Tips for Getting Started with #Evernote from An Unapologetic Fangirl

hero_evernoteThe other day I posted on Facebook:

Scanner, Shredder and Evernote: the holy trinity of home organization.

A few friends responded that they’d like to use Evernote but haven’t quite figured it out. I wish I could sit side by side with each of these people and offer a tutorial–I love Evernote just that much. (I love it so much I have the water bottle!) It has made my life easier and more organized in countless ways.

What I can do, however, is try to capture some general getting-started ideas and offer some examples of how I use it in hopes that others will be inspired to give it a try.

GENERAL THOUGHTS

  • It may not be your thing. If you’ve really tried to use Evernote and just not gotten anywhere, it could be that it just doesn’t work the way your mind works. No sense in banging your head against the wall.
  • Know your options. Some people use Pinterest in the same way I use Evernote—to collect things in notebooks (or in Pinterest’s case, boards) for easy access. The problem with Pinterest is it’s mainly built for web pages, and it’s public… so private information and info you get from non-websites are hard to store there. Similarly, many people use Dropbox as a repository for their stuff. Also a good option, except Dropbox doesn’t have the sophisticated tagging and thumbnail capabilities that Evernote does.
  • Understand Notebooks v. Tags. These are the backbone of Evernote. Notebooks are self-explanatory—they are collections of common information, such as Recipes, Travel Destinations, Tax Receipts. Tags are searchable and are good for labeling things across notebooks. So for example, maybe I have a great article about raising tweens that’s in my Articles notebook, but I also wrote a journal entry about my experience that’s in my Personal Writing notebook. Both can be tagged with “parenting.”
  • Start where you are. I think people get stuck because they’ve got lots of paper files and the thought of putting all of that into Evernote seems overwhelming. It definitely is. I feel the same way about all these photos I have in albums. It stinks to live between two different technologies. My advice? Don’t worry about your backlog for now. Just move forward using Evernote instead of a paper filing system, then get to the historical data some other time. (Or not–do you really need all that? The stuff you do need, you’ll dig up and use, and that will be your cue to put it into Evernote.)
  • Start with one topic. One manageable way to get going is to choose one topic and start putting all of that into Evernote, then put other stuff in there later. So start with a Recipes notebook, for example, or financial stuff.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • An Evernote account–premium is best, but start with the free version if you’re not sold yet.
  • The Evernote app installed on your desktop and, ideally, your phone/tablet.
  • The Evernote web clipper for the browser of your choice.
  • A scanner, although you can take pictures of documents with your camera for a lower-tech alternative. Photos in Evernote have character recognition, and there are plugins that will straighten and clean things up too.
  • Your own unique email-to-Evernote address. When you sign up for Evernote you are given an email address that you can use to forward email messages straight to Evernote. There’s even a complicated system where you can tell it in the subject line which notebook to sort it into, but I can never remember the syntax, so I just send it and sort and tag manually later.

USE CASES

A big sticking place for people (I think) is getting into the Evernote mindset. The more you use Evernote, the more useful it is, because it’ll become your go-to place to find stuff (as opposed to that pile on your desk… or was it in email… or in that blog post you read three weeks ago, where was that again?).

So here are some of the ways I’ve used Evernote in just the last week. Hopefully this will spark your own ideas. (I also wrote a post a few years back specifically for pastors.)

  • While traveling this week, I got a receipt when I checked my bag. I took a picture of that receipt with my phone and filed it in my Tax/Expense notebook so I can forget about it until next spring when I want to write off that expense on my taxes.
  • Along the same line, I emailed a receipt for that flight to my Evernote account so when I need that receipt at tax time I won’t have to hunt around my email for it.
  • Evernote is my digital scrapbook, so I scanned the bib of a recent race, as I do for all of my races. I can look at these later and, if I wish, can get them professionally printed and do one of those artsy-crafty bib display projects. (But let’s face it–I’m not going to do that, so why keep them lying around?)
  • I scanned an article from Runners World on “healthy evening snacks for runners.”
  • I did menu planning using an Evernote that lists the most common recipes we make, which helps jog my memory of what we’ve had recently.
  • I wrote a blog post for my contract gig. Evernote is great for composing early drafts because it’s faster than Microsoft Word, it saves automatically, and there’s even a note history if you end up liking a previous version better. Once you get to the track-changes phase you can save that Word document into Evernote too.
  • A friend posted this article on my FB wall and I clipped it from Chrome into Evernote and gave it tags like “courage” and “kindness” so if I’m preparing a sermon or other presentation on that topic I can find it.
  • I scanned all of our bank statements, bills, and other financial items we’ve received recently. I do this every month or so. (Again I refer you back to the “it may not be your thing” bullet point. If the thought of doing this gives you hives, don’t do it.)
  • I scanned an essay Margaret wrote for school about swimming across the lake in Maine last summer. Each of the kids has their own notebook containing my favorite artwork, schoolwork, and letters.
  • I input statistics from the girls’ latest doctors appointments so I have them all in one place.

