Evernote: The Amazing Universal, Memory-Enhancing, Elephant-Inspired, Keep Anything Notebook Application
Getting Things Done inventor, David Allen, wrote that the first basic task of productivity is to get information (tasks, ideas, references) out of your mind and written down. Every day we deal with the vast amounts of information, much of which we want to process or remember. Whether you use the GTD system or not, Evernote can be a second brain for helping you gather and organize your information.
I started using Evernote years ago. It is one of the best free web tools out there. You can get several extras by upgrading to the paid version, but the free version is a terrific tool in its own right.
I use Evernote every day for blog and book research and for storing:
- notable blog posts on topics I’m following
- other interesting bits I come across online
- snapshots of business cards
- appointment reminders
- snaps of Post-Its
- hand-written drafts, scanned or photographed
- job leads
- job application data and employer research
- clip art
- scans of coupons, tickets, agendas and itineraries
- photography tips and articles
- meeting notes
- and lots and lots of information I want to read again or remember.
Even with all this, there’s potential to do much more.
What is Evernote?
Evernote is a free-form digital storage box where you create pages and put them inside virtual notebooks. You can keep the info online only, or use it on your PC or Mac, from any web browser, or on iPhones, iPod Touch, Android, Windows and Blackberry phones, plus Android and iOS tablets. (There is no Linux version, but a tool called Everpad let’s Linux users access their Evernote notebooks.)
These separate programs all synchronize with the online database, so you can take a photo or make a voice note on your phone, then clip a web page with your web browser, check for older notes on the same topic on your PC, write an article about it on your tablet, and even share that particular page with a colleague or family member for their feedback. Evernote keeps the different files in sync when you connect to the Internet (automatically or when you click on a button, your choice).
What Can You Store?
Evernote pages can include combinations of text (formatted and plain text), photos and other graphics, voice or audio notes, short videos, PDF files, and web clips.
In addition to web clipping tools (for Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers), a camera tool, a voice recorder, and the ability to add existing photos, you can also email data into Evernote, using your Evernote email address. (Others can send you stuff, too, if you share that email address.)
Of course, you can cut and paste info into Evernote on any device. On a Mac and on Windows, you can simply drop a file on top of the Evernote icon to save it. (On free accounts this appears to work for image, audio, ink and PDF files. With the premium version you can attach any type of file.
Evernote has developed several additional programs for special tasks.
- Clearly lets you read web posts in your browser without all the distracting buttons, ads, and menus, using your selected font and size. You can also use Clearly to save that article or a selection directly into your Evernote notebook.
- Evernote recently bought the iPad handwriting and note taking app Penultimate, which you can use by itself or with Evernote.
- Skitch is Evernote’s own drawing and photo annotation tool.
- Are you a foodie? Evernote has its own Food app to help you take snapshots of your favorite restaurants and meals and share the delight. (No taste-sharing app yet, though.)
- Evernote Peek can help you make simple study guides.
- This past December, Evernote also announced new Business Notebooks, which small to medium businesses or work-groups can use to collect and share info. (This is a paid premium service.)
- Buy a specially designed Evernote Moleskine notebook, download its companion software, and you can photograph and import Moleskine pages directly into Evernote. You can add included sticky tabs to sort your notes, and Evernote will parse the notes for identifiable keywords. (You could use cameras or scanners to import other text without the Moleskine, too.) The higher price for the notebook also includes two months of the premium service.
Getting Info Into Evernote
If that isn’t enough, Evernote has its own marketplace called The Trunk. There you can buy third-party software programs and apps to use with Evernote, find scanners and other hardware to input massive amounts of info into Evernote, and find books on how to incorporate Evernote into your life or business. There are freebies here, too.
Organizing Your Info
Once you get your info into Evernote, you can organize it (or not, your choice). You can sort each page into a notebook and you can collect notebooks together into stacks.
You can also add Tags – user-defined one- or two-word search terms or bookmarks – to each page. This is a powerful way to organize. Tags make it possible to find your notes no matter where they are stored. You can use:
- Subject tags
- Cross-reference tags
- Date tags for upcoming meetings, tasks or ticklers
- Name tags for clients
- Assignment tags for an assistant who can access certain notebooks you’ve shared with him/her
- Project tags for assignments, delegated tasks, expenses, photos of ongoing projects, receipts, even recipes
- If you use Evernote on a phone, tablet or laptop which is location aware (through your phone network or GPS), you can add location tags.
For example, if you collect recipes in your notebook, you can add tags for each recipe, including:
- Type of cuisine – Mexican, Italian, Chinese
- Food group – vegetables, pork, chicken, dairy
- Important or unusual ingredients
- Shopping lists
- Dinner planning
- Special dietary considerations – heart healthy, low salt, lactose-free
- Or tag where (or from whom) you learned the recipe
To do a tag search, just find a tag on your master list, click or tap it, and all the pages with that tag are grouped together.
