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!

Resources

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 freedigitalphotos.net

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