Software & Apps

App of the Week – Evernote

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You know how some obvious, everyday things just never click for you? For me, one of those was bookmarking in the browser. Bookmark lists are a black hole to me, into which great ideas get sucked, never to be heard from again. Part of the problem is that I use too many computers, with many different operating systems, and the bookmark I need is never on the computer I’m currently using. The other problem is that the content sometimes shifts (or the website dies) and whatever brilliance was there is now lost to me forever.

My gateway into Evernote was Web Clippings. I can copy the content from websites and email it to my Evernote address (or use the Web Clipper feature), along with the URL. I can access and search through that content from any machine that has Evernote on it. It has become my Internet Brain Storage Mechanism. If you’ve ever had that conversation that starts “I read this really great article” and ends with “but I can’t remember where it was,” you understand why this is awesome.

Pardon me if this starts to sound like a laundry list. Evernote is a fairly simple sort of app in concept; it’s just aggregating text, Web links, documents, photos and sound, but …holy cow, what can’t you do when all that information is available to all your computing devices? Add to that encryption and sharing, and its utility reaches epic levels. I’ll leave out the other Evernote integrations, automating it with services like ifttt, or creating searchable dictation, lest this article become a book.

Here’s a few things which I use Evernote for, in my personal life:

  • Recommendations (Movies, music, books or businesses…)
  • Deep thoughts (Things that come to me when I’m out walking, or as I’m about to fall asleep)
  • Tracking (Diet, exercises, effects from medicines, mood…)
  • Journaling (Text, photos or drawings from trips, hikes, dreams…)
  • Home decoration (Dimensions of rooms, furniture and appliances, paint colors…)
  • Home maintenance (Types and wattage of light bulbs…)
  • To Do Items (Packing lists, projects, shopping lists…)
  • Paperwork (Photos of business cards, appointment reminders, receipts…)
  • Encrypted items (Logins, serial numbers, membership numbers…)
  • Short term storage (Articles to read later as URLs or files)
  • Scrapbook (Amusing things I see, pictures of kids’ artwork…)
  • Recurring purchases (Clothes sizes, vitamins, tire sizes, printer cartridges…)
  • Schedule information (Buses, Classes…)
  • Email subscriptions (Use your Evernote address to read mails later)
  • Gifts (Jot down preferences or ideas you have long before the next holiday)
  • Lending library (Keep track of books/movies/tools that you lend to people)
  • Quick reference info (Router settings, dates of seasonal items, license plate number or VIN…)
  • Quick text (Anything you find yourself having to type again and again)

Here’s a few other uses suggested to me by a self-proclaimed Evernote Fanboy who uses it quite a bit for both home and office:

  • Task management:
    I use Evernote for maintaining check box lists of content. While there are a lot of task management programs available, like OmniFocus, Evernote makes it easy to create interactive checklists for tasks. I maintain a weekly punch list and a daily punch list that allow me to keep track of items throughout my workday. This also provides me a historical trail of things I’ve accomplished throughout the week so I can identify and document what was done each day during the week.
  • Tech notes:
    I have a large number of code snippets and documentation that I’ve acquired throughout the years but need every several months. Searching in Google requires me to recall specific information about the article, blog post, or documentation page I read, while Evernote allows me to easily tag information for reference later. I maintain a “code library” within Evernote that reminds me how to accomplish tasks I seldom use. For instance, what is the Unix command for encrypting a file using a 256-bit cipher? Or how do I reset MySQL’s root user password? These are pieces of information that I seldom use, but when I need them, I need them quickly.
  • Cooking & Brewing:
    During home brewing or cooking, I am often following very long, detailed recipes. These recipes typically have large ingredients lists as well. Evernote allows me to synchronize list information to my iPhone, making it easy to check my list on the go.
  • Research and note taking:
    Evernote is my software of choice for recording meeting notes or researching new material. Because Evernote will synchronize across everything, I never have to worry about emailing my notes to myself later on, or transferring files.

Evernote’s editor has all the abilities of a good text editor, plus a few really cool extras. If you have notes that make more sense together, you can merge them. On the mobile versions, you can add a location (you can add it on the desktop too, if you know the latitude/longitude). If you want to have that article read to you while you’re commuting, Evernote can send it to iTunes as a spoken track.

Once you have this incredible data repository, what keeps it from becoming another black hole? Evernote makes things very searchable and gives you a few different ways to organize your data. The two primary ways to group things is in “notebooks” (like folders), and with tags. You can even assign tags and notebooks within the subject line, if you’re sending content via email. If you have one notebook that has become unwieldy, or several notebooks that are related, you can put them into stacks. My recipe notebook got so big that I created a stack for recipes, and notebooks for different types such as desserts, drinks, etc.

Even documents and images are searchable, as Evernote has some basic OCR functionality. So, if you take a photo of a receipt or a business card, you can search through the text within that picture. PDF text searching functionality is also available in the paid version. And if there are searches you find yourself doing a lot, especially if it’s a more complicated search, you might find the Saved Searches option useful.

And just in case you don’t find enough here to solve all your life’s organization issues, Evernote is kind enough to include a shared notebook called User Stories. These stories highlight different ways people in various fields make use of Evernote.

You can get Evernote on the iOS App Store. The app is free, with optional Plus and Premium in-app purchases.