I’m excited to finally get this post knocked out. It’s been a long time coming, and frankly, ended up being much longer than I had planned. But, I’ve been using Evernote for longer than almost everyone I know, have developed some creative solutions to problems and think what I have to share is truly unique.
It’s worth noting that I’m again focusing the structure of this post on problem-solving. A lot of blogs out there anchor on features, talking about Evernote’s search capability, or how to nest notebooks, etc. I don’t focus as much on that; rather, I want us to talk about problem-solving instead of technology.
I’m constantly looking for solutions for these everyday problems, I want to recognize a few problem solvers that have contributed to my homegrown solutions. Before we dive into my advice, let’s take a look at some of the advice that’s been instructive for me.
A Few Favorite Evernote Pro Tips I Didn’t Create
The thing that’s going to have the biggest impact on your productivity all-around is to learn the keyboard shortcuts for your favorite applications. Jason Frasca has a great-looking Evernote cheat sheet here that I only recently discovered. I’ve printed it out and it’s now hanging by both of my computers.
One of my favorite sites out there is the Art of Manliness. (Check out the podcast. Great interviews, lots of research on interesting topics for anyone…highly recommended.) I was really excited to discover the Evernote/Kindle trick Jeremy writes about here (it’s #4). Essentially, you can record highlights and notes you’ve made with your Kindle to Evernote. I’ll be using that in future research for this site.
Bethany Stephens just absolutely nails it in her article on Evernote with this quote:
Be dedicated – instead of seeking new tools, use a few tools very effectively.
Exactly. She has a great set of “super ninja” Evernote tips and tricks. They’re clearly well-thought out and there’s lots of value in her post.
And I’m actually excited to try #9 from Alli Worthington. I had never thought about creating shareable sets of information (such as a press kit) with notebooks, but it’s brilliant and something that’s going in my bag of tricks.
I had missed this post from SimplicityBliss. Sven is a super smart guy and has great perspectives on using digital tools to make us more productive; here, he talks about going through Evernote once a year and getting all of your tags and notebooks cleaned up. The suggestion is brilliant in its simplicity and something I’ll incorporate into my routine.
Lastly, the always-reliable Michael Hyatt gives us insight into his productivity scheme using tags with Evernote. If you haven’t heard of him, Hyatt’s a productivity and leadership guru…more importantly, he’s one of the guys out there getting it done, so I wanted to be sure and include his insight in this post.
Getting Started with Evernote Pro Tips
Setting Up The Evernote Web Clipper
The first step is pretty easy. just go here and download/install the plugin for your particular browser. Once installed, go to Options and set these preferences:
- Notebook selection: Always start in Inbox
- Tag selection: all of these should be blank
- Default clip action: Last used action
- After Clip: Show successful clip dialog without Related notes
- Related Results: no selection
You might eventually find a configuration that works better for you, but this allows me maximum control over where things land employing minimal effort. Evernote has been pushing their auto selection (or, “Smart Filing/Related Content”) more and more lately, but I generally find the “smart” functions to get less and less useful as you add notebooks, and the related notes functionality kind of just gets in my way.
Although I usually try to get everything into the Evernote inbox as quickly as possible, and worry about prioritizing and filing later, if you take a look at the web clipper you’ll see you can go ahead and set tags and notebooks from right within your browser.
Setting Up the Evernote Mobile Web Clipper
To get this installed, you can go to the App Store and search for Evernote itself, or just pull up this post on your phone and click this link. (That, of course, is my preferred method.)
If you’re generally familiar with iOS, this won’t be a problem, but there was one tricky part that I had to figure out. Once Evernote is actually installed on your device, you have to activate the web clipper. Go to Safari, pull up any webpage and tap the “Open In…” button.
You’ll see the familiar set of icons, but swipe to the left so you can see the one at the end, with the three dots. It’s labeled “More…”
Tap that, and you’ll find an entire menu of integrations that you might not have realized were there. Find the Evernote entry, flip the little switch to turn it on, and close out.
Now, to actually use the web clipper on any page, you can go back to the “Open In…” button and tap the Evernote icon. Add any notes you would like in the really simple dialog box that appears, and they’ll save to the notebook you specify right there.
Setting Up Your “anytag” Search
There’s a final key piece to my implementation, and that’s the “anytag” search. The anytag search is simply a saved search with a placeholder in it instead of an actual tag. It allows fast access to things like your reading list, agenda items for colleagues, specially grouped tasks, etc.
Set up an Evernote search for tag:”anytag” -tag:complete. Save that search (I just named it “anytag Search”) and drag it to your sidebar to create a shortcut.
Now, to use it, click the shortcut and Evernote automatically displays a dropdown list of all of your tags in the search window. You should be able to locate all the information tied to a particular tag with about three clicks, and the -tag:complete in the saved search ensures you’re only seeing up-to-date information. (To get a complete understanding of how I use the complete tag, take a look at my earlier post on Evernote and GTD.)
