Evernote isn’t a revolution. Like most of the technology products we tend to use regularly in our daily lives, Evernote is an evolution, a collection of good ideas that rolls into a single program the functionality of a half-dozen apps you would otherwise use separately.
Evernote was designed for individuals, but businesses have been adopting it in increasing numbers, finding unique ways to put it to use. Evernote itself has taken notice of this, and later this year it will be launching Evernote for Business, which could elevate Evernote’s business utility even further.
Meanwhile, if you’re new to Evernote, or are just dipping your toes into it, here’s how to put the little app that could to its best use.
Get started with Evernote
Evernote is a hybrid system of offline and cloud-based features. You’ll need to create an account when you first download Evernote; you can then install the software just about anywhere. In fact, the more places you install it, the more useful it becomes. Evernote is available for the Mac and Windows and all mobile platforms, so no matter how multi-platform you are when you work, there’s nothing keeping you from running Evernote on every device.
Evernote’s core functionality is in storing your notes and keeping them organized and synchronized, in real time, among all your devices. It pays to understand a bit about Evernote’s terminology, which isn’t always intuitive, before you start filling the app up with content.
In Evernote terms, every page you create is its own Note. Notes are most useful when organized into various Notebooks, essentially a folder full of notes. Setting up notebooks tends to be easier on a computer than in a mobile app, so it’s a good idea to configure your notebooks ahead of time on a PC, even if you leave them empty to start. A group of notebooks is a Stack. Just drag one notebook to another to automatically create a stack. (Right-click to rename it.)
For example, if you used Evernote to keep an archive of payroll, each paycheck would be a note, each employee would be a notebook, and various classes of employees (full-time, part-time, contractor) might be a stack.
When you create a note, you can give it multiple Tags, by clicking the “Click to add tag” button in Windows or the Info button (an i in a circle) in the mobile app. Tags are especially useful when you’re embedding nontext content, since everything in Evernote is searchable. They’re most useful when you have common but more general terms that you might want to search across all of your notebooks: “2012 taxes,” “personal,” or “urgent,” for example. Adding content from within the mobile app may be less intuitive than it should be to new users. To create a note on the go, navigate to the notebook you want to work in, then click the oversized plus-sign (+) button at the bottom of the screen.
Speaking of adding content, one of Evernote’s major features is that you can add all types of content to the archive, not just text. The program supports PDFs, images, audio recordings, sketches (with the Skitch plug-in), webpages (with the Web Clipper browser plug-in), and more. Evernote has a rich plug-in ecosystem, which you can explore on the Evernote homepage if you want to delve even further into special types of content.
Finally, we come to Evernote's marquee feature: Sharing. Everything you create in Evernote is automatically shared with your various installations of the software unless you specify otherwise when creating a notebook. (Note that you can't change this behavior later.) By default Evernote synchronizes all installations of the software every 30 minutes; or, you can press F9 to initiate a manual sync.
You can also share content with other Evernote users. The easiest way to do this is to right-click a notebook and select Share Notebook. You’ll be prompted to enter email addresses or to create a public link to the notebook that is accessible via the Web. After accepting the invitation, the recipient will find the shared notebook under the Shared tab on the left-hand navigation pane in Evernote. Note: To share notebooks with full read/write access, the owner of the notebook must be a Premium user ($5 a month), which comes with additional features like extra content and the ability to make text within PDFs searchable. Otherwise, notebooks are shared as read-only.
Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics, it’s time to put your new Evernote skills to better use. Here are some ways that small business owners are elevating Evernote beyond the obvious.
Upgrade your note-taking
At its core Evernote is a juiced-up note-taking system, but you can get more out of it if you make use of the software’s multimedia capabilities. Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR, says, “I record the audio of client meetings while jotting down notes in real time. We manage a lot of different clients, and sometimes taking notes in shorthand isn't enough. Being able to replay the audio back once I've left helps me re-immerse in my thought process and generate new ideas to help our clients.”