Each of these tasks (except the blog post and updating doctor stats) took less than a minute to complete–often much less than that. As I type all of that, though, it sounds like a lot of work. But for me it’s a lot more work not to have the receipts I need at tax time. Or to spend 45 minutes looking for that article that illustrates my point perfectly in the article I’m writing. Or to rifle through a pile of bank statements until I find the one I’m looking for. I’ve written about how the harder thing is the easier thing. Evernote is a prime example of that.

Again, everyone’s temperament is different. But I do hope this inspires people who are “Evernote shaped” to give it a try. You may end up loving it as much as I do.

12 thoughts on “Tips for Getting Started with #Evernote from An Unapologetic Fangirl

  1. Sarah Erickson

    I’ve been using Evernote, just added the Clipper. Using primarily for work-related tasks and organizing around CLL events, and related topics. Will continue to see how it goes, and how Clipper adds to (or not) the experience.

    I’d been looking forward to this ever since you mentioned it last week.

    Thanks,
    S

    Reply
  2. Bob Braxton

    end of June 2009 was my last day of professional work for pay, completing eleven years. I used to subscribe to a Windows “secrets” (this is advanced Windows 3.1 and 3.2 – long before 2000 or XP) and I was concerned to justify my existence as a professional tech person. One of the hints was that in NOTEPAD (Microsoft), beginning a line with a dot (period) caused the entry automatically to stamp the date and time of the entry! I was excited. I kept a NOTEPAD document and each time I responded to a request, I would bring up the NOTEPAD (notebook) and start a new single line to report (to self) what I was doing or had just done. Another task I had was to capture and document processes so I could remember not only how to do in the future but also to document “exactly” what I was doing so I could go back and check, especially if anything “screwed up” afterwards. So, when I first ran into the free EverNote (in my daily tech reading) I was excited because it also did an automatic stamp of the date and time of an action and also I could use [Alt]-PrtScr key combination to capture what part of the monitor / screen display I wanted. For me it was a God-send.

    Reply
  3. Katherine

    This is really helpful – thank you. I opened an Evernote account a couple of months ago. I only have one notebook, related to my next book project, and I haven’t quite figured out how to use it smoothly. You make a good case for it!

    Reply
  4. Jo 'Ann Staebler

    OK, I guess I have to try it. It sounds so much more efficient and flexible than saving into email files and Word files. Hint for recipes: I’ve been using Paprika for recipes since the Washington Post reviewed it. When I find a recipe I like in the newspaper or a magazine, it’s almost always available through Paprika, so I save it there and no more clippings! Or if I want to try something new with ingredients I have, Paprika will find an assortment of recipes for me, and I save the one I use if it’s good. It can all be categorized according to the topics I look for.

    Reply
  5. Lorraine

    Hmm…. Well, I’ll give it another look I think. I *want* to like it because it sounds so organized. lol.

    I’m one of the folks who still use a paper planner, even though I also said I wanted to like using a digital one. But I just can’t get away from wanting that written thing right in front of me, and I also find it faster to open my paper planner than to go into the digital one. And I like to see the “big picture” right in front of me. So I’m thinking I might have some trouble with Evernote.

    But I’m willing to give it another try (I opened a basic account years ago and have things saved there, although I’ve forgotten everything about it…) because I like the idea of having things like receipts all organized.

    Reply
    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      I have wondered whether for some people, certain things should be Evernoted and other things not. For example they encourage people to use Evernote as a to-do list because you can link to-do items to specific notes that pertain to the activity. But I’ve just never gotten on board with that. I use Things for my to-do list, though actually I use paper–I look at the day’s items each morning (or evening before) and write them down.

      I really think some people’s minds aren’t Evernote shaped. Just like how I read those articles about how messy desks mean creativity and I want to break out in hives. Nothing would make me LESS creative than a cluttered space like that.

      Reply
  6. Joanna

    This is so helpful! One question–for the important household documents, do you have a shared folder with Robert so that you can both manage and add to them? Just trying to figure out how to make this work. I now have Evernote fired up on my iPad and iPhone and am trying it out.

    Reply
  7. Lindsey

    Does the idea of so much being “in the cloud” ever freak you out? I don’t think I use things like Evernote as much as I would like because part of me is anxious that something will happen to Evernote and really important things would be *poof* gone.

    Reply
    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      It is a risk, like anything. But if you use the desktop version, everything is also stored locally on your computer. So if the catastrophic thing happened you’d still have copies of everything. Also, while I know some people use cloud storage as a de facto backup system, we do not–we also have backup software that runs every so often and backs everything up.

      The other risk is that Evernote suddenly ceases to exist and then what do you do with all these Evernote files? I’m impressed enough with the company that even if they closed up shop they would have plans in place for helping people transition to something else. I’m also confident that enough smart people will be in the same position that lots of people will be writing Evernote conversion utilities.

      Reply

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