Evernote is one of those “must have” research and personal organizational tools that quickly becomes essential. Here are several tips to help you use Evernote efficiently, especially if you are new to the product.
Organize your Notebooks into Stacks
Casual Evernote users start making notebooks and soon discover that there are several related notebooks scattered about their list of all notebooks. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could organize them into a folder? You can. Containers that hold a collection of notebooks in Evernote are called “stacks,” and they are super simple to make. In the left panel (where you see the list of your notebooks) right click one of the notebooks you want to place in the stack, hover over the “Add to stack” menu entry, and choose “New stack.”
Your notebook will become a “sub-notebook” in that stack, just like the folder within a folder in the Windows Explorer or the Mac OS Finder. By default the new stack will be named “Notebook Stack.” A less than useful name. To remedy this right-click it, choose “Rename,” and give it a descriptive name. When you go to add the next folder to the stack, the name you provided will appear among all possible stacks. Click it and the new folder will be added.
In this manner it is possible to organize a large collection of related notebooks. Of course having a well thought through organizational taxonomy in the first place is the key to a highly efficient structure. If you decide to remove a notebook from a stack, simply right-click it and choose “Remove from stack.” To get rid of the stack container but keep all the notebooks, simply delete the stack.
Install Web Clipper to simplify note gathering
Evernote makes a fabulous browser extension for all four major browser called “Web Clipper.” I strongly recommend you go to evernote.com and install it on all your browser platforms.
You will find versions available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and (if you must) Internet Explorer. Once you download and install it a new icon will appear in your browser toolbar, the familiar Evernote elephant with dashed lines around him (her?). Now when you land on a web page from which you want to take a note—or take the entire page with links, as far as that goes—click the icon and tell Evernote what you want.
You can also tell Evernote which notebook to put it in, manually add any tags you wish (a very good idea for the sake of finding your notes later), and add any comments you wish. Evernote will always capture the URL for you anyway if you choose article or full page captures. Manage Web Clipper options in your browsers add-on management console. In Firefox this is in the add-ons > extensions area. There are many and sophisticated options to set, but the defaults are good.
Another important Web Clipper setting is the “Search Evernote when you search Google, Bing, Yahoo and others” checkbox on the Web Clipper login screen (you will also find this in the Options settings). If you want searches to extend to materials you have already collected in Evernote, but have forgotten about, this is a must.
Use Export to backup/share notebooks
Evernote allows for backup of any/all notebooks by exporting them as “.enex” files. Backup is not necessary because your notebooks might disappear from Evernote’s cloud storage, which is for all practical purposes impossible, but far more likely it is necessary to guard against inadvertent or stupid actions you yourself might take. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have decided to tidy up my old files and in doing so deleted something I really needed. Of course I only discovered that I really needed it after it was too late.
Backing up your notes before deleting any notebooks is a pretty good idea, and it is very simple. Just right-click the notebook and choose “Export Notes…” from the context menu. You will be asked to choose from four formats: ENEX, the proprietary Evernote format that will later permit importing them back into the program or to send them to someone else so that they can import them; as a single HTML page; as an .MHT web archive (a bad choice unless you are used to working with this format and like Internet Explorer); or as multiple HTML pages. You might have special reasons for choosing to export as a web page or pages, but ENEX is the choice if you plan on restoring the notes in a single operation. Be sure you also elect to save tags along with notes (using the options button). Tags are essential to finding material later in large, complex notebook structures.
Use the Camera on your phone or tablet to create notes
Remember that you can snap a photo of anything and upload it to Evernote. Evernote’s remarkable OCR search capabilities make distinct text searchable even in images, as in the hit on “Historical” in one of the images in a web page I captured recently:
Or in this hit on the word “Gmail” in this image scan taken with Readdle’s Scanner Pro. In fact, you will increase the likelihood of OCR search hits if you use a professional grade app like Scanner Pro to snap pictures, rather than the built-in camera apps on phone or iPad.
Even if you do not have OCR search success on your snapshots, a snapshot is still better than nothing in a pinch, and you can always (and always should) tag it for later reference. This is especially true with your handwritten notes, or even with grocery or to do lists.
Email notes to notebooks
Along with your Evernote account you will receive an email address @m.evernote.com to which you can email notes. Add this address to the contacts list on all the gadgets and email clients that you use, and it will be easy to email anything you have written or captured to one of your notebooks. If you do not specify which notebook it is to be filed in, it will go to the default notebook. (Right-click any notebook and choose Properties to mark it as the default notebook. It’s a great idea to set a custom “New” or “Inbox” notebook as your default one.) To specify filing in a specific notebook add “@[notebookname] (without the square brackets) after the email subject. If you capture something noteworthy on any of your gadgets it becomes as simple as sending an email to add it to Evernote.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to increase the usefulness of Evernote. Above all, use tags. Once your notes and notebooks start to expand, tags are the single best way to retain their usefulness.