Evernote as my brain's external hard drive
We are constantly bombarded with information in the digital age and it can feel overwhelming. Not only do we have to process, understand and store the information that is thrown at us, we also have to remember our own information. As a developer I am constantly solving problems. Sometimes I search for information online to help me, sometimes I come up with a solution entirely on my own (or with a team). There is no doubt that I will encounter a similar problem again. Trying to remember everything is impossible, so taking notes is necessary. But where to store them? Paper is nice, but try finding a paper note that you wrote 5 years ago. Keeping notes on your computer is better, but still hard to organise and search.
This is where a dedicated note organising app like Evernote comes in. You can store everything in Evernote. The more you store in it, the more useful it becomes. It will become your go-to place for your information. That information could be how-tos, trouble shooting tips, snippets, recipes, receipts, todo lists, inspirational photos. Really, anything you want.
Getting data into Evernote
There is a bunch of ways that you can add your data to Evernote.
If you're making a fresh note, you'll probably do it directly in the Evernote client. There is a client for Mac, Windows, Android and iOS.
You can use the Evernote website to access your notes and add new ones. The functionality is similar to the clients, but I prefer to use the clients.
The Web clipper is a browser extension for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE. When you are surfing the web and you find something you like and want to remember, you can clip it. You can clip either a block of text, a photo or a whole page. If I am searching for a solution to a problem and find it, I'll clip it for future reference.
When you create an account, you will get a dedicated email address that you can use to email notes to Evernote. That is really useful if you want to remember something that someone has emailed you. Some email clients, such as Outlook and Postbox, have Evernote clippers built in, so you can clip a selection of text rather than sending the whole email.
Scan or photo
I still write notes by hand sometimes. And then I lose them! So scanning them and adding them to your Evernote account makes a lot of sense. If you can't be bothered to use a scanner, you can use the Evernote app on your phone to take a photo of a document and it will get automatically added to your account.
Skitch is a screen grabbing tool that Evernote recently acquired. When you screen grab with it, it will automatically appear in your Evernote account.
IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It allows you to connect various online services together using triggers and actions. This is a really useful as a way to send information to Evernote. After creating an account, you can use one of the many recipes available. These are the recipes I use for Evernote:
- Flickr favourites https://ifttt.com/recipes/1488
- Starred Gmail https://ifttt.com/recipes/96122
- Facebook status updates https://ifttt.com/recipes/51161
- Loved last.fm tracks https://ifttt.com/recipes/6672
- Google calendar https://ifttt.com/recipes/56245
Its not just text notes
You are not restricted to just text. You can add PDFs, images, and attachments to the system.
How to find notes
You can store a lot of data in Evernote and still find your information easily. Most of the time, you will find notes by searching in the Evernote client. Evernote has image recognition, which is particularly useful when searching, especially if you have added scanned paper notes. Text in PDFs and in MS Word and iWork attachments are also searchable if you have a pro account.
When you are reading a note or writing a new one, related notes will appear below.
Searching the web and your brain
When you use the Web Clipper in your browser and search Google, you will see relevant notes from your Evernote account magically appear. So on the one hand, you are search the web and on the other, you are searching your brain. Or at least, the bits from your brain that you have stored in Evernote. This is pretty darn awesome.
Getting data out of Evernote
Evernote is intended as the repository for your notes. As such, you don't really need to get data out of it. You just use the Evernote client to find and read your notes. However, you can actually use it as a place to write blog posts which can then be synced with your blog. I'll write another post on how to do this with Drupal.
When you start adding a lot of notes to Evernote, you need a way to keep things organised. Evernote uses notebooks and tags as the primary way to organise notes. It is a flexible system, so set up your notebooks and tags how ever you want. Some people argue that you should have only a few notebooks and use tags to organise, and other argue that many notebooks is fine. I use notebooks as my context filter. If I am working on a project, I only want to see notes that related to that project. I can filter these notes down using tags.
These are the main notebooks that I have:
- Blog posts
- Clients (stack)
- Projects (stack)
A stack is a collection of notebooks. So for the Projects stack, each project has its own notebook.
Reference: The notebook with the most notes if the one called Reference. This includes web development notes, snippets and web clippings.
Ideas: The Idea notebook is a dump of random ideas that flow in and out of my head. I normally will not act on these ideas, but it is nice to get them out of my head so that I know that I have done something with them.
You can also share notebooks with other people that you are collaborating with. I have one for some Drupal training that I am planning with a business partner. It is easier for us to both add notes to our shared notebook than it is to send a lot of emails back and forth.
My tags aren't that organised at the moment. I usually just use it to free tag the subject of the note. Sometimes this is pretty high level, such as Drupal. Somethings it is more granular, like Drupal Form API. I am also trying to add a type or status tag, which starts with a dot.
My type and status tags:
This is particularly useful for notes where an action is required. Take blogging as an example. A blog post starts off as an idea, then becomes a draft and eventually it will be complete. Searching for all drafts in a particular notebook or across all notebooks makes it easy to find posts I need to finish.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of Evernote. I can honestly say that I would now be lost without it. It is my virtual external storage for my brain. It is not perfect, but with some patience and thought, you can turn it into a system that really works for you.
I'm planning on writing some more posts on my Evernote setup, but if there is anything in particular you'd like to know, let me know in the comments.