When I first started using Evernote several years ago, I struggled to understand whether and how it could really address some of the organizational needs I have in Higher Ed. I could always see how a website developer or a writer might use the system, but I struggled to see how an academic would effectively use it.
Fast forward to today, Evernote has become the very nerve-center of everything I do. I thought over the next several posts, I'd try to describe how Evernote has become "king" in my workflows.
To start, let me describe one of the ways that Evernote is often misused, and discarded before the user finds its real value. The temptation, when getting into the platform, is to set up lots and lots of notebooks - and then stack those many notebooks toward some kind of organization. I have discovered that this is the least efficient way to use Evernote.
At this point, I have relatively few notebooks. In principle, I really only need two - Inbox and Reference. I do have a few others (explained below), but I frankly use these two notebooks for the bulk of my work.
Between Evernote's search engine and the use of tags, I have found that I can find almost anything in my Evernote "Reference" folder within seconds - MUCH faster than I could by browsing through notebooks. In fact, I stumbled upon this organizing principle in part because I couldn't find the stuff I was looking for by browsing through my many project notebooks. Early on, I thought using "Search" was evidence that I didn't have enough notebooks (or that I wasn't disciplined enough to keep things organized). Now, I understand that "Search" in Evernote is the real power of the platform.
Next to the Search tool in Evernote, Tags are the best feature of Evernote organization. Since multiple tags can be applied to a note, the organizational (and retrieval) options are far superior to having a complex system of notebooks. For example, if I am in a meeting where we discuss budget, course loads, and accreditation, I would simply add tags as the meeting progresses. A search for "accreditation" tags later will bring up the note from that meeting - and I have not been obligated to choose where and how it should be filed.
I have discovered that having tags preceded by # or @ make searching even easier. If I search for "budget," my search results will show every note that has that word anywhere in the text. If, however, I search for "#budget," I'll only get the notes that have been TAGGED as #budget.
I have evolved to the following general conventions for tags (I may show my full convention in a later post)...
- #Project - For my purposes, a project is something that has a start and and end.
- @People - Many notes are associated with colleagues or students or family members, or groups. Some of my notes, for example, are tagged @LT for our college's leadership team members.
- %Subject - If I find that I am collecting a lot of material that relates to a specific subject that's not really a "project" per se, I'll tag it as a subject. For example, if I find an interesting illustration for my linguistics class that relates to social dialects, I may tag the note with %dialects-social and %phonetics and %linguistics. Some subject tags are more "broad" than others; this is a good thing. If I am trying to browse a creative illustration from my Reference folder, I want a broad subject search. If I am trying to find something specific, I will want a narrow subject search. Multiple subject tags can help me search both the broad (%linguistics) and narrow (%dialects-social), depending upon what my needs are.
I mentioned above that I only need, in principle, two notebooks. In practice, I actually use a few more. Sharing is one of the primary reasons why you would want to think about creating an additional notebook (I don't really want to share my entire Reference notebook with my students). I require my students to use Evernote in my class, since I place all of my notes and resources I want to share to the class within a shared notebook. I have one for each course (and each instance of a course) that I teach.
In a future post, I'll describe how Evernote has replaced Powerpoint or Keynote for my presentations. Until then, all of my notes, handouts, lecture slides, assignments, and links to other resources can be found in the shared notebook. Sometimes, I'll even copy a note from my Reference folder into the shared course notebook.
In addition to shared notebooks, I will sometimes set up a temporary notebook to work on a short project. For example, we just recently had to do an assessment of student papers for a Quality Enhancement Plan for accreditation. I sent all the files to my Evernote in a folder called QEP. When I finished with the assessment, I moved all of the files to "Reference" and deleted the QEP folder.
I also have a folder called "Receipts." I have to fill out an expense report each month, so I hold all receipts that have been scanned into Evernote in that notebook until the expense report is complete. When it's complete, I tag all the notes #Expense-Year-Month and then send them to Reference.
My default Evernote notebook is called "Inbox." This is a holding place for things that need to be processed (whether to Reference, or to a course, or to tasks). It is not a place for things to hang-out. While I try to process my email inbox at least once a day, and my task management inbox once a day, I try to make sure that Evernote's Inbox is cleaned at least once a week (often at the end of the week). Any longer than one week, and things start to back up on me.
I'll share some other uses of Evernote in Higher Ed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I would recommend a couple of excellent resources (I have no association, financial or otherwise with any of these - I just like their stuff)...
I highly recommend Brett Kelly's Evernote Essentials. It's worth WAY more than the pittance he charges for this book.
David Rivers, at Lynda.com, has two excellent courses on using Evernote (one for Mac and one for Windows). These tutorials are more than 2 hours long, so there's a great deal of information.
Evernote has a great youtube tutorial on using Evernote for Business. The first half of the video is related to organizing Notebooks (something that is important for Evernote for Business), but this video also has a GREAT tutorial on Tags. I recommend fast forwarding to 23:30 for info on tags.