From Hands-on

Evernote Hacks V: Using Evernote for teaching

Evernote is not only great for personal note-taking and organization. Because notes and notebooks can be shared, Evernote is also great for collaboration in teaching. This post looks at some use cases.

evernote for teaching

This post is part of my Evernote Hacks series – check out the other posts!

There are many online tools to provide materials for teaching and collect contributions by students. My university offers at least two. Many online tools work in the browser, and uploading stuff can be a pain. I’ve found Evernote to be a great alternative.

Sharing the course notebook

I create a notebook for the course, and then share it with all attendees. For this purpose, they must register with Evernote using an email address of their choice. Students can use the free plan, so no cost is incurred. I share the notebook with the email address they send me. Done.

Because sharing requires entering the email address in Evernote, I haven’t used Evernote for lectures with a large number of listeners. However, interaction is usually limited in lectures anyway. Evernote unfolds its potential in smaller courses in which lots of materials need to be shared.

Using Evernote for regular classes

The greatest advantage of Evernote is that it integrates with almost all major platforms (Linux excluded, unfortunately, though there it works in the browser as everywhere else). My biggest motivation for using it for teaching is that all my information is either already in Evernote, or I can easily move it there. It simply integrates perfectly with my computer environment and my workflows.

Providing a course outline

Before I start a course, I create notes with the course overview and course rules. Then I create a note for each session. Each note simply outlines the general structure of what I want students to fill in when they prepare their contribution:

  • The names of the students responsible for the session
  • The objectives of the session
  • The session plan
  • Slides
  • References

When they prepare their session, students fill in this grid. It helps them to know what I expect them to prepare.
I also use these notes to give an overview over the course in the first session. I directly write into each session’s note who will be responsible for each session.

If you name notes beginning with an exclamation mark, they will be sorted to the top when sorting notes alphabetically. Similarly, numbering sessions will result in the correct order then.

Providing materials

It’s hardly worth mentioning that both you and your students can upload whatever they want to share. I make all papers used in the course available. Students add their own papers, their presentations, photos of flipcharts, metaplan posters, and the chalk board, content they find on the web, and whatever else might come up in the course.

It is worth mentioning that students’ upload goes against your account. This means they can upload large amounts of stuff, even if they are using the free account. That is, as long as you have a paid account (both professional and business accounts come with unlimited upload nowadays).

Using Evernote for research classes

In our Psychology BSc and MSc programs, we offer courses that teach students hands-on experimental work. In these courses, I use Evernote to collect everything, just as in a regular teaching course: relevant papers, programming code for the experiment, etc.

In addition, students save their data files, notes about data acquisition, and code for statistical analysis. Some also use the platform to exchange ideas and have discussions.

Because Evernote synchronizes automatically, students don’t have to remember to download anything. Their materials are just always there. It’s practical.

Using Evernote for individual student research projects

Finally, I use Evernote to share materials for BSc and MSc thesis projects. In the end, this is no different from using it for our group’s regular research projects (I’ve explained in an earlier Evernote Hacks post how we organize Evernote for this purpose).

I ask my students to collect everything in their project folder: meeting notes; notes about their experiment; notes about data acquisition; etc.

This way, if you ever want to use the work of your student in a paper, you’ll know where to find everything. If you still have to save data elsewhere, such as large data files, create a note that states where the data are. This is very helpful if you are searching several months (or years…) later. Really.

Everything in one place

In short, all my teaching is in Evernote.

I always know where to look. Finding stuff is easy, because everything is in one place.

Copying materials from an earlier course to create a new one is as easy as marking some notes and copying them over to the other notebook.

And with all of that stored information, Evernote’s many features are always at hand: sharing notes with new people, sending stuff by email, working on documents right out of Evernote, and search capabilities.

Have you used Evernote in your teaching? Good or bad experiences? I’m curious! Let me know in the comments…


To read more about how you can organize Evernote when you have to share your stuff with many different individuals and groups, check out my post Evernote Hacks Part I: Setting up your Evernote Business and Personal notebooks.

And find out more about my Evernote Hacks series.

Photo credit: blieusong / Foter / CC BY-SA

Evernote Hacks IV: Saving things to Evernote on the go with Drafts

Evernote is great to remember everything. In my previous Evernote Hacks post, I showed how to set up Evernote as a complete Todo/Getting Things Done system. One of David Allen’s GTD principles is to always be ready to write down what comes to mind. Here, we’ll set up iPhone and iPad with the Drafts app as a capture-everything tool. With this setup, you can save to your GTD Evernote Inbox any time and on the go.

This post is part of my Evernote Hacks series – check out the other posts!

The iOS app Drafts makes a rather unpretentious first impression. When you open it, you basically see an empty screen on which you can type. The app’s power hides behind a small button in the upper right corner. When you click it, a sidebar appears that lets you dispatch the text you’ve typed to multiple destinations, such as email, Twitter, SMS, Calendar, and Evernote. In addition, Drafts lets you set all kinds of parameters, such as the Evernote target folder and note tags, along with sending the text.

Let’s set it up for the Evernote GTD system.

Set up Drafts to send to Evernote

  1. Install Drafts from the Appstore and open it. If you have several iOS devices, go to Settings (hide keyboard, then click the cogwheel in lower right corner >> iCloud >> turn on Sync. This way, after you go through creating this action on one device, it will sync to all others.
  2. Click on the upper right icon. Choose any tab. Evernote is considered a “Service”, so that’s where we’ll put our Drafts action in this post. drafts start screen
  3. Click on the Plus sign in the upper right corner. In the appearing dialog, choose Create Action.
    drafts actions
  4. In the first field, next to the empty box, enter a name for your action, for example “Save to Evernote Inbox”. In the color row, choose the color you like. For example, green for Evernote… Click on the empty box to the left of where you entered the action name. In the icon list that appears, you’ll find the Evernote elephant. If you prefer, use the peace sign. Or maybe the snowman?
    drafts evernote action
  5. Click on the line that says 0 steps. An empty page appears. Click on the Plus sign in the upper right corner. Scroll down the list until you find Evernote. Click on it.
    evernote action type
  6. In the screen that appears, enter “[[title]]” as title. This takes the first line of whatever you typed and uses it as the title of the note you save.
  7. As notebook, enter your Evernote default inbox notebook, presumably “Inbox”.
  8. You can enter one or several tags. If you’ve set up Evernote according to my Evernote Hacks GTD post, then leave the tags empty: you’ll assign them later, when you go through your inbox while clarifying and sorting new entries.
  9. Leave write type create. This means that Drafts will ask Evernote to create a new note.
  10. As content, enter “[[body]]”. This will save all text you entered in Drafts in the Evernote note, except for the first line that we used as note title. Just to add, Drafts lets you do many more fancy, nerdy, geeky things. For example, you could set up the tags field to use the content of the second line, and to add to the note body only the input of line 3 and following. I trust that if you are that geeky, you’ll find out how it works yourself…
    evernote action specs
  11. Click Save in the upper right corner. You return to the Action Steps screen, which now shows your Evernote note creation action. Go back to Action (upper left corner this time).
  12. You can set up your action to automatically delete your text in Drafts when it’s been sent to Evernote. If you want that (very practical), scroll down to Advanced and select Delete in After Success. And, no worries: if the note could not be created, then your text will not be deleted.
  13. Click Done in the upper left corner. Find your new action on the bottom of the list in the Services tab.

There are many more options to work with Drafts and Evernote. Drafts understands Markdown and allows you to send a formatted text to Evernote. If you have some inputs that should bypass your Inbox, set up a separate action for it. For example, I have an action to “Save to blog ideas”. If you’re working on a bigger project (say, a paper or book), you could set up an action to save ideas for that. I use drafts to take notes during talks (on the iPad), and have an action that sends those notes to a “Talks” notebook.

Do you have your own flow to get stuff into Evernote quickly? Which apps are you using? Any tips for Android? Leave a comment!


Get Drafts at the Appstore, or find out more about it. The developer also entertains an Action Directory (actions are the type of things we set up in this post) – people can upload their Drafts actions for everyone to download. If you decide to buy Drafts, it’s worth checking out what all can be done with it.

The One Tap Less blog has some nifty stuff for Drafts, too.

Evernote Hacks Part III: Implementing Getting Things Done with Evernote (Business)

Although I’ve found several task planning apps I liked, it always bothered me that I had my todo items in my task planner, and then had to look for the information related to it in other apps, like Email, Word, and Evernote. Here I’ll introduce you to using Evernote to collect everything task-related in one place. It’s pure bliss.


