In order to truly understand Evernote as a modern knowledge worker, you need to understand the concept of “brain dump”, or how I like to redefine it as a “Thinking space”. You will also need to understand the connection between it, and your own mind. Thinking space should be distraction free environment where you can access everything you’ve ever previously saved, without getting into the areas of your computer that can easily move you further away from the task at hand.
As a Creator, spending more time inside of your “thinking space” is where magic happens. Thinking space is where all your “digitally physical” long term memory is located. A solid thinking space will transform your work, as well as your thinking process. When you spend countless hours in it, without getting distracted, you’ll be able to engage in “Deep Work”.
This guide will help you capture, organize, review and recollect the information from your digital storage. By doing so, you will be able to create a mind/computer connection necessery to retrieve important information just in time when you need it the most. Help yourself by saving time, energy and resources, and accomplishing more.
- Understanding Evernote
- Creating an account
- Creating your first note.
- Creating your first notebook.
- Learning the shortcuts
- Next Steps
Fully Understanding Evernote and Its Benefits
Evernote is only a software tool, and the entire excitement about the app is more about the software’s power to connect you to the natural concept of ownership of your ideas, snippets of information and things that you need to remember or work on. It helps you to move ideas from your mind to their digital equivalent, making them accessible on all of your devices. Evernote as a concept isn’t really novel, but it did make this experience extremely practical. However it takes some time to develop a reflex to capture everything into it, and than in return, retrieve it at the snap of your fingers.
So Many people rave hard about Evernote, numerous bloggers, myself and many professionals are completely sold out on this idea of “everything bucket”, however, as a newcomer, you probably won’t get excited initially. Numerous people were already applying multiple principles behind this concept by utilizing other tools, and moving those concepts into a digital world was what triggered the excitement. In order to truly understand why people are crazy about the tool, you would have to imagine how it would feel, if you had everything you ever experienced, under your fingertips, within seconds.
As a cross platform note taking application, where you can store your writing, images and audio notes, Evernote offers unmatched accessibility. With it you will be able to build a better relationship with your own technology. Its biggest benefit is platform agnosticism that enables people to connect to their work regardless of the situation. This part, coupled with multimedia, is what is the fuel for the excitement that people have.
Evernote is a good tool, and most of the magic happens inside of your own mind and interconnectedness you create between the different notes inside of it. Most of the things that I will cover in this, and future guides are the solid concepts that can be used with similar applications like DevonThink, Apple notes and Microsoft’s OneNote. Focus on the concepts, look at the app as a foundation for the features you may want to use.
While the concept is fairly simple in theory, getting something like this very useful in real world was a rarity. I don’t personally know many people that have leveraged Evernote to the proportions at which I am using it. Great Evernote thought leaders are out there on the web, but they are forming a niche group of people, more than a mainstream note taking movement.
Apart from being neck deep into Evernote and having 12 000+ notes in my existing database, one thing I can confirm that is extremely important deciding factor for me, is the feature set. Perhaps nowadays it comes with a steep price tag of $8/month, I can safely say that it is worth it, because it has ultimately better clipping experience inside of your browser(s), as well as the Optical Character Recognition (which will create your hand written notes searchable), making it the best “paperless tool” out there. Now, this doesn’t mean you absolutely need to stick to it, you can choose the competitors as well, however, Evernote is the only company that is betting its entire existence on Note Taking, so therefore, I believe that they will strive towards excellence on that sheer fact alone.
Creating an account is a two minute activity
In order to use Evernote you need to have an account. Account is ensuring that your notes are accessible everywhere, and provides universal access to your data, lets you know what is your monthly data allowance, also determines whether you are a premium or a freemium subscriber.
The most important aspect of Premium is the fact that you can completely download all your notes on mobile devices and access them when you are completely offline. This has been a lifesaver in occasions when I was out of the country and needed to access my archives. With Premium in place, that’s one thing less to think about.
In order to create an account, all you need to have is a working email, and that’s it. If you install an App on your phone, one of the first things it will request you to do is to create an account. You can also do it on the web. As the initial version is completely free, it’s definitively worth your time to check it out.
Creating your first notes that will count!
Previously I wrote about the concept of shoebox, and how I keep all the important information in one place, so that they are easily accessible. So one of the first things I would put inside of Evernote would be all the information that aren’t sensitive to the identity theft, but highly useful. Anything sensitive I keep I could hide under the encryption, and under the password.
Your first note should be a wiki note, a master file, that contains the links to all the other organizing notes. Historically I referred to it as a Main Wiki or Knowledge Dashboard. Inside of this note, I have numerous other Wiki’s inside of it, and all of these are clickable links, leading me to their respective Wiki’s. When you organize your private information in such a way, you’re creating your own hierarchy that enables you to take better control over your life and commitments.