With tags, you don’t have to even sort your pages into notebooks, just do a tag search, but organizing and browsing many pages is easier with notebooks.
You can also do a word search in all your notebooks or limit the search to one. Or do a date search. Or do a map search for location tags. Evernote will search for keywords in photos and PDF files as well as text and HTML.
You can share selected pages with others by entering their email address. In the free version, others can read these notes. In the premium version you can also designate collaborators to give them editing access, too.
You can also make selected pages public, so anybody can view them (like a mini-blog page) if they have the URL.
In the PC and Mac versions, you can create private local notebooks that won’t be uploaded or synchronize with your other devices. If that isn’t enough security, you can also password protect and encrypt text portions of pages.
There are several extras that come with paid memberships (US$5 / month or $45 / year):
- Extra storage (collect up to 1 gigabyte of data per month)
- Priority scanning of photos and PDFs
- Priority customer service
- The ability to create a PIN number to protect your files on a smartphone or tablet
- The ability to download specific notebooks to your phone or tablet, letting you use data even when you have no Internet access
- Enhanced Drag and Drop functionality for all types of files
If all this sounds complicated, it’s not, really. You can start by signing up at Evernote, and start collecting info, photos, or recordings.
Check the Evernote Trunk for a beginner’s guide (there are several), or just check the program’s website for tutorials, a blog, and join the Evernote users community.
By the way, you can use the formatting toolbar in Evernote to enter and edit your work, create simple outlines, and add photos and other info. Writers can create their drafts directly in Evernote. (No, Evernote doesn’t have high-end word-processing tools such as spell and grammar checking or margin control, and its table tool is fairly rudimentary. You don’t want to ditch your office suite just yet.)
Just last month, Evernote unveiled its Evernote Office service which should make Evernote even more popular with small and medium businesses and other workgroups. With this service an administrator can create business-wide notebooks for members to read, edit and add notes – making the info available to everybody in the biz. Each person can also keep their private notebooks; they’re color coded so you can tell them apart. In the US, the service costs $10 per person per month, with unified billing. Prices in other supported countries (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) vary.
Evernote vs. OneNote
There are other competitors to Evernote both online and off. The most notable one is Microsoft’s OneNote which now is included with every suite of Microsoft Office. OneNote has many more formatting features and is fully integrated with the rest of Office. You can access your OneNote files on your PC, through your business network, or online with Microsoft’s web apps. (Microsoft recently released new native apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.)
OneNote is a great program, but I decided to go with Evernote because the latter was available on my phones and tablets, too.
Also, you cannot buy OneNote separately – you need to buy or upgrade the entire office suite, making it the most expensive option. If you are already using Microsoft Office on a PC or a Windows Tablet (OneNote isn’t available for Macs) you should give OneNote a look.
A bit more than a year after this post was originally written, Microsoft discovered the error of its ways and may OneNote a free application, available on most smart phones, online, on PCs and, now, Macs.
OneNote doesn’t have the third-party apps that Evernote has, however, unless you count the Office suite itself as a third party app. OneNote now has more third-party apps, but still not nearly as many as Evernote.
There are a few other competitors to Evernote that offer special features. Zoho Notebook, part of Zoho’s huge suite of cloud apps, has become an impressive application in its own right. It can create or embed spreadsheets and Write docs into your notebook in addition to many other features. It is a cloud-only application.
Springpad is another popular notebook application available online and on iOS and Android devices (not Macs or PC’s, last I checked). Springpad’s specialty is social sharing – allowing friends and groups to share info, photos and ideas. The focus seems to be more towards entertainment, home-making and consumerism rather than business, but the app has attractive features.
Another note-taking application is übernote, and there are others, including college note -aking and group collaboration programs. There are few bad apples in the bunch, so feel free to test them.
My Other Tools
Evernote is not my only productivity tool. I’ve been increasingly using mind maps for brainstorming, drafting blog posts, outlines, organizing projects, and To Do lists. The ideas for this article and a future series of Evernote articles were created in an iThoughts mind map, exported to Cloud Outliner and drafted in Textastic, all on my iPad.
I’m also use Moleskine-style notebooks for quick, hand-written notes, drafts and general note-taking. Since getting an iPad last summer, I’ve been using my mind mapping and Evernote app more, and my notebook a bit less.
I’m also a big fan of Delicious for keeping track of online blog posts, websites and other info, and for doing research.
I also love trying out other writing and creativity tools and apps. But Evernote, my mind maps, Delicious, and my paper notebook are the ones I use every day.
For a frugal worker (or almost anybody else), Evernote is one of the great tools. Once you start using it, you’ll keep coming up with new ways to incorporate it into your life. Future Frugal Guidance posts will include many different types of Evernote users and how they can use their notes. We’ll start simple, with people who just like to make lists, and we’ll look at how lists and Evernote can work together.
What do youdo with Evernote? What are your favorite features?