This post is part of my Evernote Hacks series – check out the other posts!

All in one place

Do you often have to look for the stuff you need to actually execute a task?

Maybe you’ve gotten a long email from a collaborator. You don’t have the time to reply to it now. Instead, you write on your todo list: reply to Colin’s email. When you finally get around to it three days later, you start searching for that email. Did you leave it in the inbox, archive it, or move it to some folder?

This is just one of many situations where the reminder is separate from the material you need. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if your materials had their reminder attached to them?


Putting todos where they belong

I’ll introduce the steps to set up a full-fledged todo system in Evernote. Because I’ve found Getting Things Done a great way to organize myself, I’ll detail how you can set up a GTD workflow as your todo system in Evernote.

The GTD ideas I’ll implement are:

  • Capturing things to do in the Inbox
  • Clarifying captured stuff into actions and projects, defining next actions, and using contexts
  • Touching things only once to get them into your trusted system
  • Reflecting on your lists and weekly review
  • Extracting a list from which to engage
  • The waiting for context
  • Organizing everything that requires 2 or more steps as a project
  • Writing down all related information about a project

Now, that’s a lot of stuff. So it’ll be a long post. Get yourself a cup of tea. Or coffee.

Note: this post will probably make a lot more sense if you know GTD. If you haven’t read the book, it’s something to consider…

Setup Part 1: Basics

I start with some basic setup steps that we’ll use later.

  • Create a notebook named Inbox in your Personal Evernote account and make it the default notebook for new information. Almost everything that goes into Evernote goes through the Inbox.


  • Create a notebook in your Personal account, named !Todo. Because Evernote filters folders as you type, the ! will find your todo folder immediately if it is the only folder that starts like this.
  • If you use a keyboard shortcut app like TextExpander, then you can create a shortcut that types the name of your todo notebook. I use ^1.
  • Set up your Evernote Webclipper in the browser to select Inbox as the default notebook to save clipped info, and turn off auto-filing and auto-tagging. Click on the Webclipper icon in your browser, then on the Settings cogwheel on the bottom of the Clipper window. In the options window that comes up, choose always start in, and select Inbox as notebook. This way, everything you clip goes into your Inbox, and you can sort later within Evernote. It’s faster, and you batch sorting with all your other task sorting.
  • Designate a start character for your todo tags. If several people in your team want to implement GTD in Evernote, each one needs their own initial character (or character sequence). You can use initials, but it’s nice to have something that’s fast to type. I use two dots. So my tags are named, etc. When I enter two dots in the tag field of a note, all my todo tags are listed in a dropdown menu, so I can choose one.
  • If you haven’t read my post on handling email and Inbox Zero with Evernote, now is the time.

GTD Step 1: Capturing and saving everything to Inbox

With this setup, you can already capture everything to your Inbox.

There is a simple rule: Everything you save goes into Evernote’s Inbox notebook. The GTD Inbox eliminates the question of where stuff should go when you think of it or find it. You just collect it in the Inbox. Done.

If you’ve implemented the basic setup, then web clips and email already go into the Inbox. When any kind of todo comes to mind, create a new note in the Evernote Inbox, write that thought or todo in the title of the note, and done. Read the Evernote Hacks IV post for more ways to get stuff into the Inbox.

If you try to get your email inbox to Zero, then save any email that contains information you need to store, and any email that requires some action, into Evernote using EverMail.

When you write an email for which you expect a response, save that sent email to Evernote, too. You can send a bcc to your Evernote email address. However, then you do not get a link back to your original email. If you go into the thread in which you wrote the email, or into your sent folder, you can save the email with EverMail. Later, you can click on that link in Evernote, the Email will open again in, and you can re-send to ask why you haven’t heard.