Create your first Notebook
Apart from the default notebook that operates like an inbox, you only need another one: Archive. After I properly process the information inside of the Inbox I move them over to archive so that they are out of my way. If you have friends that are hardcore Evernote users, you will want to setup shared notebooks with them, but that comes later. Creating a new notebook will differ from the device/platform you currently use, but it should be pretty intuitive. Apart from the Archive, you will want to have a few project based notebooks. If it wasn’t for sharing and projects, I could handle the entire Evernote inside of 2 notebooks: Inbox and Archive, and for everything else I could use a bunch of tags. But I am not that rigid, I do utilize somewhat the notebook flexibility.
The most important thing you will need to understand about Notebooks is that they are behaving like Folders on a Windows computer. For this reason, I go easy on Notebooks, and focus heavily on the tags. Tags are far better as they can be searched across the notebooks, but they as well, can easily become very cluttered, so try to be mindful with them. I am a firm believer that having too many notebooks isn’t helpful. I’ve been using Evernote for 6 years, and I’ve always encountered more difficulty in having too many notebooks, while this problem isn’t as obvious with too many tags.
Learning the shortcuts
In order to have your note taking game good to go, you will need to master the (keyboard) shortcuts, and repeat them, until they become a part of your muscle memory. It will take time forcing you into a new mindset, and developing a new habit, but eventually it is worth it. I think it took me three years (and numerous bad versions of Evernote in between), to start relying on it with my life. Dependability of the software will determine your ease of use, and the build up of the habit. Currently its performance is stellar, so your learning curve will be much shorter than mine. Input and search will need to be almost instantaneous in order for you to maximize your performance.
Quick Search on Laptop and iOS
The time gap between me thinking of an idea, and searching my Evernote for it is measured in the fractions of the seconds.
Control + Cmd + E opens up Evernote in full screen and places my typing cursor directly on the search bar. It’s ingrained in my day to day workflow, enabling me to search only things that are in my “thinking space”. If something is lacking over there, I make sure that I enter it, or I retrieve it from that simple query. This search is used for more advanced Evernote queries, but the OS X users that are blessed with Spotlight, will have the benefit of the operating system indexing and making entire database searchable in the native search on a Mac.
On iOS, if you have 3D touch enabled device, pressing and holding the Evernote icon will popup the search shortcut. Additionally, you can place it inside of your notification center, where there will be a search icon as well.
As far as for the search operators, there are many, and you should at least conquer the basic ones:
“your search here” – will behave like it does on Search Engines, it will look for all the phrases with words in that particular order.
intitle: – will only search for the notes that have the mentioned keyword in the title. This is one of my favorite search operators.
You can also create saved searches for the things that you frequently access! I’ll have to write a complete article on all the search operators, but these two mentioned ones are enabling more than 90% of my day to day queries, with 99% of the accuracy.
Quick Note Creation and Entry
The second shortcut that I want you to pay attention to is on how easily create the new note.
On OS X, my keyboard shortcuts vary, as there are multiple ways to generate create a new note. I will mention all 3 of them from the get go.
- Quick Note – Control + Cmd + N – this shortcut will prompt you the quick entry window, that will behave sorta like a scratch pad, where you can enter quick snippets of information that you can use as a handy tool throughout your day. If you don’t need the information anymore, simply delete it, if you think that there is more to it, pressing CMD + Enter will push the note to your default notebook (in our case Inbox).
- Prompt A New Note Window – Personally, I’ve defined this shortcut as Control + Option + N, the default I believe is Control + Option + Cmd + N. This will turn on Evernote, and create a separate window for your newly created note. This is ideal when you decide to create a new idea, or fully new article that you want to work on. Or you’ve just got something to jot down.
- Paste your clipboard into the new note – Control + Cmd + V
Next Steps towards Doing Your Best Work
Now that you have some useful information inside of Evernote, it’s time to prepare for the next steps. You should be thinking about all the potential use-cases. Numerous people have the problem of getting the ideas on what is the best way to utilize Evernote. Somewhat, I think it is build for OCD people that like to create lists, categorize and organize everything. When it comes to digital, I am not a big fan of organization, I just like to pump stuff inside, and not worry about it too much. Letting the search do it’s thing. However, curating your own Wiki’s, making the network of things that are going through your mind, perhaps combining it with the task manager (in my case it’s Omnifocus), to keep me on track on the things I am working on, is a perfect way of getting in tune with my system.
The flexibility that Evernote offers is creating endless opportunities for me to automate all the information that is generated on the web, and have it pushed into my database. For this purpose you can use IFTTT, Zapier and other internet automation software. This way, you will backup all your Instagram photos, Twitter updates, Foursquare checkins and many, many other things, straight into your thinking space. Additional benefit is defeating your paper, as you can directly save the scans and photo snapshots, making them instantly searchable and retrievable.
Getting plugged into Evernote community as well, will help you streamline the processes of your digital system. Bookmark this article, and get back to the new content that will be published on the topic of Evernote monthly on Alpha Efficiency. All subscribers of “Procrastinators Anonymous” will get notified on each and every Evernote post that comes out, in addition to the free issue of Alpha Efficiency Magazine.