Using Evernote to become a Mental Jedi Master…or Ninja (if that’s your thing).

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Evernote

The kind of work that mankind was burdened with required the use of brawn and adherence to the rules set by a sect of people called The Management. The majority of humans had set hours that they had to be in a large box called the factory or office or farm. They arrived, completed tasks created for them by The Management, left and went home to their families with a paycheck. The rule of the day was following and information was presented on an as needed basis, typically on large signs encouraging safety, profit and timeliness.

It ain’t like that anymore! Those days are done! Now most of us are what’s fashionably referred to as “Knowledge Workers”. This is polite wording for “your work has no real tangible product”. It’s in the ether, a minuscule piece of a much larger project, or simply idea based.

Making the jump from production based to knowledge based work is still a huge source of friction for most people. And those who are able to successfully integrate knowledge into their daily work seem to be like the mysterious and powerful Master Jedi (or the Ninja for those who are into the oriental arts).

I’m not yet at the Master level yet, but I’m past the padawan stage thanks to learning to use the secret tool known as Evernote.

Many articles are written about Evernote, and invariably someone (or many someones) comment that they just don’t get it. The software is too open ended for them. They are not wrong…and that’s why Evernote is so powerful. It can be used in the way to best suit the individual. I’m going to share how I use Evernote in my daily life to show you some tips on how you can take the knowledge that’s available to you today and shape it to fit your needs.

Evernote: Your Digital Brain.

Here’s the problem: Email, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, News, Sports, Entertainment, Work, Home, Friends, Family, Maintenance, Bills, Expiration dates, Owner’s Manuals, Notebooks, Serial Numbers, Articles, etc.

How do you keep track of all this information (knowledge) in a manner that doesn’t reduce you to spending inordinate amounts of time looking for something? That’s right..Evernote.

Remember Everything

Free Evernote (although the yearly premium membership of $45 is a no brainer for me). Works on the web, desktops of Windows and Mac Users, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Each one in constant sync with the other. It’s literally available everywhere you want it to be. Imagine being able to conjure any information you need from any location…it’s like a Jedi trick, but available to everyone.

Having the ability to include text notes, pictures, audio, clip web pages, forward emails, and attachments of all kinds increases the effectiveness of Evernote. If you can see, hear, or type it, Evernote can process it and have it ready for you.

Structured by the concept of Notes, Notebooks, and Tags, you can further group your disparate information into easily searchable terms. This is the second Jedi trick of Evernote…a quick search to return the one item you need from the thousands of notes stored in your Evernote Notebooks. You almost don’t need to know where things are, just start typing some words related to your information and…BAM…there it is. Premium users get enhanced OCR and search-ability inside attachments which really helps.

John’s Evernote Jedi Notebook setup.

Just a few Notebooks as large holding areas for information, I’ve come to lean on Tags to parse out my information more effectively. Here’s a list of my Notebooks, with my coaching client’s blurred for privacy.

Evernote Notebook List

Evernote is where any piece of information that I need goes first. I have set my default Notebook to be called !Inbox and when I clip, email or otherwise add information, it goes here by default.

Following the Getting Things Done methodology, I process my Inbox at least once per day:

  • Is it a ToDo? It gets a reminder set for an alert and email reminder then into !ToDo it goes.
  • More than just one step to complete? Into Projects.
  • Interesting thing I might want to do someday…Maybe Someday becomes it’s home.

The Notebook stack (like subfolders under a main directory) Reference is where everything else lives. You can see from my list that I have a lot of things that are Miscellaneous in the Misc notebook…literally if it doesn’t fit in the remaining categories it goes into Misc. Remember, you can tag and search for it without having to dig… CRM-Hello, Penultimate and Skitch are notebooks created by other apps that utilize Evernote for storage: My iPhone based CRM app, Evernote-Hello, Digital handwriting app Penultimate and photo editor Skitch respectively.

One very interesting Notebook is my Paper Notebooks. I’ve scanned in pages from 207 handwritten notebooks and can now search them in Evernote (to a greater or lesser degree if I printed vs. cursive since I write with the dexterity of a rhinoceros).

Tagging is what separates the novice from the master.

Evernote allows you to assign tags (multiple tags) to your notes. Since I’m a data driven kind of Jedi, here’s the screenshot of all my tags. It’s a little overwhelming, but take a good look through the list to really understand the breadth of how using tags allows you to search easily for things (REALLY: spend one minute looking at the list by clicking on the image to enlarge it).

Evernote Tag List

You’ll note some special character prefaced tags. These are what I use to keep my getting things done methodology clear. The @ tag reminds me to do or have something AT a location. The # denotes projects that I’m working on.

Again, I’ve blurred out my coaching clients tags, but they get their own tag to help me quickly pull up all information about each client in one nice little list.

If you got to the end of my tag list (and you really should, it’ll inspire creativity in your tag list), you’ll see the UP tag. This tag is a list of my daily tracking from the Jawbone Up band. It’s connected to Evernote through the IFTTT.com website using a recipe to send a daily summary of my activity into Evernote for review later.

I’ve got pictures of the serial numbers for everything and anything over around $100, tagged appropriately. Our house was burgled back in 2008 and having the serial number photos made replacement from insurance the most wonderful process it could have been. Yes, the thief stole my laptop, but Evernote stores everything in the cloud too, so I just opened the web browser of my desktop and away we went. This is a good point to remind everyone to include a password on your personal computer…and Evernote allows for 2 factor authentication on their apps. This means that my password and an ever changing number is needed to log into my account making it virtually impossible to hack.

I make it a point to get copies of my doctors visits and scan them into PDF files, the bar codes on my prescriptions get tagged there too so that when I remember at the last moment to renew: then I at least have the number to call it in. I’m still working on setting reminders ahead of time…it’s part of why I’m not yet a Jedi Master…

My Leadship Notebook, along with the Leadership Article Tag is a library of leadership related articles that I use in my coaching and leadership training classes…not all 961 at once (and I have to process my #ToRead list this weekend so probably another 10 to 20 out of the 64 notes will make the cut). When I hear a client or friend struggling with something, or wanting to learn something, I’ll search Evernote by Tag and Notebook and then ask them if they’d like to read something that I found helpful. I can email it to them right from inside Evernote.

Whew…I sound like an ad-man for Evernote (I’m not. Anyone want to send me cash? That’d be cool!). I’m just passionate about minimizing the time I spend looking for knowledge and being effective at managing the amount of information that we all deal with in our lives…

Heck, I used it this morning to find out the size and capacity of the battery on my motorcycle after it was sluggish on starting (I scanned the owners manual into a PDF and threw it into Evernote back in 2009). Search for the word Suzuki and up it popped (tagged Vehicle in the Misc Notebook).

If you’ve gotten this far, I’d recommend you use the excellent tutorials at Evernote.com’s getting started site to smoothly transition yourself into an Evernote aficionado.

Head to Evernote.com and give it a shot. This is seriously my secret to productivity: use Evernote for everything. It’s my trusted system and it never forgets.

Leave me a comment if you have any questions about using Evernote, I’d be happy to help!

Alas, building your own lightsaber is part of the Jedi training that you’ll have to master by yourself my friend…