Evernote: The Aha! Moment That Ended My Lifelong Organizing Struggle.

I spent years searching for a solution! Here’s how Evernote finally helped me conquer information overload and organize everything.

While enjoying some old pictures yesterday, I noticed something that brought back a very specific memory. 

Some of them, which date back to my childhood, have a code on the back. I can’t remember exactly what it means, but I know that the comma separates two types of information.

One is related to the order of that picture in a sequence. The other indicates the group, which would translate into something like the digital albums some people create nowadays.

In the example below, it would mean something like the second picture of a group (album) with the number 13. It may also be the other way around. I don’t know which one it was. The codes would be written in a paper notebook with additional information, such as descriptions of the album and pictures.

Auto-generated description: A square piece of paper with the handwritten text 21,3 lies beside a green hexagonal sticker featuring a white elephant logo.

I used a variation of this system for many yeas. For example, when I started using a computer to write my letters, I had a two-digit code associated to the name of each person and the date in reverse order. Something like AC19930429. Similar to the pictures, the codes had a description associated with them, but at that point I was using a spreadsheet on my computer to log everything.

When I learned how to use databases, the system further evolved. In addition to storing the codes, the database had keywords from letters, documents, books, and articles from printed magazines.

I spent too many years perfecting this system, but the reality is that it was horrible. Probably because the digital database was only capable of cross-referencing the keywords I added to it. All the related information was still in physical media, and archiving and retrieving it was never a pleasant or efficient experience. 

Time to simplify things

I eventually gave up. In addition to being a terrible system, this happened during the 1980s and 90s, a period known for rapid development of computers and the lack of cheap and reliable backup solutions.

However, I was not abandoning the idea of creating a system for my memories. As an early user of the Palm Pilot at the end of the 90s, I created a basic version of my system that I could carry with me everywhere.

Years latter, when Apple released Spotlight, it blew my mind. I understood that I would no longer need to organize information. At some point in the future, I would be able to simply ask for it and the computer would show me the related documents. 

Little did I know that that dream would take many years to come true. Furthermore, there was a practical issue to consider. Spotlight was a Mac-only feature, and I needed something that would also run on my Palm Pilot, or simply Palm, as it was known at this point. 

Despite there being no apparent solution, I kept adding my personal and professional stuff to that remarkable little computer, which I carried with me everywhere. I was so passionate about it that a website dedicated entirely to it ended up being my first online venture. And in October 2000, I was even asked to write a piece about how the Palm was going to change the world.

In the end, the smartphone did what I thought Palm would do. That’s okay. But one thing that saddens me is that I always thought that shared knowledge would make us a better civilization. I was probably too naive, since I never thought we would become so divided as a society. But that’s a topic for another moment.

16 years ago

I officially began using Evernote exactly 16 years ago today. I know this because I saved the welcome email using Web Clipper. However, it took me many months to fully commit to it.

That was the first time I had to deal with a chronological system to organize notes, with only one level of folders (notebooks). Back then, stacks didn’t even exist. As someone who had only used folders, a complicated coding system, and databases, I guess my perception of Evernote was destined to be the most negative possible.

I stopped using it several times in the first few months. The only thing that kept me coming back was being able to synchronize my notes across multiple platforms. Remember that back then, even the Apple ecosystem would not allow us to synchronize Mac notes with the iPhone.

But what ultimately made me stay was the fact that I decided to fully embrace the simple structure of notes inside a notebook and the chronological order of the notes, which I stand for until these days.

Like magic

I couldn’t see it at first, but Evernote instantly merged the two parts of my unusable childhood system. I could finally have the information and the database in the same place. Even better, I didn’t even have to build the database. It was finally just a matter of searching and finding.

Other times it was just a matter of looking at Evernote and finding. The way it arranges and presents our notes evokes a sense of clairvoyance. But it’s simply the way our brains work.

If I just used a note, it is highly possible that I’ll need it again shortly. Evernote has many features, such as Recent Notes, Switch To, and even the Notes Widget, which displays notes ordered by recently used. If you need to find something, visiting one of these places can be magical.

Even though I graduated as an economist, I always liked reading psychology books about memory. They helped me see how chronology plays a big part in how we remember things. The more I studied and learned, the more I realized how bad of an idea it was to keep excessively categorizing things.

However, it was the book Algorithms to Live By, which I read in 2016, that really connected all the dots. I consider that book to be my manual for organizing everything in both the real and digital worlds.

