Evernote is a very powerful note taking app. Its main strength lies in its very powerful search function. You can put anything into Evernote knowing that you can easily find it later using its stellar search capabilities.
The easiest way to search for notes is to search for keywords in their contents: and this is probably the version of search that most users of Evernote employ. Despite its power, Evernote does OCR on attached PDFs and images and searches inside those as well, this broad type of search can return many false positives.
Unless the search keywords are 100% unique, which rarely happens, Evernote will return many matches for any given search — a large number of those matches will probably not be what you are like looking for. In order to solve this problem, Evernote allows you to organize your notes using two main methods: notebooks and tags. These organizing tools allow you to more easily retrieve specific notes when you want them.
What are notebooks and tags?
Before going into details about how to use notebooks and tags, let’s first discuss what they are. A notebook, like it’s physical namesake, is a collection of notes. You can create a notebook in Evernote and then store notes inside it.
For example, you can have a notebook called Health. In this notebook, you can create notes that are related to your health, like, for example, photos of your prescriptions, results of lab tests and blood pressure measurements.
By judiciously creating notebooks, you can organize the notes in your Evernote account into logical categories. The only problem with this is that there is an upper limit on the number of notebooks you can create in Evernote, and, if you have been using Evernote for years, you may eventually bump-up against this limit.
Tags are, as their name implies, pieces of text that you use to tag notes. A note can have multiple tags, allowing you to describe the context of a note to any degree of accuracy you require. For example, you can tag each prescription note in your Health notebook with the name of the Dr who wrote it. That way, you can zoom in on the prescriptions of any specific Dr when you need to. You could also tag the notes with the specialization of the Dr who wrote them. So you could have tags for cardiology, dentistry, endocrinology and so on. This allows you to see all your notes related to dentistry before, for example, going to the dentist so that you can provide him/her with any information that may be relevant to any current procedure you are undergoing.
Now that we have a basic working knowledge of what notebooks and tags are, we are ready to discuss how they can be used for organizing notes in Evernote.
Notebooks vs Tags
I’ve seen many Evernote organizing systems on the net that emphasize either tags or notebooks. The consensus seems to be tilting in favor of tags for many reasons. Here are some of the reasons for using tags in preference to notebooks that I’ve come across
- The limit on the number of tags you can create is much larger than that of notebooks, so you can have many more tags
- Using tags, you can assign multiple contexts to a note, whereas you can put a note in only one notebook
- You can nest tags to an arbitrary number of levels, creating an organization structure that is very easy to navigate and that powerfully classifies notes into appropriate buckets
Given these advantages, I’ve seen many people create systems that use tags as the main organizing tool in Evernote. I’ve even seen people who do not use notebooks at all, instead, putting all their notes into the default Evernote notebook and then using tags to classify them.
There is nothing wrong with such a system, and if it suits your needs, then by all means go ahead and use it. But for me, it is a bit too unwieldy. I have some natural areas of responsibilities in life that I write notes about on a regular basis, these get a notebook of their own.
For example, I have a notebook about the registration process in the university I work in. In this notebook I store the rules for registration and any updates that occur to them, registration cases that I’ve handled before that required creative solutions that I may need to reproduce sometime in the future, scanned complaints from students about the registration process and so on.
Similarly, I have a notebook for each of my personal and work areas of responsibilities. These notebooks are natural categories for my work and personal life, and they help me quickly zoom in on what I want. In addition to this, each note I write must have at least one tag — the tag describes the context of the note.
So, going back to my Health notebook example, I tag every note with the name of the Dr involved and the specialization of the Dr. I similarly tag all notes in my registration notebook with descriptive tags, like, for instance, rules or complaints. These tags allow me to zoom in on the particular note I want.
Search — putting it all together
Using my tagging and notebook system, I can easily find whatever I want. For example, if I want to find all the notes related to complaints in registration, I write the following search in Evernote:
And that quickly brings up all registration complaints. Take the time to learn Evernote’s search syntax, it’s very easy and will make your use of Evernote much more efficient.
The icing on the cake
The last thing about my system that I would like to share with you is that if I have an actionable note in any of my notebooks, I give it the tag todo. I’ve created an IFTTT recipe that automatically creates a task in Todoist when I tag any note using this tag.
By doing this, I am sure that any note that needs action will show up in Todoist allowing me to handle it.
That’s it ladies and gents, that is how I organize my notes in Evernote. Until now, this system has not failed me. I hope that this post gives you ideas about how to organize Evernote. My aim is for you to take this information and customize it to your particular needs — everybody works diffidently, and Evernote is flexible enough to allow you to organize it in the way that best suits your unique workflow. So don’t be afraid to experiment and see which system suits your needs.