Ok, now that we’ve got things set up, let’s look at some use cases…
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 1: Keeping Things on Your “Radar”
An (overly) popular phrase today is, “Keep this on your radar.” Generally, items that need to be kept “on the radar” don’t require any immediate action, but you should be aware that something’s happening and be able to reference notes on that thing quickly.
To actually manifest this in my life, I simply started using a “radar” tag for some notes. It serves a bit of dual purpose–it’s a quick reference for those items that fall into the weird space between being needed daily and just occasionally, as well as a reminder of activity that I’m not watching closely.
If I’m told to put something on my radar, I simply create a new note with an appropriate title, add the tags “radar” and the name of the person who asked that I track it, and file into a folder. I have a quick search bookmark in my shortcuts list, so that I can check all of my radar items at once in the morning and confirm if there’s anything that needs following up on.
I review this list during my weekly, and pare down any items that have been closed out or are otherwise off my plate.
Bonus Evernote pro tip: I also have an “explore” tag that I use in a similar manner. This is specifically for items that should not be on my radar, but that I want to return to later. Usually, this tag gets used with new apps, concepts or websites. I pull up my “explore” items when I have the time to go down a bit of a rabbit hole and learn about something.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 2: Your Reading List
In terms of grabbing articles for later consumption, both the web clipper and the mobile clipper have really been polished up over the last couple Evernote releases. We’ll put them to good use here, in a unique way that leverages my GTD implementation as a whole.
Frequently, I come across articles (and even emails) I want to grab and read later. This is super easy with the web clipper, which I use to either record an email (the Shivarweb newsletter, an incredibly valuable resource for digital marketers, is the best example of an email I want to peruse later) or an entire article.
But the magic happens when they’re getting filed out of my inbox. All articles like this get a “reading” tag, cause I’m going to throw them in work, personal and project buckets as appropriate, and can then use a tag search (like the “radar” tag trick) to surface all those reading list items.
Before filing, as appropriate, I can add my “p1” or “p2” tags. If I stumble across an article that is particularly prescient or that I should read before an event of some sort, I’ll go ahead and prioritize it this way. If not, it just gets a reading tag and I can read it at leisure.
And, obviously, I use the standard saved search techniques to get easy access to this list. This is especially helpful using the mobile app, as most of my reading these days is done on my iPhone 6+. Going back to the Shivarweb example, I can review the weekly newsletter on my phone, click over to articles that are interesting, read what I have time for and then save the rest using the mobile web clipper.
Bonus Evernote pro tip: The web clipper can either grab an entire article or just a bookmark. Usually, I want the article, but I’ll use a bookmark if I need to action something. In the morning, when I’m emptying my inbox, all the articles get the reading tag and then get filed away; any bookmarks remind me that I need to take a specific action related to that note.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 3: Being Ready for a Meeting At Any Time
Ok, so when I first wrote this tip out, it ended up being 1,000 words. I realized I was describing the system by which I manage information for meetings, and that I had really developed a whole other system separate from my GTD implementation. So, this is a condensed version with a tighter focus. That long bit, about how to manage all your meeting information, will become a post by itself in the coming weeks.
Anyway, here’s the idea… You need to quickly be able to access a list of items for discussion with any one of your colleagues. The trick is that you’ve set the tagging system up ahead of time, so that as you file things out of your inbox, tagging items with your colleagues names becomes a natural part of the process.
For example, all week I’m accumulating items for discussion with my boss, Joe Schmo. When it’s time for our weekly one-on-one, I just click on my “anytag” search shortcut, and then use the dropdown list to find “Schmo Joe” in my tags. All the items I’ve been saving all week appear, and I’m ready to discuss.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 4: Pulling Action Items out of Notes and Into your System with TaskClone
So let’s say you have a successful meeting with Joe, using the new note and dating method mentioned in the preceding tip, and you’ve now got a note with lots of information and a handful of action items. How to surface those action items?
That’s where Taskclone comes in, and it’s truly a power tool for this use case. Taskclone looks in any note that is tagged “Taskclone” and makes new notes from any lines that have a checkbox next to them.
Once your action items are written, simply put checkboxes by all them, add the Taskclone tag and go on with your day. After a couple of syncs, those action items will appear in your inbox and you can file them appropriately.
The two items highlighted in this screenshot will be converted into two new notes, “Seamless follow up” and “Yahoo email blacklist issue?” and left in your inbox. Auto-magically.
One note here, Taskclone doesn’t really provide much context, it just pulls the one line and makes it into a new note. So, be sure give yourself enough information in the task title to quickly discern what needs to happen.
Bonus Evernote Pro Tip: Take a look at my earlier post to learn about additional Evernote automations and integrations.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 5: Finding Notes from a Meeting Months Later
This one’s pretty straightforward and, again, ends up being useful in surprising ways. It’s not unusual for me to need to go back and find the notes from a meeting conducted some months ago. Just searching for text strings is not a very efficient way of going about this.
