Saturday, August 02, 2014

Evernote: Improving the Efficiency of Notes

Evernote is by far one of the greatest tools available for personal information management. The strengths of Evernote can also result in some drawbacks when it comes to recalling information. There are some remedies that one must use to prevent information getting lost. It is once you get past a few thousand notes that it becomes evident that you need to refine your note taking and indexing.

Let us start off by defining note taking. In the context of Evernote, note taking refers to typing a note, taking a photograph, recording video, recording audio, uploading a file, or using the handwriting feature. Evernote's versatility in receiving notes is what makes the application such a great personal asset. However, there are some trouble spots that could arise in recalling notes if you do not invest time in organizing each note.

The result is that each search pulls up too many results, the wrong results, or none of the results you need. It is necessary to have ways to refine results before submitting your query.

The problems that present themselves in note taking are lack of context, lack of indexing, lack of transcription, and expiration. These can make it difficult to find information, or make information "lost" among the archives.


Lack of context can make notes difficult to interpret, and thus know if they have any relevance to anything. Besides what is written in a note, it is important to know other information about the note. Fortunately, Evernote adds some contexts such as time and date. These are automatically recorded with each note; however, these contexts can be trashed when you combine notes, which Evernote accomplishes by making a new note and deleting the originals. Thus, you could lose the original dates, which are useful when you need to search by time. Time context can be maintained by adding in your own time and date within your notes, especially when you are merging notes.

Another context that is useful is location. When enabled, Evernote will record the coordinates of your note using GPS. This information is especially useful when used in conjunction with other contexts, such as time. If you want notes from last year when you were in Chicago, it is a simple matter to search for notes that have Chicago coordinates and then cross reference by the dates in question.

The location context breaks down if you turn off the GPS feature on your mobile device or within Evernote. In addition, the desktop version of Evernote does not record location at all. Furthermore, the coordinates are occasionally way off from where you actually took a note. This can be remedied by manually adding or correcting location information in the notes. The mobile and desktop applications allow you to modify location information. This is especially useful if, for example, your note is written in one location but has relevance elsewhere.

For example, you could add the location of your favorite grocery store to your shopping list. Or, if you are taking notes for Mom, you would locate the notes at Mom's address. Travel notes would be ideally have the coordinates of the place you are visiting so that you can easily call them up while you are there.


Indexing your notes is very important. You can typically do this by using the Tag feature in Evernote. But, you can also help find things later on by adding keywords to the note. Using synonyms in your notes also helps when you are trying to find a note and can only remember the concept if not the exact words contained.

Indexing is more important when you are recording video and audio. Evernote does a great job of scanning photos and documents for words, and making them searchable. However, audio and video do not have any indexing. Therefore, if you want to find a voice note in the future, it is vital that you spend some time reviewing old audio and video notes so that you can tag the notes or add key word summaries in text.


Transcription is related to the previous item in that you want to turn rich media captures into plain text. However, in this case, I refer to transcription as taking your photo of notes and then typing them up word for word. This does help in indexing, of course; but, more importantly, it simplifies your content and reduces the size of your database.

Transcribing to reduce your Evernote database size is important to keep your application running quickly. While desktop computers are faster and have increasingly larger amounts of storage, mobile devices are not keeping pace. Evernote for mobile tries to compensate by not storing your entire database on your mobile device, making it necessary to use your data plan to pull up notes related to your searches. So, if your notes are full of 8 megapixel photos, it will slow down your access and eat up your data plan.

Transcription aims at keeping your Evernote database lean and fast by reducing your notes to plain text whenever possible.


Some information is useful for a limited time. Once you are past that time, it makes no sense to store the records. One example is contact information. I have found that contact information is of little use in Evernote. Contact information is much more useful in the context of an address book. However, you may not want to spend too much time writing down contact information when you first receive it. You can take a picture of the business card, transcribe it to your address book later, and then delete the note with the card photo from Evernote.

The same goes for other temporary information such as lottery ticket numbers, raffle tickets, invitations, or articles you wanted to read but not keep. It is a good practice to give a moment's thought to whether the note you just viewed still has any relevance for you.

There is also temporary information that you can leave for the Internet collective to store. Anything you can Google and find consistently can be safely deleted.

Last Thoughts

All of these considerations, context, indexing, transcription, and expiration are aimed at not allowing your Evernote database to grow to the point where it takes longer and longer to find information. If you are having to get very clever in your search queries to find the information you want, then you have lost efficiency. You want data that is readily found rather than lost in a format. You want to find data quickly and at the cost of few storage and bandwidth resources.

I had stopped using Evernote so much because my database had become cumbersome to use under the mantra "Remember Everything". I came to realize that not everything is worth remembering. Furthermore, there is information that is not forgotten because the world wide web remembers it. Evernote should not be my personal copy of Wikipedia. Rather, it should contain personal, unique, and actionable information.

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