You've probably heard of Evernote. Some call it a note-taking service, or an organisation tool, or an archiving platform, but none of those terms are enough to convey just how much you can do with it. Evernote is, quite simply, an online repository to store anything and everything you might find of interest later. The more you add, the more useful it becomes.
You can add to or access info on Evernote from the web, full desktop programs for Windows and Macintosh, or via mobile devices with the iPhone, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone. And Evernote is now synchronising data across all its apps faster than ever following a huge server upgrade.
There's also an Evernote app for the Pebble Smartwatch, extensions for web browsers, a handwriting and drawing app, and other specialty programs like Evernote Food (for tracking what you eat) and Skitch (for annotating images). And that's just the obvious stuff. That doesn't even take into account the ever-growing ecosystem of third-party software, apps, and services that make it a breeze to add items to your Evernote repository.
All those extra tools are great, but they don't spell out exactly how to use Evernote. There are no lack of methods and best practices for getting the most out of the service. From what you can store (recipes, addresses, business cards, travel info, product serial numbers, project notes, images, receipts, thesis papers, entire articles – namely, everything!) to how you store things, to what you can do with the data afterwards (did you know all the words in pictures stored on Evernote get turned into searchable text?), there's plenty to try, whether you're a new or long-time user. The competition from Microsoft, and the now totally free OneNote, might be worth considering as it's better for taking typed notes – but as an info repository, Evernote can't be beaten.
So here's our take on the top tips you need to get the most out of Evernote. If you do it right, it'll be the database of your entire existence – and it will make your day-to-day life that much simpler.
Clip the web
The most important part of your Evernote arsenal is the Evernote Web Clipper. It's a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and becomes part of IE when you install Evernote for Windows. With it, you can capture everything you see online, from an entire page to just one little section or picture.
A menu will fly out from the right and provide several options, from changing the notebook (all notes go in a notebook on Evernote) to inserting arrows, highlights or annotations. All it takes is a click on the Evernote icon (the red arrow points to it in the image above).
Email to Evernote
You probably get a lot of email. It's still the killer app for sharing information. When you get something worth storing – jokes, documents, code snippets, medical records, travel reservations, pictures from home, and so on – Evernote provides you with a private email address to allow you to store something with a simple forward of the message. To find your special address, check Account Info in the apps. Give that address out to other people and they can send things to your Evernote account as well. The subject line will become the name of the note. You can make sure it's filed right by adding @notebook, !date for a reminder, and/or #tag. Here's an example:
Lowes Hose Purchase @Receipt !2014/05/05 #household
You can also add emails to existing notes by using a + at the end of the subject line, adding it to a note with the same title as your subject line.
Merge several notes into one
Sometimes you have multiple notes that just go better together. It's easy to merge them in the desktop versions of Evernote (Windows, Mac, and web). Select multiple notes (hold down the Shift key and click) and you'll see a graphical version of them in a pile. The options will be to email them, save the attachments in them, move them, or, of course, merge them. They'll all get one title, based on the first note you picked. (Note that if you have notes installed using Evernote extra apps like Food or Skitch, you can't access them in those apps after a merge).
Create stacks and stacks of notebooks
Evernote storage is a metaphor, with notes inside notebooks. Well, notebooks can also be grouped together, inside "stacks." For example, you could make a stack called Travel and then put multiple notebooks for different trips inside. You can share notebooks, but can't share stacks. On the Mac version you can drag and drop notebooks together to make a stack; in Evernote for Windows or the web version, right click a notebook and select to add it to an existing stack or create a new one.
See things clearly
Evernote (the company) has lots of cool software, but among the best is Clearly. First and foremost, it takes articles you find online and with a click, it makes them readable – no more extra formatting or ads or nonsense. Then, when you've got just the text and images you desire, you can read it – or save it as is to Evernote. In that way, it takes on the read-it-later services like Pocket, Readability, and Instapaper. Evernote Premium users can utilise the text-to-speech option, so Clearly will read the article aloud in any of 21 languages. It's a good way to listen to your own writing and see what's wrong with it.
Any note filed in Evernote can have a reminder. Click the alarm clock icon over the note in the web or desktop interface, and you'll get a drop-down calendar, with options to set a reminder tomorrow, in a week, or any time you'd like to go back and reference it.
