Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 3 of 4: “When?”

In last week’s post, I described how I narrow down searches for specific types of things, like forms, statements, or receipts. This week I am going to address the “when?” question. How I search for things by date in Evernote.

Notes on a timeline

Every note that goes into Evernote gets a create date. The create date is assigned at the date and time at which the note is first created. If you create notes more or less in real time, then by sorting notes by create date, you get a kind of timeline of notes. I find this timeline concept useful because it crosses all boundaries: notebooks, tags, note types. If I look at all the notes I created on a particular day, I get a nice picture of what happened on that day.

This notion of notes as part of timeline encourages me to put things into Evernote in real time. For instance, if I make a phone call, I’ll create a note at the time I make the call. No need to jot down the date/time of the call in the note. It’s captured automatically as part of the note and becomes a part of the overall timeline.

Setting “Create Date” to match document date

Although Evernote sets the create date of a note to the date/time at which the note was added to Evernote, the create date is not written in stone. In the Windows and Mac clients, you can change the create date.

Changing a Create Date

Why would you ever want to change the create date of a note?

I do this all the time when entering scanning documents into Evernote. I do it so that the date of the note matches the date on the document. For instance, I might receive a letter in the mail dated August 3. By the time I receive the letter, it is August 10. After scanning it in, I change the Create Date of the note from August 10 to August 3, so that it matches the date on the letter, like this

Matching Dates

There are 3 reasons I do this:

  1. It keep my notion of a “timeline” consistent.
  2. It accurately reflects the information contained in the letter.
  3. It makes searching by date much, much easier.

Searching by date

Evernote has powerful date searching capabilities. It can search dates absolute dates, or relative dates.

Absolute date search

An absolute date search is one where you know the exact date you are looking for. For instance, if I wanted to find all the note created on March 27, 2015, I would run the following absolute date search in Evernote:

created:20150327 -created:20150328

The first criteria tells Evernote to search all notes created since 03/27/2015. The second criteria, the one with the -created, tells Evernote to limit the search to all notes created before 03/28/2015. In other words, the search returns just those notes created on March 27, 2015:

Absolute search

Absolute date searches are useful for when I am looking for something with a specific date. If I am talking to someone on the phone and they say, “It was referenced in the statement dated October 31, 2015,” I can run an absolute search to quickly narrow down what I am looking for.

Of course, it helps that I change the create date on scanned notes to reflect the date on the scanned item. If the statement was dated October 31, 2015, but I didn’t scan it in until November 5th, searching for October 31 won’t get me the note. Changing the create date, therefore, has become an important part of my scanning routine.

Relative date searches

Perhaps even more powerful than the absolute date search is the relative date search. This search allows you to find notes related to a specific date. The most common relative date search that I use is my “daily review” search, which looks like this:

any: created:day updated:day

“day” is a relative reference to “today.” The search is looking for any notes created since today, or updated today.” The “any” token tells the search to perform an “or” search (this or this) as opposed to an “and” search (this and this). The result of this search is all of the notes I created or updated “today”—that is, relative to whatever the current date happens to be. I run this search in the evenings to review my day.

Suppose, however, I wanted to do a weekly review? No problem. I would modify the search as follows:

any: created:day-7 updated:day-7

This search says to look for any notes created or updated in the last 7 days. The results of such a search looks something like this:

EN Search When - 3

Relative date searches can produce some pretty cool results. Not long ago, another Evernote Ambassador, Seunghoon Park, asked if it was possible to show notes created a year ago today, or two years ago today. I replied with the following search:

created:day-365 -created:day-364

This tells Evernote to look for all notes created since 365 days ago (1 year) and created prior to 364 days ago. Since I am writing this post on February 22, 2016, the results would be all the notes created on February 22, 2015:

A year ago todayYou could store this search as a Saved Search in Evernote and on any given day, see what notes were created a year ago on that day.

Combining “when” with “who” and “what”

Generally speaking, I don’t have more than a dozen notes on a given day, but occasionally I do. Sometimes, I can’t remember exactly when a note was created, but I have general sense. In these cases, combining the various search tactics: who, what, and when, speed things up.

For instance, I can’t recall when exactly I received Kelly’s W-2 form, but I know it was in the last 2 months. I also know that I have received a lot of notes in the last 2 months (395 to be precise). Searching all of those would be too time consuming. So to find Kelly’s W-2, I ran the following search:

created:month-2 tag:taxes tag:kelly

The search is telling Evernote to look for all notes created in the last 2 months (the when) tagged “taxes” (the what) and tagged “kelly” (the who). That search resulted in a single match:

Combined search

Instead of spending minutes searching through a larger set, I found exactly what I was looking for on the first try with a relatively short search phrase.

Date searching in Evernote has proven very effective for me in answering the “when” questions. It certainly helps that I’ve taken the time to change the create dates of scanned documents to the date on the document so that my searches are more accurate. Relative searches are also useful in my daily reviews, or to find out what kinds of things were happening in my life a a month ago, or even a year ago.

Next week, I will wrap up this 4-part mini series with the final search question, “Where?” That post will focus on searching notes by the location in which they were created.

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: Searching in Evernote, Part 2 of 4: “What?”

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One comment

  1. Thank you for this great series. You’ve described your search system in the past and I’ve been using it since then.

    Too bad the mobile version of Evernote does not allow to change the creation date of a note. Any idea why? Is it related to a programming constraint of some sort (sorry if it’s a silly question – I know nothing about the creation of apps for mobile devices).

    Thanks again for you great posts!


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