TechVirtuoso

Get the most out of Evernote

December 8th, 2010 at 2:09 PM  5 Comments

I’m a huge fan of Evernote. It ranks right up there with Gmail in terms of applications I live my life in. When people sit down with it for a while and begin to use it, or have someone explain all the interesting ways it can enhance their productivity, it doesn’t surprise me that they become as hooked to it as I am.

I first became exposed to it when I got an iPhone 3G in 2008. It had existed as a platform a couple years before that and was popular with the Windows Mobile & Tablet PC crowd, but wasn’t really on my radar. At the time, I dismissed it as nothing more than a note taking app for the iPhone. The only reason I started using it was because I wanted something that would sync the notes on my iPhone to another system, since iTunes didn’t do it at the time. Not really something I’d adjust my workflow around.

Sure I’d used it off and on, but it hasn’t been until the last few months that I’ve come to realize all the ways it can be used. It’s more than just a simple mobile app, it exists on nearly every platform and helps sync your documents, notes, images and throughts between computers and between mobile devices. Their cloud keeps all your clients linked together and helps put the data and knowledge you keep in their service ready for use at any time.

I’ve decided to share some of the exciting ways I use (or have seen it used) to make myself more organized, more productive and less scatter brained.

Evernote has begun to replace my normal Windows file system for keeping track of data. Now obviously, when I say everything I don’t mean put your iTunes library in Evernote, or your Adobe Lightroom catalog. No, I’m talking about all your text files, PDFs and screenshots. The stuff that the normal system administrator has scattered all around their hard drives, but would greatly benefit from a centralize repository.

Get the Premium Version

First off, I’m not being paid to say this, but… to really make the most of this program you’re going to want to shell out a little cash. It’s going to set you back $45 a year (or $5 per month.) The free version is excellent, and until you get really into it it’s probably best to wait so you don’t waste your money if you don’t like it. But be aware, you’re going to want to get the enhanced features:

  • 500MB of uploads a month (free users get 40MB) means  I don’t have to worry how many screenshots or PDF files I pump into their cloud.
  • Premium users also gain the ability to put things like Word, Excel and PowerPoint files into their client. Actually you can put any file, where as free users are limited to images, audio, ink files, and PDFs.
  • Automatic PDF indexing, an absolute must. I’ll tell you why in a little bit.
  • Offline access on mobile devices.
  • SSL encryption of notes. Honestly, I wish this was standard but right now you have to pay. For those of us who are going to store anything beyond a grocery list, encrypting that data in transit is a must.
  • Priority image recognition. I’ll tell you why this feature is awesome below, but paying for this gets you higher up in the queue.

Put Everything You Read or Write In Evernote

Up until a few months ago, when I needed to take a quick note of something I’d probably just fire up Notepad. The end result was a bunch of .txt files all over my hard drive. If I needed to refer to it an hour later it wasn’t a problem. A couple days later, it wasn’t so bad. A week later… it got harder and harder to find. Even with Windows 7 and its great indexing, it’s not always very easy to find what you want.

Evernote is only as useful as the content you index with it. If you read it, write it, and want to ever access it again… put it Evernote.

Perhaps the easiest, and yet the hardest, thing to get use to is changing your ‘workflow’ to incorporate it into your daily life. Once you do, you’ll begin to wonder what you did without it.

Put All Your Product Documentation In Evernote

I’ve begun downloading the PDF files for product that I own, from various manufactures, and putting them into Evernote. Everything from motherboards manuals to server documentation. It’s much easier to go looking for help with a product if you’ve already downloaded and indexed the manual than it is to go digging through a vendors website, sometimes months or years after they’ve stopped selling the product.

Make Evernote Your Default Screenshot Program

How many times have you been working on something and got an error message you wanted to refer back to later? You take a screen capture of that message, save it, go along your way trying to troubleshoot. Want to refer back to that screenshot or send it to a co-worker? Hope you didn’t close the program, or else you better remember what you saved the file as, and where.

