The trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they’re organized for.”
My daughter, Emma, kills what seems like an entire forest each year writing things down to try and keep herself organized for school. Her desk is littered with papers, notes, index cards, lists, and reminders that she is constantly misplacing.
Her problem is similar to that of many adults I know, who have trouble organizing themselves at work or at home.
Spending twenty minutes trying to find that note that you’re Pretty Sure Was Really Important by hand is frustrating to say the least. Fortunately, a host of technology options are available to stay organized and assist with all of the consolidating, categorizing, and arranging that we just do not have time to do.
One of the best and most user-friendly programs that I have found is Evernote.
The app is essentially a collection of digital notebooks, which you fill with individual notes. The notes can be manually typed or web-clipped or handwritten on a iPad using digital ink through their Penultimate app integration.
You can try Evernote for free, but I recommend upgrading to the premium version for just $45/yr. After starting with the 30-day trial, I was putting so much information in that I needed more space. The premium version gives you 1Gb of monthly uploads and a 100Mb maximum note size (I have never even come close to this). You can also share notes with friends or co-workers, search inside PDF attachments and scanned notes (which I find extremely helpful) and encrypt your notes with a passcode.
There are so many options, add-ons and cool tools with Evernote that it would be impossible to cover them all in just one article. What I’m going to do here is explain my methods to be more productive and stay organized.
I’m a list maker. I’ll admit it. I find that writing lists helps me to keep track of what I need to do, ideas that come to me in the middle of the night or while I’m in the shower or anytime at all. I have lists of blog ideas, business tasks (like calling my accountant or running payroll), of movies I want to rent, all kinds of things of which I want to keep track.
Since Evernote uses the same note type for everything, this means that a list is more than a list. It can contain pictures, audio files, web links, just about anything. This kind of flexibility makes Evernote more functional and removes limits placed on the user by other single function apps.
For example, I use Evernote to keep a list of songs I want to learn play on guitar. Not only can I have the list of song titles, but I can also include pictures of the fingerings for chords that I have trouble remembering. Why should To Do lists be just plain text?
Evernote works on all smartphones, tablets and desktops (via a web browser) and automatically synchronizes your data across them all. Your information will always be at your fingertips.
Note-Taking on Steroids
I go to conferences and seminars a few times a year and I take a lot of notes on topics that I plan to write about on one of my blogs. I type them directly into Evernote and use rich text formatting with multiple fonts, typefaces and bullet lists as well as tables and highlighting, which makes everything easier to read.
There are multiple views to help you to sort notes and browse through them by date or title. One tip I use is to paste a JPG of a checkmark on notes that I have used in my blog. Another method would be to tag your notes and then filter out the ones you don’t want to see.
I assign at least one tag to every note. This makes it simple to group notes by topic without having to create too many notebooks to organize my notes.
Another bonus is that you can share your notebooks with your coworkers, even if they do not use Evernote. This is useful for small teams to collaborate on research or creating simple documents together.
A Poor Man’s CRM
Evernote recently added a free business card scanner option to their mobile app. Once you scan in a card, it goes into a specially-formatted note with fields for standard contact details along with a picture of the card. This effectively turns Evernote into a bare-bones contact management system.
The scanned contacts are supposed to be automatically connected to their LinkedIn profiles, but that function isn’t working for me at the moment. It will be great if and when it does work, since I had that when I used the CardMunch app, which was purchased by LinkedIn in 2011, but shut down this month.
You can also scan in handwritten notes and attach them as pictures or PDFs. Either way, Evernote will scan them and allow you to search inside them. I use this all the time when I’m traveling between clients and jot a few ideas down on a legal pad during a meeting or even on the back of a napkin. Take a photo of the paper with your phone and attach it to a note and you’re done. Your thoughts are saved forever and are searchable for quick retrieval.
What Are You Waiting For?
Why wait to get organized? Download Evernote now and get started today. I find it to be tremendously helpful and even have my kids using it for their schoolwork. Once you get started, you’ll be hooked and you’ll wonder how you managed all this time without it.
Emma Iskowitz contributed to this article.