Tame the Evernote Beast – Step Away from the New Notebook Button

How to Make Evernote everything you ever wanted it to be…ever

 

We all dream of an uncluttered life: no overdue bills, no scrappy pieces of paper lying around our desks, no hours lost searching for the million-dollar idea scribbled down on a restaurant napkin. Unfortunately life gets in the way; a client calls, the boss needs something done, you get home from a late night and just can’t be bothered to sort paperwork into in and out trays.

 

That’s how I felt when I started using Evernote. I had over 300 Notebooks, 1800+ Notes and 400+ Tags. I thought I could treat Evernote the way I treat most programs; fumbling through until I get my head around it and that eventually, it would magically come together. I was so wrong. Evernote is, at its heart, a robust filing system and systems require rules – not erratic, haphazard stabs at disconnected order.

 

If you don’t establish those rules from the start, Evernote will become your worst nightmare. Imagine taking all of the paper out of a huge filing cabinet, carefully labeling each individual page, then gathering it all up in a pile and throwing it all back in the drawer. Now, come back a week later and try to find one particular page. Good luck.

If you ever again want to see the Notes you create and the files you save using Evernote Clipper you must establish a clear set of systems.

The dream of paperless Office

The Dream of a Paperless Office

I went down this road, it started with the dream of a paperless office. I wanted to have all of my papers and files in a digital format so that I could easily find the most obscure information on a moment’s notice and never again worry about losing anything just because of hardware changes.

 

That was when I found Evernote. I quickly signed-up, thinking that I had come across the holy grail of a paperless existence. In no time at all I was creating Notebooks and new Tags like a madman – no system, no rules; just blindly assigning labels and creating structures without any thought as to how each piece would fit into the big picture; without ever considering how difficult it would be manage so many disparate pieces of a pseudo-system.

 

Soon, Evernote was a big ugly monster that refused to relinquish the right piece of information when I asked… like a pile of never ending papers on my desk that I could no longer tame. After three years of attempting to tame the beast I was finally done-in by a search for a piece of code I had written that would store URL parameter data in hidden fields on forms and pass the collected data into a CRM system.

 

It took more than two hours of searching through over 1800+ Notes, 250+ Tags and 300 Notebooks. When I finally found it, I realized that what I had created was worse than an overflowing inbox. It had all the markings of organization yet, it was only an illusion; a rouse that lulled me into believing that my data was organized when, in reality, I would have been better-off with that restaurant napkin.

 

I knew there had to be a better way. Evernote is powerful and endlessly configurable – but I had managed to take all of its best traits and use them to become my undoing and I know I am not alone here. How do I know? Because I finally acquiesced and spent an eternity researching and reading everything I could find on Evernote best practices. The beast was not going to win this war.

 

This was how I found Dotto Tech, Michael Hyatt and Evernote Essentials and began to fashion the systems I would use to finally tame the information beast.

 

I am happy to report that I won. The monstrosity of disorganisation that once ruled supreme is gone and it will never be back. The secret? Notebooks. Two Notebooks to be exact. That’s it…just two.

The only Two Notebooks

The Only Two Notebooks You Will Ever(note) Need

Inbox. Archive. That’s it.

 

I use Inbox for anything that is going into a queue and will eventually be checked-off as completed.

 

I use Archive only after checking through everything in my to-dos for the week AKA Inbox. Every Saturday morning I go through my Inbox and take care of all the loose ends: items that haven’t been tagged correctly, something I wanted to read but didn’t have time and all of the actions that need to be added to my To Do list.

 

Remember that, in Evernote as in life, a note can only be in one Notebook at a time. Keeping the number of Notebooks I use to a minimum means I can quickly categorise information into the first level of organisation. It is easy to sort through this information because there are only two options.

 

After the Notebook level, I use Tags. Evernote allows you an infinite number of Tags; organising those Tags into a hierarchy is relatively simple.

