Category: Evernote

4 More Feature Suggestions for Evernote

Not long ago, I suggested a feature for Evernote that would capture the last time a note was viewed. This, I thought, would be useful in determining whether a note is worth keeping around. Since then, I’ve been playing around with the new Evernote, trying to drum up some of my original enthusiasm for the tools. As I’ve played around with it, a few more feature suggestions have occurred to me, and I thought I’d share them here. If anyone at Evernote is reading, feel free to take these ideas.

Note aliases

Most operating systems have a mechanism for aliasing a file. Windows calls this a shortcut. MacOS calls this an Alias. Unix calls this a symlink. The nice thing about this feature is that a file can appear in many places, even though there is only a single copy. This would be incredibly useful in Evernote.

Imagine being able to create an alias for any note. If a note exists in your School notebook, and you want it to also appear in your Commonplace notebook, you could create an alias to the note in the latter notebook. The alias points to the original so any changes you make change the original and the results are reflected in any alias.

You could always make a copy of the note, but that isn’t the same thing because updating the copy doesn’t change the original and vice versa. You can also make a shortcut to a note, but there isn’t much you can do with it aside from putting it into a shortcut list.

How might this be useful? Well, it would be really useful if Evernote coupled it with a…

Note board

One of the views in Evernote lets you look at notes in “card” view. One thing I’ve often wanted to be able to do is take notes and organize them in ways that are meaningful to me. If you think of notes as cards, then you can think of a note board as a surface on which you can arrange you notes however you like.

Right now, this is almost impossible. Notes are attached to a notebook. Not only that , you are limited to how those notes can be sorted within the notebook. A note board would allow you to pull note aliases onto a board and arrange them any way you like. You can pull notes from multiple notebooks. Since you are only pulling the alias of the note, the original is safe and sound in its notebook.

A note board would serve the purpose of taking index cards and arranging in some useful manner to you.

I imagine that you can save boards and make shortcuts to boards just as you can do for most other objects in Evernote.

Custom sorting

Within a notebook, there are only 3 ways to sort note: by title, date updated, or date created. It would be really useful to be able to drag notes around in the notebook to make a custom sort.

Note automation

I would like to see Evernote add some automation capability. Since the notes are all centralized on the server, this seems like it would be possible. I imagine there are lots of use cases for this, but the one I have in mind is fairly practical. I’d like a way to automatically delete notes based on certain criteria. And I’d like this to be able to run on a. set schedule.

My use case involves Skitch notes. I do tons a screen grabs with Skitch and they all go into a notebook. Probably 95% of these are one-and-done, but they accumulate until I have thousands of these clippings in this notebook. It would be nice to have automation that would do something like the following:

  • Once a day:
    • Delete notes from the ‘Skitch’ folder with a createdDate > 10 days in the past

This is highly specific to my needs, but as I said, there’s probably a ton of use cases in general automation.

Those are my suggestions. Now that Evernote integrates with Google Calendar, I suppose a nice-to-have would be the ability to integrate with Apple’s iCloud calendar, too. (I use the latter.) But that seems like I’d be asking too much, especially after make my case for these other four features.

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One Important Feature that Evernote Still Needs

Evernote has made some significant improvements lately. They have completely reengineered the backend. They have refreshed and improved the user interface. And they recently introduced integrated task management–something users have been requesting for a long time.

There is one feature that I would find incredibly useful that Evernote still needs: a Last Viewed date for a note.

Currently, Evernote provides two dates for each note: a Created date and an Updated date:

An example of Evernote note information showing the created and updated date fields.

The Created date is the date on which the note was originally created. (I often change this to match the date of a document to make searching by date range more effective). The Updated date is the last time the note was modified. What’s missing in the “Last Viewed” date.

Why is a “Last Viewed” date important? Evernote is not just static storage for me. It is a living memory–a repository of digital documents and other notes that I have been collecting for more than ten years now. I call it a living memory because I am always looking for ways to improve the value I get from what I have stored in there. Currently, I have over 13,000 notes stored in Evernote. Despite the methods I have come up with for making searching as easy as possible, it can sometimes be hard to narrow things down when there is a lot of noise.

