Selling You on Evernote

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that he was going to try to start using Evernote again. As someone who went through the same on-again-off-again thing with Evernote for a few years before falling in love, I figured I’d share how I got Evernote to be a useful addition to my life.

The secret, not surprisingly, is actually using it on a daily basis. But for a new user, that can be daunting.

When I look at my oldest notes, I find they’re mostly scans of paper documents or paper notebooks. I figured Evernote, with it’s OCR abilities, would be the best place for these, as opposed to just a bunch of JPEGs and PDFs lying around my hard drive. I started by manually entering these in, but soon realized it would be super useful to do this automatically, so I did – and I wrote about it here.

It was at this point that I realized that automating things into Evernote was probably the best way to get certain things in that I, honestly, would never get around to putting in. But that can only take you so far – you need to actually start entering your notes into Evernote. What are good examples of notes? Well, now after 2 years of heavy use, I can tell you the following benefits I’m reaping:

  • About once or twice a year, I have to perform some archaic tech task (i.e. something I don’t do all that often, things like password audits, CSR generation, installing a new version of some picky software). I used to rely on my memory for these tasks, and I dreaded doing them, afraid I’d forget a step. Sometimes I’d jot down a few commands in notepad, but I’d invariably lose the text file I created. So about 2 years ago I started forcing myself to write down each step, tutorial style, in Evernote. Now these tasks don’t suck anymore – I have my own guide on what to do, what not to do, etc… The tasks take substantially less time because I’m not trying to remember the exact command line syntax, I’ve got it already. And I don’t have to worry about doing it ‘differently’ than last year.
  • Evernote has also been my repository for tutorials, tips, and cheat sheets on the web. I used to simply keep bookmarks to the web page or forum post I’d need to reference. Then more than once I found sites going away, forums being pruned (or taken down) and information lost. Now everything I use to solve a problem goes into an Evernote web clipped note. Even things I think might be useful later get sucked into Evernote. For example, today I grabbed a forum post on how to use dd – a command I rarely need but when I do, I want to know that I’m using it right. I also keep chunks of code, PHP and R primarily, in Evernote, for reference when needed.
  • Evernote is also my repository for digital ‘keepsakes’ (i.e. paper greeting cards, handwritten letters, funny photos, etc…). It’s easily searchable, and again removes the ‘plethora of JPEGs and PDFs’ problem. I know that if I ever need to, I can export the note and get the PDF/JPEG. This is a plus for me.
  • Last semester when I taught, I kept each days’ attendance forms, records, student notes/excuses, and such in Evernote. I got in the habit of going straight to the scanner before I got to my desk, scanning in all the paper from that class meeting. Over break, when I was submitting grades, I was really glad I had all of that in Evernote – it saved me trips to my office to look for 1 piece of paper among a few hundred.
  • Bills are nice to have in Evernote as well – either statements or Receipts.
  • I also use Evernote to keep track of software development notes. Pending restaurants for FFCAL get placed there, for example, as do notes on distribution, analytics, changelogs, etc… I can then copy/paste them where needed, keeping the master copy in Evernote.

Those are largely the things that I manually enter into Evernote. Since I can easily tag things and sort/search as needed, I also automate a bunch of other things into Evernote using either GMail labels or IFTTT. Here’s how I play digital packrat:

  • Every time I check in on Foursquare, I have it record to Evernote. Months later I can easily remember memories of a given day. Also helps in the rare event I need to reconstruct when I did something, roughly.
  • Every time I’m mentioned on Twitter, I have it recorded to Evernote.
  • I have a special Tag in Google Reader that goes straight to Evernote.
  • Each time I mark something read in Read It Later, a link and time is entered into Evernote, so I can easily share articles out with others later.
  • I keep an FYI label in GMail for important email threads. Each time I mark something FYI, it goes to Evernote. This provides redundancy for important messages, and lets me keep an easily searchable offline copy.
  • If I tag something in GMail as a receipt (using a label) it goes to Evernote. I combine this with rules in GMail that categorize receipts automatically (The search term I use looks like this: Has The Text “order receipt” OR “your receipt” OR “Your Amazon Order” AND -“minimize your receipt” (I think the last one was because of some company I deal with saying “we send you these notices to minimize your receipt of paper…”, so you could probably remove that part)
  • Everything I share on my Tumblr blog (Shared By Jon) gets copied to Evernote for redundancy.

As you can see, some of the Evernote notes I have are just simple redundancy (I’m paranoid like that), others are digital memories, others are useful notes, others are tutorials, and still others are just static records I might need some day! At present I have 750 notes, although this really jumped after the Read It Later List rule took effect – before that it was just 400 or so. I’d say Evernote got really useful after I hit 200+ notes.

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