 

Here is quick look at the tagging structure I use: (note that the .at the front of the names and symbols are there to easily find each section)

 

.Topics

Marketing
Sales
Facebook Ads
Graphic Design

.What

. Active Projects
. Inactive Projects
. Work

.Work

$Operations
$Marketing
$Sales
$Compliance
$Legal
$IT

.When

!Daily
1 – Now
2 – Next
3 – Soon
4 – Later
5 – Someday
6 – Waiting
7 – Ideas
8 – Archive
9 – Done

.Who

^ Josh

^ Staff

^ PJ

.Where

@BPS
@Cubatica
@DigitalGrowthEngine
@Personal
@GoToMeeting
@Skype
@Hangout

.Reference

!Templates
>Read Later
>BackUps
>Blogs
>Books
>CheatSheets
>Courses
>Partnerships
>Products & Services
>Repository
>Shared
>Swipe

~Miscellaneous

Book

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Makes sense now, right? With a coherent structure, Evernote has become everything I had hoped it would be when I set out on my paperless journey. I can quickly access my information from anywhere and all of my beautiful, crazy ideas are safely stored in a way that actually makes them useful.

 

A Note to Paper Lovers

A Note to Paper Lovers

I know some people are devoted to their paper journals but the problem I find with a paper system is that there is really only one level of organization – chronological – and that just does not work for me. In any given day I may come across an amazing article on content marketing, write a snippet of code that automates an aspect of a campaign I run or discover a great video for making the perfect standing desk. If I write all of this in a paper journal I would have to remember when all of this happened – it doesn’t matter that each of the three pieces of data are important to different aspects of my life just that they all happened to collide in my brain on one particular day.

 

It’s time to clear out the Notebooks (whether you have hundreds of them lining a bookshelf or cluttering up your Evernote account) and create a data storage system that matches the way you work and live. Then sit back and enjoy the hours of freetime you now have; all because you brought some much needed organisation to the information in your life.

 

4_Come to Think of It

The Evernote Tagging System that Changed My Life

I have been an avid user of Evernote since about 2009 and being brutally honest with myself, I was little more than a novice until about a month ago when Dotto Tech opened my eyes to how I should really be using Evernote with his Evernote Made Easy course. Thanks to Dotto Tech!

 

First, let me tell you that if the whole idea of setting up a virtual filing cabinet in Evernote terrifies you – you are not alone! Evernote is one of those tools that is so incredibly powerful because it allows nearly endless control over how you implement its features. The upside of this is that you can truly create your own, perfect version of data management. The downside is that it is really easy to screw it up if you go in expecting to pick it up on the fly.

 

This is where Dotto Tech’s course came  and set me in the right direction. I was using Evernote all wrong and I knew it; but I didn’t know how to fix it. Evernote Made Easy is a course that is broken down into bitesize daily chunks – straight to the facts with minimal fluff.

 

Making the Leap

Making the Leap!

First, I am not going to go into all of the in-depth, technical detail about how I use Evernote  – you can (and should) get that from Dotto Tech’s course.

 

However, I will share my journey. Last year, I had over 1200 Tags, 120 Notebooks and 14 Stacks in my Evernote filing system.

 

It was chaos…complete and utter chaos.

 

Was it hard to find what I wanted when I wanted it?  @!#@!$ yes it was

 

Did not being able to find what I want when I wanted it drive me nuts? @!#@!$ yes it did

 

Did I almost throw my computer out the window in frustration? you @!#@!$ bet I did

 

These were not proud moments for me. I can write about it now because I have come through the other side…victorious. (Thanks again Dotto Tech…you rock!)

 

In my Evernote reformation process, I discovered that I had committed a cardinal sin. If I had known the impact it would have on my organisation system I never would have gone down that road – but that’s the thing with sins, they seem like a good idea at the time.

 

No Tagging System

Cardinal Evernote Sin: NO TAGGING SYSTEM

My biggest Evernote sin was that I had no tagging system. I just randomly applied tags that seemed to make sense in the moment and hoped that logic would lead me back to that tag if I ever needed to find the information again. Stupid. Terribly stupid.

 

(and just in case you need a little convincing about the power of systems and you love a good rant…click here)

 

I owe Dotto Tech at least 40 hours already – just for the amount of time he has saved me by simplifying tagging. I now have about 250 Tags, 2 Notebooks and 1 Stack for shared notebooks. The entire structure is a systemised, simplistic short code that I can easily update and use to find anything in an instant.

 

So…are you drooling for those tags, yet? I thought so.

