People like wine, scotch, cheese. All get better with age. But my memory never does. Couple this with the ever-increasing amount of things I want to remember and an annoyance becomes a problem. But it’s not a problem anymore. Because now I use Evernote.
I first started using Evernote as a student to keep track of notes digitally. I was over churning through notebooks that invariably would fall apart after a few weeks schlepped to and from university, their metal spiral bindings bent and breaking. Typing into a tablet during a lecture and pulling up the notes on my computer when I got home was really simple. And Evernote has this note-taking functionality on lock. It’s literally what the app was built for. Years later, and having not been a student for two years now, I’m still an avid Evernote user. Here’s a few things I do with the service that has made it a fixture of my homescreens for the past few years.
Keeping track of books to buy
Evernote has grown well beyond the app it started as. Most notably, as someone who’s in front of a computer for the majority of their waking life, the Evernote Web Clipper extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox is near-essential for any Evernote user. The most common use case of this for me is keeping a list of books I come across on the web or elsewhere. The Evernote Web Clipper can smartly pull out the salient chunk of a webpage - in this case: title, blurb, cover art, and price - and silo them into a discrete note. This note then lives in a Notebook of my choosing, one literally called “Books to buy” (no need to over-engineer this). Whenever I’ve got a little bit to spend, I can now browse through my ever-growing list.
I’ve got tonnes of Notebooks in Evernote (collections of single notes), and tonnes of Notebook Stacks (themselves collections of Notebooks). There’s no limit to the number of Notebooks or Stacks you can make so, honestly, go mental (more on this in a bit). One of my favourite features of Notebooks is the ability for them to be shared, much like a folder in Google Docs. This is particularly useful.
There’s no limit to the number of Notebooks or Stacks you can make so, honestly, go mental
When my partner and I were looking for places to move, we were both dumping notes into a shared Notebook. And just this week, I shared my “Books to buy” Notebook with her to pick a few to buy me for my birthday. In a corporate setting, having the minutes of your departments meetings file into a shared Evernote Notebook can be an ideal application. It doesn’t matter who’s tasked with taking minutes, they’ll be contributing to the same pool. And you can trust that all notes will be archived and accessible anywhere on any device you might have in the future.
Remembering what I’ve read
There’s a reason the Evernote logo is an elephant. It has long been considered to be the memory you wish you had. This is particularly relevant for someone who is erratic in their consumption of written content. Whether in news or in books, I know I’d be too idealistic to think I could remember everything I’m reading. Sure, it’ll be there a week after I’ve read it, but is it going to be there years down the track? Provided Evernote doesn’t go under (or neglects to provide a migration solution should they do), annotations to and interpretations of various things I’ve read go into Evernote. Stuff from the web is simple with the Web Clipper. You can even use it to save only a few simplified version which also has the ability to highlight bits you want to standout.
For print, a companion app by Evernote called Scannable (https://evernote.com/products/scannable/) helps me use my smartphone camera and get a clean black-and-white image, like I had just run the book through a computer scanner. These images can then be marked-up like a .PDF in the Evernote app.
Nothing will be lost beyond more than a few keystrokes and clicks
Whether it’s a nice use of language, my own interpretation of a short story, or something like a character introduction in a novel that I might forget, I can always be sure the digital me will remember it even if the analog me forgets. Couple this with a robust tagging and searching feature set, I can be confident nothing will get lost beyond more than a few keystrokes and clicks.
Handling the mess of everyday
The most common search in Evernote on my phone is for my cinema loyalty card. The note is just a screenshot of the email I was sent from the cinema with the barcode and membership number. I pull up this note every time I go to the cinema to have the barcode scanned and earn my points. They’ve given me the option of having a physical card mailed to me but why would I carry an extra strip of plastic in my wallet when Evernote has me covered?
Evernote is a perfect place for all the mess you never signed up for but have to deal with all the same. Taking photos of receipts can prove invaluable when tax time comes around. Having somewhere to dump all the research you’re doing on a big purchase like a car or home is so much more efficient than the alternative of bookmarking key webpages. If you really want to, you can even use Evernote as a task manager, complete with reminders and checkboxes. No matter what digital detritus I find myself wading through, Evernote can handle it.
The viability of Evernote as a dumping ground for just about anything you can come across is its robust ability to take any kind of data. You can write real text in a note from scratch, you can import photos and videos, or simply clip them from the web, and you can even take voice memos directly into the app. Apple’s Notes app has been updated with iOS 9 to compete with some of this functionality, such as the handling of images, but Evernote still remains head-and-shoulders above the competition.
How to get it set up
Downloading the app on your phone or computer will prompt you to make a free account. There are paid plans for those needing more features like increased upload limits and offline access but, honestly, in the years I’ve been using Evernote, a free account is all I’ve needed. With apps on mobile and desktop, you’re technically all set. But it can be a little overwhelming so here’re my tips.
1. Install the Evernote Web Clipper on your browser of your choice
For me, this is the most common way to get stuff into Evernote. Try it out: install it and reopen this page. Now click the little elephant’s head and clip this page into your Evernote. Don’t worry yet where you’re saving it, just get it in there. If you really want to be adventurous, try the “Simplified Article” option and highlight a bunch of stuff before clipping. See, not so bad is it?
2. For iOS: enable Evernote in your share menu
If you’re going to mostly use Evernote on your phone, maybe to create a checklist from important emails that require action on the train to work each morning, you’ll need to enable the relevant share menus to be able to see and share to Evernote. To do this, hit the share icon, swipe along the row of apps until you hit the “More” icon. Tap it and scroll down to find Evernote and enable it. Evernote will now appear in your share menu and will be able to receive stuff from almost any app.
3. Create an ungodly amount of Notebooks and Notebook stacks
Imagine you’re back in primary school doing some kind of free association exercise that some weird kid’s parents convinced your teacher was “mind expanding”. Think of anything and everything you could possibly want to save or keep track of and make a new Notebook for each. Maybe, they start to form natural groups. Make these into Stacks. But don’t try to over-engineer it. Embrace a bit of mess. You can always delete and consolidate notes from one Notebook to another later.
4. Advanced: see just how far Evernote can go
I already mentioned the companion app Scanable earlier but there are some other apps and services that play too well with Evernote to ignore. A bunch of Google work should land you on a few but my personal favourite would be IFTTT (http://ifttt.com). Standing for “If This Then That”, IFTTT allows you to create custom macros for Evernote that can supercharge your usage of an already supercharged service. Want to keep track of every time Beyoncé tweets? IFTTT can do that.
Nothing’s set in stone
This is just one way to use Evernote, and honestly just the way I’m doing it now. There were times where I was more structured in my approach, and time where it literally was a dump, relying solely on search. I started in Uni when keeping notes ordered by date was critical to studying. The intervening years saw some dark times where my Evernote was functionally hijacked by some particularly annoying integration I was trying too hard to get to work. I’m somewhere in the middle now, between rigidity and fluidity, but I’m sure that will change as what I need from the product changes.
And ultimately that is the product’s strength: it seems it’ll be around for a while now so it’s going to grow with you. Just like your memory.