Make a task list
There are lots of online and mobile to-do list apps that kick Evernote's butt, it's true. But if you're throwing your lot in with Evernote completely, it can't hurt to know how to make a task list. Create a new note and look on the text toolbar above it (or below on the mobile apps) for the Check Box tool. Insert one and you'll be on your way to creating a task list.
Secure your research
This isn't so much about better use of Evernote as it is just a good idea: Turn on the Two-Step Verification feature. You'll find it in the Account Settings. Enable it and a warning pops up – just continue, it's worth it for the peace of mind that comes from the extra step. When enabled, you'll require either a phone capable of receiving texts, or a smartphone running an authenticator app like Authy or Google Authenticator. Either method can provide the code you must enter in addition to your password. For more on this kind of security, read our guide on two-factor authentication, and which websites offer it.
Track expenses via your smartphone
We live in a credit card world – and that means getting receipts. Lots and lots of them, for every purchase. Some folks like to keep them – it's handy to double check receipts against your bank statement or online account activity to prevent fraud. But that means a wallet or purse filled with stray papers. Instead, take a quick snapshot of your receipts with Evernote on your smartphone. Slap them all into a notebook called "Receipts," take the extra time to tag them by retailer if you like, and then you've got a storehouse of your purchasing history. What's more, you can search them because Evernote turns words inside pictures into searchable text. Note, this also works great for take-out menus, store hours listings, posters, magazine articles you can't finish reading at the doctor's office, you name it. Apps like CamScanner (which is free) make the process of importing images even easier.
Ifttt: Save notes from everywhere
Evernote has become such a big part of people's online storage needs that it's integrated with just about every service out there. If you don't believe that, visit the Evernote App Centre for a listing of featured web apps, iOS apps, and Android apps that can send info to Evernote.
No app is more powerful in this regard than If This, Then That (Ifttt). Because it ties in with so many other services, you can use it to create recipe after recipe. Some of the most popular things you can send to Evernote instantly include starred Gmail messages, favourite items in Pocket or on Twitter, Instagram photos, Feedly articles, reminders made with Siri, any RSS feed, and Foursquare check-ins. You can even create a diary of Facebook messages. The list is practically infinite, limited only by your creative coupling of services and their triggers. Dump everything in Evernote and search/sort it later.
Integrate with webmail
Powerbot is a $1.99 (£1.20) per month service coupled with a browser extension (for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) that turns your web-based email account on Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or even Google Calendar, into an Evernote-feeding powerhouse. Rather than just forwarding a message, you can click a button in your mail to send a message, an attachment, or even an entire thread of emails to Evernote (or to Dropbox or OneNote). Better yet, Powerbot can also access Evernote so you can attach an existing note to an outgoing message.
Blog by notebook
Here's one you probably didn't consider: You can publicly share an Evernote notebook as a blog. To do so, you sign up (via your Evernote credentials) at Postach.io. It's a breeze to create, and Postach.io supports RSS feeds, tags for Facebook and Twitter simultaneous posts, domain names (you have to buy one elsewhere), Disqus comments, Google Analytics, and more. Postach.io can't delete notes or notebooks, though, or get to your account info. You designate exactly what notebook it should pull from, and any note inside – from images to text through audio to documents – will become visible on the blog once it's tagged as "published."
Encrypt sensitive desktop note text
On the desktop versions of Evernote, it's entirely possible to set up encryption for individual notes, or indeed individual text in a note. This is good for keeping out prying eyes, but not fool-proof, nor really all that strong. Note that it only works on text, not images, and it only works from the desktop version of Evernote, not on the web or mobile apps – meaning if you encrypt it on the desktop, it is NOT encrypted when you view the same note elsewhere. You have been warned!
Map the mind of Evernote
If you're the kind of visual thinker who likes to see representations of files flying about in pseudo-3D – a mind map, in other words – well, Evernote's probably not for you. Luckily, there are options. Mohiomap can link to Evernote and Dropbox to give you a way to node-navigate that you wouldn't normally have – and it is a great way to find long-lost notes that could inspire you. You can even drag and drop tags, creating linkage you may not have seen before in the data.