Organizing Your Thoughts With Evernote

  • Posted on: 24 June 2011
  • By: Nate Jones

Sometimes I don't know where all the thoughts in my head go. For me the problem has never been having ideas, it's remembering the ideas. Even if I actually manage to write down an idea, bringing it to mind later when I need it can be less than certain. On top of that there is reference material to deal with. Even if I do manage to read the tons and tons of paper that passes over my desk, retaining that knowledge so that it's available, especially if it's not immediately useful, is difficult.

A few months ago I started looking for a system of some sort that would allow me to have greater and easier access to notes, ideas, and reference materials. What I found was Evernote.

Evernote is a catch all, brain dump service. You can store text, images, PDFs, and many more file formats in it. (Some file formats require a premium license.) Then once your information is in Evernote it becomes searchable and organizable. They even provide OCR for images that you upload, so the images become searchable too.

The key feature of Evernote, for me, is its speed. I use the Mac version of the desktop client and I have never seen any program that can search and find things as fast as this one. Real time searches as you're typing them in make it very easy to find any of your recorded thoughts or reference material. And the notes render almost instantly in the view pain when you click on them. (Sometimes there is a lag when you have a large PDF that needs to render, but in my case that is a pretty limited circumstance.)

Stacks, Notebooks, and Tags

You organize notes in Evernote using Stacks, Notebooks, and Tags. Every note resides in one Notebook. Multiple Notebooks can be in a Stack. Every note can also have as many Tags as you want on it.

This setup gives tremendous flexibility when organizing your notes, but it can also be a bit daunting when you first look at it. Here is how I organize things. It is by far not the only way to organize your notes. And I have definitely seen a lot of posts from very successful people who use Evernote who have set things up differently. This way works for me, but you'll need to find a way that works for you.

Notebooks and Stacks = Types

I use Notebooks to organize different types of notes. Here are some of the types of notes that I keep:

  • Blog Ideas
  • Blog Posts
  • Bookmarks
  • Checklists
  • Personal Notes
  • Meeting Notes
  • Teaching Notes
  • Quotes
  • Reference
  • Financial Statements
  • Receipts

So in my setup each of these types of notes becomes a Notebook. When I have a few different types of notes that relate together, such as Financial Statements and Receipts, I group them so that I can view them together in a Stack. Stacks are cool because you can see the notes from multiple Notebooks in one list by clicking on the stack.

Tags = Topics, People, and Projects

I use Tags to organize my notes based on a topic, person, or project. Tags are useful because each note can have multiple tags and tags can cross Notebooks.

For instance in my use case I might have a single meeting where we discuss multiple projects. That's OK because I can Tag those meeting notes with the identifier for each project. For a given project I might have bookmarks, checklists, reference material, etc that I need to be keeping track of. So I just tag each item with the appropriate identifier.

Conclusion

Evernote has been extremely useful for me. It has helped me to put some structure and organization to my thoughts. I highly recommend giving it a shot.

Discussion Questions: I recognize that Evernote is probably not the only way to solve the problems that I've mentioned here. What useful systems have you found for organizing your thoughts? If you've tried Evernote, what did you think?