GTD Step 2: Clarifying by tagging and creating projects

Regularly, you go through your Evernote Inbox. GTD suggests that you touch every item in your Inbox only a single time. This means: for every note you find in your Inbox, you decide a number of things (refer to the book or website for details, I’ll list the most common things here):

  • If it’s something you can do in 2 minutes, do it now. Else, …
  • If you realize you saved it but don’t really need it, delete it. Else, …
  • If it’s information you need to store, file it. Move it to the appropriate folder in Evernote. Examples: Your flight schedule for the next conference goes into the event notebook for that conference. For stuff I know I will need only for a short time, I tag it with ..material and move it to the !Todo notebook. Example: the agenda for next week’s faculty meeting.
  • If it’s an actionable task, make sure it’s written up as one: GTD suggests action words. If you’ve saved emails, you’ll probably need to change the note title. Then, tag the note with the appropriate context(s). Depending on what contexts you use with your system, you can use places, energy levels, people, etc. These are not mutually exclusive. You can tag ‘Call Emily’ with, ..lowEnergy, and ..emily. With these tags, we’ll find the todo later, so you can put it into any notebook you like. I put a lot of todos into the respective project notebooks (see the Evernote Hacks post on setting up the folder structure). Anything not worth filing just goes into the !Todo notebook. So the !Todo notebook is simply a place to collect all things that aren’t worth sorting, or are not associated with a project.
  • If it’s something that requires more than one step, make it a project.
    • If it’s a big project, create a notebook for it. Into that notebook, place a project note that contains a project description, concrete result or outcome, brain storming about what needs to happen to get it done, and specific action steps that you can pick as next actionable step to move the project forward.
    • If it’s a small project, create a project note with the same information, but store it in a notebook ‘small projects’. For example, ‘order new desk’ might require researching desks, getting a quote, and writing an order form. You save the project note so you don’t forget to order a desk. But you create separate actionable todos with appropriate context tags, like research desk with tag and ..lowEnergy.

Setup Part 2: Create tag searches and organize Evernote’s sidebar

Up to now, we’ve created notes with tags. Now we’ll set up Evernote so that you can easily access notes with those tags.

Simple tag searches

Click into the search field. To search for all notes that you’ve tagged with the context, type:

The notes will be listed for you. Go to menu Edit > Find > Save Search. In the window that appears, give the search a useful name. This could be the tag name, or the tag name without the prefix (.. in my examples), or a longer description (‘Work context: Email’). Whatever your style. Save.
Now, click in the search field and press Esc until the field is empty. Click in it again, and a dropdown list will appear that lists your saved searches. Drag your search from the dropdown list to the sidebar. Now you can run the tag search by just clicking on the shortcut in the sidebar.

Repeat for all tag searches you want to use. This can be many. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it is not possible to group searches under a collective heading (like you can stack notebooks). If you want to display separators between, say, different types of contexts, then save a search with a lot of dashes as name, and place it where you want the separator. Not extremely elegant, but it works.

If you’d like to create more complex searches, you can combine tags, exclude tags etc. — check Evernote’s search grammar or read in Evernote Essentials on how this works.

GTD Part 3: Fancy stuff with Evernote reminders

The waiting for context

Anything I am waiting for gets the tag ..waiting and a reminder with date.
The search for it is a simple tag search, like just described above.


Things for later

Anything I want off my mind, I tag ..scheduled and give it a date.

The search looks a bit complicated:

reminderTime:* -reminderTime:day+1 tag:..*

The first term looks for notes with a reminder. The second term excludes all reminders that are due after today. In other words, I get all reminders due today or earlier. The last part makes sure I see only notes that I have tagged with my own GTD tags (..* stands for all tags that start with ..). If other people in my team use reminders, I won’t see them in my searches.


Things I currently want to work on, e.g. my next actions of the different projects, get a reminder without date.
To set up the search, I look for notes that have a reminder, but no date, and that have my GTD tags. The first part selects all notes with a reminder.

reminderOrder:* -reminderTime:* tag:..*

GTD Part 4: Reflecting and weekly review

Now that you’ve collected all kinds of todos with all kinds of tags, it’s important to keep an overview. David Allen has said in a podcast that the one thing most people do wrong is not to review their lists on a regular basis.