Old habits die hard

Thanks to a simple 2,13 code on the back of a black and white picture, I now understand that the system I’m currently building is the culmination of something I started many decades ago. I could not accomplish it back then because technology was not there yet.

We now have access to advancements well ahead of anything I could ever imagine. Not only is Evernote finding and showing me related notes, but it is also giving me answers based on my notes.

You’ve been watching me dismantle my entire collection of notebooks in Evernote and letting the tags and chronology help me find related information. What you probably don’t know is that I started sharing some of these ideas many years ago in my workshops, podcasts, and blogs, but I never fully embraced it until very recently.

I’m finally letting it go and trusting Evernote like never before to find what I need. As you know, the few notebooks I still have are there to help me do my work, not to be a knowledge or storage category. I’m still using tags, though. But I hope to also let that go as the search results start serving me the correct information.

2,13 is long outdated and has to go.

To celebrate my 16 years using Evernote, I released a video for supporters on Patreon and YouTube showing and talking about (almost 🫣) all the items I have in my big collection.

A little tweak to my system.

The YouTube notebook was renamed to Creator. Here’s why:

  • Notes in the YouTube notebook already had to have the “YouTube” tag because that’s how I can filter them once they are moved to the Timeline notebook.
  • I was already using the YouTube notebook for other creator related notes, like ideas for my articles.

What’s good about having all the Creator related notes in a single place is the fact that when I have an idea, I usually don’t know if that will become a post like this, a video, or an article. I just write it down.

Moreover, it’s not unusual for an idea to become a video and an article. Which means that I can now use a single note with two different tags.

These are the tags I’m currently using for the notes in that notebook:

  • YouTube
  • Articles
  • Posts

PS.: If you missed the explanation about the ECE notebook, please watch this video.

Simplify for Evernote Efficiency

It’s unlikely that sugarcoating will make our system more efficient.

I used to keep notes for each session with my clients or meeting with partners, and other notes for each team member, and even some for other purposes. Since they were all connected, the system worked pretty well.

This was mostly done for two reasons:

  • To have that information automatically dated, as each note has a creation date.
  • To be able to reuse the information in other notes. For example, a team member note would be dragged to and linked to a meeting note.

Furthermore, the number of different types of notes would automatically provide statistics based on the backlinks. For instance, I could know how many meetings a client had or how often a team member attended meetings. However, if you ask me how many times I have used this information so far, the answer will be an overwhelming zero.

As you already know, I have been simplifying things on my Evernote. Recently, I decided to try to organize all the above information in single notes with the the help of new Evernote features like headings, links to headings, calendar entries, etc. No statistics, of course. But that’s okay. Although they were always quite cool to look at, I didn’t use them at all.

Anyway, I’m still not quite there yet, but I’ll keep working on it. And, as usual, I will share the results on my channel as soon as I’m satisfied with the new system.

Perhaps we avoid it because it is challenging to simplify things. That’s the reason I keep reminding myself that there are always things that can be removed, especially unnecessary processes.

It’s rare that sugarcoating, categorizing, and a myriad of other routines will result in efficiency.

Evernote Just Made My Life Easier.

Recent quality-of-life improvements to Evernote are making my system even better.

Better Synchronization

Remember that video I published a few months ago about Evernote moving away from the monolith? If you haven’t watched it, think of the project as a lot of work under the hood to enhance the user experience.

Evernote has taken another big step in that project. Synchronization is currently being upgraded to a more modern system. All web clients have already been upgraded and the rollout of desktop and mobile apps is already underway. This is huge news!

All of my apps have recently been upgraded, and after a few days of testing, I’m amazed at how efficient synchronization is now. The video below explains how to know if your account is already running the new system.

Mobile Clients

Based on the results of a recent poll on my YouTube channel, most of you are using the new Create page on the mobile client to create your notes. 

That’s not my case. As you already know, I have the app on my phone set to always open on the Shortcuts page, where I have access to the notebooks I use most of the time. In other words, I always open a notebook first, and then I create a note. So much so that I simply don’t remember the Create page exists and rarely go there.

Evernote 10.95.2 (mobile) underwent minor cosmetic modifications that I am in love with. If you go to the notes page, you’ll see a “new note” icon in the bottom-right corner. The same is true for notebooks, tags, and tasks. Not the calendar, though. At least for now. But don’t worry, it’s coming.

