Soon the horns will blow and the apple will drop. In the days before that merry moment I am reflecting and planning; you know organizing my stuff and setting some goals. One of my favourite tools for managing the madness of too-much-stuff-to-remember is Evernote (EN). I have been using it since 2008 and find it delivers real value. If you aren’t familiar with EN then you might want to try it out in 2016 (just my opinion, I have no affiliation with EN).
Evernote’s Sweet Spot
I think EN is a great tool, but you set yourself up for disappointment if you think it can do everything. It has its sweet spot. For example, if you love to organize yourself using directories, sub-directories and so on, then EN will frustrate you. It is not designed to organize your stuff using extensive hierarchical folder arrangements. That doesn’t mean it can’t organize your stuff. It can. But it does it differently.
I am not using EN to replace or duplicate the file folder structures I have. That would just be a lot of work with little gain. Instead I use EN in ways that complement that file system. I use it to capture and organize stuff that doesn’t come at me like a neat folder in a sub-directory.
- First, web clippings. The Evernote Web Clipper for the Chrome browser gives me the option to capture the webpage as is, or simplified, just as a selection or as a bookmark.
- Second, Gmail and attachments. A lot of reference or actionable information arrives as an email. The EN Web Clipper interfaces effectively with Gmail and allows me to corral that material right at the source.
- Third, document scans. For me this really translates into scans of excerpts from books I have been reading. The main idea here is curating stuff that doesn’t yet exist in a digital format.
Using Evernote as a Minimalist
Once I have “captured”, I then need to decide how to process it to best suit my needs. Again I am a minimalist. Yes, EN provides me with the ability to label every “note” with numerous tags, but that doesn’t mean I need to feel obliged to do that. My starting point is no tags.
Often the automatic note title that is generated by the web clipper is sufficient. What I mean is that the key words I would likely use to “find” this note in the future are already in the note title. However, if they are not, then I edit the note title so that it includes key words that represent its content and value to me.
There are times when the above approach isn’t enough. For example, I have clipped a web article that might be the inspiration I need for a future blog post. It is a benefit to me to have all those clippings together. To accomplish that I label them with an EN tag (e.g., “\idea”).
I use special characters in my tag syntax to organize tagged notes into helpful collections. How does that play out? Well, sermons are labelled with a tag beginning with “+” followed by the Scripture reference, books I am annotating are tagged with “=“ followed by author and title and blog posts are tagged with “\” and then the subject. If a note has value in more than one context, let’s say it is both a potential idea for a post and an illustration for a current sermon, then I can easily reflect that by tagging it twice.
Some more of the story
Evernote’s advanced search syntax by Paul Ciano