A screen capture showing Evernote's count of my notes, currently at 13,263.

This is where a “Last Viewed” date plays a crucial role. If I had to guess, I’d say that three quarters of the notes I have in Evernote have never been looked at after their initial scanning or input. The question I ask myself is: if I never have to look at note that I am storing, then why am I storing it?

Certainly some notes are worth keeping, even if I haven’t looked at them in months or years. But there are also things like phone bills and Amazon receipts, and countless other documents that I probably will never have a need to look at. I don’t know this for sure at the outset, so I put them into Evernote just in case. But I would love to do a yearly review, looking at how many notes I haven’t viewed in the last, say, five years. If I could get such a list, I might simply move all of those notes to an Archive notebook, export that notebook to a file, and then delete the notebook from Evernote. This would remove a lot of noise that comes up in searches. And it really is noise, since they are notes that I have not looked at in the last five years.

The problem is, of course, that Evernote does not have a “Last Viewed” date to query on. I suppose this would be the equivalent of the “Date Last Opened” on MacOS. It seems like it would be a simple matter to add the functionality for this information, although I suspect there would be no way of implementing it retroactively.

Still, I think this would be a useful feature, and one that corresponds to real memory, where things that we have no need of recalling are “erased” so that we can more readily remember other things.

Going Paperless: An Epilogue

In 2012 I began an experiment to see how much paper I could eliminate from my daily life. I was motivated by the elusive paperless office. Much discussed in the 1990s, I had yet to see an office that was truly paperless. The goal of my experiment was to see how far it was possible to go. It was not my intention to stop using paper entirely.

In April 2012, I wrote the first of what ended up being more than 120 posts on the ways I was using various digital tools—Evernote foremost among them—to go paperless. I called this series of posts “Going Paperless” to reflect my goal: that this was an ongoing process. I wrote these posts across several years, completing the last one in March 2016.

It recently occurred to me that these posts ended without any real conclusion. How did my experiment fair? How paperless was I able to go? What has happened since? This post provides those answers as a kind of epilogue to my going paperless experiment. I’ve drawn four conclusions from my experiment. As with all my going paperless posts, the conclusions are based on how I work. Here is what my experiment taught me:

  1. Paperless works well for automated storage of infrequently accessed documents.
  2. Paper works better as a short-term memory substitute.
  3. Paperless works well for sharing documents with others.
  4. Paper is more reliable as a long-term storage medium.

1. Paperless works well for automated storage of infrequently accessed documents.

I find Evernote to be extremely useful for automatically storing stuff that I don’t look at very often, things like statements, contracts, bills, correspondence. Either by scanning these documents into Evernote, or better yet through some automated mechanism like FileThis, having these documents in electronic format saves me time, clutter, and physical space. That is a definite plus in the paperless column.

2. Paper works better as a short-term memory substitute.

I have tried countless apps, some of which I have written about over the years, that allow me to quickly capture notes that, for me, act as a substitute for short-term memory. Examples might include shopping lists, what needs to go into my kids’ lunches tomorrow, the office number on the 9th floor that I need to visit, an idea for a story that occurs to me while on a walk, the score of my kid’s soccer game, the RGB color code for a screen background, etc.

None of the apps I have tried for this have proven better than good old-fashioned pen and paper. For several years now, wherever I go, I have a Field Notes notebook and a Pilot G-2 pen in my back pocket. These notebooks serve as my short-term memory repository. When I fill up one, I have another ready to go.

Evernote, and other apps, have tried to make this easy, but the infrastructure surrounding these apps make it harder. It takes just a second to pull out my Field Notes notebook. To do the same in, say, Evernote, I have to pull out my phone, unlock my phone, start Evernote, wait, it the green plus button, optionally title my note, and start tapping away. With my notebook, I could be done by the time that Evernote is starting.

And it is not just Evernote. I’ve tried Apple’s Notes app, OneNote, Drafts, and many other note-taking apps. They are all the same in this respect. Then, too, Murphy’s Law dictates that the one time I really need to get something out of my head, my phone has no power. I don’t have to worry about that with my Field Notes notebook.

