I tried to keep the big picture in mind when I first decided to go paperless. Reducing the clutter and having access to my documents from just about anywhere was important, but I saw two additional advantages to being paperless:
- The ability to find something quickly.
- The ability to automate a lot of routine stuff.
I’ll discuss the second item in a future post. What I wanted to focus on today is finding stuff quickly. Perhaps the single most useful feature Evernote has to offer is its rich search capabilities. I use the search capabilities within Evernote extensively every day. I wish I had some kind of measurement for how much time these search functions have saved me. All I can say it is a lot of time saved. There are two kinds of searches you can do in Evernote. Basic searches in which you type what you are looking for into the search bar; and more advanced searches, which give you access to a rich syntax of searching to allow for more granular and flexible searching. Evernote also allows you to save your frequent searches, making them reusable, and saving even more time because you don’t have to re-enter your search terms each time. I thought I would provide some concrete examples of the power of Evernote’s search capability by showing the 10 saved searches I use most frequently.
My Top 10 Saved Searches in Evernote
I’ve tried to organize my saved searches in such a way that they are easy to identify in the context that I want to used them. Also, the list of saved searches changes from time-to-time depending on what I am working on. The are not listed in order of importance, simply alphabetically. The list is pictured above, but I’ll discuss each one below.
1. Activities: TODAY
I use this list to see everything I’ve done on the day the search is performed (e.g. “today”). This is a quick way of seeing all notes created on a the day I do the search. Tweets, Foursquare check-ins, phone calls, books or articles I read, meeting notes, funny things my kids said, scans of the days snail mail, contracts received for writing, all of it shows up here but only for the day on which the search is performed. I find this to be increasingly handy as the day drags on. At the end of the day, I use this search to review what I did today and make updates to my to-do list based on what I see in this search. The search criteria I use for this saved search looks as follows:
2. Activities: YESTERDAY
This is identical to the above search, except it only looks at notes that were created “yesterday”; that is, the day before whatever day it happens to be when I execute the search. I found that on any given day, I am often going back to something from the previous day. I may be sitting in a meeting where we are talking about something that happened in a meeting yesterday. Or I am on the phone with someone discussing a call we had the day before. Instead of filtering through my notes manually, I can narrow them down quickly by clicking on the saved search to see everything that was created in Evernote yesterday. The search criteria I use for this saved search looks as follows:
This tells Evernote to find all notes created after “today minus one day” and created BEFORE (the dash in front of “created” means “before”) today. In other words: only yesterday.
3. Blogging: TOPICS
If I get an idea for a blog post, I’ll create a quick note in Evernote and toss it into an Ideas notebook, tagging with “Blog Topic” so that I can distinguish it from other ideas like story ideas or nonfiction article ideas. This saved search provides a fast way of pulling up the list of blog topics. I keep this list pared down. That is, once I write a post on a topic, I remove it from the list so that only unused ideas show up here. The search criteria I use for this saved search looks as follows:
notebook:Ideas tag:"blog topics"
4. Meetings: HOA
For some reason, my homeowners association is adverse to digital documents and produces a lot of paper. I am not on the board, but as a conscientious homeowner, I try to attend all of the meetings, which occur roughly monthly. This saved search provides me with a quick way of pulling up my digital documents for the stacks of paper that the board produces. It has come in handy on a couple of occasions, but mostly, it saves me a few minutes each month when I attend these meetings. (And I secretly suspect is fuels envy within the board members, all of whom come to the meetings with briefcases full of paper, while I come with my iPad.) Here is the search criteria I use for this saved search:
notebook:"Paperless Filing Cabinet" tag:HOA
My “paperless filing cabinet” notebook is my catch-all notebook for stuff that used to go into a paper filing cabinet. I have a fairly simple structure for my notebooks. This saved search prevents me from wading through a notebook with thousands of notes in it.
