A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to attend and present at MILOfest, a yearly conference for professionals who use Macs in Law Offices (MILO). It was an awesome experience, and if anyone reading this is interested in using Macs in the field of law I strongly encourage you to check out the MILO Google Group and consider attending the conference in October of 2014.
This year at MILOfest I was asked to present as session on Evernote, specifically, how I used Evernote to manage both my work and personal life. It seems a lot of people have trouble getting started with Evernote because the program can do so many things. I’m always asked to offer tips on how people can use Evernote more effectively so I put together this list of my current top 10.
1. Use an @Inbox
Evernote stores documents in a series of notebooks. The more you use Evernote, the more notebooks you’ll likely accumulate. I probably have a couple dozen notebooks at this point. Evernote creates a default notebook, and I’ve named mine @inbox. Just as I have an inbox to collect all of my tasks on my physical desk, in my mail application, and in OmniFocus, I find it’s also helpful to have an inbox in Evernote.
Because Evernote sorts notebooks alphabetically, I use a symbol in front of the word inbox to make sure it’s the first notebook in my list. All unsorted documents land in the inbox, where I can then take the time to appropriately tag and file them into my system.
2. Use Notebook Stacks
I’ve always been a fan of nested folders. In the Finder, it’s not uncommon for me to have nested folders that are four or five levels deep. Evernote doesn’t let me go that crazy, but you can create nested folders that are one level deep within Evernote. I find this dramatically helps my organization. Evernote calls these nested folders “notebook stacks.” I have notebook stacks for my home, family, tech related items, and personal items. Each notebook stack holds an assortment of related notebooks.
While Evernote uses other organization methods such as tagging or detailed search capabilities, I find that keeping items well organized into a series of notebooks is my first and most important organizational step.
3. Use Two-Step Authentication
If, like me, you’ve grown to rely on Evernote you’ll likely have all kinds of documents stored inside it. Some of my most important information resides inside my Evernote database. As a result, security is important. I have taken the additional precaution of turning on two-step authentication for my Evernote account. Originally, this was only available for premium accounts, but Evernote has made this feature available to all users. This means that in order for somebody to access my Evernote documents either through the web or another connected device, they would not only need to have my username and password, but a randomly generated code that is either sent to me via text message or through the Google Authenticator application. Two-step authentication does sometimes add an additional layer of hassle, but I find this is a small price to pay for the significantly increased security.
4. Print Documents To Evernote
Since the beginning of Mac OS X, we’ve had the ability to quickly generate PDFs using the print dialog. You can additionally save PDFs into specific applications if supported by the developer. This has become a little more difficult in the age of sandboxing, but it still works. If you downloaded Evernote directly from the Evernote.com website, this feature likely works for you automatically. However, if you downloaded Evernote from the Mac App Store, you’ll have to activate it manually. Make this option available simply by putting an alias of the Evernote application in:
~/Library/PDF Services (if the PDF Services folder doesn’t exist, just create one.)
I find that saving a PDF into Evernote from the print dialog box is, in many cases, the fastest and easiest way to get documents into Evernote.
5. Send to Evernote via Email
Evernote gives every user a unique email address that they may send documents to Evernote. You can usually find this email address by looking at the account information screen either inside the Evernote application or once logged into the Evernote website. I find this feature helpful for saving email messages or forwarding documents that I received by email into Evernote, especially when I’m on the go.
6. Use TextExpander
In combination with the method described above to email documents to Evernote, I’ve also created a TextExpander snippet to help streamline this process. By modifying the subject of the email sent to Evernote, you can change the title of the note or file a note in the specific notebook.
The subject of the email will become the title of the note in Evernote. You can also use the @ symbol to designate a specific notebook. For example, adding @work to the end of the subject line of my email will file that email in my work notebook.
I have specific ways I like to title most of my notes starting with a numerical date such as 2013.12.15 and then a brief description of the note. I then end with the notebook where the items is going to be filed. To keep consistent, I’ve created a TextExpander snippet that pre-populates the current date, has a blank fill-in snippet for me to type the subject, and then ends with a drop-down menu to allow me to choose my frequently used notebooks.
7. Use the Web Clipper
Evernote has a “Web Clipper” extension that can be installed with all major browsers. The extension allows you to clip all or part of a webpage, annotate the page, or “simplify” the page (meaning remove extraneous material on the page unrelated to the section you’re clipping, similar to Safari’s reader view). If you’re saving information from the web, the clipper is far and away the easiest way to do this.
8. Use the Bookmarklet
While the web clipper is great, like all browser extensions, it doesn’t work on iOS. These days, much of my browsing is done on an iPhone or iPad. However, there’s a solution, and that’s to mimic the functionality of the web clipper using a bookmarklet. Note, a bookmarklet isn’t officially supported by Evernote and may be a bit buggy, but I find it does the trick most of the time. You can find one that works pretty well at iOSbookmarklets.com complete with installation instructions.
Another option for clipping on iOS is to use a dedicated application such as EverClip. When running in the background, EverClip will intercept items copied to your clipboard and save them for storage to Evernote. Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap has an excellent video Tutorial on using EverClip that can be found on YouTube.
9. Use Hazel
Perhaps my favorite and geekiest method for taking advantage of organizing items with Evernote is to use Hazel to automate the process. I described this process in an article I wrote for Macworld magazine last year. In short, Hazel monitors a scanned documents folder and when it finds documents that matches certain criteria you’ve previously setup (like a utility, benefits statement or other document you regularly scan) it will automatically rename, tag, and file these documents into Evernote. I love this method because it requires no interaction from the user other than initiating the scan.
10. Read Evernote Essentials
Finally, if you’re serious about getting the most out of Evernote, you need to talk to an expert. Brett Kelly is the man who literally wrote the book on Evernote. It’s called Evernote Essentials. The folks at Evernote liked Brett’s book so much, they asked him to join the company. Now in it’s fourth edition, Evernote Essentials includes more than 160 pages of tips, explanations, and best practices for integrating Evernote into your life. I’ve read it cover to cover and given copies to several family members and friends.
This article first appeared in the December 2013 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/