How I Use Evernote

How I Use Evernote

All In EvernoteRecently there have been a number of interesting posts outlining how various tech folks use Evernote. For example, check out this experiment by Mike Vardy in which he is going to try to use Evernote for almost everything over the next 30 days.

Readers ask me all the time how I use the software, and since I write about it quite a bit and am currently at about 5,500 notes going back to 2008, I thought I’d share how I personally use it.

TL;DR version: I don’t put everything in it, and I believe in using the best tool for the job.

What I Do With Evernote

I use Evernote every single day. It is my “everything bucket”, for better or for worse. Here are a few things that I use it for:

  • Blog Ideas: I am asked all the time “how can you write a blog about going paperless? Don’t you run out of things to write about?” Absolutely not. If you are looking for ideas on any topic, they are everywhere. I use the Evernote clipper to capture ideas for blog posts to a special notebook.
  • Transitional Documents: I can’t think of the best term for this, but I capture documents that I want to capture and may want to refer to in the near term. I’m thinking things like kids’ soccer schedules, school newspapers, community centre posters, handwritten notes, notebooks, magazine articles, and the like.
  • Recipes: Stereotypical use of Evernote, but it works well.
  • Business Cards: I don’t have a need to export the business card information to Outlook or Address Book or whatever. Taking a picture of a business card and putting it in Evernote tagged “bizcard” works well for me.
  • High Level Project Information: I use OmniFocus for task management, but I find it helpful to brain dump high level project tasks in Evernote.
  • Memories and Ideas: I loved a restaurant? I capture the menu. I had a great beer? Take a picture of the bottle (tagged “beer” naturally). Want to try to make a cocktail? I want to maybe someday be remotely fashionable? Take a picture of ideas. I am a big capture-er. You never know what you will need to look up again until you need to look it up.
  • Travel Information: Itineraries, directions, travel reservations, to-dos, anything related to a trip goes into an Evernote notebook that is marked Offline on my iPhone and iPad. This has come in incredibly handy more than once.
  • Wacky Projects: In 2012 I have had a project where once per month I learn to make a different cocktail[1], and a friend and I have a thing where every Friday he makes us lunch and I pair it with a different beer selection[2]. I capture the results of all this in Evernote, and it is fun to look back.

I use Evernote for more than this, but you get the idea.

File Cabinet vs. Bulletin Board

Clever readers will have noticed one thing that I did not mention above: I don’t generally store my paperless documents in Evernote. I’m talking “permanent” things like bills, statements, that sort of thing.

That is not to say that I am recommending that you don’t use Evernote for this. Lots of people do and are quite happy. For me, being slightly old-school, I am just most comfortable having my stuff stored in file folders on my computer.

For years I struggled with how to explain the difference between what I store in folders and what I store in Evernote. It has always been clear to me, but I hadn’t been able to put it into words.

Then I had a phone call with awesome DocumentSnap reader Leo, and as I stumbled through my explanation he said “oh, so folders are like your file cabinet, and Evernote is like your bulletin board.”

Yes! What a great way to put it. They just happen to be a very large, searchable file cabinet and a very large, searchable bulletin board that I can carry around with me wherever I go.

Shouldn’t I Have Everything In One Place Instead Of Spreading It Around?

Maybe you should. For me, having things split up like this makes perfect sense. For others, they might find it easier to have everything in one place, whether that is having documents in Evernote or having everything on the computer.

Whichever way you do it, I recommend that if you are going to have important documents in a proprietary system of any kind, you know how to get them out. If my “bulletin board” went away it would suck, but I’d be fine. If my “file cabinet” went away, I’d be pretty upset.

Do What Works For You

There is no right or wrong answer with any of this stuff. You need to go with whatever you are comfortable with. Don’t try to shoehorn your workflow into someone else’s system, but instead take what ideas make sense to you, and ignore the rest.

  1. Closing out December: Dark N’ Stormy. Can’t wait.  ↩

  2. Trust me, for the safety of all involved, you don’t want me to be the one doing the cooking.  ↩

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Ralph - January 5, 2018 Reply

I just intermittently back up my Evernote files to a folder on my PC.

Dragan - April 3, 2013 Reply

Thank you for the great post!
Just beginning with implementing the paperless concept with the help of your ScanSnap Setup Guide and the Paperless Document Organisation Guide.

My concept will be exactly as the structure and type of stuff in Evernote you're doing, with additional enormous amount of various musical knowledge in my case, lyrics, ideas for songs with audio notes and all that. All that will be scanned into Evernote.
Then the Omni Focus can point at a certain note or notebook as tasks prior to recording sessions, gigs, lectures and so on.

In the "File cabinet" I'm keeping the program files (from Logic, Garage Band, MP3s, Pages, Word etc) _and_ lots of original pdf's although I already have them in Evernote.
This is only because I do like to be able to read them on the go and on iPhone, iPad and my laptop, being able to reach it online as well, all this is fantastic with Evernote, _but_ it kills the hyperlinks after importing the pdf's, which I find very annoying.
If there were a similar app costing the double of what Evernote Premium costs but with the ability to import my complete database _and_ preserve the hyperlinks in pdf's, I'd jump on it in two seconds.
As it is now, I'm paying a premium licence for Evernote for getting "dead on delivery" pdf's, it's actually a read-only picture of the original pdf…

Ed Gallagher - December 16, 2012 Reply

I try and keep it simple. I've been utilizing the principals of GTD since 2001. I use Astrid for Next Actions and Evernote for everything else, reference, To reads, photo's, music, goals, ideas, notes, etc. Recently I bought a ScanSnap and archive everything to Evernote with the eventual goal of going totally paperless. I can access both my Astrid (To-dos) and Evernote (everything else) with my Samsung Galaxy SIII phone, My tablet and my PC.

One example of when it came in handy was when my car dealer couldn't find me in their system searching by name, phone, and address. I pulled out my phone, looking at an old invoice in Evernote and asked "how about a customer number". Voila, there I was.

Leave a Reply: