Evernote: Your Brain on Your Desktop

I can’t count the number of things I wish I’d written in a notebook to remind myself of later – ideas for articles, lyrics for songs, places to go, recipes to try and so on. It got to a point where I started carrying around a little notepad so I’d never forget things while on the move. Over time, I started to want a better way of keep track of ideas and staying organized, and that’s when I stumbled upon Evernote on the web.

I started using Evernote about three years ago and it’s become part of my productivity/GTD arsenal. The app has since evolved to accommodate all kinds of users, functions and usage styles. It’s also available for multiple platforms, including PC, Mac, web, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, WebOS and is even on the Blackberry Playbook. Let’s take a tour of what the Windows version has to offer, shall we?

Overview

Evernote can be used any way you want – your imagination is the limit. It can be just a simple note-taking app or a to-do list manager, or a curated travel guide or team collaboration tool. The possibilities are endless. You basically get to play around with four kinds of components – notes, notebooks, notebook stacks and tags. Using these, you can mould Evernote to fit your life or workflow and become more productive or simply better at what you do. The app comes in two flavours – free and premium ($45 a year, with increased storage, more features for collaboration and mobile and priority support). The free version is sufficient to get started with and allows for users to access their accounts on all platforms.

Evernote's List View showing a typical note

Evernote's List View showing a typical note

Getting Started

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Evernote, you’ll be prompted to sign in or register for a new account. You can then start creating your first note, which will get stored in your default notebook. To create a note, click the New Note button in the toolbar and start typing or choose to record audio, take a picture with your webcam or scribble a note with your stylus/mouse. You can also add a title, associated URL and tags to help find your note later. You can even format your text using the basic WYSIWYG editor tools provided and add images by dragging them into your note. You can also add a recording or attach a file of any kind to your note. The text editor allows you to add check boxes (Ctrl+Shift+C) to easily create to-do lists.

A packing list in Evernote

A packing list in Evernote

You can also clip a note from the web using the extensions made available for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. With these, you can choose to clip images, text, portions of a page or entire pages and save them in your notebook. Evernote will even add a title and URL to your clipped note for you. Similarly, you can set up Evernote to accept notes by emailing or tweeting to a particular address. Evernote also allows you to take screenshots and add them into notes – just hit Win+Print Screen, select the area you want to capture with the mouse and a new note containing your screenshot is created.

The Interface

Evernote’s interface is simple and flexible. You can choose from three views: List View shows you note titles which you can click to view entire notes, while Snippet View shows you notes with titles and the first couple of lines of text with an image, and Thumbnail View shows you thumbnails scaled down based on the number of notes in the selected notebook. I prefer List View because it offers the most viewing/editing area for note content. The search bar is above the note list and allows you to search within the current notebook by title text, tags or even text within the note. Evernote also features cloud-powered OCR, so it can actually find text within your images a short while after they are uploaded. It can even find handwritten text – great for scribbles and bills.

Search for text within images (scanned bill shown here)

Search for text within images (scanned bill shown here)

On the left are various ways to sift through your notes – a list of notebooks, tags, attributes (notes created by date, last modified notes, notes with attachments, notes from various sources like web, Twitter, email, etc.), saved searches and your trash can. You can click on any of these to sort your notes accordingly. Notebooks can also be grouped together into notebook stacks to reduce clutter. Plus, if you’re on Windows 7, right-clicking the Evernote icon in your taskbar opens up options to create a new note, take a screenshot, sync and more.

Evernote Everywhere

Evernote not only features auto-save (which means you can always pick up where you left off editing a note on that device) but also syncs your notes following a schedule. When you sync your notes, you can access them all on the web, on desktops and on mobile devices – basically wherever you log in. Notebooks can also be shared for others to view – just right-click a notebook and share it, and invite viewers by email. Premium users can allow others to edit notes in shared notebooks too. Similarly, you can share individual notes on Facebook, Twitter and by email.

Evernote Everyday

I use Evernote for a lot of things: for starters, every article I write is penned in Evernote – I take down ideas on my Android phone while I’m out during the day, then come home and flesh out the article on my PC. It’s also incredibly handy if you’re into concert photography like I am – I take pictures of ideal vantage points for shooting before the gig, make a note of clients’ and stage professionals’ contact details, and take down band set lists and my short reviews (by recording audio notes) after the gig to round out my shoot. I’m also something of a musician, so I use Evernote to record riffs and song ideas, write lyrics (which usually come together in parts), and save guitar exercises and licks from the web to practice. I also keep track of my bills and expenses by taking snapshots of them on my phone and later organizing them on my desktop to hand in for reimbursement.

A note with pictures and a recording

A note with pictures and a recording

Apart from this, you can use Evernote to:

  • Take notes in class and during lectures
  • Write screenplays or novels (create notebooks to hold character bios, plot points, timelines, shot ideas, location references and such and stay organized)
  • Track your weight, save healthy recipes and workout ideas
  • Save coupons, promo codes and links to deals for shopping
  • Scan/take pictures of business cards and people whose faces you might need to remember
  • Plan your itinerary, check off packing lists, and keep your passport and visa details accessible

Conclusion

Evernote is an extremely powerful app with endless uses. It comes with a great search engine, can be accessed from anywhere and can store just about anything you want to put in it to remember later. It’s one of the first things I install on new PCs for friends and family, and on work computers as well. If you’re looking for a way to get your thoughts on track, take Evernote for a spin. It’s an app you’ll never forget!


Summary

Evernote helps you capture, access, find and remember everything - notes, recipes, web pages, pictures, bills, lists - anywhere.

10