While we all know technology has changed the way we do business, one thing that it has not changed is the amount of information that we deal with on a daily basis. In fact, the proliferation of technology has increased the different types of information we can create and that we need to file, record, keep track of, and act on.
I would like to introduce you to an app that has vastly improved how I access, store, edit and organize information. It takes a little time to really get rolling with it, but the effort is absolutely worth it.
I’d like to introduce you to Evernote.
Evernote at its core is a digital version of your physical notebook. The app itself is free; however the bulk of the really useful features requires a paid subscription. I currently pay for the top tier ‘Premium’ service which costs $50.00/year. You create notebooks, and within these notebooks you create notes.
Typically, you would create a notebook for each project that you’re working on. You can create as many notes and notebooks as you like and never run out of space. The only size limit imposed is the amount of data that you can upload each month. The free version of Evernote comes with an ample 500 MB, and the premium version offers a whopping 10 GB per month.
On the surface, this all sounds quite simple. However, the magic of Evernote becomes apparent once you realize that everything, can be stored, accessed, searched for and edited in Evernote, and because of this, you can really use Evernote for anything.
The Evernote Web Clipper
How many times have you been reading an article online, saw an interesting link and opened it in a new tab “to check out later”? This process inevitably repeats itself until you have a browser crammed full of tabs, containing information that, let’s face it, you’re never going to read. Or maybe you make a concerted effort to read through your forest of tabs, only to have your browser take a hissy fit and crash, taking all of your tabs with it.
Thankfully, Evernote comes complete with a browser extension called the Evernote Web Clipper that will enable you to never lose a tab again. The web clipper allows you to instantly copy the webpage you’re reading into Evernote. The web clipper gives you plenty of options. You can choose to save the entire page, just the text on a page or a particular section of a page. Regardless of what you choose, any links that are present on the page will be imported as well.
The web clippings can be placed in any notebook you choose. For example, I’ve created a notebook called Web Clippings where everything defaults to. I can then go in there and read, delete or refile at my leisure. Similarly, Evernote has created an add-on for Outlook to get the same functionality with your email inbox. If Outlook isn’t your email program of choice, when you create an Evernote account, you receive an Evernote email address, and anything that gets forwarded to this email address shows up in your default notebook within the app.
Open any book on increasing your productivity and at some point you will read about something called a “brain dump.” The theory is that because we have so many ideas and thoughts that pop into our heads throughout the day, we need a way to get that information out of our heads and into some sort of permanent medium. If we don’t, we get stressed out and distracted. What’s more, any of these thoughts that don’t get exported in some way will inevitably get lost in the crowd and never get actioned on.
The key to a good brain dumping system is the ability to get the information out of your head as soon as it pops into your head. Physical notebooks are good for this but have obvious limitations, and you may not always have paper and pen with you.
Once you’ve used it for any length of time, you quickly realize that Evernote allows you to create a new note and populate it with information amazingly fast. If you’re working on a Mac or PC, you can set a custom keyboard shortcut to automatically create and open a new note regardless if you currently have Evernote open or not. This speed of note creation, coupled with the fact that we’re very seldom without our mobile devices, make Evernote the perfect brain dump solution because everything you create in Evernote automatically becomes searchable, tagable and moveable.
Best of both worlds
One of the huge advantages of Evernote is its ability to take both analog and digital information and add them to your information repository. This, for me, is where Evernote really gets amazing. I’ve mentioned a few times that people like the security and familiarity that comes with using pen and paper. Numerous studies have shown that the act of writing information down makes it easier for our brain to retain it. I myself keep a physical notebook and pen open on my desk at all times and always travel with something to write on.
Evernote allows you to take physical notes and use them with the same agility of their digital counterparts. Using a desktop scanner or the camera on your smartphone, you can take a photo of a notebook page, napkin drawing, etc. and have Evernote create a digital copy. You can then add this document to an existing note or save it as a note itself. The real beauty of this system is that any text on that document, even hand written text, becomes searchable.
You can also do the same thing with business cards. Evernote is smart enough to read the text on a card, figure out which text is a phone number, which is an email address etc. Once the photo is imported, Evernote adds that person as a contact in your phone. If that person is on LinkedIn, it will send them a connection request. On more than one occasion, while at a conference, I’ve been handed a business card, I take a quick photo, hand it back to the person and hear their phone ding as they receive my LinkedIn request. I won’t lie, the cool factor there is pretty great.
In the end
Ultimately, you will discover how Evernote works best for you. The biggest advantage of such an agile system is that it’s so incredibly adaptable. Chances are, no matter how you work, Evernote will easily integrate itself into your workflow.