Evernote Organization without Organizing
If you have given Evernote a try, then you might have wondered how to go about organizing yourself with notes, notebooks, and tags in place of the traditional folder and file system. My aim on this page is to offer a way to get started right away building your "external brain" without taxing your "meat brain" with tedious thoughts about organizational systems. The key to making this work is Evernote's robust search.
One somewhat unorthodox approach to digital organization is to put everything in one notebook, and name almost everything with YYMMDD and keywords. Today's note for a research journal would be "120424 journal tuesday." That's it. As you can see in the screenshot below: one notebook, no notebook stacks, and no tags. Just titles.
Putting the System to Work
OK. Now you have a bunch of notes with YYMMDD and keywords in the titles. What happens when you have thousands of these? Don't worry. Evernote has you covered.
- Evernote searches make it very easy to filter your notes so that what you see will be exactly the same as what someone with a couple-hundred carefully organized notebooks might see, except that it takes much less effort. I have a saved search for each of my main keywords. My journal search is "intitle:journal". When I click on this saved search each morning, I see every research journal note I have ever made arranged in chronological order if I sort by "Title." I look at the one I made for today to see my schedule.
- Note links are a great way to bundle notes together. They work something like a personal wiki. Of course, you can make a note link from any note, but I use the keyword "index" for my notes that contain lists of note links for a topic. In "120424 index bibliography feudalism" I have links to all of my reading notes on research that scholars have done on feudalism. Making these index notes is the enjoyable part of "organization," because it gives me a chance to make connections and review my notes.
- Post-dating notes turns Evernote into an organizer/calendar. As I mentioned in (1), I have a saved search that filters my notes so that only my journal entries are displayed. By dating my journals with future dates, I can have everything I need to do contained in Evernote. When I wake up in the morning I see my journal note for the day and know what my schedule is. I can also modify the search to "intitle:journal thursday" to see what I have scheduled for all of my Thursdays.
- Random character codes are a handy replacement for tags. In the past, if I had ten email exchanges with someone, I might have tried to tag them in order to keep the information together for later reference. However, it was difficult to know how to name the tag, and I often wondered if it was really worth it to make a tag for just a few notes. I don't want to make an index note just for these either, and besides, Evernote hasn't given us note linking capabilities on the iPad yet, so if I am working on that device, I am out of luck. With the code (an idea suggested by jebenson2 on the Evernote forums), I don't have to agonize over a name. I can just append a random code to the end of every related note.
One of the good things about this approach is that it is entirely compatible with most other organizational systems, which rely on notebook hierarchies, tags, and so forth. However, the important thing is to note that none of this other stuff is necessary to get started. So, what are you waiting for?