Also, these are, strictly speaking, ephemeral notes, there to remind me of things—a grocery list, the title of a book I want to look at, movie times, whatever. There’s no need to permanently store this information. That said, I do keep the completed Field Notes notebooks, and number them chronologically. Occasionally, I flip through them (something almost impossible to do in a tool like Evernote or OneNote) and it’s like a walk through what goes on inside my head.

3. Paperless works well for sharing documents with others.

One thing that is very hard to do with my Field Notes notebooks is share them with others. For one thing, I use a kind of shorthand I’ve evolved over the years that would make it impossible for most people to decipher what I’ve written—not out of any sense of privacy or security, but because I can record things faster that way. That alone makes it hard to share.

Evernote makes it easy for me to share documents with others, especially those in my family. Having a centralized place to access documents means that my wife can get them as easily as I can. We don’t have to worry about managing multiple copies, or which one is current. They are all stored in one place that we can both access.

4. Paper is more reliable as a long-term storage medium.

My experience going paperless has taught me that there are two aspects to reliability: (1) how reliable a medium is for entering information; (2) and how reliable a medium is for storing information.

Interestingly, I’ve found over the years that I will be more consistent about, for instance, keeping a journal, if I do it on paper. I’ve tried doing this in Evernote, and in Day One, but I’ve never been able to do it consistently, whereas when I kept a journal on paper, I went years without missing a single day. The thing about paper, in this case, it that it is a highly available user interface.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the second aspect of reliability: that of long-term storage. I recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci and one thing that impressed me was the fact that something like 7,000 pages from Da Vinci’s notebooks have survived to this day. 500 years later, we still have them. That is pretty remarkable to me. The journals I kept 20 years ago are still there on the bookshelf, collecting dust. I can’t find most of the journals I’ve kept in digital format, whether online, or not.

The desire to keep this information online stemmed from two ideas I had early on: (1) if my journals were online, I could access them anywhere, any time; and (2) I could more easily search them. It turns out, however, that I am much more likely to write in a journal consistently on paper than online. And it turns out that I rarely have a need to search. And when I do, I’ve learned ways of indexing my paper journals to make searches easier.

Given that my journals from 20 years ago, paper though they may be, are still safe and secure on my bookshelf, and electronic versions have gone the way of the Dodo, I’m inclined to think that we still have to prove the viability of long-term electronic storage. I have no problem keeping the types of information I put into Evernote there because, for the time being anyway, I have no worries about it going away. But I also export that data and back it up regularly in case it does go away. It would still be in electronic form, and that would be something I would need to manage going forward. And perhaps it will turn out that 500 years from now, like Da Vinci’s notebooks, the stuff we put online will still be there for eager historians to lust over.

My experiment proved to be a mixed bag. I found that going paperless was useful in some areas, but that paper was more useful in others. I suspect that is why that I still haven’t found that elusive paperless office. And I suppose—given my growing fondness for Field Notes and Moleskine notebooks, and the sound of a pen across paper—that I am glad. Paperless is good for saving time, decluttering, freeing up physical space. But still like paper.

Using Evernote to Write Product Reviews

There are generally four types of writing that I do:

  1. Fiction
  2. Nonfiction
  3. Blogging
  4. Product reviews

For my fiction and nonfiction, I use Scrivener these days. For my blogging, I generally write the posts in Ulysses before publishing them. But for product reviews, I use Evernote. It seems to me that in my entire Going Paperless series, I never mentioned this particular use case, so I figured I’d talk about it now.

I don’t write reviews nearly as much as I used to. However, I’ve found that the interfaces provided by places like Amazon and Apple to write reviews are clunky and awkward. Rather than writing the reviews directly on those sites, I tend to write them first in Evernote. My process is pretty straight-forward:

1. Create a new note in my Reviews notebook

I have a Reviews notebook in my Reference notebook stack into which all of my reviews go. When I am ready to write a review, I will create a new note in my Reviews notebook. I title the note with the product I am reviewing (often, but no always, a book).

Sometimes, if I am planning on writing a review ahead of time, I’ll create the note before I am finished with the book (or whatever I am reviewing) and jot notes there about things I want to include in the review.

