Going Paperless: Using Shortcuts in Evernote to Speed Up Your Work

I received an email from a reader of these posts noting the shortcuts I have in Evernote in one of the screenshots I posted. The reader suggested that how I use shortcuts in Evernote might be a topic of interest to other readers. Considering how much I use the shortcut feature in Evernote, I agreed and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.

What are shortcuts?

Evernote 5 introduced the concept of shortcuts. A shortcut is essentially a list containing links to notes, notebooks, searches and tags. Unlike “recent” notes, the shortcut list is entirely arbitrary, meaning you can put whatever you want into your shortcut list. You can put the items in the shortcut list in any order you want simply by dragging them around. Then, rather than having to search for these notes, notebooks, etc., you can have quick access to them from the list. Here is what my shortcut list looks like:

Shortcut List

Shortcuts synchronize across all of your devices and platforms so that, like your notes, they are accessible from anywhere.

Adding items to your shortcut list

Through experimentation, I’ve discovered that you can add at least four types of items to your shortcut list in Evernote:

  1. Notes
  2. Notebooks
  3. Saved searches
  4. Tags

Below, I briefly describe how to add each of these items to your shortcut list.

Adding a note to your shortcut list

There are two ways of adding a note to your shortcut list. The easiest way it to drag the note onto the shortcut list:

Shortcut Add Note

You can drag the note onto the shortcut list in whatever position you like. You can change the order later simply by dragging it to a new position in the list.

You can also add a note to the shortcut list by right-clicking the note and clicking the Add to Shortcuts menu option:

Shortcut Add Note Right Click

Adding a Notebook to your Shortcut List

You can also easily add a notebook to your Shortcuts List by dragging the notebook onto the list:

Shortcut Add Notebook

Adding a Saved Search to your Shortcuts List

You can add a saved search to your Shortcuts List as well, also by dragging it onto the list, like this:

Shortcut Saved Search

Adding a tag to your Shortcuts List

Finally, you can add a tag to your Shortcuts list. Go to your Tags view and drag the desired tag onto the Shortcuts list as follows:

Shortcut Add Tag


Removing items from your Shortcuts List

To remove an item from your Shortcuts list, simply right-click on the item and select the “Remove from Shortcuts” option.

How I use shortcuts to speed up my work

It is all well and good to be able to add these things to your Shortcuts list, but you may be wondering why? Why put them there in the first place? And how do you decide what to include on your shortcuts list?

I think of my shortcuts list as a working list. The contents of the list change frequently depending upon what I am working on. Anything that is on the list is quickly accessible because the list is always visible when I am in Evernote. I don’t have to go hunting for the note, notebook, or search.

Here are a 6 ways that I use my Shortcuts list:

1. Working notes

It used to be that when I was working on writing code for a project at the day job, I’d have some paper in front of me to jot down notes, ideas, results, and other things that I needed to get to the code written. Of course, now I avoid paper where I can, but the need for these “working notes” is still there. What I do, therefore, is create a note in Evernote for the project and drag that note to my Shortcuts list, where it is quickly and easily accessible for me, either to add more notes, or to review something that is already there. I don’t have to go hunting for the note. It is right there in my shortcuts. And when the project is over, I simply remove the note from my shortcut list.

2. Character lists

In long stories, like the novel draft I finished back in September, there is often a lot of characters, and although I am creating these characters, I can’t always keep track of them in my head. What I do, therefore, is maintain a list of characters. This list is usually pretty simple. Each time I introduce a new character, I add their name to the list, and sometimes a short note about their role in the story.

When I am writing, and need to remember the name of my protagonist’s father’s lawyer, for instance, I don’t have to search back through the manuscript. Instead, I can click on the Character List note I’ve created in Evernote (and which sits in my Shortcuts list), and quickly find the name that I am looking for.

3. Reading notes

I write a bimonthly book review column for a science fiction magazine. I generally review 2 books for each column. When I am reading for my column, I create a note for each book, and in this note, I jot down thoughts or passages from the book that I think will be interesting to discuss in my column.

I don’t want to go hunting for these notes every time I want to jot something down, so I add the notes to my Shortcuts list while I am reading the book so that they are easily accessible. When I am done writing my column, I remove the notes from my shortcuts list.

4. Frequently-used saved searches

I use some of my saved searches more frequently than others. It’s not difficult to access the Saved Search list. All you have to do is click in the Search bar and then click on the search you want to run. But that is two mouse-clicks. For those searches I access frequently–multiple times a day, for instance–it is better to be able to get them in a single mouse click.

I drag these Saved Searches to my Shortcuts list. From here, all I have to do is click on them to bring up the search. Searches like my “TO DO” list and my “THINGS TO READ” list find their way onto my Shortcuts because I use them frequently.

5. Frequently-accessed documents

I watch very little television, and therefore, I can never remember what channel is the Disney Channel and what is the PBS channel and where I can find ESPN or HBO. So, I’ve taken the Channel Guide (PDF) from my cable company and pulled it into Evernote. I have then dragged that note onto my Shortcuts list so that when I need to look up a channel, I don’t have to go hunting through nearly 10,000 notes in order to find it. I simply click on the note in my list, and there it is!

6. Quickly refiling notes

I frequently file notes in my Filing Cabinet notebook. But my Filing Cabinet notebook isn’t always visible on the screen, depending on how I have things setup. In order to make this frequent process very fast, I have dragged my filing cabinet notebook to the Shortcuts list. When I want to refile a note or notes into my filing cabinet, I just drag them into the Filing Cabinet shortcut on the list and that refiles them in the notebook.

Shortcuts on Mobile devices

As I mentioned earlier, Shortcuts, like notes, are synchronized across all of your devices so that they are accessible from anywhere. Here is what my Shortcuts list looks like on my various mobile devices.

Shortcuts on my iPad

Shortcuts iPad

Shortcuts on my iPhone

Shortcuts iPhone

Shortcuts on my Chromebook

Shortcuts Chromebook

Bottom line

Using Shortcuts has become second nature to me at this point, but, given how much I use them, I imagine they must save me quite a bit of time each day, and they definitely speed up my ability to do my work.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Quick Tip: Timed Screen Captures Using Skitch for Mac


    1. So THAT is what that star means! I have been wondering! Downside to Evernote is that the Ipad and Iphone apps are not quite as user friendly as the windows version is.

  1. Unrelated to Evernote, but perhaps useful anyhow. You mentioned your cable provider’s channel guide, saved as a PDF in your Evernote account. Many cable providers offer a smarphone app that lets you use your phone as your cable remote. You look at live listings, tap what looks good, and your phone communicates with your cable box via your home network to set the channel. Might be worth a look for you!

  2. Something I stumbled across in the Mac client that might make the shortcuts list even more useful — CMD- will jump to that element in the shortcuts list. For example, my first shortcut is a saved search for all the things I’m working on today at work (“tag:@TODAY notebook:Work”). Whenever I want to jump to that list, I hit CMD-1.

    — Tom


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