Without Further Ado The Tags

Without Further Ado…The Tags

Let me start by explaining a little bit about the structure of my tags. You will notice that I put a period at the beginning of each heading tag. In fact, I use punctuation marks and other symbols as an easy way to group all of my tags. Any tags that are specific to work get a $ and locations begin with @ (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). This little trick makes it super easy to categorise and locate the tag I need.

 

Tag #1 – .Topics

This is where I put all of the topics I tag in any of my notes e.g. Social, Facebook, Twitter, marketing, Data driven marketing. These are subjects (topics) that I use across multiple areas of my business; so instead of creating multiple “topics” in each section I just inserted them and BOOM – I’ve got an easy to remember tag that works across all aspects of my business.

 

Tag#2 – .What

This tag gets split into 3 main areas with a bit more granularity under .Work.

.Active Projects
.Inactive Projects
.Work

Every department in my company has a tag under .Work:

$Operations
$Marketing
$Sales
$Compliance
$Legal
$IT

The main projects that I am working on every week get tagged with ActiveProjects; inactive projects are tagged as InactiveProjects. Pretty simple, right? An active project that pertains specifically to Operations would get tagged like this:

EVE

 

Tag #3 – .When

I use this tag to mark actions I need to take. My system lines up with the GTD methodology I embrace. As a side note, I also use todoist to break projects down into manageable tasks and keep an eye on every phase within a project. Keeping my tasks organized has freed-up a ton of my time!

.Daily

1 – Now
2 – Next
3 – Soon
4 – Later
5 – Someday
6 – Waiting
7 – Ideas
8 – Archive
9 – Done

So, if we go back to the Active Project example, it would look like this:

MORN

 

Tag #4 – .Where

This tag makes sure that I don’t call into a lunch meeting or show-up at an office for a Skype conference. The tags you use here will be unique to your life and your business. But, here is a taste of my flavor just to get your own juices flowing:

@LMN
@BPS
@Cubatica
@Personal
@GoToMeeting
@Skype
@Hangout

Heading back to our trusty Active Project, we have this:

AFT

 

Tag #5 – .Who

This tag is applied to specific people or companies I work with on a weekly basis – the group that is responsible for most of my Notes. I use it when I am waiting on someone to send me something or when I share an Evernote stack.

^RJ
^PJ
^Backend Team
^Josh

And of course, a meeting at Cubatica, to discuss the Active Project at my next available moment would look like this:

Act

 

Tag #6 – ^Reference

This is my library – it sorts all of my reference material: swipes, templates, courses, books. Everything I come across that I can’t or won’t use right away but still want to save for future reference. It gets broken down like this:

!Templates
>Read Later
>BackUps
>Blogs
>Books
>CheatSheets
>Courses
>Partnerships
>Products & Services
>Repository
>Shared
>Swipe

So a swipe I find that may shed some light on the meeting I will have at Cubatica about my Active Project looks like this:

c

 

Tag #7 – ~Miscellaneous

Fair warning – this one can be dangerous if the rest of your tagging system is immature. I use it to round-up the few oddballs that haven’t found a home anywhere else but it could easily become a wasteland so be careful.

 

If applied to the same example we have used throughout, it would look like this:

 

~Miscellaneous

 

That’s it for tagging. Developing a tagging system that works with your life is crucial to turning Evernote into your virtual filing cabinet. It is the Dewey Decimal system of a paperless life – follow it and you will never lose anything – ever.

 

Which Brings Us to Tools

Evernote has main three tools that make it the best solution for a virtual filing cabinet. The first is the Evernote Web Clipping Tool. With this handy little feature, I can clip anything on the internet, using the chrome Web Clipper extension, and then save it to Evernote with the correct tags and in the correct Notebook. No more digging through Favourites or endlessly Googling in search of that amazing article on Evernote tagging

 

WA

 

The next is the ability to email files to my Evernote account. When combined with Gmail’s filters and rules, you can easily build your own email swipe file of the best marketers; automatically saving their emails into your Evernote Archive Notebook.Then, when you need to find a resource or want some inspiration for your own drip campaign content – it’s all right there, just waiting for you.

