How I fell in love with Evernote

I love Evernote. It’s changed my life. Here’s my story:

I created my first Evernote note on October 28, 2008.

From 2008-2010, I only used it to take snapshots of business cards, wine labels and handwritten notes (to take advantage of its awesome text recognition powers).

I used to be a notoriously poor note-taker. I’d go notebook-less to lectures, wing meetings, and write illegible to-do’s on my hand.

It wasn’t until we started Hyperink in early 2011 that I realized: by being so casual with note-taking, and subsequently forgetting details, follow-up items, and general “stuff”, I was impressing no one, and screwing myself instead.

I decided to become a better note-taker. I chose Evernote because I wanted something lightweight (eliminating MS Word) with built-in organization features (eliminating most text editors).

The chart below says it all:

…and this month isn’t over yet! If the Y-axis were # of edits (instead of # of new notes), the growth would be even more substantial. Outside of Chrome, Evernote is my most heavily-used app.

It all started with a desire to take better notes. But like any great relationship (half-kidding), it’s become much, much more than that. Here’s how I use it today:

1. Spark file for random ideas, thoughts, inspirations. Review every 2 weeks to file, annotate, act upon, delegate, etc.

2. Monthly goals (business and personal). Refer to these goal notes everyday. For simple items (eg, “schedule a meeting to discuss latest revenue figures”), I’ll annotate and add follow-up items inline. For complicated items (eg, “research great audiobooks to download”), I create a separate note which I then link back (I’m not sure when I became so anal, but Evernote has certainly played a part!)

3. Storing anything that needs to be recalled later. As I get older, I’m increasingly disappointed by how little I remember

Example: before, when a friend mentioned a great movie and I thought “Wow, I really want to see that!”, I’d file it in my brain and there it would disappear. Now, I’ve created an “Interesting Media” note and when someone mentions a great book, movie, or TV show, I’ll immediately add to it. No more aimless Netflix searching to decide what to watch on a slow Friday night

4. Projects that require constant tracking and editing. For Jony Ive and the iPhone 6 team, Evernote might be underpowered. But for most Hyperink projects that need daily progress tracking and note taking, Evernote is awesome.

Example: I’m writing a small book called “How To Live Forever” while dogfooding Hyperink’s software. Evernote helps track book drafts, manage to-do’s (eg, update the cover image), and follow-up with people I’d like to interview

5. Anything Craigslist. When I was searching for apartments, I’d clip interesting listings to Evernote. The clipped note would have the image, apartment details, and links. No more repeated clicks on the same listings; within the notes I monitor who I contacted, who responded, etc

Examples of notes I’ve created or added to in the past week:

1. Luggage warranty note (recently bought a garment bag; if it breaks in the next 2 years, I can search Evernote to pull up the warranty # and contact info)

2. Groceries list (hate coming back from Trader Joe’s and forgetting that I wanted to get some Chimay)

3. Images of cool business cards (currently creating a personal business card)

4. 2012 taxes (overpaid some estimated taxes and want to make sure IRS credits me when I file next year)

5. Alcohol I like (Tammy intro-ed me to chartreuse while we were in Austin and I loved it)

Random hacks and optimizations

1. Download Evernote Web Clipper to clip articles, which are stored offline (offline storage is a premium feature). This has been a great way for me to finally read that long New Yorker article while traveling. Instapaper can do the same, but I like having everything in one place, plus I can use Evernote to highlight/bold sections and take notes while reading

2. Create shortcuts to frequently-used notes for quick access (now a big Evernote 5 feature, nicely done!)

3. Embed PDFs and enable “view inline” for easy within-Evernote reading (and note-taking)

4. Learn keyboard shortcuts to save time. Some that I find useful:
Command+N – new note
Shift+Command+H – horizontal rule (to separate sections within a note)
Ctrl+Command+F – a custom shortcut I setup to search ‘All Notes’ <-- I don't use tags, only search 5. Manually backup all notes from time-to-time. I backup my notes once a month to Dropbox. File>Export (while selecting all notes)

6. Forward email threads to Evernote for safe-keeping/annotating. For example, when planning my Japan trip, people would share their own recs and itineraries. I’d forward these email threads to my “Japan” notebook for easy reference and add my own research/notes on top

7. Set Passcode Lock for added security (iPhone app). After losing my iPhone in Vegas, I realized I kept a lot of personal info within Evernote. A little extra hassle < peace of mind 8. Skitch is pretty useful and lets you create sweet images like I did in my Techcrunch article

9. Version History. When you make mistakes and want to roll-back to an older version of a given note, click the “i” at top-right, then click “View History” at bottom (another premium feature)

Ways Evernote could be improved. Mostly nits:

1. More text formatting options! It’d be nice to customize text background color (for highlighting passages in articles, further organizing task lists, etc). Text indenting was big on my list but they’ve added it to Evernote 5

2. Better mobile syncing. I got Evernote Premium for the offline sync feature. But on my iPhone 4S, some notes (especially clipped articles) don’t sync properly and when I’m sans internet, those are precisely the ones I want to read

3. Remove the 50mb attachment limit. I’m guessing there are legit reasons for this limit (piracy prevention? server bandwidth issues?) but I own some PDFs which are 50+mb that can’t be stored in Evernote (sad face)

4. Enable importing of social media data (eg, Facebook, Twitter). Evernote has turned into my augmented brain. Having all of my social media content archived in Evernote would make it even more central to how I found, organize, and annotate info. I’ve heard I can do this with IFTTT but I haven’t looked into it…

5. Ability to encrypt non-text media, notes and notebooks (as opposed to just a selection of text within a note). Right now, I can’t encrypt specific images or attachments, entire individual notes, or entire notebooks

That’s just the start! There’s a badass Evernote Trunk that I plan to explore more.

*Update: great article from Jamie Rubin on how he takes advantage of Evernote’s time logging and automation via IFTT to build a timeline of life events!

How do you use Evernote? What tips/hacks have increased your effectiveness? Any cool Evernote apps I should try?

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

8 thoughts on “How I fell in love with Evernote”

  1. Great post. Keep ’em coming.
    I’m a fan of Evernote as well and I’m actively trying to use it more. This blog post has given me some great ideas that I’ll start incorporating. The main deterrent for me in using it more is that the connection between Evernote’s US servers and the internet/mobile networks in China is slow and unreliable. This is a larger problem outside of Evernote’s control and a problem many US internet companies face in China. They have come up with an interesting solution for this problem when they decided to expand in China, namely that they would launch a completely separate app for China and they would store the data on separate servers in China. This works for them since the data that they store is personal, not social (my data in China doesn’t need to be connected to your data in SF in any way). This approach won’t work for any company with valuable social data (e.g., Facebook, if they ever look at China). Unfortunately, with a US-based iTunes account, I can’t download the Chinese version of Evernote and am stuck using the US version with spotty connections. I recognize that I am probably in the minority …
    To add to your list above, here are a few things I do with Evernote:
    Flash cards for memorizing Chinese words: Evernote has a great app called Evernote Peek for the iPad where you can use the iPad smart cover and quiz yourself on flash cards out of notes you’ve created. Every time I come across a new word/phrase in conversation or when reading, I jot it down in Evernote. I create memorization lists every month. This can, of course, apply to anything you want to memorize.
    Fitness notebook – I keep workout routines, including my progress on weights, etc. in a separate notebook. Ever see buff guys at the gym carrying notebooks/pen with them as they work out? It’s because they know if you don’t track it, progress will be slower (or at least feel slower). I also keep diet ideas and other health tips I find here.
    I also keep track of movies, TV shows, and books I want to remember in notes. I never have those nights where you wander around the video rental store wondering what to watch (metaphorically speaking of course. Do video rental stores still exist anymore?). I just look for something on the list I’m in the mood. It also feels like an accomplishment when I remove something from the list.

    One improvement suggestion: given my problems with connectivity (particularly on mobile), it is much faster to compose an email and send it to Evernote for filing. Currently, you can only create a new note. I would love to see the ability to append to a note, so long as it’s not too complicated.

    Other apps: I use Pocket to save articles to read for later. If it’s a really good article that I want to save, I will send it to Evernote. I started using Pinterest as a way to save products I might want to buy later.

    1. Thanks for the awesome comment Linus! That’s interesting re: a separate China app. I’ve used Peek a bit (mostly just for its pre-built lists and never created a customized list myself) but it was a cool app that actually took advantage of the smart cover. And I wish I was as diligent in tracking my weight lifting – sometimes I feel like I’m just guessing because I don’t track it (probably something to improve upon).

      Re: appending to a note, that could be interesting. Perhaps if you created some sort of a hashtag (eg, #KevinNote2) like in Twitter and put it in your subject line…one of the things I love about Evernote (like TripIt) is a pre-set email that you can forward to, which I just save in my contacts and Gmail automatically pulls it up

      I’ve tried Pinterest twice but could never find a valuable, consistent use case. I’d love to hear how and why you use it :)

      1. Just figured out how to append to notes by email.
        For creating a new note, in the subject line: [Name of note you want to create] @[folder name] #[any tags you want to add]
        For appending to a note, add a + at the end of the subject line and it will append to the last created note with the same name

    1. haha that’s awesome mary! lemme know what you think of it, like all great apps it takes awhile to really integrate into your daily life but it’s been awesome for me, no doubt!

Thoughts? Questions?