The shortcuts page was also upgraded. It’s a small change, but I also loved it. The list of recent notes is now gone, and that translates into more space for my shortcuts, which are a pivotal element of my new system.

You can find further information about the new features and my thoughts in the video below.

Shortcut for the 'Open in New Window' menu.

I’ve been begging for this keyboard shortcut for ages, ever since Evernote 10 was released. Fortunately, as a Mac user, I am able to rely on a workaround.

Thank you, Evernote, for helping me take good care of my furry friend.

I would prefer not to share this story today, but real life is certainly not all roses.

My lovely dog, who is incapable of hurting a flea, was bitten yesterday. He was enjoying himself at the dog park when another dog rushed towards him and bit him for no apparent reason. To my untrained eye, that was a giant wound that terrified me to death. But later at the vet, I was told that everything was alright since it was only the skin that was cut. Regardless, almost 4 cm (1.5 in) still seems like a lot to me.

Needless to say, this broke my heart, and it took me a long time to fall asleep yesterday. To be honest, I’m still a bit shocked, and this is definitely a story I would prefer not to add to my Elephant’s Journal. But life isn’t always perfect, is it?

Anyway, it happened late at night, and his usual vet doesn’t have an ER. When we reached out to him, he suggested the one we ended up going to. But since this was our first visit to the place, they did not have a file with my dog’s information. His microchip helped with basic details and some vaccines, but Evernote played an important role as it’s where I keep his entire life history.

A black dog with a white patch on its chest is wearing a plastic cone and has a happy expression while standing on a leash.

As I said in yesterday’s video, all my family documents are in the Family notebook. They all have at least two tags: Documents and the name of the person or dog 🐾 that document belongs to. His birth certificate, passport, vaccine card, etc. are all there. And they are all listed in the Documents note, with links back to each of the notes containing the documents.

So, I can either open the Documents note to see a list of the most used documents, or use the tag with his name to filter all his notes in the Timeline notebook.

Another note that I keep in the Family notebook is called Caffeine’s Routines. Yes, his name is Caffeine 🖤. This note starts with a list of all the veterinary appointments in reverse chronological order, linking back to the notes in my new Timeline notebook. All of them also have at least two tags: Caffeine and Veterinary.

Again, I have two options to get to the notes. I can either open the Caffeine’s Routines note to see the list and click on a specific item, or use the Caffeine plus Veterinary tags to filter and see all the notes.

Below that list, I have several tasks, such as his vaccinations and deworming. I even have a task to remind me to give him a bath 😊. All these tasks will automatically show up on the Tasks' widget I keep on Evernote Home.

There is also a link to the Caffeine’s Routines note in the Documents note. Yesterday, at the vet, all I had to do was open Evernote, which in my case is set to open on the Shortcuts page. From there, I taped on Documents (note) and had access to a list of his more relevant notes to answer all the questions the veterinary had.

When I got home, I used Evernote to scan the receipt and the veterinary recommendations, then added the Caffeine, Veterinary, and Health tags, and saved the note in the Timeline notebook. Finally, I added a link to that note to the list on the Caffeine’s Routines note. It took me less than a minute to update the information, which will give me peace of mind in the future.

I’m sure my furry friend will get better soon, but I’m still heartbroken. When I feel less stressed about all of this, I will make a video to better illustrate all the steps above. For now, please show your pet some love. These little guys are absolutely wonderful.

Remember I told you in the last video to be careful when making significant changes to your Evernote? I was following my advice, but…🫣

Also in today’s video, I talk about the recent updates to my system and some unexpected benefits.

UPDATE: I had to put the Timeline notebook back. I just noticed that the reason it’s there is to let me easily drag to that notebook completed activities (notes) from any of the Backlog notebooks. To better understand it, please take a look at the image below.

Yesterday, I ended up not working on my Evernote because the video recording and editing consumed a lot of time. Today, things are moving forward quite well. I am now down to 36 notebooks from the 51 I originally had in that Legacy stack.

When I woke up today, I went to my computer to start organizing my notes on my new Evernote system. However, I quickly realized that it was an excellent opportunity to first tell you what I’ll be doing for the next few days or, maybe, weeks.

😮 I decided to go for it. I’m no longer organizing my #Evernote. Everything is going into a single notebook, and I’ll use search and AI-Powered Search to find what I need. A video explaining my strategy is on the way.

🫣 Let the experiment begin!