How I use Evernote

Evernote In a recent episode of Mac Power Users David suggested that I blog in more detail about how I use Evernote to manage my life and information. Evernote is an application that can be used in many different ways. It can be anything from an “everything box” to a mini-replacement for the Mac’s file system. It uses a series of Notebooks (I think of them as folders) along with tags and powerful search features to organize your data. You can throw just about anything into Evernote including text, PDFs, images, web clippings audio files and more.

It’s very easy to get documents into Evernote. I do so in a number of different ways depending on the circumstance:

  • ScanSnap on my desk scans most documents directly into Evernote.
  • Create a text or photo note directly on the iOS App
  • Create a note in the Evernote desktop client or simply drag and drop a file in (or as I’ve done, setup a Hazel rule to do this automatically for certain types of files)
  • Forward an email or a document to a specific email address setup through the Evernote cloud interface.
  • Use the Evernote web clipper extension
  • Print to Evernote service (not available through the Mac App Store Version)
  • Many third party Apps will save directly to Evernote, on my iPhone I use ScannerPro

What really makes Evernote come together for me is the server-side component that syncs all your stuff between the Evernote cloud, and all of your other devices running Evernote which for me includes multiple Macs, a work PC, an iPhone and an iPad. Once in the cloud, Evernote will scan your data and OCR it for easy search and retrieval. A few years ago I upgraded to a premium account partly because I felt I should be paying for a service I use so often, but also to gain additional features such as OCR of PDFs, offline notebooks and larger file capacities. For $45 a year it seemed a no-brainer for a service I use almost every day.

So how do I personally use Evernote? Here are a couple of ways:

  • Store all information related to specific projects
  • Monthly statements and important receipts
  • Store information related to family members
  • Collect receipts for tax and accounting purposes
  • Plan trips
  • Everything that doesn’t fit in a traditional “file and folder” on my computer.

Mainly I use Evernote to organize “everything else” in my life that doesn’t fit into the normal files/folder structure of my computer. Documents live in my documents folder (which is synced with Dropbox), photos are in iPhoto, music and media in iTunes, and everything else is pretty much in Evernote. It’s a repository for information that I may need to access in the future but may otherwise be a pain to file appropriately. While it’s possible I could have a series of files and folders in my documents folder organize these different types of information, Evernote seems to be a better fit for some types of data. While some people may use Evernote as a big dumping ground for data and rely heavily on the search features to retrieve documents, I rely heavily on notebooks (again, I think of them as folders) and I have recently started using tags.

Here are a couple of examples of some of my notebooks and the types of things I use them for:

Grandparents

Unfortunately the last year or so has been challenging for my grandparents. As anyone who has helped care for elderly family members knows, there is an overwhelming amount of information that you need to get a handle on. Insurance documentation, medical records, estate planning documents, financial information, the list goes on and on. I have an entire Evernote notebook devoted to this and it contains all of these things and I’m constantly adding to it as I find more documents of relevance.

When you’re sitting in the emergency room and the nurse needs to know a medical history or information about the last admission, it’s in Evernote. When someone needs a copy of a Power of Attorney or Living Will, I always have copies because they’re in Evernote and on my iPhone. Having access to these documents nearly anywhere I am has been invaluable in a crisis. Knowing how helpful this information has been when dealing with my elderly grandparents, I’ve started also accumulating notebooks for other family members with information I should have on hand. As this notebook grows, I will probably start sub-dividing it into a series of smaller notebooks or I’ll have to start getting better about using tagging.

Tax Receipts

One of my biggest complaints about Evernote was the limited export functionality. It was a little like “Hotel California” you could check in anytime you like, but… With a recent update Evernote has corrected this oversight and you can now mass export PDF attachments to notes. Previously, you had to do this one by one which was a problem if you had a notebook filled with PDF attachments, which is what most of my notebooks are. This was the main reason holding me back from using Evernote as my repository for my paperless lifestyle, but now that's resolved, I’m loving using Evernote for all my statements and receipts.

I have Evernote notebooks for all the receipts/statements that I plan on writing off my taxes in any given year. Much of this already comes to me in some kind of digital way either as an electronic receipt or online statement. Statements for services that I plan to deduct (i.e. home Internet service which is a requirement for the podcast) go into two notebooks, my Statements notebook and my Tax Receipts notebook for that specific year. In the case of my cable bill, I have a Hazel rule that detects when the bill is downloaded and appropriately names, sorts and tags the document in Evernote so it’s already organized and ready to go.

In the case of individual receipts, these will be put into Evernote individually either using the Print to Evernote feature  (not available in the AppStore version) or using the Evernote web clipper Safari extension, or by forwarding the email receipt to a specific email address I’ve setup using the Evernote web interface to retrieve documents. My default Evernote Notebook is called “Inbox” which is really just a temporary holding place for me to sort incoming items into their appropriate notebooks. I use a TextExpander snippet to name these receipts uniformly which include a description, date, and category so my CPA will have an idea of what this is. At the end of the year. I select all and export the files to a folder and ship them off to my CPA to prepare my taxes.

Building My House

Evernote was invaluable last year when I took on the task of building my first home. There were hundreds if not thousands of bits of information to manage and being able to have access to everything at any given time was a tremendous asset. You can organize your documents into notebooks but also sub-notebooks for a particular task. So in the case of my overwhelming “Build a House” project I had sub-notebooks for ideas, finance, construction and contracts.

The first notebook contained hundreds of pictures, web clippings, notes and general things that I liked and random ideas that I had for my house. Sometimes it was a picture of a faucet I saw at the hardware store, sometimes it was an idea of a room I liked clipped off a webpage (my own personal Pinterest)  other times it was a note I jotted down in the middle of the night reminding myself which side of the bed I need to locate the telephone jack (I still screwed that one up somehow.)

Getting approved for a home loan is a major project itself with all of the documents they require and verifications. So I made a point to scan all the information the finance people could possibly need into Evernote and and saved all of my pre-approvals and other information into that same notebook and it was a very smooth process. My loan officer said he never worked with someone so responsive. That’s because I could literally email him my latest bank statement or whatever document he needed at the last minute from the checkout line at the grocery store if necessary to avoid any delay.

The third notebook contained all my selections, building specifications, plans and related items. I was out on site just about every day checking up on the progress and one day when I found the hearth for my fireplace was only 8“ tall not 12” as agreed in contract, I was able to pull the spec sheet up on my phone in the middle of the construction site and show the foreman I was right and get the problem fixed immediately without causing delay.

The last notebook contained all the contracts, closing forms, insurance and other legal documents. Now that the project is over, some of these notebooks have been deleted or consolidated into other notebooks. For example, most of my “ideas” notebooks has been removed as has much of my financial notebook as that information is now stale. But I’ve still got all the specifications, legal documents and loan approval documents stored in Evernote for easy retrieval if necessary.

These are just three examples of how I use Evernote to organize all my stuff. I’m finding more uses for Evernote every day and am always on the lookout for other ways to use it. While I’m not typically fans of “everything buckets” I’ve found keeping my information organized in various notebooks in Evernote and having access to it anywhere I am has been invaluable. If your'e looking for more information about getting started with Evernote, check out MPU 060: The Case for Evernote with special Guest Brett Kelly. You may also want to grab Brett's excellent book Evernote Essentials.