Friday, September 14, 2018

Alignment - Evernote

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the need for a way to track tasks, gather information, and keep a schedule (here). Last week, I elaborated on the idea of gathering information (i.e. data storage, here). This week, I will provide a brief overview of how I use Evernote as my tool of choice. Please note that many tutorials and helps exist, and that is not my intent here. Rather, my premise is to reveal some generalities of my use to allow readers to conceptualize how they might use it as well. If you are interested in seeking specific ideas on a particular use, I recommend checking the Evernote website or searching YouTube for videos.

The two primary aspects of Evernote are notebooks and tags. Everything that is stored ends up in a notebook, but tags are optional. Evernote will allow you to create 250 notebooks for a personal account and can store up to 100,000 notes. I have 14 primary notebooks, two of which are stacked. A stack is having notebooks within a notebook (like a subfolder in a filesystem). My primary notebooks are for personal, for the church (as pastor), for PTC (as chairman/trainer), and for MBTS (as a professor). Others relate to the Bible (with notes linked from Google), templates, checklists, journaling, etc. The advantage of a stack is evident in areas with multiple responsiblities. For instance, as an adjunct, I teach multiple classes so I have a notebook for each class under MBTS, but I also am developing three courses so I have a folder for that as well. I do something very similar for church-related work, particularly for sermon information and research.

One of the greatest benefits of Evernote is the webclipper tool. The key to using Evernote is to USE Evernote. With much of our research today being done on the web, having a tool like the webclipper makes storing worthwhile articles and information easy. I mentioned in the above paragraph that I store research for classes and sermons under certain notebooks. With the webclipper tool, I can easily clip full articles (minus the sidebar advertisements) into the folder I want. Of course, bookmarks in the browser can do something similar, but after I store it in Evernote, I can highlight, tag, and title the article in such a way that I know exactly how I intend to use it. With a bookmark, I have to sift through the article again, so this is a much better approach.

Again, USING Evernote is the key to getting your benefit. But how you use it may take some time to determine. For instance, I still store files on my computer, but some I now have linked to Evernote. One change I have made is files I have with notes from the Bible. As I take personal notes while reading, I will place the notes in a file. I have now moved those files to Google Drive and set up a link in Evernote. I have one file for each book of the Bible and now those files are accessible on Evernote and tagged, highlighted, etc. wherever I need access to them (you can make certain folders available offline which can be handy when you are in remote places in Kenya or elsewhere!).

Two other uses I have found extremely beneficial are journaling and storing book notes. As for journaling, I have established a template in a note. I copy that note each time I journal and then record key events, reflections, lessons, and next steps. By the way, if I have next steps, those items are immediately recorded in ToDoist or Google Calendar so I do not forget them. At times in my life I have kept a journal, but mostly on paper. By using Evernote, I can attach pictures as well! For instance, our church has recently done some renovations and while recording thoughts in a particular journal entry, I attached three or four pictures. Thus, my journal becomes somewhat like a intrapersonal blog.

As for the book notes, I have found a reason to return to Kindle. I have used Kindle off and on for several years, but as a professor, having the physical copy of many books is helpful. Thus, I buy a lot of physical books even if it isn't necessary. But when travelling I take my Kindle in order to save on space. Well, with Kindle, you can easily move any highlights or notes to Evernote. The process can even be done by a copy/paste when you are logged into Kindle through a browser. Of course, some books have a lower limit on the amount of data that can be "moved" from the book, but the availability store notes in Kindle allows them to be searched by keyword. This has begun to, and will continue to, transform my reading, and therefore, I hope make me a better teacher and preacher as I am able to find information for lessons and sermons more easily as opposed to trying to remember where and when I saw a particular quote, thought, or anecdote. If for no other reason, this option makes Evernote worth the investment (I do use the premium version).

The final benefit is the tag-system Evernote employs. This system is no different than some other systems, including the labels used for this blog. Basically, beyond the idea of linking items within a notebook, the tags allow items (notes) to be grouped by common characteristics - including across notebooks. For instance, I have a travel notebook which includes itineraries and notes about upcoming trips, but also notes about prior trips (with a year label such as 2018). But a trip to Kenya is not just travel, it is mission oriented, and it relates to training pastors and I have journaled about the trip, so into which folder should the notes be placed. A note can be in only one folder, but tags provide additional options for linking similar items together. Of course, with Evernote's powerful search capacity, labels are not necessary, but for me, I have found them particularly useful.

One final thought on how I use Evernote. Like ToDoist, I place my new notes into the Inbox first. This allows me to process them later which can help me to remove frivolous notes. So, I have set up the Inbox as my default notebook (including for the webclipper tool) and then once a week, at least, I move items to the notebook that is the best fit. This overall approach is not necessary, but seeing a note twice helps to make the content stick in my mind better in the short run, which is likely when I will need it. Once it is moved to the appropriate notebook, I will likely forget about it in a short period of time unless it involves a particular project on which I am working (and for this, make sure to add notebooks or even notes to the Shortcuts).

So, that is an abbreviated review of how I use Evernote. I could say more about each of those items or how effective using the built-in Evernote camera is for allowing a document to be indexed by Evernote even if it is handwritten (this is great for meeting or conference notes). As I mentioned last week, other tools exist, but Evernote has proven most effective for me. Whichever tool you choose, experiment with the tool until you are able to make it work for you.

We have now reviewed tasks and information storage. We have one more piece to the productivity triad - the calendar. Next week, I will review my use of Google Calendar. Until then, be as effective as you can!

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