My Evernote Setup and Workflow

Jan 23, 2015
Joe Buhlig
~6 mins

Evernote is a handy tool with a lot of ways to use it – so many that it gets really hard to figure out how to set it up.

I’ve been an Evernote member since April, 2008 and I currently have about 11,500 notes. That’s a lot to wrangle and I’ve tried to make a lot of setups work for me. About two years ago, I finally figured out that I’m a tag person and not a notebook person. That made it easier to put together the following setup:

Notebooks

Similar to my file (dis)organization, I’m only using two main notebooks in Evernote - !nbox and NOTES. !nbox is my default notebook and anything that isn’t automatically filed lands here for me to process later, (I use an exclamation point in place of the “I” to make sure it sorts to the top of the list). Everything else goes into a shared notebook for working with someone else or it goes into my NOTES notebook.

Stacks

Since I’m only using two main notebooks, Stacks would just get in the way. So I don’t use them.

Saved Searches

Evernote is great at searching your notes. There are a lot of tricks that you can use in the search bar, but I find that I’m pretty simple with the searches that I save. And I only save searches when I’m going to add them as a shortcut.

Shortcuts

These are a single-click way to get to a notebook, tag, or saved search. These sync to my iPhone and iPad to make all my devices identical.

Tags

I’ve found the ability to search and have multiple tags hard to argue with. It makes the entry and extraction of information really simple.

I should note that I use an “x” at the end of my tag names. You can read the “why” behind it here.

I’m using two levels of tags – a parent level for easily finding the right tag, and the actual tags that I’m adding to the notes. My current parent tags are:

Areas of Life

I don’t have all of them here, but these theoretically mimic the folders that I maintain in Omnifocus. I’ll often tag reference notes with a specific Area of Life to make it easier to separate later.

Collections

These are groupings of things that I want or need to hold onto. They’re typically longer-term storage and “just in case” items.

Drinks

This is similar to Collections, but specific to drinks that I enjoy. Whether it’s coffee or scotch, I’ll take a picture and some notes about it to review later.

Hobbies

It’s really nice to have a place that I can capture reference material for my hobbies – articles, purchases, or even pictures of what I’m currently working on for that hobby. Again, this makes the segregation of notes easy later on.

Information Trail

I keep any confirmations, agreements, or other miscellaneous information that I receive when buying or selling something. Communications that are crucial to setting up new accounts go here as well.

People

Sometimes I have notes that are specific to a person. Having tags for these important people in my life makes it easy to pull up the notes that relate to them.

Ratings

These are the ratings I use when reviewing products, like wines. This makes it easy to find things that we enjoy or need to stay away from when looking to make a purchase.

Social Media

These are tags for the social media sites I use. I’m automatically storing the updates I post to each so I can keep my own history of what I’ve put out on the web.

Status

Sometimes notes have a few tags on them, but they also need to have a status that can change throughout the life of the note. wipx is a good example - “Work in Progress.” I use this one when I’m working on a note and it can be archived later by removing the wipx tag.

Things

I like to keep pictures and notes on the things we buy or thoughts we have for the house, car, computer, or anything else that seems like a good idea to store. It’s nice to know the size of your microwave light bulb when you remember you need one at the hardware store.

Time

These are used alongside other tags. They help me break out notes that are identical except for the content or title. Daily and weekly reflections, weekly reports, and annual goals would be a few examples.

Words

Anytime I’m writing for the blog or for myself in some form, I collect it in Evernote using one of these tags. This could be daily or weekly reflections, bible study notes, my weekly work report (15:5), or even book reviews.

Getting things into Evernote

There are five main ways that I add notes to Evernote:

Manually

The most basic way I get things into Evernote is by adding a new note and typing everything into it. I set up a keyboard shortcut (ctrl+option+cmd) with Alfred to pull up a new note in a new window to make it easy to get things started.

TextExpander

In most cases, I’m not entering everything into a new note manually. I’m typically using TextExpander to at least create an outline that I use repeatedly. Here’s a look at what I’m currently using for my daily reflection in the evening:

Email

Every Evernote user has a unique email address that allows them to email things into it. There are some tricks for auto-filing it into the right notebook with the right tags using the subject line, but I’m usually adding the unique address to the BCC line of an email to get an agenda or meeting notes into Evernote. I just let it go to my !nbox and file it later.

Drafts

Drafts is a sweet app for the iPhone that I use daily. I have actions set up to either append to current notes or create new notes depending on the action. It handles the filing for me automatically, but it allows me to get something off my mind and into Evernote very quickly. Lists of gift ideas, books to read, or even ideas for work can all be collected and stored in my running notes under the “runx” tag.

IFTTT

If you haven’t heard of IFTTT, you need to check it out. I have a handful of “recipes” in IFTTT that automatically create new notes and file it away for me. This is mostly used for my social media archive.

Using notes

With so much stored in Evernote, it’s hard to mention all of the ways that I use the information, but here are a few that I do on a daily basis:

  1. Reviews - My GTD Review checklists that I reference daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.
  2. Goals - I keep a list of annual, monthly, and weekly goals in Evernote and review them daily or weekly.
  3. Blog post ideas and writing - I keep a list of post ideas here and do my blog writing in Evernote.
  4. Meeting agendas - I take all of the meeting agendas that are applicable to the day and store them here. I’ll sometimes take notes on top of the agenda, but normally just use it for reference.
  5. As needed - There are a number of times in a day that I will pull up Evernote and do a quick search for something.

When I first started with Evernote, I did a lot of searching for articles that would help me understand how to use it. And there are a lot of them out there. Reading a bunch of these articles and picking pieces from them is a great way to find the system that works for you.