Evernote is a cloud-based, information organization app. I have been using Evernote since 2011 to capture ideas, notes, important documents, images, and track projects and my goals. Initially I used the free basic version, but then I upgraded to the premium level ($69.99 per year now) and I find it is well worth it as I can do so much more by adding Word documents, PDF documents, and Excel files as well. I would like to share with you a few of the ways I use it to increase my productivity and reduce paper clutter.
- Organizing Projects. We started building our new house in spring 2012, and there were just so many decisions and checklists to be made every day to meet deadlines. I took pictures of homes, materials and web pages and uploaded them to my Evernote account. I can attach notes and use multiple Tags for each note so that later I can search for it easily when I need it, even from another computer.
- Keeping Track of Receipts. This is important, especially the receipts for the expenses that are tax deductible. I can scan paper receipts to Evernote, so when I receive a receipt in my email inbox, I forward it to my Evernote and then Tag it as “Receipts” and “Tax Deductible”. If the receipts are related to products I bought that have a warranty, I add another Tag for “Warranty” and the name of vendor. Later, I can find them easily by searching for the Tags.
- Clipping Web Pages to Read Later. How often do you say to yourself “I will read this later” when you browse websites? Now it’s easy: Launch Web Clipper to start clipping. Click the elephant button in your browser toolbar to launch Web Clipper. Select a clip type, full-length or sections of web pages, such as news stories or research articles. Save time and review clipped content offline, during your commute. I Tag these article as “Read Later” in Evernote and read them later. After I finish reading them, I then remove the Tag.
- Taking Notes on My iPad and Then Filing Them in Evernote. This is so convenient when I go to conferences and monthly FPA meetings outside my office. Using tags such as “FPA Symposium” or “TD Conference” I am able to find them later in my office to share the Notes with my team. If I didn’t bring my iPad to the meeting, I can use my iPhone to take notes using the Evernote app and it will sync with my Evernote account immediately. If you write something on the handout and take a picture to be unloaded to Evernote, you can actually search for the words you scribbled in the picture. It’s amazing.
- Taking Pictures of License Plates, Printer Cartridges, Air Filter Models, My Foundation #. Anything you want to reference later and not use part of your brain to memorize should be captured. When you are at the store, you can pull up the images you filed in Evernote to get the shopping done quickly. Pictures of my daughter at special events, and the amazing art projects, photographic essays, and slide presentations she creates are filed and tagged accordingly. Exactly two months ago today, we welcomed our first puppy, Luna, a petite Goldendoodle to our home! She will have her first haircut this evening, and I will take a picture of her before and after, then upload them to my Evernote account. If I like the hairstyle, next time I will show the picture to the groomer without even having to describe it.
- Tracking My Goals and Reviewing Them Periodically. It doesn’t matter how big or important a goal is, if we don’t review it, it’ll fade from memory. It’s almost as simple as the old saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Unless I’m tracking my progress against my goal, I’m probably not actually making much progress. What that means is that we need an intentional, regular review process for our goals. Evernote is perfect for tracking goals. It’s a better goal-tracking solution than more robust, dedicated applications. (Remember: “Complexity is the enemy of execution.”) In addition to business goals, I track personal goals including “New Year Resolutions”. Don’t laugh, I still write down my resolutions, not on paper, but in Evernote. Looking back a few years, I’m amazed how much I have accomplished in business by using this tool Personal goals status: falling behind in learning Spanish, but doing well with piano practice, reading and travel.
Using Tags Instead of Notebooks in Evernote. If you decide to give it a try by going paperless, create your own system of filing. There are Tags and Notebooks inside Evernote to help you file and search. My advice is to use Tags more often than using Notebooks to create your filing system. These are the limitations of Notebooks:
- Notebooks are limited to 250 per personal account. This may sound like plenty, but you will be close to the limit very soon if you use them extensively.
- A Note can only exist in one Notebook at a time. It’s a one-to-many relationship. The problem comes when you want to include a Note in two or more Notebooks. That’s a many-to-many relationship, and it isn’t supported. You have to duplicate the note and put a copy in each notebook.
- Notebooks can be stacked but not nested. In essence, this means you can only create a hierarchy that is one level deep: a stack with a group of Notebooks. I wanted to be able to organize things in multiple levels.
The Advantages of Tags. Tags are much more flexible. The advantages are the mirror image of the limitations:
- Tags are virtually unlimited. You can have up to 100,000 per account. This will satisfy the needs of 99.9% of users, including me.
- Notes can have multiple Tags. The practical value of this is that a note can exist in multiple containers without duplication. For example, if I go to a TD Conference and attended a session about business succession planning, I can Tag it with “TD Conference”, “Business Succession”, and “Planning”. In this way, I can see this same Note, regardless of the Tag I am using.
- Tags can be nested into multiple hierarchies. This allows me to organize my Tags in a way that makes sense for me. I am not constrained by the limitations of the software.
This month, I’ve learned about another free app, “Scanner Pro”, that allows me to take pictures and save as PDF files - turning my iPhone into a portable scanner. Now I can take pictures of paper receipts without even using a scanner! I can email them to others and file them in Evernote. So forget about buying file cabinets and you can cut down the paper clutter on your desk.
I’m sure my system will continue to evolve over time. Hopefully, this gives you an overview of what Evernote can do for you and a few ideas of how you can design your system. The key is to design a structure that frees your mind from distractions and allows you to focus on what matters most to you.