How to use Evernote to improve your productivity

You've probably heard about Evernote, the online note-taking service that just reached 100 million users. Offered as a freemium with almost the same features as the paid version, Evernote was designed for taking notes and archiving information in a way that makes retrieval easy. Notes load quickly, even if you're managing hundreds of them at a time.

Part of what makes Evernote so compelling is its extensive cross-platform support. The Evernote client is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 and, using Evernote Web, the browser. (Not every feature is available on every platform, especially on the less popular Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10, but the fast pace of application development means it's probably just a matter of time before a missing feature makes an appearance.)

What can Evernote offer the busy executive or small business owner who lacks the luxury of time to try every new app or service out there? To help you along, here are some suggestions on how to use Evernote to improve your productivity, as well as a closer look at some of the most outstanding features that the note-taking service has to offer.

Getting Started With Evernote

As a digital notebook, Evernote is useful only when populated with information - the more, the merrier. On this front, Evernote supports the creation of multiple notebooks, each of which can contain any number of notes. Notes support rich text content with the capability to change fonts and color, and to insert checkboxes and basic tables. You can also attach various files, with explicit support for select file types such as voice notes and images.

[ Feature: 10 Things We Love (and Hate) About Evernote ]

These capabilities lend themselves to a number of Evernote uses:

  • As a "To Do" list
  • For keeping a duty roster or other schedule on hand
  • To keep reference information
  • As a digital scrapbook

To lower the barrier of shifting data, the Evernote Web Clipper browser extension lets users capture and save the contents of a webpage. Web Clipper is available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer.

In the same vein, Skitch, a free image editing utility, makes it easy to annotate and edit images and screenshots. The app works well with standalone images and can save completed images directly into an Evernote account.

Using the Evernote Camera

Snapping a picture is another quick way to capture information in Evernote. To simplify matters, Evernote allows images to be captured as a square Note, a Photo or a Document. Images captured in Photos mode won't be modified; those captured in Document mode have their backgrounds stripped away, with the resulting image automatically processed for better text clarity.

All images uploaded to Evernote are processed using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and indexed accordingly. This makes them searchable, which can be a lifesaver for users who work with many PDF documents or photos. Indeed, Evernote's powerful search capabilities are a primary reason why Evernote has proven to be so popular. In Evernote Premium, this extends into PDF files and other attached documents.

A new "Business Card" mode (also a Premium feature) turns Evernote into a name card scanner. In this mode, the camera scans for the outline of a business card and snaps a photo once it's ready. After adjusting for skew, Evernote converts each card into editable text that becomes a contact note. (The feature is currently available for Evernote for iPhone and iPad, though Evernote says it's coming to Android soon.)

Evernote also offers integration between scanned business cards and LinkedIn's database. Where available, additional pertinent information, including the profile picture, are pulled from the social network into the contact note.

Taking Evernote to the Next Level

Aside from its use as a standalone tool for personal productivity, Evernote users have the capability to share their content. Both notebooks and individual notes can be shared via a unique URL link. Notebooks can be shared with read-only rights (useful for reference materials, company-wide memos and business process documentation) or with the ability to make change things (excellent for collaboration).

Evernote lets users share notes and notebooks and assign different rights to different users.

When necessary, Evernote can encrypt either selected parts of a note or the entire note. Encrypted data isn't accessible to the company, and no encryption keys or passphrases are stored online. Instead, Evernote uses a 64-bit RC2 key derived from the passphrase to protect the selected data. While this is unlikely to stop the NSA, the company says it intends to beef up the strength of its encryption. Encrypted sections of a note will display a lock icon that can be removed by clicking on it and keying in the correct password.

Evernote also lets users encrypt parts of a note or the whole note itself.

[ Related: Evernote Adds Two-Factor Authentication, Other Security Features After Hack Attempt ]

Meanwhile, though Evernote offers powerful search capabilities, it still makes sense to properly tag notes for easy retrieval at a later date. Users can attach more than one tag to each note. If location information is enabled on your device, Evernote will automatically tag notes with your location and compile them in the Evernote Atlas.

Third-party Support for Evernote

While it's beyond the scope of this article to cover the increasing number of Evernote-compatible applications, a few are worthy of a special mention.

Pocket Informant, for example, is a full-featured calendar, task and notes app with rich editing capabilities. Evernote notebooks, notes and reminders all sync into Pocket Informant, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, Penultimate offers the ability to synchronize handwritten notes or drawings directly into Evernote on the iOS platform. What makes this app worth mentioning is its support for the Jot Script Evernote Edition Stylus, an advanced Bluetooth 4.0 stylus with a fine writing tip similar to that of a ballpoint pen. This lets iOS users make handwritten notes or drawings in Penultimate and save them into Evernote. (Android users already have the ability to write directly into Evernote).

Hardware appliances have started offering built-in support for Evernote, too. The standalone duplex desktop NeatConnect scanner, for example, can do its work without a PC. Using the scanner's built-in color touchscreen, users can scan paper documents straight into an Evernote account.

NeatConnect scanner users can scan paper documents right to Evernote.

Evernote's Appeal: Features, Mobile Support

For its basic simplicity, Evernote at its core has grown into a full-fledged platform designed to help users improve their productivity. Indeed, the company has a track record of adding new capabilities into the service, and has also developed a growing family of apps that ties into the Evernote cloud.

Of course, Evernote does have its fair share of critics. Some say the company has spread itself too thin. Others contend that Evernote doesn't always address bugs in a timely manner. Others say various user interface changes have been disruptive and made the product harder to use.

Given that the market for note-taking is no longer nascent, these detractors have plenty of options, including Microsoft OneNote and Simplenote.

Ultimately, there's no doubt that Evernote offers a rich feature set and supports a large number of mobile device platforms. For those who decide to take the plunge with Evernote, a common vein of advice would be to make using the note-taking service a habit - or, in the words of Evernote CEO Phil Libin, to use it as your "external brain."

Paul Mah is a tech blogger who was formerly an IT professional. These days, he spends his time dissecting various tech news and developments at www.TechBlogger.io. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulmah or Google Plus at +PaulMah.

Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about time management/productivity in CIO's Time Management/Productivity Drilldown.

This story, "How to use Evernote to improve your productivity" was originally published by CIO.

Insider: How the basic tech behind the Internet works
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies