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.

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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:

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  • 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!

Resources

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

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