Gaming the Naming: The ABC's of Organizing Your Evernote Notebooks


In April and May, I presented two webinars for Evernote where I showed screenshots from my personal Evernote account. The same question came up in both webinars as this tweet shows: 

notebook list example: sorts alphabetically on the left hand panel of the desktop app

notebook list example: sorts alphabetically on the left hand panel of the desktop app

Both audiences wanted to know why I have either a special character, or a number, in the beginning of some of my notebook and stack names. The question above is referencing the naming convention I use for my default Evernote notebook, which I have renamed to be .In Box.

It is a great question, and highlights a method/hack I often use [and advise clients on] to create an efficient workspace that supports increased productivity in Evernote. Instead of living with the default order of notebooks in my Evernote account, I use this technique to display notebooks on the left hand sidebar in a way that is meaningful to me. This makes my experience in Evernote more efficient, and makes me happier :).

Evernote Functionality

Before we get to the hack, here is what you need to understand about Evernote behavior that impacts my methodology recommendation:

  1. Notebook list is an Evernote app desktop setting that must be turned on in order to have your list display in the left side bar. If you aren't seeing your notebook list, go to [Mac] View > Sidebar Options > Show Notebook List or [PC] View > Left Panel > Show Notebooks to turn it on.

  2. Notebooks appear in the left hand sidebar note list alphabetically according to the name of the notebook.

  3. In the left side bar, stacks and non-stacked notebooks are co-mingled and sorted alphabetically together. A notebook doesn't have to be in a stack, but it can be [stacks are an optional user specific feature]. In other words, if you have created stacks, those stack names will sort alphabetically in line with any notebooks you have in your account that aren't in those stacks. Then, the notebooks that are in each stack will be sorted alphabetically within that stack.

The key functionality to understand above is that your list of notebooks and stacks is sorted and displayed alphabetically, and on the left hand side bar this cannot be changed. It is simply how Evernote works. It is very logical and likely familiar to you - it is how many digital software structures work. However, when it comes to productivity, this behavior creates a challenge.

The Problem

Work isn't organized alphabetically. You want your notebooks/stacks [and your work that resides in them] organized in a way that has logic and meaning to you. My work is organized in a variety of ways: by status [active or archive], by business unit [Harmon Enterprises or Untethered with Evernote], and by client. Other common structures for organizing work include grouping by product, by vendor, by department or team member, and by phase. All are valid ways of organizing your work, but what they aren't is alphabetical.

The Solution

Good news: You can control the order your notebooks/stacks appear in your notebook list. You do this through applying a naming convention to your notebook and stack names which will force a sort order to your notebooks and stacks that is meaningful to you. By doing so, Evernote becomes a powerful organizational tool that supports how you think and get things done.

The Hack Rules and Strategy

To properly apply a naming convention to your notebooks and stacks, you need to know that within Evernote's notebook list:

  • Special characters and punctuation marks [i.e. . _ @ !] will sort before numbers [0 through 9]

  • Numbers [0 through 9] will sort after special characters/punctuation marks but before alphabetical characters

So, strategically using special characters, numbers, and punctuation marks at the beginning of your stack and notebook names will allow you to force the order of items in your notebook list and organize them in a way that is meaningful to your productivity.

And this is the key to answering the question asked by viewers of the Evernote webinars I hosted. I use special characters [in my case, the period], numbers, and strategic alphabetical naming choices to force the order of the notebooks in my notebook list. This is why there is a . in front of some of my notebooks, such as .In Box.

Stacey's Personal Evernote Top Level Naming Convention Strategy

My use of Evernote revolves around making my Evernote organization logical to my brain [and let Evernote search fill in the gaps when that fails]. My personal use of the rules above revolves around using: 

  • A: the period punctuation mark (.) then

  • B: numbers to control the order of my primary notebooks and stacks on the left hand panel then

  • C: alphabetic characters to sort less important data that is not often referenced or part of my day-to-day system.

Stacey's NOTEBOOK LIST naming strategy

Stacey's NOTEBOOK LIST naming strategy

Regarding A: I like to use the period (.) because it is the tiniest and most subtle of the special characters. I find it helpful to see as much of the notebook name as possible on the screen and the . is so small, that it minimally alters the amount of characters that can be displayed after it [you can always enlarge the left side bar by drag/dropping it, but for the most part, I don't like to have it wide on my screen on a day to day basis]. So, I use the . to precede the name of the notebook I want at the top of my list - in my case that is my .In Box [which acts as my first step in organizing my work - a subject for another post]. Because this is the only special character I use, this notebook always appears at the top of my notebook list.

Regarding B: I have a specific order that I want the rest of my stacks and notebooks to appear in [that support my GTD deployment in Evernote]. You'll see that I group like-stacks together with the same number, and then rely on the alphabetical sort to order them from there.

Regarding C: In my business, I am often demonstrating Evernote structures as part of the workflows I help clients to design and deploy. When I build my case studies in my Evernote account, I precede the stack name with a "z" to put them at the bottom of my notebook list [since, as we all know, z is the last letter of the alphabetical sort].  

This system is a key reason Evernote so strongly supports my productivity - I organize it to!  Now it is your turn.

Evernote Skills You Need to Deploy This:

  • Rename notebooks: I right click on the notebook and choose "Rename notebook" or "Rename stack". Change the name of the notebook to lead with a special character, number, or letter that will sort it in the order you desire. You'll need to hit "Enter" on your keyboard to save your new name.

  • Create stacks [optional - and also very helpful!]

Tell me how you organize your notebooks and stacks. Do you use naming conventions to force their order? Post your strategy and logic in the comments. I'd love to learn what works for you.