For larger projects with a designated notebook, I have an overview note (briefly described above). For small projects, I only use one note that I keep in the small projects notebook. These project notes gets a few tags:

  • a tag ..projects that designates the note as a project note
  • ..personal or
  •, ..parked, or ..waiting
  • tags with the initials of the project members

I have set up searches for:

  • active work projects. These are only the projects that I currently work on. Every time I review my todos, I make sure I have at least one next action for each active project.
  • work projects I am waiting for. Each time I review, I decide whether I have to ask for a status report, offer help etc. Other than that, these projects don’t require any work from me at the moment.
  • parked work projects. These are projects I have decided I won’t work on at the moment. Each time I review, I quickly scan them to decide whether one of them should become an active project again. You can also add the ..scheduled tag and a date to be reminded by your Today search at a later date.
  • people. Because my team members all have several running projects, it’s convenient to search by person.
  • Depending on how complex your non-work life is, you can have the same structure for personal projects.

Bringing it all together

Now that we’ve set up all this stuff, you can explore why it’s so useful. I’ll give you a few use cases that show how information and todo reminders come together.

  • Reviews I get for submitted articles are saved from Email to Evernote and filed in the notebook of the project about which the paper was written. They are tagged with the date at which I want to start writing the replies at the latest. When I start working on the replies, I have everything in one place: the reviews, the dates, and the project information.
  • For meetings, I prepare a meeting note in one of my meeting folders. Any material I’ll need at the meeting is tagged ..materials. Everything gets the date of the meeting. This way, it will pop up in my Today view on the meeting day. During the meeting, I make notes in the agenda note, so that it serves as minutes.

  • If you store project overview notes in shared project folders, then all project members can view, edit, and tag this note. That way, it is easy to coordinate and add info everyone needs to see about the project.

  • For conferences, I collect travel info, poster/slides files, abstract book, related emails etc. in one notebook. I set reminders for travel info and slides. Before the conference, all todos related to it are stored in the same notebook.

Do you use Evernote to organize your todos? What’s your workflow? Do you use GTD, and if so, do you have a favorite app you use for it? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo credit: Courtney Dirks / Foter / CC BY

Evernote Hacks Part II: Handling email and Inbox Zero with Evernote

We’re all overwhelmed by the amount of email we receive. On a bad day, there’ll be 30 new emails waiting after I’ve had a couple of meetings. Inbox Zero is the concept of trying to keep your email inbox empty and, as a result, your head free. Combining Email with Evernote is a great way to do just that.


This post is part of my Evernote Hacks series – check out the other posts!

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen suggests to touch an email only once, and process it in your to-do system. If you leave stuff in your inbox, you’ll find yourself reading those emails over and over, at times where you actually don’t want to be distracted. Merlin Mann has introduced a similar concept, Inbox Zero, which originally meant that you shouldn’t waste your time on email, but is now often used as the idea of trying to keep your inbox empty.

Touch your email just once

A good way to process Email is to sort each email when you first read it:

  • Stuff you don’t need => Trash
  • Information you should store => save to Evernote
  • Emails that require that you take action => make a to-do item in your task planner (see my post on Implementing GTD with Evernote)
  • Emails you write yourself, and for which you await a reply => waiting for list in your task planner

Evernote is a great place to store all emails that don’t get trashed. I’ve explained why and how in the GTD Evernote post. Here, I’ll point out a couple of very useful ways to get your email into Evernote.

Cc’ing yourself to Evernote

Your Evernote account has an email address. Anything you email to that address lands in the notebook you have set as default notebook. If you don’t know how to find your Evernote email address, look here.

To store an email you’ve written, just cc yourself with the Evernote email address.

Saving email from the Gmail web interface

save gmail to EvernoteIf you use Gmail, you can save email conversations with the Evernote Webclipper. The Webclipper will automatically offer the Email option only when you’re on Gmail.

The great thing about this is that Evernote saves a link back to the original Gmail email. By clicking on that link, you go back to the email conversation. This is handy when you want to inquire about a task you’ve delegated, or when you need to email a result or status update of a task you are doing for someone else.


Saving email from Mac with Evermail

The Evermail plugin for the Mac’s creates that same sort of link, and clicking it opens the original mail in the I love this plugin. By the way, both Gmail and Evermail save any attachments in the Email to Evernote, too.

Many Email clients and mail apps on mobiles allow saving emails to Evernote. Unfortunately, a lot of apps just save unformatted text, don’t save any attachments, and don’t even save the email sender and title along with the email’s body. Examples of quite good Evernote integration are CloudMagic and Spark on iOS.