5. Meetings: WORK
This one is probably self-explanatory. It searches for any meeting notes related to my day-job. Of course, if the meeting notes were taken today, they will also show up in my “Activities:TODAY” search and if they were taken yesterday, they will show up in my “Activities:YESTERDAY” search. But this search shows me all the meetings notes I have taken. This search is useful when I am in a project meeting or when I need to review notes for a series of related meetings. It’s convenient to be able to pull these notes up quickly. Here is the search criteria I use for this saved search:
notebook:"Work notebook" tag:meetings
6. Reading: ARTICLES, 30 DAYS
This is one of several “list” searches I have. I have quite a few saved searches for things that I have read. I use a couple more frequently than others because I do regular blog posts about them. For instance, I do a monthly post on the nonfiction articles I read in the month, and so this saved search comes in handy for that post. It produces a list of all of the nonfiction articles I read in the last 30 days. Since tend to write the blog post on the first day of the following month, it usually gives me just what I need: if I am writing the post on October 1, the search lists all of the articles I read in September. Here is the search criteria I used for this saved search:
notebook:Reading created:day-30 tag:article
7. Reading: SHORT FICTION, 30 DAYS
Similar to the search above, this saved search lists all of the short fiction (stories, novelettes and novella) I read in the last 30 days. I use this search to write my monthly post on what short fiction I managed to read in the previous month. As you will see, the criteria for this search is a little more complicated because it has to exclude some stuff:
notebook:Reading created:day-30 -tag:article -tag:childrens -tag:novel -tag:collection
The search looks for notes in my “Reading” notebooks that have been created in the last 30 days, but excludes notes tagged with “article”, “children’s”, “novel” and “collection” since these are not pieces of short fiction. The search ensures that I am only getting the short fiction that I read in the previous month. (The – in front of the “tag” indicated “exclude notes with this tag.”)
8. Reference: CHECKLISTS
I keep a number of checklists in Evernote. I have a couple of checklists for traveling, depending on how long the trip is, and whether it is a business trip or not. I have a checklist I run through when proofreading a story or article. I have another checklist I use in the evening to help review my day. These checklists are stored in various notebooks in Evernote, but they are all tagged the same way making them easy to find. And so I used the saved search to call up my list of checklists1 whenever I need to refer to one of them. The search criteria I use for this saved search is pretty simple:
9. Reference: MANUALS
I’ve written a previous tips post on how I digitize my manuals and use QR codes to pull them up in context. Sometimes, I need to look at the instructions for something that I haven’t tagged with a QR code–or I’m not near the thing itself. Having a saved search that pulls up all of my instruction manuals is really convenient in this case, and the search criteria is once again, simple:
10. Review: STALE NOTES
There is one feature that Evernote lacks that I wish it had: a “last accessed date” for a note. I try to purge notes that I know I’ll never use, but there isn’t an easy way to identify these. With a last accessed date, you could easily search for stuff that you last accessed, say, more than a year ago, and use that as a starting point for cleaning out stale notes. That doesn’t exist, so I’ve had to come up with other criteria. My “stale notes” saved search is a simple, rough guess of notes that might be worth reviewing to see if they are stale. Here is the search criteria I use for this saved search:
This looks for notes created more than a year ago (relative to when I run the search) and that are not tagged. (The -tag: basically means any note that doesn’t have a tag.) I use this as a rough criteria for identifying possibly stale notes and getting rid of them. (When I run this saved search now, it identifies 9 possibly stale notes.)
Some Tips for Getting the Most From Evernote Searches
As I said at the beginning, I put a lot of though into how I planned to use Evernote to search for things when I started out and to a large extend, designed my notebook and tagging taxonomy around that notion. So if you are looking for ways to get more out of your searches in Evernote, here are a few tips I learned along the way:
- Design your notebook taxonomy around how you will search. My notebook stacks are divided roughly into segments of my life (Family, Health, Work, Writing, etc.) making it easy to narrow my search to any one of these segments. My tags, on the other hand, can cross all segments, allowing me to pull saved searches based on a tag (“meetings” for example) from all segments of my life.
- Think about the things you find yourself repeatedly searching for and develop saved searches for these to save you time.
- Review Evernote’s advanced search operators so you can understand how to use them–and get an idea of what is possible.
(As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless tip posts are also available on Pinterest.)
- Yes, that is kind of meta, I know. ↩