If you’d put that screenshot into Evernote you’d be able to search of a string of text inside the screenshot and pull the image from it’s archive. No file names or locations to remember.

In this example just searching for a word in the image resulted in what I was looking for. Notice the word ‘protection’ highlighted in the screenshot. This feature is available to both free and premium users, but it’s one example of where paying a little extra helps out. When you sync your data up into the Evernote cloud, their servers instantly begin indexing the content and in this case use OCR technology to turn the text in the image into searchable content.

Install the Web Clipping Tools

Evernote makes plugins for most browsers, to make it easy to take data out of a website and put it directly into their system.

If you’re using Internet Explorer, the clipper automatically installs when you install the Windows client. If you’re using Safari on a Mac, the clipper automatically installs when you install the Mac client.

If you’re using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, there are plugins avaliable for download from the addon pages for each browser.

If you’re using Opera or some other less popular browser that Evernote hasn’t got around to creating a plugin for, you can also use their Bookmarklet. While not quite as elegant as the plugin options, it’s better than nothing.

Also, because you can index the content of a screenshot, if you want to remember the web page exactly as it was when you viewed it, just take a screenshot and then go search for it later!

One feature exclusive to Google Chrome users who have the plugin installed is the ability to search within your Evernote archive for files when you’re on Google.com. Why go looking for something all over again that you may have already found and clipped into Evernote?

Use Automatic Folder Import To Your Advantage

You can easily configure Evernote to index the files in a folder. I use this in combination with a PDF printer like Adobe PDF Distiller, CutePDF or saving as a PDF with Office to “Print to Evernote” from within applications like Microsoft Word, where directly importing the Word document into Evernote doesn’t create as nice of an indexable note.

In this case, Evernote is configured to delete the file as soon as it’s imported. This way you don’t have duplicate files sitting around and you know when it’s gone, it’s in Evernote.

Without the premium version, indexing and searching the contents of a PDF isn’t possible. That’s just one reason why the premium version is so helpful.

Install Evernote on Everything

Sure, there is a nice web interface for Evernote, but what I consider of the beautiful aspects of the product is that it’s a cloud product with awesome desktop applications.

My tower at home has Evernote, my laptop has Evernote. The two are constantly keeping things accessible between both systems. But as mentioned before, I discovered Evernote through my iPhone, so I have it there as well. It’s also on my work Blackberry and when I finally break down and buy an iPad (or other tablet) it’ll be there too. There are also mobile clients for Android, Windows Mobile and WebOS. About the only thing you can’t out a client on is sadly, Linux.

(Evernote, please change this.)

The more places you can easily access your data, the less you have to remember, and the more productive you can be with it.

With a premium account, you gain the ability to sync offline content to mobile devices. While this isn’t a huge advantage with something like an iPhone where you usually have a 3G connection (AT&T willing) to download notes on the go, with an iPad or Android tablet it’s handy for taking it places where you’re not connected all the time.

Make Your Scanner Evernote Friendly

There are many ways to do this, but I accomplished it by using the scanner’s Windows helper application to set my Evernote import folder as the default location for PDF scan jobs. Documents on the scan bed are turned into PDF files and dumped into Evernote. Now it’s easy to take important papers and make them digitally accessible, quickly.

Some scanners are even more Evernote friendly. If you’re in the market for a new scanner look at the Fujitsu, Canon or Lexmark models that support Scan to Evernote built-in.

Explore the Trunk

The Evernote Trunk is a collection of applications and services that make use of Evernote APIs to get your data directly into Evernote without much thought or effort from you.

One program I use on my iPhone is called JotNot, it turns your iPhone camera into a mobile scanner for taking pictures and easily importing things like receipts or product stickers. JotNot dumps all the extra data in the image, converts it to black and white and enhances it for viewing later and to cut down on file size to make it easy to upload from a mobile data connection.

JotNot can also send your image a variety of other places. But it’s just one example of applications that extend the functionalty of the platform.

Use It, Share Your Thoughts

I would encourage you to start using the product and share your thoughts in the comments on ways you can be more efficient with it.