How do you get your emails into Evernote? Know any great apps that interface between Email and Evernote? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

Photo credit: Paper plane by DdOo on

Evernote Hacks Part I: Setting up your Evernote Business and Personal notebooks

The web is full of tips on how to set up your Evernote account for efficient use. But pretty much all tips you see online are for using Evernote on your own. Find out which of these tips don’t work well when you use Evernote in a team, and learn about some aspects that are only relevant for group use.


This post is part of my Evernote Hacks series – check out the other posts!

Notebooks vs. tags in your Personal account

Many posts recommend using only few notebooks, combined with more or less extensive use of tags. Let’s look at both.

  • Notebooks are the equivalent of folders. Any note can go in exactly one folder. If you wanted a note to go into several folders, you’d have to make copies. As a result, changes you’d make to one of the copies would be specific to that copy, and all other copies would stay unchanged. Mostly not what you want.
  • Tags allow organizing your notes orthogonally to folders. You can use a tag on notes in different folders, and then display all notes with this tag. The great advantage over organizing via tags is that you can assign many tags to a note. So, you can classify your note in multiple ways, much in contrast to only sticking it into one single notebook.

These differences between notebooks and tags seemingly make it a no-brainer to use only few notebooks and generously apply tags for fine-tuned organization (as suggested, for instance, by mh-evernote).

Notebooks vs. tags in your Business account

When you use Evernote in a team, however, it’s a whole different story. Why?

  • You can share notebooks selectively with people in your team, publish them for access to everyone who is member of your Evernote Business , and share selectively with others outside of your Evernote Business.
  • Business tags are shared by everyone who is part of your Evernote Business. They cannot be shared selectively.
  • Every Evernote Business team member has a Business and a Personal account. Every notebook must be either one or the other.
  • There are separate tag sets for the Business and Personal accounts. The Business tags are shared by the entire team (that is, everyone who is part of your Evernote Business). Personal tags are, well, personal — they only work in Personal notes and are invisible to others.

As a result, if you want to install a rudimentary rights management by sharing content only with those team members who need it, then you have to use notebooks more often than you might in a personal account.

In addition, if team members want to use tags across business and personal accounts (see my post on Getting Things Done with Evernote for a use case that implies such tag sharing), then you must set rules in your group to avoid tag chaos.

A notebook structure for your team

After all this introductory theory, let’s look at the notebook and tag structure we use in my group as an example that I have found to work well.

  • Meeting notes. I have a meeting notebook for each team member. The team member and I share the notebook. It contains the agendas for upcoming meetings and meeting minutes for later reference.
  • Projects. Every project has its own notebook. A project is, for instance, an experiment, a paper, a collaboration, or a grant proposal. Project notebooks are shared with anyone who works on the project. This could include collaborators outside the Evernote Business, student assistants, and a secretary.
  • How-tos. In our group, we have a somewhat detailed notebook structure for how-tos, such as notebooks for statistics, operating systems, programs, experimental procedures etc. It would definitely be possible to store all how-to notes in one single notebook and use tags to structure them. We started with the detailed notebook structure and got stuck with it. If you are just setting up your Business Account, consider using tags. Cases where the notebook structure often gets in the way is for notes that would categorize as statistics and a specific program; a specific program and a specific operating system; a specific program and a scientifc method. On the other hand, people in our team are syncing only those how-to notebooks they need for their work, and ignore the rest. This reduces the amount of info that potentially clutters everyone’s notes.
  • Group stuff. We maintain a few notebooks for group-related topics, like article summaries, group rules, administrative forms, and administrative things like vacations, finances, and purchase orders.
  • Events. Each event — a conference, a talk guest, a group retreat — gets a dedicated notebook. It can be shared among those who attend the event.
  • Teaching. I use Evernote for teaching and use a separate notebook for each course I teach.

The downside of using notebooks is that Evernote sets a limit to the number of Notebooks you can have in your account. There are separate limits for Business and Personal accounts, and in 3 years and with many projects, I haven’t hit that limit. But depending on the size of your group, this might become relevant.

Unshared notebooks: Business or Personal?

If your team members use some notebooks just for themselves, they could make them Business or Personal. For everyday use, this really doesn’t matter. However, any notebook that is created as a Business notebook will remain in Evernote Business when the team member leaves the group. It can be assigned to new owners who may need the information contained in it.