2. Write the review

When I finish the book (or Podcast, or album, etc.) I’ll sit down and write the review. Typically my review consists of three parts:

  1. The review title. Most sites require some short title of the review, and since the review is already associated with the product, the title of the review is something different.
  2. The review itself.
  3. A link back to the review on the site on which it is posted (I’ll come back to this shortly.)

Here is an example of a fairly recent review I wrote on the iTunes store for the Track Changes podcast (a podcast that I highly recommend, by the way).

Evernote Review example

I do the first 2 steps here, providing a title, and writing the review. The third step (creating a link back to the review) comes later.

3. Post the review

Once I’ve got the review the way I want it, I go to the site that I want to post it–in the case of the example above, the iTunes store–and I post the review.

4. Add link back to the posted review

Once the review is posted I add a link to the post on the Evernote review note itself. That way, if I happen to be skimming the reviews I wrote in Evernote, and want to see the review on Amazon, or iTunes, I can just click the link in the note to get to it.

I like having ready access to everything I write. For fiction and nonfiction, my writing rests in Scrivener files on my computers, or in cloud services like iCloud Drive. For my blog posts, I have them in Ulysses, and they are once again easy to access.

Reviews are different. They are more ephemeral, and scattered over lots of different places once they are posted. Then, too, it is possible to write so many of them that it is easy to lose track of what you wrote. So I collect them all in Evernote, and can always review them there without having to go to the places I posted them. It is easy to jump to my Reviews notebook and take a look at the List View to scroll through the reviews I’ve written.

Reviews List

For me, this is the most useful way to centralize all of the various reviews I’ve written over the years.

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

In last week’s post, I described how I take advantage of the native date searching capabilities in Evernote to quickly find notes and documents in a specific time frame, answering the “when?” question of searching. This week, in the final post for this mini-series, I take the “where?” question.

Location services

Evernote can automatically capture the location each note is created. This requires location services (on Apple devices) to be enabled. Without location services enabled, capturing location has to be done manually.

Notes on a map

If you’ve enabled location services, you can get a nice picture of where your notes were created by going to the Atlas view. On Windows machines, the Atlas view may not be visible on the sidebar by default. To make it visible, go to the View menu, click the Left Panel option, and made sure Show Atlas is checked.

By default, I can see a summary of places where I have created notes.

Evernote Atlas

I prefer to look at this on the full map, however. I can this by clicking “All Notes”. What I get is a map of the United States. Scattered across the map, you can see counts of notes that I’ve created in various places.

Evernote Atlas, US

This map is zoomable, and as I drill into different areas, you’ll see the counts split into more detailed representations of exactly where I was when the notes were created. For instance, back in 2013, I attended the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop for writers at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. Zooming into that part of the map, I see my notes break down as follows, across the campus:

Evernote Atlas, Wyoming

The note flags tell me how many notes where created in each location. Clicking on the flag and then clicking the View All Notes option takes me to a list of all of the notes created in that location:

Launchpad Notes

Descriptive searches

On Evernote for Mac, it is possible to search notes by place using “descriptive searches.” Descriptive searching is a way to do natural language searching, which gets translated into an Evernote-style search for you.

Once, while visiting Maine, I jotted down the name of a few plants that I wanted to remember to add some verisimilitude to a story that I was working on. Of course, once I returned home, I had difficulty finding the note because I couldn’t recall the name of the plants. So I used a descriptive search as follows:

plants in castine

Castine being the name of the town that I was in when I made the note. When I typed this search into Evernote’s search bar, it translated it into a descriptive search:

Descriptive Search

By clicking on the descriptive search option, I got a list of matching notes—which happened to be a single note, and the very note that I’d been looking for:

Descriptive matches

Practical vs. Fun

“Where” searches are probably the least practical searches that I do. While I occasionally search for something by location, I can usually find it through other means. For instance, I could have found the note on plants by searching for notes between the dates that I knew I was visiting Maine that summer. I would have had to scroll through a few more notes, but I would have found it.

Still, I think it is fun to browse notes in this fashion from time-to-time. Location gives notes an added dimension, beyond that of just the timeline that I normally think of when I think of how my notes are organized.

And there are a few practical uses. For instance, when I park my car in a parking garage at the airport, I will snap a photo into Evernote of the parking zone in which I am parked. Because I have location services turned on, I end up with the exact location I parked my car, making it easy to find when I return from my trip.

Going to a new restaurant, I’ll create a note with the name of the restaurant, and sometimes jot down what I ordered. With location services turned on, I get the exact location of the place so that if I need to remember where it was that I had lunch with an editor on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, I can locate the note and see where it is on a map.

But again, these tend to be less practical uses for me, and more fun.

Summing it up

When I search for things in Evernote, I tend to think of the “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where”? But these aren’t the only ways to search. Evernote has some powerful search capabilities that go far beyond the basics. I can search for notes by their content type, or by their input source. I can search for notes containing to-do items, or reminders. I can search for notes that I have shared.

When I scan documents, Evernote makes the contents of those documents searchable as well. It even does a pretty good job of making my handwritten notes searchable.

If you are interested in learning just how rich Evernote’s search capabilities are, I’d recommend checking out this document on Evernote’s search grammar. It goes into detail on all of the various ways you can search Evernote, including many that you were probably not even aware of.

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

Last week’s post: Searching in Evernote, Part 3 of 4: “When?”

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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] 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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Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 2 of 4: “What?”

In last week’s post, I described how I search Evernote for things related to a particular person. I demonstrated how I answer the “who”? question. In this week’s post I am going to address the “what?” question, how I find a particular thing in Evernote based on what it is.

Types of notes in Evernote

Searching for things in Evernote over the years, I have found that I often know what type of thing I am looking for. Kelly might ask, “Do you have a copy of Zach’s school health enrollment form?” Or I might want to know where that recent letter from the Gas Company is. Experience has taught me that knowing the class of note I am looking for can really help speed up the search. I tend to focus on two broad classes of notes:

  1. Documents.
  2. Media.

Evernote has some nice built-in search capabilities for searching for multimedia documents. Using the “resource” keyword in a search makes it easy to find documents containing various multimedia. For instance, if I was searching for a note with an image file, I could type the following into the search bar:


This would return notes with any kind of image file. If I wanted a specific image type, I could search for:


This would return notes with PNG images. I could then combine this with other search terms. If I wanted to find notes containing pictures and related to me, I could search for:

resource:image/* tag:jamie

The resource can be any MIME-type, which allows you to find notes for things like sound files and movies, as well.

Identifying documents in Evernote

I think of documents as notes containing attachments that might once have found their way into a filing cabinet. Documents can be things I’ve scanned into Evernote, or things that a service like FileThis has automatically added to Evernote. I’ve found over time that documents fall into 11 categories:

  1. Artwork. My kids’ artwork from school.
  2. Bills. Various bills for things that aren’t paid automatically.
  3. Contracts. Mostly these pertain to my writing, but they can be contracts for anything.
  4. Documents. Legal documents and miscellaneous documents that aren’t captured by other categories.
  5. Forms. Things that have to be filled out.
  6. Invoices. I’ve considered consolidating Invoices and Bills into a single category, but have yet to get around to it.
  7. Letters. Personal letters as well as official correspondence.
  8. Manuals. Instructions and manuals for various things we own.
  9. Payments. Pay stubs and checks.
  10. Receipts. Receipts for things we’ve bought and paid for.
  11. Statements. Bank statements, utility statements, medical statements, etc.

To quickly find these types of documents, I’ve created a tag for each one of them. To make it easier to illustrate, I’ve moved all 11 of these tags into a tag called “.documents” so you can more readily see what they look like in Evernote:

EN document tags

Whenever I add a new document to Evernote, I quickly determine its type, and assign that tag (and possibly some others, like who it is for) to the note. For documents that I scan, I do this tagging as soon as I scan the document so that I don’t forget. If a document doesn’t fit one of the categories, it gets tagged as “document” which is my short hand for miscellaneous documents.

Searching for things in Evernote

Tagging notes with a document type makes it much easier for me to find what I am looking for. If I need to find the recall letter we received for the Kia, I’d do the following:

tag:letter tag:kia

That search is saying, “Show me all letters related to the Kia.”

Kia letter search

Note that I only got 2 results. The fact that the result list was so short is part of the beauty. While a less specific search might have resulted in more notes to wade through, this simple, but specific search resulted in an almost exact match on the first try.

I could have made the search even more specific by searching for:

tag:letter tag:kia recall

Adding the word “recall” eliminates one of the two resulting documents, and I now have an exact match.

Thinking about what the document that I am searching for is helps to narrow things down quite a bit. Compare the above search to a search for the tag “kia”:


Tag Kia

This search returns 40 notes. That is a lot of notes to wade through. Knowing that I was searching for a letter made it that much faster and more accurate.

Combining “what” searches with “who” searches

By combining search tactics, I can improve things even further. I use a “school” tag for school-related documents. So instead of just searching for forms, I can easily search for school-related forms. The same is true for taxes. I uses a “taxes” tag for anything tax-related. If I need to search for a tag form (as opposed to, say, a receipt) I can combine my tag search to include forms and taxes.

But sometimes that isn’t enough. Take school for example. If we go back to that example question I gave at the beginning, where Kelly asked, “Do you have a copy of Zach’s school health enrollment form?” I can run a quick search as follows:

tag:form tag:school tag:zach health

That search returns exactly one match (out of more than 12,000 notes), and it is the exact form that I was asked for. This really happened. Kelly asked if I had the form. I took about three seconds to type the above search into Evernote, get the match, and forward the resulting document to her.

“Yes, I’ve got it,” I said.

“Can you send it me?” Kelly asked.

“It’s already in your inbox,” I replied.

Not everyone uses the same tag structure, but I think that some form of tagging that allows you to capture the type of document you are putting into Evernote can help in the long run. In my experience, most “what” questions come down to what the document is in the first place: are you searching for a bill? A form? A letter? An invoice? Knowing what it eliminates a lot of other documents from the mix.

Knowing who, and what I am searching for are useful, but sometimes it helps to know when I got the thing. How many times have you been on a call when the person on the line says, “It is in the statement dated February 14, 2016.” Or, “I know we bought that TV in December, but I can’t find the receipt?”

Next week, in Part 3, I’ll discuss how I use Evernote’s dates and date searching capabilities to quickly answer the “when” questions.

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

Last week’s post: Searching in Evernote, Part 1 of 2: “Who?”

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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] 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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No Going Paperless Post This Week – Digging Out!

I have been busy digging out from the blizzard, and taking care of the kids while Kelly is under the weather, and haven’t had time to finish and post the latest Going Paperless post. And given that I have a pile of day job work, and the kids’ school still closed, and lots of cleanup still to do at home, I am going to have to punt on this week’s post. I’ll get the new post out next Tuesday.

Sorry for the hiccup in the schedule.

Going Paperless 2.0: Using Evernote to Track Library Book Due Dates

Some uses of Evernote are more humble than others. I was reminded of this over the weekend when Evernote reminded me that the Little Man’s library book was due on Tuesday.

I like keeping track of the books the kids check out from the library. I have my own list of books that I’ve read, but mine only goes back to my 20s, and I thought that one day, my kids might like to see the book they read when they were little. Here is how I keep track of them:

1. Snap a photo of the book into Evernote.

Sometimes I do this from within Evernote itself, other times, I just snap a photo from my phone camera and add it to the note in Evernote. It doesn’t have to be a high quality image.

Either way, I use the image to create a note in Evernote. I title the note with the title and author of the book.

2. Tag the note

One of the things for which I find tags particularly useful is associated a note with a family member. So I’ll tag the note with either my son’s name or my daughter’s name, depending on who checked out the book.

I also add a more general tag called “reading-list” so that I can easily call these notes out on a search. Here is what a typical note looks like:

Library book note

This was simple and straight-forward. If I wanted to find the list of books that they’d read, I could simply search for notes tagged with the name and “reading-list”, something like:

tag:reading-list tag:zach

Library book reminders

At some point, I realized that I could use Evernote’s reminder function to remind me to return the library books. On the notes in question, I’d set a reminder for a day or two before the books were due back at the library.

