My current Evernote setup

There’s a bit of a cottage industry around sharing Evernote tips and tricks. As an Evernote Premium user for many years, and not wanting ...

There’s a bit of a cottage industry around sharing Evernote tips and tricks. As an Evernote Premium user for many years, and not wanting to suffer FOMO on this whole thing, I present my current Evernote setup for your dining and dancing pleasure.

The “atomic unit” of Evernote is the note. Notes are the entities around which almost every aspect of Evernote’s functionality is based.

While it’s not particularly surprising to find that a Note cannot be simultaneously in more than one Notebook (or stack), there are (at least in my case) too many exceptions to ignore. For instance, I have many Notes that pertain equally to, say, multiple courses that I teach, where each course of which might sensibly be structured as a Notebook; or, Notes that pertain to one of my courses and a research project; there are also notes that span multiple, but not all of my, research projects.

Sure, one could argue that a Note that “needs” to be in two different Notebooks at once is really two separate Notes.  And sure, I could invest a bunch of time and effort teasing those Notes apart into their constituents. But that make two big assumptions:

  1. That the Notebooks are really well-organized and thought out. That may be the case at any particular time, but over time it will change. That means more meta-work to keep Notebooks organized.
  2. That there is no merit in keeping the information in a single Note. As a professional navel-gazer, many of my ideas are quite tightly interconnected, and their interconnection is a vital part of the ideas. To separate them into distinct chunks for the sake of organizing them into different Notebooks means to risk losing the value of the interconnections. And that’s right off.

So, the “lots and lots of Notebooks” approach isn’t very useful for me.

Fortunately, Evernote’s tagging system is quite powerful. You can add as many tags to a Note as you like, and you can quickly find groups of similarly tagged Notes. No matter what other organizational techniques I try, I always end up depending on tags.

Tags can be grouped, but there’s really very little Evernote functionality to manipulate groups of tags (especially on mobile), so I don’t use tag groups much.

Another powerful aspect of Evernote is it’s search function - and in particular its “saved searches” that you can put into the sidebar as one-click short-cuts to all kinds of things. I’m still getting comfortable with saved searches, so I don’t yet depend on them much. But I can see that changing over time.

Armed with all this, here’s my current setup:

I have five notebooks:

Inbox. My default Notebook in which new Notes go.  Generally for quickly gathering ideas and information items, to be sorted out later.

Current. Any note that is active (see my tagging system for more about this) or frequently used or referred to for information goes in this notebook, except for blog posts.

Public. This Notebook contains Notes that I don’t mind others seeing.  It’s kind of like a mini-blog or web site.

Library. Notes that are informational rather than task or project oriented go in here. Basically, Library Notes are records I need or want to keep, but that do not require any action on my part.

Blog. Drafts of blog articles go in here. There’s so many of them that I put them in a separate Notebook just to keep them out of the way when I’m working my “day job."

As I implied, I use tags a lot, so I have quasi-organized them a bit. Since there’s very little functionality in Evernote around tag hierarchies, I use these hierarchies minimally and only to be able to hide groups of tags I don’t use much.  Here’s how I have them arranged for now.

Tags starting with @ are contexts, and are grouped under a tag group named, perhaps unsurprisingly, “@“.

Tags starting with / are tags relating to Note type: meetings, receipts, reviews, lesson plans, information, etc. They’re in a group named “/“.

Tags starting with = are status tags. I only have three of those: active, waiting, and done. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine their meaning.

Tags starting with + are projects, which are grouped by type. So there’s a +COURSES group with +tags for each course I teach, a +FAMILY group with +tags relating to members of my family, and so on.

Because all these groups start with a punctuation mark, they appear at the top of the list of tags in the sidebar. And because each tag in one of those groups starts with a punctuation mark, they more easily identifiable when I look at all the tags I’ve put on a Note.

There’s one “special” tag, 0 (zero), that I use to mark “dashboard” Notes. These are Notes that are central to a project or context and that often play the role of table of contents for various things. For instance, each course has one dashboard Note, in which I note the general status of things and have links to other related Notes.  The reason I chose “0” for this tag is that it shows up in the sidebar under all the other tag groups that start with a punctuation mark, but above all other tags.

Finally there are what I think of as “subject” tags. These are ungrouped and just lie there in a long line down the sidebar, and capture keywords relating to the content of Notes.  The “design” tag, for instance, pulls up all Notes relating to design, regardless of whether they’re work related, personal, informational or receipts, active or waiting, and so on.

On top of all this, as I mentioned, I do have a some saved searches. I currently have three saved searches:

Notes Without Context. Sometimes I forget to add tags to notes. The most obvious and important ones are the context tags.  So once a week or so, I check that saved search and make sure that every note has a context.

Current & Not Done. Roughly once a week, I look through all my “open” Notes; that is, Notes that are in the Current Notebook, and that I’ve not marked as done. This saved search pulls out all those Notes so that I can review them more quickly.

To Be Archived. Notes that are still in the Current Notebook but have been marked done are Notes that I need to archive. About once a year - usually some time over the summer when I have lots of time to worry about maintenance tasks like this - I gather up all the Notes that need to be archived, quickly check to make sure they don’t belong in my Public or Library Notebooks, and download them to my computer to be archived. It’s not that I worry about exceeding my Evernote storage or sync limits; it’s that they just get in the way. I know Murphy’s Law requires that I’ll need any Note I delete approximately one hour after emptying the Trash Notebook, so rather than risking that, I just archive them somewhere out of the way but still safe.

I’ve been using this setup for some months now, and I rarely find myself inconvenienced by it, so maybe I’m onto something.  Maybe this will help you too.

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The Trouble with Normal...: My current Evernote setup
My current Evernote setup
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The Trouble with Normal...
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