In contrast, Personal notebooks go with the person.
In my personal experience, if you make sure that any project-related information is shared in Business notebooks, then it doesn’t matter much whether other notebooks are Business or not. However, if your group handles sensitive information, then you might want to enforce rules about this.

A tag structure for your team

Recall that Business tags are shared by everyone in your Evernote Business. Therefore, it is useful to discuss tag usage in your team, and to come up with a scheme that everyone uses consistently. In my group, use of notebooks has proven easier than use of tags. Many of us use hardly any tags at all. One reason is that when we installed tags, tag handling didn’t work very well on Windows, which most of us used. It might be different now. But it’s often hard to change a grown system. Therefore, put some thought in it at the outset. 

Here are some guidelines that may help in setting up your tag structure:


  • Group them by a common start symbol such as an underscore, a semicolon, a dot etc. Use one of these for each topic group. For example, your group could use tags starting with a dot for scientific topic tags, an exclamation mark for process tags like ‘!in progress’ or ‘!final’, and a comma for how-to topics.
  • When you click in the note’s tag field and enter this first character, a drop-down list will show all tags that start with it. Therefore, all that your team members must remember is the symbols you have installed for the different tag groups. The specific tags can then be selected in the list.
  • Because tags are shared by everyone, and likely defined top-down by you or a group discussion, try to use a few tags and tag groups that really help.
  • You can clean up tags in the administration web interface. From time to time, check whether tags have been doubled through misspelling. Merge those. In addition, check whether some tags only belong to a few notes. These can mostly be deleted or merged with another tag. To merge, first assign the tag you want to keep to all notes that have the to-be-merged tags. Then delete the tag(s) that are now unnecessary.

Keeping your Evernote structure up to date

In my experience, we create too many folders and too many tags. To keep the structure lean and usable, it’s good to evaluate which notebooks and tags are actually being used. You can check the number of notes in notebooks; you can check when the newest note was added to a folder; but most easily, you can ask the group which information they use and which they ignore. Delete unneeded notebooks and tags.

For instance, we initially saved a lot of small programming solutions from the web into Evernote, but have found that all of us google them anew each time we need them. We now save less of these kinds of notes.

How do you use your Evernote account? Do you use have a setup everyone in the lab follows? Do you use folder sharing? What is your folder structure? Use the comments section to share your favorite setup!


One of my next posts in my Evernote mini-series, Implementing Getting Things Done with Evernote goes into some detail about using tags, and about creating shortcuts to access combinations of tags from your sidebar.

If you have stumbled upon this page, check out my Evernote overview page to see what else I have posted about using Evernote efficiently.

If you and your team are relatively new to Evernote, then Brett Kelly’s book, Evernote Essentials, may be of help. It covers everything you need to know about handling Evernote (though not the Evernote Business aspects).

Sven Fechner has blogged about claning up your Evernote structure.

Photo credit: Evernote Logo by Evernote

Evernote: The swiss army knife of organization and documentation

A team must share lots of information and save it for later use. If you want information management to work, it must be easy to store information, easy to share it with others, and easy to find later. Evernote gives you all three.

pocket_knifeWhen I started my group, I wanted to implement an easy and reliable system for documentation. As a lab manager during my PhD time, I had set up a Wiki for our lab, but after some initial enthusiasm, it had been pretty much a failure. Administrating the server was sometimes tedious. People found it inconvenient to have to log in and to work in a browser. Sharing files was possible, but not really practical.

Then I found Evernote, and I can’t picture my lab without it today. Therefore I’ve decided to write a small series of blog posts about how we use Evernote in my group that will come out over the next 2 or 3 weeks. Here are the topics I’ll cover (I will link to them as I publish them):

These posts will be truly hands-on and give you step-by-step instructions.

The things that Evernote can do

If you’ve never used Evernote, let me explain what it is and does. That’s actually kind of hard to do in short. You can do a lot of things with it. And so, this list is not even complete.

