How I Use Evernote to Manage My Ideas

evernoteA few weeks ago, I shared some of my sources for writing inspiration. In a comment on that post, Mariano asked how I manage and organize my ideas. It was a great question, so I’m explaining my method in today’s post.

Before it’s demise, I used Google Notebook to keep track of ideas and manage my writing. When it went away, I undertook a massive search for a replacement; I must have tested over 30 note-taking apps. One of the strongest contenders for me was Evernote.

At the time, Evernote didn’t have a BlackBerry version and didn’t allow collaboration, so it failed in two of my most important criteria. Frustrated, I ditched all of the apps and moved to using a Word document to manage and organize ideas. We all know how clunky this can be, so I told myself this was just temporary until I could find the “perfect” solution.

Evernote, again, rose to the top of my list last year when they added a BlackBerry version and note-sharing with modifying capabilities (you have to purchase their upgrade version to allow others to modify your notes). Here’s how I use Evernote to track writing topics (and this method can easily be modified for managing almost any kind of info).

Notebook Setup

I create very broad and general notebooks. I use Evernote for idea collaboration as well, and I’ve found that the fewer notebooks I have the easier it is for me to manage. Here’s a look at my notebooks:

evernote notebooks

Tagging

Now, because I have one massive notebook labeled “Writing,” and each idea becomes it’s own note within that notebook, I need to make sure I am categorizing everything effectively so I can find what I need when I need it.

This is where tagging comes in. I created tags for each of the blogs I write for so I can sort by tag when I’m working on my writing plan for the week.

On-the-Fly Ideas

If I’m at my computer, adding an idea is easy — I just create a note in the desktop app which I keep running all the time. Evernote also has an online app and all of the versions automatically sync with each other; this is a huge plus.

When I’m away from my computer, I use the mobile app and email to send new ideas and inspirations to the list. Evernote’s BlackBerry version is somewhat limited, but it does allow you to create and upload different kinds of notes (see a screenshot from my BlackBerry below). One very important feature is that the mobile app let’s you tag your notes when you add them, so once I create the note, I’m done. It will be there next time I’m on my computer.

evernote notebooks

You can also email notes to your account, which can be quicker than using the mobile app. For example, if I’m scanning feeds in Google Reader on my BlackBerry and I get inspired by something, it’s quicker for me to use the Send Address function on my BlackBerry to get the idea into Evernote (the subject line becomes the title of the note). I also have my default notebook set to Writing so ideas and inspirations go where they need to go.

Keep in mind that the email functionality doesn’t allow you to tag your notes, though. So you have an extra step of tagging once you’re back on your computer. I put the tag name first in the subject line, so I can do a quick search later on and tag appropriately.

Ordering Ideas

Since I also use Evernote to outline my writing plans for each week, I needed to figure out a way to move the planned posts to the top of the list. I use a simple system with punctuation (to distinguish one blog from another) and numbers (to show the order in which they will be written), so at a glance, I can see what I need to focus on any day of the week. See below for an example of what a typical week would look like:

evernote notebooks

And that’s it. Pretty simple, but so far this has been a highly effective way for me to manage my ideas. How do you manage and organize your ideas?

If Evernote isn’t for you, there are many other note-taking apps that might fit the bill. Go to this post, which covers some other options.

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  • Abhisek

    Excellent ideas. Thanks for sharing with us. I had a very clumsy evernote. It is much clutter-free now, thanks to this article.

  • Christopher Masiello

    Alyssa,
    Great tips. I love Evernote. I use it every day to capture things on the go or at my computers.
    My favorite tips:
    Wine list: take a pic of the label, type your thoughts, ratings and who you drank it with.
    To-Do: Make a To Do notebook. Title everything with the Due date (mm/dd/yyyy)
    Meeting Notes: After a meeting, take a snap of the white board. You would be surprised at how much of the text gets recognized. It’s all searchable later.
    Thanks,
    Chris

  • Daniel Woods

    Thanks, is a great find. I just signed up and can’t wait to use it.

    http://www.danieltwoods.com
    http://www.socialboxmedia.com

  • SL

    I think we’ve all dealt with the same issue. I’ve ended up carrying a folder with pile of plastic sheets and a non-permanent marker, which allows me to quickly sketch out ideas without any constraints. It’s literally a blank piece of paper available anywhere without booting up a computer or typing on a small keyboard. The added benefit of the non-permanent marker is that it allows for erasing and saves paper. For graphic ideas I want to keep I’ll either formalize them in a graphic editor or scan and save them. For text-based ideas I formalize them and save them to the appropriate place and format.

    I’ve also set up a shortcut to create an Outlook Task so with a quick key press I can create a new task. I then categorize the task as “distraction” so I can read it later when ready for the distraction. The reason I like outlook tasks (in addition to be available on my blackberry) is that you can attach files and url’s become click-able. I have a rule that “distraction” and my inbox are empty and the end of every day.

    Hope that helps,

  • http://www.magain.com/ Matthew Magain

    Yep, good summary Alyssa. I only recently started using Evernote to organise my life a bit better—scanning bills, receipts, all sorts. The indexing of text in PDFs and images (even handwritten text) is quite amazing. I’ve yet to use it to capture ideas and such yet (they all go into Things) and still think it’s well worth the $45/year subscription IMO.

  • mrtunes

    great service but this post illuminates the problem that it’s not very good at sorting the notes

  • rosana345

    i would recommend http://clicktoapp.com