Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How I use Evernote

I keep everything in Evernote. Well, not everything — my files and photos are kept mostly on OneDrive — but everything else, anything I might need in a new place, is always in Evernote.

My Evernote store includes the following notebooks:

  • Default: where everything goes unless (or until, if I’m in a hurry) I move it elsewhere. 
  • Clippings: anything of interest I see on the web. I used to merely post the link, but since living in China — where internet and firewall access can sometimes be iffy — I usually just copy the whole page. 
  • Records: a scan/photo of every document that might be useful someday: passport, drivers license, insurance information, Safeway card, etc. Of course, each one is tagged multiple times to ensure I can find them easily.
  • HowTo: I like a separate place for notes that explain how to do something. Lots of technical articles go in here.
  • Work: My work-related files go here, in a bunch of subfolders. Some are shared with colleagues.
  • Archive: old notes, large notes that I don’t need to carry with me. Scanned receipts usually go here.

The best part of Evernote is that all the notes are automatically synched among all my computers and devices. You can synch everything at the notebook level, which is nice because on devices where space or bandwidth are at a premium (e.g. my phone) I only synch the notebooks I think I’ll need on the road.

I also use tags on just about every note, and the search feature is fast and powerful enough that it often doesn’t matter much which notebook I use. I could probably be lazier and it wouldn’t affect my workflow very much.

Note: if you put as much important stuff in Evernote as I do, you absolutely must use their two-factor authentication. It can be annoying if you need to access a note from a new device — you’ll need your phone authentication app — but it’s much more secure. Also, remember you can encrypt notes at the paragraph level. I do this a lot, for things that might be sensitive if somebody happens to look over my shoulder while writing, or as extra protection in case the notebook is somehow broken into.

Much as I like Evernote, I don’t trust that it’ll be around forever. I’ve been burned many times in the past when I adopt some file format only to see it become irrelevant or worse (I’m looking at you, WMV). Fortunately, it’s easy to export everything, and I do that a couple times a year, saving it in PDF and XML so I’ll never lose it.

Evernote is not perfect. The iPhone UI is cumbersome. Rich text and tables are too primitive.  There’s no outline mode to make complicated drafts easier to write. You can’t encrypt individual notebooks. Etc. OneNote is still my overall favorite, but its underpowered cross-platform synch, plus the huge investment I’ve already made in Evernote makes it impractical for me to switch. But Evernote is good enough for what I need, and I expect to be using it for many more years.