I use Sunrise Calendar because it takes calendars and reminders from many different sources and pulls them into a single calendar view. Sunrise Calendar can pull Evernote reminders onto the calendar, so that when I am looking at my calendar, I can see the reminders along with everything else. Between Evernote’s reminder, and seeing the reminder in Sunrise Calendar, I always know when to put the library books in my son’s or daughter’s backpack to take back to school.


When the kids come home with new books, the cycle starts over again.

The reminders have come in handy on a couple of occasions. And so has the list of books. The Little Man sometimes can’t remember which Magic Treehouse book he has or hasn’t read yet. We can pull up the list in Evernote the day before he goes to the library and review it so that he can pick out a new one.

And, of course, other books we read, besides library books, get added to the list as well, but the Evernote reminders are particularly handy for library book due dates.

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

Last week’s post:Quickly Access Frequently-Used Information in Evernote.

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Going Paperless 2.0: Quickly Access Frequently-Used Information in Evernote

One of the things that attracted me to Evernote back in 2010 was its slogan, “Remember Everything.” Although I am not a canonical GTDer, I’ve read David Allen’s book, and one important take away was getting stuff out of my head so that I didn’t have to remember it. When I started to use Evernote, I let Evernote remember stuff for me. Fast forward five years, and Evernote is remembering a lot of stuff for me. At last count, 12,465 notes. The notes are organized into notebooks, and some of them are tagged. Still, there is a certain subset of information that I find myself needing much more frequently than other information. What follows are some tricks I use to make sure I have quick access to frequently-used information.


I have a note in Evernote titled “FREQUENT” on which I keep my most-frequently accessed information. This means I only need to go to one place to find it all.

Frequent Note

In the note, I use a tabular format to keep it simple. I include the information I need right on the note itself. I also add a link to more detailed information. Clicking the link for Blue Cross, for instance, takes me to an image of my current insurance card. The same is true for clicking on a license #, or car tag number.

I created a shortcut to the note which I keep on the shortcut bar so that I never have to go hunting for it.

Having this note saves me a lot of time and frustration, especially when filling out forms, or when I am on the phone with a service organization.

2. Use TextExpander for frequently-accessed info

I am a big fan of TextExpander on the Mac1. If you are not familiar with the tool, TextExpander allows you to use shortcuts to expand longer snippets of text. I have created a bunch of snippets for frequently-used information. For instance, the various pieces of my address all have expansions. So does my home phone number, which I can never remember. Also my kid’s birthdays. Here is example of some of the snippets I have created for frequently used information. Typing the part of the left automatically expands to the part on the right. I preface my shortcuts with ;; so that typing the shortcut word doesn’t cause the snippet to expand.

  • ;;address —> full address
  • ;;street —> street address
  • ;;city —> Falls Church
  • ;;state —> Virginia
  • ;;zip —> our zip code
  • ;;hphone —> our home phone number
  • ;;zach —> Zach’s birthdate
  • ;;grace —> Grace’s birthdate
  • ;;email —> my email address
  • ;;gp —>

3. “Current Travel” saved search

It seems to me that I need some piece of information more often when I am away from the computer than when I am sitting in front of it. Traveling is a good example of this. There are confirmation messages, frequent flyer program information, airline itineraries, notes about interesting places to stop along the way.

When I am getting ready for a trip, I tag any trip-related notes with a “current-travel” tag in Evernote. I have a saved search that I’ve created that shows me everything tagged “current-travel.”

Thus, when I am at the airport and I need to call the hotel I’ll be staying at, all I have to do is tap my “current-travel” saved search and I’ve got easy access to my hotel confirmation, which also contains the phone number of the hotel.

Some notes keep the “current-travel” tag, like frequently-flier and hotel points program information notes. But when I finish a trip, I remove the “current-travel” tag from all of the notes related to that trip. That way I’m ready to fill it up again with useful information on the next trip.

