It's All Been Tagged

This is my third and, for now, final post about how I use Evernote. The power of the Internet is new ideas can cross the globe in seconds. Since my last post I've been reading a lot of posts on the Evernote forums and bought a great book on the topic. Both these things have changed my thoughts a little on Evernote. Off to the races.

I borrowed heavily from Bobby Travis' blog post about using tags over notebooks. I am sticking to that. However after reading some forums posts and reading Daniel Gold's book about Evernote, I have decided multiple notebooks isn't the end of the world. In fact they can be useful.

1. Shared notebooks allow other Evernote users and even non-users with a web browser to view my shared content.
2. Offline notebooks allow a subset of my data to be available when I have no Internet connection.
3. Temporary notebooks can be a handy place to work until I have processed the information.
Those three examples are special cases and I will use all three from time to time. But I continue to stand by the idea less is more when it comes to notebooks.

I have only 8 high-level tags. I use numerals and asterisks to sort them in the order I want.

* 0-Broader Focus
* 0-Inbox
* 0-Random Thoughts
* 1-Next Action
* 1-Tickler File
* 2-Lists
* 2-Someday/Maybe
* 3-Reference & Support Materials
Here's a peek in how I use these.

0-Broader Focus

This is the 50,000 foot view of my life. I long considered this exercise to be rather silly. My goals were simple: earn more money and get kids out of house before I die. But now that I'm on the older side of 40 I've decided my life needs a little more meaning. Under this heading I have four subheadings:

* Goals
* Objectives
* Values
* Visions
I view goals as long projects that will benefit me in the future. Finishing this blog post is not a goal. Earning my CCNA certification is.

Objectives help me form my goals. Right now an objective is to be a very well-rounded test engineer. A goal born out of that is earning my CCNA.

Values is a list of things that are important to me. They may or may not support my goals. For instance I have placed rules on myself about Internet activity at work. No one has ever spoken to me about this. But I do see people spending more time than I think it appropriate surfing the net at work. So one set of values is what is acceptable and what can wait until I'm home on my own time. I will never claim I'm better than someone, but I see that activity as unprofessional and don't want others to think of me what I think of them.

Visions are where I see myself in 3 to 5 years. I travel periodically to Penang, Malaysia on business. I would like to have a long-term or even an expat assignment there. That's not actionable on my part. There's nothing I can go do to make that happen. However I can position myself so if such an opportunity opened, I'd be the natural candidate. I define that under visions. It also reminds me why I'm doing what I'm doing.


All new material gets this tag and ends up in here. I then later process it out. I strive to do a daily review at least twice a day. I subscribe to the "Inbox Zero" concern and try to keep this empty.

0-Random Thoughts

Every now and then I'll see a great quotation or neat idea. I want to keep it in front me, but I really don't have a purpose for it yet. This falls under "Random Thoughts". Part of my weekly review is to go through this and decide what the next action us.

1-Next Action

This is my favorite part of my Evernote setup. Every action gets its own note and gets tagged appropriately. When I'm in the various contexts I can review this and knock out specific actions. Here's where tags work the best for me. You'll notice I have "Next Action at …" for various stores. I need more lightbulbs. Several stores sell lightbulbs. I have found that @errands or @shopping just doesn't work for me. I have given tags to the stores where I shop the most. "Buy lightbulbs" is a single note, but appears with multiple tags because multiple stores sells lightbulbs. These are all shortcuts on the home screen of my Android phone. When I walk into a given store I tap on the appropriate shortcut on my phone and see I need lightbulbs. I then check it off so when I'm in another store the next day I don't buy lightbulbs again. Part of my weekly review is to go clear this out. Once I've completed a task I'll either delete the note or archive it (i.e. remove all tags), whatever is appropriate.

1-Tickler File

Anyone who has read Getting Things Done is familiar with the concept of 43 folders. David Allen recommends 43 folders representing the 31 days in a month and the next 12 months (12 + 31 = 43). If there's something that needs my attention on a specific date in the future, I file a note under that date. If it falls beyond 31 days I file it under the appropriate month and as the date gets closer I can assign a specific date to it. Every morning I check this. I move all notes out of the tickler file and into my inbox. I then rename the tag adding a month to it. 2011-09-21 becomes 2001-10-21. Every now and then this results in a date that doesn't exist such as 2011-11-31, but that just happens. I use YYYY-MM-DD format to keep it sorted correctly.

Some people might cringe that I'm taking a note out of a tag and putting it into my inbox. But my next step is to process my inbox along with anything else that might have been in there, so it doesn't sit long. It gives me a place to store the note so I can rename the tickler tag.


As the name suggests, this is where I store my lists. Books I've read. Countries I've visited. Beers I've enjoyed. They all get their own lists. I also store project lists. This allows me to keep my individual actions that make up a project together. Once I've completed a task it disappears from my next action tag, but I keep it tagged here so I know what I have done.


This is where I store far off items or the unlikely (If I win a billion dollars). They aren't actionable, but I want to keep them on my radar nonetheless.

3-Reference & Support Materials

This is where I got into trouble before with Evernote. All my data at my fingertips and in the cloud, oh boy! Evernote became a digital junk drawer that I avoided using because it was so difficult to find the important stuff. That's human nature, we take the path of least resistance. Because I had made such a colossal mess of my Evernote account I didn't want to use it.

I did take the time to clean it up and make Evernote useful again. I visualize this tag tree as a file cabinet. Under the main heading I have 26 subheadings: A-Z. Under some letters I have created tags around certain ideas or other material that I want to keep in the forefront. I just checked, only about 1/3 of my notes even have tags. Those 1,820 notes without tags contain information I want to keep, but I don't need at my fingertips. When I do need them I'll search. In the meantime I have notes tagged around fuzzy things such as concepts, customer names, ideas, and whatnot. This is the information I need to keep in front of me and it's all easily found in my digital file cabinet.

I hope that sheds a little light on the subject. If you're serious about using Evernote for GTD I highly recommend Daniel Gold's book. It's only $5 and was worth more to me than the venti vanilla latte from Starbucks I would've bought with the money. I promise his book is much more comprehensive than this blog post and he while his philosophy is nearly identical mine, his execution is drastically different.
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