be sorted, expanded upon or trashed.
Next you need to setup your organizational stacks and notebooks. Start small, create notebooks for things you already have to organize, and a few more for things you know you will eventually have. For instance I have an “Apartment” notebook, that contains a few important scans such as rent increase agreements (boo), what printer cartridges I use, or dimensions of items I’ve needed for various projects. I don’t really have any notebooks like it, so I keep it by itself at the top level. On the other end of the spectrum is my “Heyer Designs” stack, which looks a little like this:
- Heyer Designs
- 0Heyer Designs Inbox
- 2011 Expenses
- 2012 Expenses
- Quick Project Ideas
What’s up with 0Heyer? The reason behind prepending my stack’s inbox with a 0 is so that it is first in the list, and thus the default notebook for the stack. This way if I collapse the stack or accidentally drop something into the top level stack it falls into the Inbox for that stack and isn’t lost to a notebook I rarely go into, and will most likely be sorted again. Other than that everything is fairly straight forward. Most of what are in the Expenses notebooks are scans that I sorted right into them and renamed and tagged (I’ll cover my techniques for this in another article).
The crux of my organization techniques within Evernote are as follows:
- Make it Easy - Hookup everything you can to Evernote so you have as many entry points as necessary.
- Presort When Possible – The less you have to do before you get into Evernote, the better.
- Start Small, Stay Extensible - Don’t try to create all your notebooks at once, but don’t pigeon hole yourself with too focused of notebooks either.