4. Set a reminder to review and update the info at regular intervals

Finally, I use Evernote’s reminder feature to set a reminder on my FREQUENT note so that I review the information there on a regular basis, and update it as necessary. Currently I have this set to six months. When I get the reminder, I review the information on the note, update anything that requires updating, and then reset the reminder for another six months.

Having frequently-accessed information at my fingertips, without having to keep in all in my head, has been incredibly helpful to me. It speeds up filling out paper forms. It makes it easy to provide information when I am away from the house. Checking into hotels, I’m often asked for the license plate # of the car for parking. When I call to order pizza and they ask me, “What’s your home number?” I don’t have to go hunting for it. And it helps ensure that I am giving accurate information.

Frequently-accessed information will vary by person, but I think I have a good model for making sure that information is readily accessible when I need it—whatever the information might be.

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

Last week’s post: Tracking accomplishments in Evernote

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  1. On my Windows machine at work,  I use a similar tool called PhraseExpress.

Going Paperless 2.0: Tracking Accomplishments in Evernote

At the beginning of each year, one of the things that I find useful is to create a new “accomplishments” file. This a place that I can track my achievements and successes for the forthcoming year. A few years back I wrote about how I tracked my achievements in Evernote, but things evolve, and how I track my accomplishments today is a little simpler, and a little more useful to me. Here is how I track my accomplishments today.

1. Create an “accomplishments” note in Evernote.

At the beginning of the year, I create a new “Accomplishments” note. This note goes into my Timeline notebook. Longtime readers know that I think of notes in Evernote as being on a timeline. Each note has a date and time. I used to track each achievement as a separate note, but over the years, I’ve found simpler to track them in a single note.

2. Use a numbered list with one item per achievement.

I use a numbered list within the note to document each achievement. I capture all types of accomplishments, some big, some small. What makes up an “accomplishment” varies from person-to-person. I’ve gotten a feel for it over time. I use the numbered list instead of bullets because I like seeing the numbers go up as I accomplish more stuff. When I hit 9, I always think, “Can I make it to 10?”

3. Date each item, and link it to a related note or website

I will append each accomplishment with a date, and sometimes, I’ll link the accomplishment to another note, or related web site. If I receive some kind of certification, I’ll scan the certificate into Evernote, and then link the accomplishment back to the note containing the certificate, thus connecting the accomplishment to the thing I accomplished in a direct way. Here is what my Accomplishments in 2016 note looks like right now. Keep in mind, it is still early in the year.

Accomplishments in 2016

The note text links to a blog post I wrote yesterday on my experience changing the flat tire.

4. Create a shortcut for the note

To make sure that I don’t have to go hunting for the note listing my accomplishments, I create a shortcut to the note so that it is easily accessible to me wherever I might be using Evernote. Here is what the shortcut looks like on my Mac client:

Accomplishments Shortcut

Here is what the shortcut looks like on my iPhone version of Evernote:

iPhone shortcuts for Evernote

5. Set a reminder to review my accomplishments at the end of the year

Toward the end of the year, I like taking some time to review what I accomplished. This helps me plan for what I’d like to do in the following year. To that end, I set a reminder on the Accomplishments note in Evernote in order to remind myself to review my accomplishments at the end of the year. I usually pick a date around mid-December—which happens to coincide with the start of our long annual vacation. In this way, I head on vacation with an idea of what I managed to accomplish that year, and I can spend some of my vacation thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the year to come.

Accomplishments reminder

Reviewing the previous year’s accomplishments, and create a new note to track my accomplishments for the coming year always feels good. It also helps to remind me that accomplishment can be big things (like selling a story, or winning an award), and small things, like successfully changing a tire. Having the note in my shortcut list helps keep it in front of me, and reminds to jot down those things worthy of capturing.

I could see taking this a step further. You could create a note listing your goals for the year, and then tracking your accomplishments toward reaching those goals, and linking the two, either within the same note, or using note links in Evernote. I prefer to keep things simple. Some of things I accomplish in a year (like changing a tire) are completely unexpected and not tied to a particular goal.


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

Last week’s post: 4 Tips for Getting Started in 2016

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Blog | PinterestReddit | MediumRSS

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