The overwhelming “everything”

A different kind of guide to diving in and getting the most out of Evernote.

Like the elephant that is its mascot, Evernote is supposed to help us remember “everything”.

It’s the way it has been described for years by my friends and colleagues. It was how I explained it to other people who didn’t understand how to use the system. Heck, the words “Remember everything” were the first things you saw when you launched their website (until recently).

“Remember Everything”? You can certainly try….

I believe, though, that this concept of “everything” which drew most of us into using the system is exactly the reason why many users find themselves frustrated after trying to get started. I used Evernote for 3 years, off and on, always trying to figure out the best way to use it for “everything”, and never quite succeeding (and always ending up leaving it for something not so intuitive or powerful).

Folks like Matthew Gallizzi, who runs an excellent podcast called Startup Riff, was recently converted to start using Evernote and was impressed by its features, but then said this to me on Twitter:

Matthew is not alone. Many people start using Evernote only to be overwhelmed by how much they hear or imagine it can do. It’s so easy to do, and mostly because everyone (including the company that builds the product) says that Evernote is for “everything”. That’s a lot of things!

Plus, when we start trying to save everything to Evernote, it ends up getting incredibly cluttered and disorganized for too long, and no one wants to deal with that.

But there is a solution!

Solving the Evernote Dilemma

The key to using Evernote successfully, is to not use it for very many things at all. At least, not at first. You can always add more in later, and it’s 100% true that it becomes more and more useful as you put more content into it, but like everything else that you have ever learned to do in your life, start with one thing at a time.

Any time we are looking to change either our worldview, lifestyle, or personal characteristic, we know that what we are really looking to do is create new habits. We create routines and make small changes in order to create better, more effective and efficient habits, thus making us more effective and efficient people. But we don’t try to change all of our habits at once, because then we’ll either fail or be discouraged by the slow pace of change, and very likely end up quitting before the habit takes hold.

This exact same things happens with Evernote. Learning how to use it is less about figuring out all of the features, and more about making small changes to your daily routine in order to make Evernote work for you more effectively and efficiently. One day at a time.

Side Note: If you are ever using any kind of online tool, and you’re constantly switching back and forth or looking for an alternative, never satisfied with the one you end up with, then that means that YOU, not the software, have a problem with making those tools a part of your routine. You understand that they’d be useful, but you aren’t taking the time to practice them and make them a habit. Before you can become a pro at anything, be that a hobby, industry, productivity tool, or skill, you must always become a creature with those habits.
You remember the 10,000 hours rule? That applies with Evernote, too… albeit to a lesser degree.

How do we do that?

Let’s start off simple. Below is my list of key concepts and habits that you should go over while starting off with Evernote. I know, these things are incredibly easy to understand once you know them. I’m not asking you to know them, I’m asking you to live them.

When you make these activities a part of your daily habits and routines, then you will truly have a tool that will empower you throughout your day. If you just skim through and learn these concepts without making them a part of your routine by practicing and tweaking, then you’ll just end up overwhelmed and looking for a different service to use all over again.

So let’s look at some good ways to start using Evernote. You choose the ones you want to try first, and then do it. Try for as long as you can before you a.) Give up. or b.) Move on to the next one.

I bet by the end you’ll be thrilled with the results.

It is incredibly important that you understand this: If you don’t take the time to learn how to make Evernote a part of your daily routine, it will never become more than another odd tool left alone to collect dust in the app launcher on your phone or computer.
I encourage you to pick one of these tasks to start with, and take 15 minutes every day (or even every other day) to really make it a part of what you do. No one learned how to ride a bike without practice, and you won’t learn how to run with Evernote without that same diligent practice.
If you think this sounds too hard, then move on and try to find something else. You won’t, because here’s the thing: Everything that makes us who we are took hundreds or thousands of hours of “practice” whether we realized we were doing it or not. The question is, will you use that practice time to make yourself better, keep skipping from one app to another, or to be overwhelmed by how big “everything” is?

Now for the list:

Let’s begin. Remember: One thing at a time.

1. Use it as an Offline Reader with Evernote Web Clipper

Forget Pocket, Read It Later, Readability, Instapaper or the thousand other tools out there that let you save articles for reading but nothing else. If you’re already using Evernote for daily note taking and recording of events/ideas, bring your offline articles that you love reading to Evernote using the Web Clipper.

To start, don’t worry about the fact that you can notate documents, take screenshots or sync bookmarks between all of your devices using Web Clipper (you totally could and that will one day make you one of the cool kids if you do). For now, use it as a replacement for your current offline article reader. Go to a blog that you love, click the Evernote Web Clipper in your browser, and get a beautiful simplified article to read whenever you want. It’s crazy simple, and already you’ve replaced one tool that you use that isn’t Evernote.

