Holly’s Evernote Guide, Part 1: Getting Started

What IS Evernote Anyway?

Evernote is an idea trapper and information organizer. Ideas and information are entered as Notes, which can be organized into Notebooks and Stacks and Tagged for quick filtering. Using a file cabinet analogy, a Note is a piece of paper, a Notebook is a file folder, and a Stack is a hanging folder. In this series, I’ll refer to these three key components collectively as “elements”. If you’re looking for a pure To-Do list or Calendar, look elsewhere. But Evernote is so much more powerful than either one that it doesn’t matter. And it can easily be integrated with your calendar and to-do solutions because all notes can be referenced by a link.

Evernote is available in two versions:

  1. FREE: The free version is a great no-risk way to get started. You may find that you’re perfectly happy with the free version and never need to upgrade.
  2. Premium: The Premium version ($45/year) adds several features that I consider essential:
    • Offline notebooks: In the free version, your mobile device must be connected to the Internet in order to view and sync notes. The Premium version allows you to save some or all of your content locally on the device so you can view it even when you are out of cell/wifi range.
    • OCR: the Search capability is one of Evernote’s strongest features, but in the free version it is limited to text. Premium adds automatic OCR of all images and PDFs stored in Evernote, which exposes that content in Search results as well.
    • Better collaboration: I use Evernote for both personal and work, and I share several of my work notebooks with colleagues. With Premium, I can give them the ability to add and edit notes instead of just viewing mine.

Why I Started Using It

I’ve gone through an assortment of tools and strategies over the past two decades in an effort to manage my ADD. The challenge has always been to trap ideas and information before they float out of my head (SHINY!!!), and then be able to produce that information when I need it. The latest candidate is Evernote and so far it’s a winner. For me, its most compelling feature is that it runs on every electronic device I have access to and automatically synchronizes between them. That means that I always have a way to trap information and it is instantly available everywhere. Even if I have to resort to paper for my notes (sometimes it’s just easier than typing), I can usually keep track of the paper long enough to get it transferred, or at least get a photo of it (which is all I need, as you’ll see later).

There are as many ways to use Evernote as there are people using it (and I think that everybody should use it). But the same power and flexibility that makes the program so valuable can also make it somewhat daunting to start using. There are many “How To…” resources available for Evernote, but I think the best way to start is by seeing how other people are using it  and then adapt and expand it for your own needs. I’m not an expert by any means, and there many features that I don’t even know about. But I’m enough of an Evernote evangelist that I decided to jot down some of the ways I use it – it will be simpler to just send this blog link (which I’ll store in Evernote) when I recommend it to a friend and they want more information.

Core Features

These are the core features that contribute most heavily to my success with Evernote:

  1. Cross-platform synchronization. As I mentioned above, all notes are instantly available on all connected devices, regardless of platform – Desktop clients (Windows or Mac), Mobile (iOS, Android, Windows phone), any Web browser on any machine or device.
  2. Search. I can quickly search across all notes (I currently have nearly 1500), or limit my search to a particular notebook or stack. And as mentioned above, with Premium, all images and PDFs stored in Evernote are OCR’d and included in the search. Type-ahead suggestion of matching phrases is a relatively new feature that simplifies searches.
  3. Ease of entry: There are many ways to enter notes and trap information (see next section)
  4. Tagging: Tagging provides a mechanism to instantly gather related notes from different notebooks and stacks.
  5. Flexibility: Easy to reorganize if your initial strategies aren’t working for you (which is why you should just dive in)
  6. 3rd Party Integration: Evernote has gotten so popular that all sorts of apps have cropped up to provide integration.

How does stuff get into Evernote?

Almost any way you can think of. Here are the main ways I get stuff into Evernote:

  1. Direct Entry: self-explanatory, type it in. (Not device-dependent.)
  2. Dictation: Second only to text messaging, dictating notes into Evernote is one of my main uses for Siri on my iPhone. (Mobile only, unless you have some sort of dictation software.)
  3. Web Clipping: install the plug-in for the browser of your choice, and with just a few clicks, you can add anything from the Internet into Evernote. Using the browser plug-in, you can clip a URL, an article, a selection, or a full page. And with recent enhancements, you can even select the target Notebook on the fly. (Currently only available natively on Desktop browsers, although I believe there are some apps that overcome this deficiency on mobile platforms.)
  4. Email: There are two ways to get information from e-mails into Evernote. If you use Outlook on your Desktop, there is a plug-in so you can just click a button. With any other email program (including Mobile), you can forward messages to your Evernote e-mail address.
  5. File import: With Evernote, you can set up any number of import folders on your PC – anything you save in these folders gets sucked into a specified notebook folder. I use this for bringing in PDFs – dog show premiums, appliance manuals, etc. (Desktop only, for obvious reasons.)
  6. FileThis: cloud service for gathering statements and receipts from financial, insurance and utility vendors, and sending them directly to Evernote. (More details in Part 2.)

Getting Started – Dive Right In

I recommend starting on your computer (PC or Mac) by downloading the Desktop program. Not all Evernote platforms are created equally and the Desktop app is by far the most powerful and flexible. I do all of my set-up and organization on the PC and use the iOS version for consumption and entering new notes. Open the Desktop app and just start playing around with it. Pretend you have a stack of ideas and information on one side of the room, boxes of file folders and labels in the middle of the room, and an empty file cabinet on the other side of the room. There is no wrong way to start – just start gathering and entering and organizing information. If you don’t like where you put something, drag-and-drop it to somewhere else. If you don’t like the name you gave a folder, rename it. If you find you’ve entered information you don’t need, delete it.

As I was gathering resources for this post, I found this great blog article by Jon Mitchell, which focuses on “How to Think about Evernote” rather than “How to Use Evernote”. Very succinct, and saved me a bunch of time because I don’t have to re-write everything that the author has already presented so well. I highly recommend you read it. Some of the details vary from my usage, but I agree with everything he has said.

Check out these free online training resources

Next up: Holly’s Evernote Guide, Part 2: How I Use It

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