Fanatics of Evernote understand this: The power of Evernote is in its flexibility to be configured to support any workflow you desire. However, this can be a double edged sword. For many users, this flexibility presents a challenge. They get stuck on how to “properly" organize Evernote.
In my work as a consultant specializing in Evernote workflow deployment and training, I’ve observed that what people want to accomplish with Evernote falls into one of three categories:
- Reference/digital storage
- Project management
- Process management
Here is how I define each category:
This bucket is how most people initially get introduced to Evernote. For many, it is all they rely on Evernote for. Evernote superior capture abilities and features beyond typing notes [for example - the web clipper, audio recording, ability to add pictures and attachments to notes, note creation via email forwarding, and tools like Scannable and 3rd party apps like FileThis] paired with Evernote's outstanding search features, such as hand writing recognition in search - are often cited as reasons users fall in love with Evernote for storage and reference use. Common Evernote use cases that fit in this category include:
- Note taking
- Recipe storage
- Storage of household items like scanned user manuals for the dishwasher
- List making
Projects have a beginning and an end. Evernote can be a support to project management as it is flexible and can be deployed to support any project management use case. This flexility of Evernote though is also a challenge for some - many see it as a blank slate and they don’t know how to organize and utilize it for effective project management without guidance. Since it is not a structured system [by design], you effective project management in Evernote includes defining processes and deploying templates that support the project, and maximizing Evernote features such as shared notebooks, pinned notes, and tables to organize your project. And, the flexility of Evernote allows you to mold it to support whatever project you are trying to manage. Examples of typical projects that Evernote is excellent for managing include:
- Travel management
- Internal business project management [website redesign, office expansions, hiring, etc.]
- Client work
Process management is focused on executing a repetitive sequence of tasks. Evernote is an excellent process manager and is especially powerful in supporting processes that are touched by multiple team members. Here again, Evernote is not a structured process manager out of the gate, but the flexility of Evernote allows you set up and manage any process your organization faces and customize it to the nuances of your organization. Many of the same features that support effective project management in Evernote are also used in effective process management in Evernote. Use cases for process management in Evernote include:
- Meetings with team members, vendors and clients
- Financial and receipt management
- Lead and sales management
- Order and transaction management
- Social media management
The power of Evernote is the ability for it to manage workflows and use cases from all three of the categories simultaneously, in the same tool.
And I have a theory. When you use Evernote to manage workflows in two or three of the categories, you are an Evernote addict. You can’t imagine what software you would turn to to replace all that Evernote does for you. You think Evernote is the best thing since sliced bread, and you sing its praises to everyone you know. This represents the fanatical group of Evernote devotees that I am a proud part of.
However, when you use Evernote for just one of these buckets, you are more at risk to criticize and abandon the platform. You are more vulnerable to becoming disgruntled if Evernote doesn’t perform as best-in-class in the silo area you use it for. And understandably so. If you look at each of the three buckets as a stand alone software role, there is certainly growing and stiff competition in each of them. However, I have yet to find another software that replaces the ability to manage all three buckets in one interface, and additionally offers the mobility access, search features, collaboration tools, and affordability that Evernote has. And, I love being able to manage reference material, projects, and processes, all in one place. It has transformed how I work and my elevated my level of productivity.
But, back to the point of this post. Understanding that there are three main buckets of workflows, provides a helpful foundation when answering the question: What is the best way to organize Evernote?
My Process for Determining Evernote Organization
Following is a process I often walk through with clients in defining the organizational structure of their Evernote account.
Start with identifying which bucket your workflow falls into: Reference, Process, or Project.
Based on your workflow category, Identify what notebook, or notebooks, should be created. Start with one, and expand if necessary.
If you are using Evernote for a storage or reference function, often one notebook for the category of reference material is sufficient. For example, create a notebook for Insurance records, or for recipes, or for business legal documents.
However, if you are tracking a process, you can create one notebook per process stage. For example, i have three notebooks that manage my blogging process:
- Blog - Post Ideas
- Blog - Posts
- Blog - Post Promotion
As a blog idea moves from concept to a full blog post it gets “promoted” from the Blog - Post Ideas notebook into its own note in the Blog - Posts notebook. From there, I draft my full blog post before moving it to my website platform. Once it is posted, the Blog - Post Promotion notebook manages the next stage of the blogging process, the promotion of the post on social channels. Each notebook represents a distinct phase of work related to my blogging process.
If you are using Evernote to manage a project, say, client work, create [at the minimum] one notebook to manage that client project. However, several notebooks may be needed for a client project. I detail out how I determine my client project notebooks in this post.
Give consideration to the naming convention of your workflow notebooks, particularly if they are going to be used in a collaborative environment. It is helpful to group notebooks related to a particular project, process, or reference category together and this can be done via naming conventions. My post on Gaming the Naming helps to explain this in detail. You can also group notebooks into stacks. Stacks do not replace the need for naming conventions on your notebooks however as stacks are a user preference and can’t be shared with others.
Consider the naming conventions of the notes that you keep in the notebooks you have created. Again, using a naming convention is very important in 1) grouping like information together during an alphabetical sort of the notes that are in the notebook, 2) in creating meaningful summary notes using note links [see tip #5 here] and 3) in creating powerful searches that will retrieve the exact notes you are looking for.
Determine if you need any templates, summary notes, or dashboard notes to provide navigation and an orientation to the information stored in the notebook. Use non-dated reminders to pin these summary notes to the top of your notebook for easy access by you and anyone you share the notebook with.
Decide if tags are needed as part of your workflow design process. Read this article before deciding to assign copious amounts of tags to your notes.
Determine if grouping notebooks into stacks will be helpful to the organization of your Evernote account. If so, remember the value of naming conventions in ordering your stacks and notebooks as I detail here.
These 7 steps provide the framework for creating organization in Evernote. Each type of workflow will influence a different organizational structure in Evernote. The basics have been described here but there is an art to designing the perfect workflow and organization in Evernote that meets your need.
There is a lot to consider and, admittedly, some people can feel overwhelmed by the idea of setting it up. But I know that following these steps can improve your organization by 100%.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Does this help you in thinking about your Evernote organization? Do you agree with my organizational approach? If not, how do you approach it?