  • You can store any kind of information in one place. I used to have physical folders for my experiments, projects, purchase orders, invoices. No more. I’ve gone paperless. So much less stuff in the office! My digital information used to be spread over different programs and folders on my computer. No more. It’s all in one place.
  • Your information syncs to all your devices, including phone and tablet. The one unfortunate exception is Linux — no official client is available there, although you can find a number of independent Linux Evernote client projects. Evernote also works in the browser, and that of course works on Linux, too.
  • You can write and format notes. You can paste text from other programs. For example, output of your statistical analyses. Or screenshots of your plots. You can link to the web and to email.
  • You can save webpages. Or parts of webpages. And Links to webpages.
  • You can save emails. You can also link back from the saved email to your email app, at least with some email clients.
  • You can organize your notes in “notebooks” — equivalent to folders. And you can tag notes. You can display notes with a tag across different notebooks, effectively allowing you to use several, orthogonal ways of organizing your information.
  • You can store files. Of any type. For example, we store the figures of our papers in Evernote. When we prepare talks, we can just pick the figures we need to create slides. We store al kinds of forms everyone needs (vacation forms, purchasing forms…).
  • Everything is searchable, and the search capabilities are quite powerful. Evernote searches doc and pdf files, along with any text you’ve written in your notes. It even extracts text from pictures and recognizes hand writing if you feed it with a photo of your paper notes.
  • You can share notes and notebooks with others. You can share with your entire team, or just with selected people.
  • Evernote has a presentation mode that displays your “beautified”/simplified note in full screen.
  • You can chat within Evernote (for whatever that’s worth).

The title of this post is no joke. Evernote is the swiss army knife of organization and documentation. It’s genius.

Getting started with Evernote

If you just started using Evernote, there is an eBook, Evernote Essentials that explains the nuts and bolts of using the app. It’s well worth reading when you’re starting out.

Evernote Basic, Plus, Premium, and Business

Evernote is a subscription-based service. You can use it for free with the Basic plan, but with some limitations for upload allowance and sharing. The Plus and Premium plans remove these limitations and add some other nifty stuff (check it out here).

Evernote Business

For teams and companies, there is a business option that adds some chat and sharing functionality. There is no upload limit. Your “business” will have its own folders and tags, side-by-side with a personal account for every team member included in the price. You can administrate folders and tags for your group, so you have control over the business account. You can also delegate administration to other users.

Most importantly for you as a researcher, there is a 75% educational discount for the business subscription, with a minimum of 5 users. This means that with a team of 5, Evernote is almost the same price as a personal Premium subscription. You can add and cancel users anytime. At 2.50€ a seat/month (as of 06/2015), I have even made students who wrote a thesis in my lab members of my business account.

But you can share folders with free subscription users, too. So even if you don’t want to spend those extra Euros, you can use Evernote with students and collaborators.

Evernote Basic, Plus, Premium, and Business

Evernote is a subscription-based service. You can use it for free with the Basic plan, but with some limitations for upload allowance and sharing. The Plus and Premium plans remove these limitations and add some other nifty stuff (check it out here).

Evernote Business

For teams and companies, there is a business option that adds some chat and sharing functionality. There is no upload limit. Your “business” will have its own folders and tags, side-by-side with a personal account for every team member included in the price. You can administrate folders and tags for your group, so you have control over the business account. You can also delegate administration to other users.

Most importantly for you as a researcher, there is a 75% educational discount for the business subscription, with a minimum of 5 users. This means that with a team of 5, Evernote is almost the same price as a personal Premium subscription. You can add and cancel users anytime. At 2.50€ a seat/month (as of 06/2015), I have even made students who wrote a thesis in my lab members of my business account.

But you can share folders with free subscription users, too. So even if you don’t want to spend those extra Euros, you can use Evernote with students and collaborators.

If you use Evernote, what do you like and dislike about it? What are your most important uses? If you don’t use Evernote, how do you store, organize, and share information in your group? What are your trusted apps? Let us know in the comments section!


Read about all kinds of uses for Evernote in science on Personal Knowledge Management for Academia & Librarians and Astrobetter. Both posts apply to any research field.

Evernote webpage and info about their different plans. If you are thinking about using the business plan, make sure to contact them about their 75% educational discount (see my post about discounts here).

Brett Kelly’s introductory book Evernote Essentials gets a lot of positive reviews on the net. I find it a great resource, especially for beginners.

Evernote also has lots of documentation online, such as a Getting Started Guide and a Business Getting Started Guide.

Photo credit: courtesy of posterize at