Organize your life with Evernote

As an ITS Tactical follower and a Crew Leader for few years now, I’ve read and listen to Bryan discussing about OmniFocus to manage his life. Omnifocus is based on the Getting Things Done or GTD concept. It is a powerful software that may not suit everyone.
I do not need a powerful solution like OmniFocus is, I am not a Mac user, will never be and I need to mix computer, mobile and offline usage. I tried various services like Todoist, Trello and Wunderlist. All  these services are good at what they do depending on what features you need. I was looking for a single solution to manage simple to-do lists, reminders, simple notes and more elaborated notes. Having to move between various services was something I found inefficient  especially on mobile devices. It also become a pain when you need to share with others as they also need to be using multiple platforms to work with you or when you are somewhere the network can’t be reached. In the end, Evernote became the perfect solution.

Evernote not just for notes?

Evernote is at first a note taking software that contains much features that a text processing software includes plus  cloud service that allows synchronization between multiple devices in few seconds. Organizing notes using the hierarchical notebooks and tags is done in a breeze. The Evernote web clipper that integrate in a web browser allows you to clip entire web page or part of it to store it into one of your notebook for easy reference later is also an interesting feature. The reminders and the checkboxes features is where Evernote started to gain my attention for productivity needs.
An ITS Tactical article clipped using the Evernote Web Clipper.
An ITS Tactical article clipped using the Evernote Web Clipper.

The basics

To start, I created a “productivity” notebook stack that I will use for my personal life.

Evernote's notebook stack
Evernote’s notebook stack

This stack will contains certain notebooks that are used to sort certain productivity notes into categories. Right now I use 3 different notebooks: Expiration Reminders, Financial Notes AND Tasks. For those notebooks, I keep the note list view sorted by title so using special characters at the beginning of the note title, I can keep some notes at the top of the list to retrieve them faster or select which note is displayed by default when opening a notebook.

For work and projects specific tasks, I keep them into their own project notebook so there is no clutter on the personal side. Also, if the notebook is shared, everyone have access to this piece of information. If some tasks are high priority, I will duplicate it into my personal tasks list and insert an internal links to ensure that I will make the follow up in the original note by just clicking an internal Evernote link.

Simple to do list

For simple tasks that do not requires any notes, I keep a simple to do list at the top of the tasks notebook using a special characters in front of the note title. Doing this ensure that every time I select the tasks notebook, the to do list is displayed by default. For tasks that requires multiple steps, it is easy to use the indentation tool to set sub-tasks in hierarchical order.
Displaying my simple to do list.
Displaying a simple to do list.

More elaborated tasks

I use Evernote to redact various texts, like this one, so I can work on the go or on my computer but it is probably for the financial side that I use the most the power of Evernote. Tables, colors, file attachment and indentation are widely used to organize those data. One important feature for me that is actually missing in Evernote is table calculation formula like in spreadsheets software, that could allow users to make quick scenario calculation on the go.
Even if Evernote does have a text encryption feature, I do not consider Evernote to be a secure storage solution for private data. I store some data for quick references only. All important documents that I  wish to keep handy and secure are stored using TresorIT secure cloud. Back ups or data that I transport are stored on encrypted media. More on this in another article.
Below is an example of a note where I keep track of some taxes deducted from my salary along with a screenshot from an income tax return estimator. The table organize the three main deductions for both employers I worked for this year excluding regular income taxes that are kept into another table. The last two columns are now green because a refund will be issued at the end of the year. In the past, yellow was used because the maximum deduction was not passed yet, but I estimated that it would be done by the end of the year. I would have put them red if I was evaluating that it would not pass the maximum deductions.
Tables made in Evernote.
Tables made in Evernote. Data are blured for privacy.


One major features I needed was a way to reminds me for expiration of various documents, maintenance of equipment like SCUBA diving gear or first aid kit renewal. With the integrated reminder feature of Evernote, you will get an e-mail and an on-screen alert on you PC when the time comes. I set my reminder well in advance of the real expiration date to ensure I get enough time to fix the paperwork or whatever steps are needed to complete the action. Reminders can be set from a mobile device, but you will receive notification through e-mail or on you PC. Sometimes details, to do or documents to be filled are added to the note.
Example of an Evernote reminder set to renew a membership.
Example of an Evernote reminder set to renew a membership.

Annotations & Ink Notes

As  you can see in the above example, Evernote for desktop include a powerful image annotation feature, that is not available on mobile, at least for now. The annotation feature allow users to add arrows, texts, stamps, shapes and drawings over an image, be it: Screenshots, maps, documents, pictures. You can even pixelate areas to keep some informations confidential.
Ink notes for their parts allows users on both computer and mobile to write and sketch notes using a stylus or fingers. It becomes a good feature on a tablet during a meeting for the fastest digital note taking ever.

All that for free?

Evernote offers all those features for FREE. But, yes there is a but, it limits your usage to only two devices. You are also limited to 60mb of monthly upload and a maximum of 25mb per note.
Below is a comparative of the different plans offered by Evernote. There is also a business plan not included.
Evernote plans offered for personal users. Business plan is available.
Evernote plans offered for personal users. Business plan is available.
I am currently on a basic plan and I consider investing in a plus plan in the near future to allows more devices to sync with my account. I must tell you that even if I use Evernote everyday, I only once passed the 60mb upload monthly and I never passed the maximum 25mb per note (I never used or tested vocal notes).

When Evernote is not an option right now

Sometimes it is easier and faster to drop notes on paper and then take a bit more time later to input them into Evernote, consider here to digitally re-sketch or make a scan of your notes. I carry Field Notes as EDC for a while now so I stick to it, but depending on your lifestyle, your job or wherever you have to take notes, select something that fits your need. At work, I use Rite In The Rain due to high humidity, water, mud and dust that can be found in underground mining.

References & other data

Evernote is also one of the best way to store data for future references or reading. Splitting a collection of data into several notebooks, makes it easy to find data for quick references. Because your notes can be synced between multiple devices, you can keep an enormous amount of information with you everywhere you go.

In the example below, you will find an article clipped explaining how to execute multiplications with lines and dots. As a welder, I also keep various references related to metal working in a dedicated stack. I also keep sport related references like dive tables, dive sites intel, shooting references…

This is an example of an article I keep as a reference in the “math” notebook.

The final word

Evernote by design is one of the best note taking software available but it can also be a great productivity tool with a minimal user methodology. I hope you enjoyed! If you have some tips or tricks about Evernote not discussed in this article, comment below!

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