Never organized? This app will save you

How to digitally organize your life with Evernote.

Me: “Dad, how do you get any work done with your desk like this?”

Dad: “I just put important stuff on the top and get to the rest… “eventually”

The Intervention

It’s hard getting stuff done when you’re not organized. During high school, I always had a stack of papers lying around and I never knew what to do with them. I also had numerous notebooks containing useful information, but they either went missing or fell apart leaving me without any reference to what I’ve learned.

One day reality hit me when my teacher said;

Organization leads to efficiency, which leads to success.

I realized I had to change or else I would always be in disarray.

How to digitally organize your life with Evernote

In a quest this summer to improve myself for college (more posts about that later), I started using a free note-taking app called Evernote. I’ve known about Evernote for many years, but I simply didn’t know how to use it in a productive way.

The interface is clunky, there are too many features, and there is no specific way to use it. I finally found .an efficient way to use Evernote and I want to share it with you.

The power of scanning

Scanning is undoubtedly the most useful Evernote feature. The easiest way to start with Evernote is to scan every single piece of paper you have lying around.

To start, download the Evernote app on your smartphone and sign in or create your account.

From the home screen click on the photo icon at the top.

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Now scan any piece of paper.

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Keep scanning more pages if you need to.

img_0280Evernote also handles business cards very well. Scan any business card and Evernote will automatically create a contact.

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Evernote will automatically crop and adjust the color settings of your photo. Your paper looks like it was professionally scanned without much effort. Save yourself from clutter and recycle some paper by scanning everything into Evernote.

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Search is your friend

Search is the secret sauce for digital organization with Evernote. You can search through all your notes and even scanned documents.

Here’s a simple search I did for “Steve Jobs”

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Evernote found “Steve Jobs” in the document I scanned earlier.
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How to organize your notes

We might as well organize the notes that organize our lives. I found this really seamless system from Harmon Enterprises. We’re going to put every note in one of three notebooks and tag every note more specifically.

Start by creating these three notebooks:

Reference-This is where we store information we might want to search for later like scanned receipts and paper documents that are no longer relevant. Reference  is probably going to be your most used notebook.

Here are a few examples of what I store in my reference folder:

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Orientation packet from St. Ambrose University. I didn’t want this junk taking up space on my desk, but I wanted to keep it.
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These are some notes I took while reading a book.

Project-This is where we store notes for projects we’re working on like writing drafts and shopping lists.

Here are a few examples of what I store in my project folder:

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Looking for a used MacBook.
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Notes I took about the Slow Carb Diet.

Process-This is where we store information that needs to be regularly viewed. For example, I put grilling instructions and recipes in my process folder:

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How to grill chicken in case you needed to know.

 

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Notes on my workout routine that I need to look at frequently.

Finally, create a folder called “Inbox“. This is will be the default place where all your notes will start until you have time to organize them Make sure Inbox is set as your default Notebook in settings:

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Tags are also key in organizing your notes. While the three notebooks are very broad, we will use tags to very specifically categorize our notes. Most of my tags are short abbreviations and are very specific.Tags work better than notebooks for categorizing specific topics.

Here’s how I put a note in a notebook and tag a note:

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Here are some of my tags:

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Context is key

Lastly, Evernote works best when your notes have context. By, context I mean location, time, and event. If you grant Evernote access to your calendar and location in the settings, it will automatically create note titles for you. This is very useful because let’s be honest, most people don’t take the time to name their notes.This way you can spend more time taking notes and less time wondering what your unnamed notes are about.

To start go into Evernote’s  settings on any device.

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Turn on “Suggestive Note Titles” if it is not already turned on.

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Select “Calendars” and give Evernote access to your calendars

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This note best illustrates the usefulness of context:

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I made a standing appointment in my calendar to meditate every morning  with the Headspace app.  One morning I wanted to write some thoughts down after meditating and Evernote created a contextual title without having to enter anything. I could just write my quick note and Evernote took care of the rest.

Organized…

Using Evernote this way has helped me become drastically more efficient. I write down thoughts, record short audio notes, scan papers, and prepare for projects. Evernote gets trivial stuff off my mind so I can focus more on meaningful work. Basically, my external brain exists in Evernote.

Adapt some things from this guide and make a system that works best for YOU. This is how I use Evernote, but there is no wrong way to use it. This will provide a solid foundation for you to build on.