I finally figured out how to use Evernote!!!

Have you been trying for years to figure out how to use Evernote? This must be a common problem, I think, because Evernote promises so much. It seems to say that all the information you want can be yours, whenever you need it. All you need to do is jot a note or clip an article and it’ll be waiting for you, sync’ed across all articles, whenever you need it!

The problem with Evernote, though, is that you just accumulate more and more notes, and when you want one, you can’t actually find it. Because Evernote hasn’t solved the search problem. There are three basic ways of organizing documents on the Internet. You can assign drop them into buckets (notebooks). Or you can give them shared labels (tags). Or you can search through them using a search bar. 

But all of these methods are inadequate when you’re dealing with the large and disparate amount of information that Evernote purports to want to collect. For instance, if I have a blog idea, I can jot it down and give it the ‘blog idea’ tag. Except sometimes I’ll forget to do that, because I’m on the go. So in order to make it findable later on search, I also need to remember to use the word ‘blog’ in the note itself. But then when i search, I inevitably end up also turning up a bunch of other notes (maybe clipped links) that use the term ‘blog’ as well. As a result, it becomes very difficult to find my old ideas. And even if I just use the blog tag, I’m still sifting through dozens of documents that are just a line or two long.

But I solved the problem! Basically I decided to create one ‘blog idea’ master list. Now whenever I need to jot down a blog idea, I open that one note and alter it. Currently there are about 30 ideas in it, and I’ve noticed a major uptick in blog quality since I started using it. 

As a result, I created other master lists! I have one for movies I want to watch. One to list the recurring bills that are linked to various credit card. One for story ideas. One for the various jokes I want to make online. It’s great! For the first time in my life I feel like I’m actually capturing some measurable fraction of my thoughts. 

The innovation here was to step back from the majority of evernote’s features. The app has the ability to organizes and synchronize hundreds of notes, but that ability was counterproductive. Really at this point I’m only using one Evernote feature, which is its ability to keep notes in sync across platforms. This is the danger of feature bloat. If Evernote had been simpler (for instance, if it had been entirely a list making application), then I’d have learned years ago how to use it. But because it just threw a bunch of features out there, I was left struggling. 

I think the lesson here is that even the best applications can only be used effectively in a few ways. And if you don’t teach those ways to your users, then you’ll lose them.