 

And last, but far from least is Evernote’s scanning functionality. I can scan information from my phone directly into Evernote. This means that I can quickly transfer something from the paper world into the virtual world without any hassle.

 

AW

 

What if you never had to sort through a stack of papers in a hanging file ever again or go rummaging through your backpack for the business card of that guy that said he would re-paint your kitchen for 100 bucks? That is what building a virtual filing cabinet in Evernote has done for me and I am never looking back!

 

I know that there are others out there living and loving the paperless life. Tell me how you do it! Share your stories, tips and organisation hacks with our community.

Book

Step Away from
New Notebook Button

Make Evernote everything you ever wanted it to be

100% Privacy. No BS. no games, no spam, When you signup.

we’ll keep you posted with a few emails per week

Joshua Bretag is a data-driven growth marketer that manages over 6 figures in advertising spend per day. He has a passion for data driven marketing and analytics that has taken him to working large multi-channel marketing campaigns.

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9 comments

  1. Luiz Centenaro

    Seriously great graphics and content. I still haven’t mastered organization I am glad you found something that works so well for you.

    • Thanks Luiz glad you enjoy it will be writing some more about how to use the search functionality correctly.

  2. Zach

    First off, I love the email swipe via automated gmail features. That. Is. Awesome.

    There were a couple of points that confused me though:
    1. Topics – are these done hierarchically at all? I was a little confused by that section.
    2. How are the tags setup? Are these like super long single tags? Or does each tag type become it’s own tag? (ie, does a note get one long tag or several smaller tags?)

    • Hey @Zach.

      thanks for the questions
      1. Topics = These are not hierarchical at all. I used to do it that way and try and group similar topics together but at the end of the day it did not improve my searching capabilities or pulling up information faster when I needed it. All I was doing was fill my OCD for neatness.

      2. Tags are several smaller simple tags not 1 really long one. :), sorry if that was confusing . Soi In the example of Content Marketing, Copywriting, Headlines each on is a topic tag and >Swipe is a reference tag so it’s 4 tags in total.

  3. Ashley Jessen

    Awesome post Josh. I have used Evernote off and on but always felt I was nowhere near maximising what it could be used for. Your tagging system and overall Evernote system is the bomb. You are a machine.

    • Hey Ashley,

      Great to hear from you. Can understand being on and off with Evernote, I was like that for about 3,4 years before I found a tagging system and process that worked for me so shared that with everyone else.

  4. Mark Havas

    Awesome article.
    I love Evernote and have 5,000+ notes and was previously resigned to some of the original stuff just going into a black hole. Your system will certainly assist with changing that.

    My question. If you were adding this article to Evernote, how would you file it/tag it?

    How do you manage any personal or non-work-related stuff that goes into Evernote?

    Finally, if you’re ever scanning stuff with Evernote be sure to never include anything that has your signature on it. Otherwise that’s quite a treasure trove of personal info if Evernote were hacked.

    Thanks

    • Hey Mark,

      Thanks for reading for starters!

      On your question
      My question. If you were adding this article to Evernote, how would you file it/tag it?

      it would be for me >Cheatsheet, (since it’s like a cheatsheet of what to do) Evernote, >read_later (so it syncs to my todoist reading list on Saturdays using IFTTT, another blog post on that coming out later).

      So would look like this “evernote, >Cheatsheet, >Read_later. would not add many tag beyond that for myself.

      How do you manage any personal or non-work-related stuff that goes into Evernote?
      I do that using the @tags so @Joshua Bretag (For my own stuff) and @work for work related if I really need to seperate further I will go @BPS for Blueprint Solutions work and @Cubatica for Cubatica work, you get the point.

      Good point on the signature have never really thought of that one.

  5. Glenn

    I’ve got a little bit of a different system just because I can’t get the tags to work in this way using the iOS web clipper. The web clipper just doesn’t let me click .what and .work and .active and .inactive shows up. So I have stacks for tasks,home,work,travel set up. With notebooks as active, oracle, .net, work-archive. I clip articles into notebooks…the iOS clippers shows stacks, notebooks. I create new notebooks for new projects. Once they go inactive, I move all the files to work-archive and tag them with the project name. As much time as I spend on my phone, I can not wait till the weekend to properly tag my notes with the desktop app

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