Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 1 of 4: “Who”?

I get lots of questions about how I use Evernote. One of the more frequent questions I get is how to find things in Evernote. Over the years I have accumulated more than 12,000 notes in Evernote, and it is important that I can find any one of those notes quickly. Over the years, I have come up with a framework that makes it possible for me to find things quickly. Over the next four weeks, I’m going to share the framework with you.

My basic framework for searching in Evernote

Although it might be obvious now, it took me a while to figure out that the vast majority of my searches fell into one more of four categories:

  1. Who? I was searching for something related to a specific person.
  2. What? I was searching for a specific thing. A document, a form, a bill, a receipt.
  3. When? I was searching for something in a specific timeframe.
  4. Where? I was searching for something tied to a specific geographic location.

Once I figured this out, I began to alter how I used Evernote to make it easier to for me to quickly answer the “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, and “Where?” search questions. In this week’s post, I will discuss how I answer the “Who?” question; how I search for things related to a specific person.

Next week, I’ll dive into the “what?” question; I’ll tackle the “When?” question in two weeks; and finally, I’ll address the “where?” question in three weeks.

Relating notes to people

One of the more common ways that I narrow down my search for a note is based on who the note is for. If our accountant says that she needs Kelly’s W-2 form for 2015, I could search for all of the notes tagged “taxes” and then scan through the resulting notes looking for Kelly’s W-2, but that would take a little while.

If, on the other hand, I could do a search that essentially asked, “give me all of the tax notes for Kelly” that would speed things up dramatically.

To answer the “Who?” question and related notes to people, I use tags.

Giving notes name tags

Each person that I need to be able to search for gets a name tag. Because I only need to search for a handful of people, I keep my tag grammar simple: “first name.” Thus, I have a tag for each member of the family, including myself. I also have tags for our pets.

In an organization where there are many people, I recommend using a slightly different version of this tag grammar, calling the tag “lastnamefirstname.” This way, when you look at the Tags page in Evernote, the names are sorted alphabetically by last name.

When I add note to Evernote, I ask myself if the note is related to a particular person, and if so, I tag the note with that person’s first name.

Searching for notes by name tags

With name tags in place, it makes it easy to find notes for a specific person. In fact, there are multiple ways to do this. I can go to the Tag page in Evernote and look for the person’s name in the alphabetical listing:

Evernote name tags

This has the added bonus of showing me how many tags are associated with that person. Clicking on the tag, I can go directly to a list of all the notes tagged for that person.

More often than not, however, I combine name tags with other search elements. For instance, if I wanted to search for all of Kelly’s receipts, I would type in the following in the search bar:

tag:receipt tag:kelly

Instead of just getting receipts, I get receipts that I specifically tagged with Kelly’s name:

EN Search Who 1

For me, a large portion of my searching involves searching for a document related to a person. Kelly might ask, “Do you have Zach’s latest report card?” I could search for the term “report card” and get lots of results, but instead of wading through all of them, I can make things a little easier by searching for

tag:zach report card

This gives me exactly what I am looking for:

Evernote Zach Report Card

More tips for searching by name tags

One my name tag structure was in place and I began using it regularly to relate notes to people, it became much easier to do a variety of searching.

Searching for notes related to one or more people

If I wanted to find notes that were related to me or to Kelly, I could do the following search:

any: tag:jamie tag:kelly

This shows notes that are tagged “jamie” or “kelly”. The “any:” at the beginning of the search make the search an OR search.

If I wanted to find notes that were related to me and Kelly, I could do the following:

tag:jamie tag:kelly

This would only return notes that had both of our names tags on them.

Saved searches

I can speed things up further by creating saved searches using name tag for frequently-searched for things. One example is a search for the kids’ school-related notes. Creating a saved search for each of the kids that returns their school-related notes makes it quick and easy to locate a school document. Since I also tag the kids’ school notes with the school name, it makes the saved searches easy:

For Zach: tag:zach tag:st-ann

For Grace: tag:grace tag:st-ann

I never realized how much I searched by people until I started giving notes name tags. Name tags has made searching much faster. Moreover, I am much more likely to find what I am looking for the first time around when I associate the note with a name tag.

Next week, I’ll discuss tips for searching for specific things: searches that answer the “What?” questions that I often ask.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. 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: Using Evernote to Track Library Book Due Dates.

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  1. Great post Jamie. I use Who tags as well and they are a wonderfully easy way to find notes for people. I also find it helpful to create Who tags for other parts of my life. I’m involved in Cub Scouts and I have a tag titled ‘Scouts’ to help me find notes for that part of my life. I support multiple facilities at my job and have a Who tag for each facility to better organize those work related notes. I have also nested all my Who tags under a “.Who” tag so I can focus in on finding people/facilities. I don’t often use the search bar for searching by Who, I often filter by tag on the left side of the Windows software screen.

  2. I have tags for ?Who, !What, @Where When
    I use the same prefix for each set of tags.
    For example, if I want to type a ?Who tag, I start typing ? and get a short dropdown list that shows all my tags prefixed with ? and its easy to select ?Kelley


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