Disclamer : I have no tie with Evernote behind being one of their customer. This article was not commended by Evernote and I didn’t receive any gratification for it. It is an independent article, written by just-another-user who like this tool and want to share about it.
A few years ago, I started to use Evernote. I didn’t have big plans for this app’, just writing some notes for my RPG game sessions. I took me some time to understand how far I can go with Evernote (and even now I know I am not using it at 100%) but I am now an absolute fan of this app. I find it especially powerful to organize my work notes, make sure I have everything at hand and not forget anything.
Let’s start a tour !
The basics : notes, bullet points and notebooks
The basics of Evernote is to takes notes, thank you, captain obvious. Beyond taht, Evernote provides a really nice environment for it. There are the classical formatting options (bold, underline, italic, colors, various fonts,….), bullet points or ordered lists, check box and many more. Just have look below
You can of course add non-text contents such as images or, more interesting, sounds
Since recently you can also save a web page as a note thanks to the clipper add-on, available to the most popular web browsers.
Organizing the notes : notebook, stack of notebooks and tags.
Okay, now you have a bunch of notes, you may want to organize them. The first obvious level is the notebook. All your notes concerning amazing talks in machine learning can be grouped in a notebook, while your current and past project notes may be gathered into notebooks (one per project, most probably) and you can even have notebooks for your personal life : one for a trip to Paris, one for ideas of this book you ever wanted to write, one for a list must-read books
Did I mentioned that you can share notes or notebooks with other people ? In this case, no worry, if you share the notebook about your current sequencing project with colleagues, they won’t have access to the notes about your future best-seller.
It could happen (and faster than you think) that you generate too many notebooks. The solution here is to create stacks of notebooks. Your projects notebooks will be easier to manage in a stack called “projects” and they will be well separated from the “hobbies” stack containing travel, novel ideas and to-read notebooks. Again, if you share a notebook, people won’t be able to access the other notebooks, even in the same stack.
Last but not least, some notes may have elements in common and being in different notebooks. They can share a common tag to make them easier to find. For instance, all your scientific projects may have a similar kind of note containing a list of tools you think relevant for the project. One day, you will remember that in one of your projects, you have seen a tool that may be useful now. Instead of browsing all projects, you can just call back all notes with the “tools list” tag.
Going further : wiki-like notebooks…
This is, according to me, the big plus of Evernote : creating wiki-like notebooks.
Yes, it is look like wikipedia pages :
the text in green and underline is actually a link to another note (in the same booknote or not). In this example, the link go to the examples shown above.
This wiki feature is very useful to quickly create an index in a notebook, but beyond that, to link notes to each other. Suppose you have a project with different parts, each of them divided into tasks, each task having a note (or maybe more : a conception note, a realisation note …). You can easily imagine to have a top note in the notebook (I entitle them with a “#” then sort notes by alphabetical order to have the #note on top) containing global description and links to the different parts, each note-part being also made of content and links to note-tasks… Thus, you can create new sub-levels into a notebook and easily navigate between high-level notes (the project, the main parts) and low-level ones (tasks and notes specific to them).
How to make it productive ?
On my opinions, two things makes notes effective : being information-rich and being easy to find and to read. Each of these qualities can reasonably be obtain with any tool but it is not so easy to get them both together. To keep a note easy to read, i.e. easy to parse for useful informations, it should be short and well formated. The issue is that, most often, short notes are either too poor in informations or tend to multiply so quickly that it is difficult to organize them.
Evernote, with its powerful environment allow to create easy-to-read notes with rich contents (text, image etc…). Its notebook, stack and especially wiki-like system allow to organize notes so that they are easy to find and, thanks to the wiki feature, easy to connect. Then notes with rich informations about a very precise topic (e.g. one precise aspect of one task) can be easily obtained and link to higher-level note. If you want to have an overview of a project go to the project notes, which may contain global informations and links to subparts. Just click the links to navigate to detailed topics. That is a very effective way to navigates between notes and change of point of view while working on one or, most probably, many things at the same time.
In conclusion, I am not saying Evernote is the Alpha and the Omega. But if you are looking for a popular tool, strongly established and with many interesting features, Evernote is worth of being tested.