Top Tools: Evernote

Top Tools: Evernote

When I first started writing at university I actually used notebooks for ideas. I had a cheap A6 hardcover notebook that I kept in my back pocket and whenever an idea grabbed me, usually at the pub after the third stout, I would whip it out and jot down my brilliant and rather blurry ideas.

For a while the A6 notebook worked out great, but it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that impressed clients or other people. It was disheveled and rarely made a good impression, and to be honest smelled slightly of beer. Then I started upgrading my notebook to Moleskines. Oh, what a difference. For anybody who has ever needed a decent writing, journal or ideas book then a Moleskine is the way to go. Sure, some claim that it is hipster and as pretentious as a Mac, but I don’t care. It just makes writing easier somehow. If you are looking for a just-as-good journal check out Typo’s journals. I started keeping a separate notebook for each client. Knowing my love for writing books, a friend brought me some unique journal books from Belgium and they certainly attracted attention and compliments.

And then came the smartphone and more office based work. With a smartphone I no longer needed to remember to grab my mini journal when I was going somewhere, I could take notes any time any where. Slowly making notes started to evolve: there was still the sudden inspiration and perfect phrasing that could be slipped into a post, but at the same time there was a lot more “Ah, this is a great resource or website, I must remember it.” This led to bookmarks. Hundreds of bookmarks. Which worked for a while, until my bookmarks folder was overflowing. But it also wasn’t specific enough for me. I didn’t want to whole webpage, I just wanted the image, a quote or the article without anything else. And then my boss suggested that I attend a webinar about Evernote’s integration capabilities. I couldn’t make the webinar so I turned to the internet and read this great blog by Elizabeth Joss, an old university friend. Her blog is a great intro to the features and layout of Evernote and really sold me on it.

One quick and free download later and I was setting up Evernote and creating folders within it. Of course you will realize that there is something missing from your standard Evernote install – a direct connection between your browser and your browser. That is where the Evernote Web Clipper comes in. Now my Chrome browser has a handy little button on the top right that allows me to save any webpage, image or article into Evernote and access it offline. What makes it a real time saver is that when I save an article, not only does it allow me to indicate which folder the article should go into, but it allows me to quickly tag the article. This means that if I find a great article on SEO, I can save it directly into my research folder tagged with the keywords of the article. Later when I want to refer to or write something about that article I can quickly and easily pull up all saved notes from all folders that share those keyword tags. If you have ever worked with infographics, then this is perfect for storing and sorting raw data!

As a full time writer friend once said to me: “There is no point in having a million great ideas if you can’t sort them into patterns.” In fact if you want to get really fancy, and I do, then you can get some more great free apps that make visualizing your saved notes easier. I tried out Mohiomap and CardDesk. Mohiomap is a great mind map visualizer and, if you have tagged and filed your notes effectively, can make planning or writing an article so much quicker. Visually Mohiomap is a little barebones. Card Desk on the other hand is more of a pin board style organiser that allows you to pictures of ideas together. Visually Card Desk is great, but it can get crowded if you have too many ideas on a single topic. Both are great: Mohiomap is great for visualizing structure, but if you are going to be working with a lot of images or photos Card Desk is your friend. If you are using Evernote on your iPad, then the real fun starts. Install the Penultimate app and you can turn your iPad into an Evernote journal, complete with drawings and stylus handwriting. Evernote is constantly bringing out new tools and apps to make sharing and saving ideas easier.

Once I got settled into Evernote, I started getting everyone else in the office to start using it because not only is it a great for collecting information, it is also really great for sharing information. If I find something that is interesting and I want to share with anybody else in the office, I can share exactly what I am looking at. Maybe it is a single article or image on a page, or maybe I want to use Web Clipper’s arrow or highlighter function to point to something on the page. I have found that this makes getting the idea through to somebody else much quicker and clearer. Sharing is simple and you can email, Tweet, or send to Facebook or LinkedIn without any problems. While in the office we use the awesomely powerful Asana as the backbone of our projects which comes with its own sharing and saving functions, I find that Evernote is better for sharing smaller ideas or random info.

Of course I can’t praise Evernote completely. In 2012 Evernote was hacked and user information was stolen from across their network. While Evernote has promised to make their network more secure, I still wouldn’t want to use it as a lockbox for passwords or sensitive data, but then paranoid me says that no software should be…

There are a many other similar apps to Evernote out there, most notably SpringPad which looks like a more social media targeted combination of Pinterest and Evernote. I’ll download it and give it look over for you, so stay tuned.

Now click that Web Clipper icon and save this article in your “Awesome” folder.

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