So, I adopted a dating scheme, and it’s simply MMDDYY with no spaces. Monday, March 23, 2015 ends up being 032315. If, in three months, I need to find notes from a meeting on that Monday, but I don’t quite remember when the meeting was, I can search Google calendar for the meeting name, see what the date was when the meeting happened, and then search Evernote for “032315”. That’ll surface all meeting notes from that day.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 6: Business Cards
I throw away every business card I am given within 24 hours. Why? Because I take a picture of every card I’m given and file into a “Business Cards” notebook in Evernote. Shortly after, Evernote’s OCR scans the card and makes all the text searchable. This alone makes the cost of the premium subscription worth it to me.
Bonus Evernote pro tip: You know how people take a picture of the whiteboard at the end of a meeting and then go back and transcribe all the text on there? Stop doing that–Evernote will take care of making that text searchable in the picture. This usually works well; it sometimes fails simply because handwriting is obviously tricker than printed info.
Evernote Pro Tips Use Case 7: Getting that Random Thought out of your Head and into your System
For our last truly pro tip, I’ll profile one of the most powerful workflow improvements I’ve ever made.
The whole point of GTD is to get all that stuff rattling around your enormous brain into a system that allows you to make deliberate choices. For a long time, I struggled to figure out how to get those random thoughts (“Run by the drug store after work tonight.” or “Start Houston trip planning.”) into my system in a truly frictionless way that didn’t require an interruption in whatever else I’m currently working on.
Alfred App is what finally made that possible for me. If you don’t know about Alfred, get on over there and check them out. Alfred is the best productivity app out there for Mac users today, and I’m saying that in a post that centers on using Evernote to make yourself productive.
Once you’ve installed Alfred, install this workflow. Now, you’re able to replicate my random-thought process, which is:
- Hit Cmd+Space
- Type “enn random thought”
- Hit Enter
- Keep on truckin’
A new note with your random thought is created in your inbox.
This is incredibly powerful. Though you can control a great deal of Evernote functionality with this feature, I mainly use the “enn [note]” part of it, and generally have that set on “New Note from Clipboard” so that the thing I’ve most recently copied is pasted into the note body section.
Bonus Evernote pro tip: The lowest-friction way of implementing a similar process on mobile is by using Drafts. I keep the application in my dock on on my iPhone, and I can get those thoughts into Evernote in about two taps once the phone is unlocked.
A Few Short-but-Necessary Evernote Pro Tips
Managing Hundreds of Screenshots
A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when you work with a global team on technical projects, so I have about a couple thousand screenshots. I’ve found Skitch to easily be the best way to manage those. A couple keystrokes and you have your screenshot and a shareable URL. Plus, they’re dropped into your Evernote inbox, and can filed as needed without breaking the URL.
File A Paper Document Super Fast
Scannable is fairly new iOS app from the Evernote team, and it’s made grabbing paper docs a snap. Perfect example: I needed to get my wife the receipt from a recent doctor visit. As soon as I had the receipt, at the counter, I opened Scannable, grabbed a pic and emailed it to her. The image also, as we would expect, ends up in my Evernote inbox.
The whole thing took seven seconds, and I’ve already lost the paper version, so you see why I need these sorts of tools.
Create a List of Notes
There are some instances where it’s useful to consolidate a bunch of notes around a subject into a “table of contents” type of note. Select multiple notes and the note window changes to a different view–just hit the “Make Table of Contents Note” button. I wanted to call this out because I’ve found a lot of people aren’t aware of the functionality.
Reviewing Our Evernote Pro Tips
Ok, let’s recap what we’ve covered…
- Make the amorphous statement “keep this on your radar” actionable by using a tag search trick.
- Always have your reading list handy and actionable on all of your devices by using the web clipper, mobile web clipper and a couple tagging tricks.
- Get all of your colleagues’ names in Evernote as a tag and always have an up-to-the-minute list of discussion items ready for them.
- Use Taskclone to effortlessly surface action items recorded during meetings.
- Use a consistent dating system to make finding notes from long-ago mindlessly easy.
- Throw away every business card you ever receive.
- Use AlfredApp to get thoughts out of your head and into your system without destroying your flow(, dude).
- Skitch, Scannable and the table of contents function all serve valuable niche roles in this system.
Organizing oneself is a surprisingly personal thing, and can be its own weird journey. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information here, know that I developed and implemented all of this in my daily life over a period of years. I suggest you take one or two of these ideas and try them out–if they stick, great! If they don’t, consider why it didn’t stick and try adapting to better suit your situation.
I always welcome feedback, questions and other ideas, so please be sure to add a comment or catch me on twitter if you’d like to add to the conversation. In the meantime, good luck and happy productivity!