Evernote: Organize notes, emails, photos, and more all in one place.

This is a guest post by Sarah Kendrew (blog, Twitter) a postdoc in infrared astronomy at Leiden Observatory working on instrumentation for the European Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.

Evernote Logo

The tag line of note-taking application Evernote reads “Remember Everything”. The great thing is, with Evernote, you don’t need to remember. If you make it work for you, it’s like carrying your brain around on your laptop or phone.

I started using Evernote about a year ago and it’s quickly become one of the most-used applications on my laptop. I should mention that nothing it does is particularly astronomy-related—but as a general productivity app it does an excellent job for me. So how does it work? The concept of Evernote is simple: it’s software you use to create notes—about anything and everything you like. A note can be typed text, free-drawn (an “ink note”), a picture, a website, an email, a voice note, a tweet or any combination of the above. You can access and create notes on three different fronts: the web, your desktop (Windows and Mac, no Linux app yet), and your mobile device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.). I love it because it simply works, it’s versatile and easy to use, and looks good. Read on to learn more about Evernote.

I’m an instrumentalist working on large international projects, and that means I spend many of my days in meetings (or travelling to them) and telecons, all of which require some note-taking. I used to do this on paper but I don’t like cluttering my research notebooks with random meeting notes—and having separate notebooks for meetings is too much stuff to carry around. I’ve set up notebooks in Evernote for each of my projects, and I create notes whenever I need to write something down in a meeting. Notes can be tagged, geotagged and are date-stamped, which makes them easy to retrieve at a later date. If I need to share my notes with the rest of the team, I can simply email the note directly to my collaborators.

Evernote for me is also an extension for my to-do list programme. While it doesn’t offer that much organising fuctionality, I use it to provide extra detail to my to-do tasks which I organise using web application Remember The Milk (RTM). RTM is a very nifty and flexible little app but it doesn’t support long nested multi-stage tasks. So in RTM I might simply list “update model by Jan 15”, and add a link to an Evernote, where I make a checklist of more detailed steps (tag: todo, sensitivity) or provide more information.

Evernote Iphone
My favourite feature in the iPhone app is that a number of notes can be marked as Favourites, which stores them locally on your iPhone for offline access—fantastically useful when I’m travelling. Did you see a cool conference poster that you want to follow up? Snap a picture and dump it into a photo note. The iPhone app used to be a little buggy but recent updates have improved things a lot (and it’s free!). Using the web clipper, you can clip entire webpages or screenshots into a note, with a link back to the original site. This is great for, say, saving papers on astro-ph that you don’t have time to read at that moment (tag: astroph, todo), or for jobs you want to apply for (tag: jobs, harvard). Or record Christmas present ideas (tag: presents, christmas, mum).

The things I’ve mentioned here are just the very basic functions of Evernote, which has become very powerful with its latest updates. You can now attach files to notes and share notebooks with others. Signing up for a premium account increases your upload allowance from 40 to 500 MB per month, and gives added functionality such as searching pdf files and shared editing of notes. There’s also an API and there are tons of ways in which you could integrate Evernote into your daily tasks (e.g. output from models or other applications could be put straight into a note).

I wrote this post in Evernote. Obviously. I also created a shared public notebook containing this blog post and a number of screenshots illustrating its many uses, go check it out.

Have you found more productive ways to use Evernote, developed cool scripts, or have novel ideas of putting this great application to use? Leave us a comment.

Evernote, free

9 comments… add one
  • Alan Watson Jan 25, 2010 @ 23:01

    I’m an instrumentalist working on small international projects :-), and I use EagleFiler to keep my notes, letters, proposal, PDF files, photos, diagrams, software (in disk images), and what-have-you organized within each project. However, my point is not to recommend EagleFiler over Evernote. Rather it is to say that if you are still trying to organize information on projects within the hierarchical file system of your Mac, both EagleFiler and Evernote are probably better alternatives.

  • Angelle Jan 25, 2010 @ 23:05

    One issue I didn’t like with Evernote was that it needed the internet to sync up the Iphone with the program on the laptop. This was an issue while on travel. Is there way to get around that? Also, it was really clunky handling .pdf files.

  • Sarah Jan 26, 2010 @ 4:12

    Angelle – that’s an interesting point actually. Syncing over bluetooth could be a nice feature but I suspect it all has to go via the web server. I might see if anything is in the works…

  • Sarah Jan 26, 2010 @ 7:20

    Also – I just noticed that a major new release of Evernote for Windows came out just a few days ago with lots of new features, after I’d written the post. So if you’re a Windows user (I know, I know, it’s not likely), take a look. More details are here

  • Healy Jones Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:12

    Evernote is a great tool, and in particular the ability to search everything makes organizing a ton of info really simple. My company (Pixily.com) liked Evernote so much we integrated; through us you can get your paper documents scanned into text searchable PDFs and access them through Evernote. We’ve got a free trial, and please contact me if you have any questions.

    Per Angelle’s question, I’m pretty sure Evernote now has a feature where you can store your info locally on your computer, so it doesn’t need to be in constant contact with the internet for you to find your files. I don’t think they have this yet for the iphone application yet, though.

    Head of Marketing, Pixily

  • Sylvana Jan 26, 2010 @ 15:17

    I’ve found that Evernote has been really useful as an electronic research notebook. But there are just a few things the application doesn’t have that I really think it should have. For example, If you insert a figure, you can’t resize it. I also don’t think the table functionality is very practical; you can’t copy and paste items into many cells at once. And once you’ve created a table and added data to it, you can’t change the dimensions of the table. Aside from these issues that hopefully one day will be resolved, I think Evernote has been great! It’s so nice not to have to flip through pages of a research notebook looking for a certain note…now I can just search electronically!

  • Eric Jensen Jan 26, 2010 @ 22:44

    I use Evernote, too, both to keep track of research-related things, but also just the general miscellanea of life. It’s really nice to have it all there, and searchable.

    I’ll mention two features I find useful that others haven’t mentioned. First, any images in a note are run through text recognition on Evernote’s servers, and thus become searchable. I used that quite a bit this summer – after a research group meeting (at which I was often writing on the board, and therefore not taking notes myself), I would use my iPhone to take snapshot notes of the writing on the blackboard and put those into Evernote. Surprisingly, the text recognition was pretty good even for hand-written notes on a blackboard, so that helped me find things later, e.g. who had agreed to which tasks on our collective to-do list on the blackboard.

    Second, you can put a note directly into Evernote by sending it to a custom e-mail address associated with your Evernote account. So if a useful bit of information arrives by e-mail and you want it to go into your note system, you can just forward that e-mail to your Evernote address and it shows up as a note.

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