If you create an Evernote Notebook with the name “_Inbox”, then all of your clipped notes can, by default, go there for quick browsing at the end of your day. The underscore at the beginning of the name makes sure that the Notebook stays at the top of your list above all of your other better-organized notebooks.

Bonus: When you’re researching a specific topic that you know you’ve read a lot of articles about, all you have to do is search in Evernote with a keyword, and all of those old articles you had clipped in the past will show up with full-text included.

2. Use it as a research & drafting tool for your next blog post

I use Evernote constantly when I’m working on new articles that I want to write (just like this one you’re reading now!). It is one of the simplest ways to use Evernote, and is instantly useful. If you’re really trying to make a living, or at least build a solid reputation as a blogger, then you MUST be doing good research, writing drafts, and planning to back up what you’re trying to say (trust me, it goes a long way to do a bit of research).

Evernote makes it dead simple to do all of that while keeping your notes synced up so that when you’re, say, on the bus heading home from work, you can add another paragraph to your draft or review your research notes to find a new angle to approach the topic from.

Here’s an example of an article I’m writing about Alice Foote MacDougall (The Mother of Coffee). Notice that in this Note I’ve added a summary, quotes, sources and links, plus a few attached photos. Try doing that same thing with the next blog post you write.

Don’t forget to use the Web Clipper as well for when you find all of those great sources around the web!

Bonus: If you’re working with a number of other bloggers on one particular website, you will always have access to all of the articles and drafts ever written by your team. This adds a lot of great content and depth to your articles and will really be noticed by your readers.

3. Start a Blog

Yes, that’s right. You can now start and manage a blog with Evernote. Thanks to the company’s developer community, a lot of amazing tools have been created by third parties for integrating with Evernote and increasing its effectiveness as an “everything” tool. is the first Evernote-powered blogging platform, living completely inside of Evernote’s system. It takes away all of the hassle of setting up a new Wordpress or Blogger website (and the fear that you’ll one day lose all of your content), plus it’s entirely free to use and as simple as, well, using Evernote.

To be honest, switching to from Wordpress is what sent me over the edge with Evernote. Now that I’m in Evernote on a regular basis, doing research (above), clipping articles (also above) and now publishing blog posts, there’s just no getting me out of it.

Bonus: Since you’re doing your research and writing drafts in Evernote already, publishing to your blog is as simple as dragging your note from one notebook to another and adding the “published” tag. That’s incredibly easy and can’t be beat.

But wait, there’s more!

4. Keep track of your daily tasks with Reminders

This is another one of those tools that I could switch out for a more popular alternative like Remember the Milk or But if we’re trying to create a habit of using Evernote more often in our daily routine, then the Reminders feature is incredibly important to start using, because it will bring you back to it regularly.

Every night, before I clock out from my work and head home, I take a look at all of the tasks that I still need to complete that week and quickly prioritize everything on the list. Then I go to Evernote and create a new Note for each of the major tasks I want to complete the next day, with all of my research notes, attached files, links to other resources, and of course the task details.

Then I add an Evernote Reminder and set it for the morning.

The next day I go into my work day and get an alert with the full list of everything I want to accomplish that day. I never forget something important I wanted to work on, and I always have my full list of resources at my fingertips and ready for browsing. See for yourself:

5. Save your Receipts (and get ready to go paperless)

With Evernote’s Camera and PDF upload abilities, you can save all of you receipts instantly and throw away the paper to never think about or handle again (until you need to make a return or file taxes).

Scan an item into Evernote with a scanner/printer, take a photo with your phone, download the PDF invoice from an email. Then drag and drop the file into an Evernote notebook. Now you can use Evernote to search within PDFs and Images for text (so you can do a search for “Best Buy” and it will pull up all of your Best Buy receipts based on the text in the image).

If you have to return an item, walk into the store with your phone and pull up the receipt in your offline notebook in Evernote. It’s dead simple. All that it takes is you getting in the habit of snapping photos every time you make a purchase.

Bonus: If you’re interested in more tips on how to go paperless with Evernote, check out this public Notebook on the topic (cause that’s another thing you can do, share notebooks full of great content, like maybe a rough draft of a novel you’re writing).

There’s still so much more

Obviously, “everything” isn’t limited to my list of 5. With a powerful tool like Evernote, there is so much that is possible, and any list that you come across will only be partially complete.

The key is not to read about what everyone else is doing with Evernote, it’s about finding the best ways to make it work for you. But we all have to start somewhere. I hope that these first five simple tips will help you along the way.

As always, feel free to tell me your thoughts on Twitter or Google+. You can also read my Evernote-powered blog at I’m always up for a conversation about, well, everything.

If you still need to sign up for Evernote, you can do so here.