How to Use Tags to Organize Evernote

Tips & Stories

How to Use Tags to Organize Evernote

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 10 Dec 2014

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 10 Dec 2014

The power of Evernote is that there is no right or wrong way to use it.

From audio notes to websites, it’s the perfect place to capture and store the content you need to be productive.

The question we get from many users is how to organize the material they bring into Evernote. From notebooks to tags, you have the option to decide your own personal classification system. That taxonomy can be as simple or complex as you need, but it’s remarkable how powerful Evernote becomes when you find the right system that works.

Yesterday, we discovered a post on Medium that provides a clear example of how one user has successfully structured his Evernote account to help make the most impact in his work with an emphasis on tags.

Thomas Honeyman is a student at the University of Southern California and co-founder of a music collaboration platform. Recently, he found that focusing on tags gave him the most flexibility by associating the notes he creates to his tags.

Much like author Michael Hyatt, tags have become the engine that helps power the organizational success with how Thomas manages content in Evernote.

Let’s take a look at the ways Thomas has used tags.

Simplified notebook structure

By having fewer than five notebooks, Thomas is able to manage the flow of notes much like you would in an email inbox. Content is initially processed in an Inbox Notebook and then moved into a Cabinet Notebook.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 4.30.57 PM

Tag hierarchy

With notebooks, you can have stacks. With tags, you can have hierarchies. Thomas organizes his notes within three major tag categories:

.Descriptors – the source of notes, media types, and conversations.
.Knowledge – what kind of information is contained within a note.
.Projects – notes that are associated to the type of work he is actively completing.

Power tip: Tags appear alphabetically. Use symbols such as hashtags, periods, and numbers to force them into an order that works for you.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 4.19.35 PM

Adding Tags in Evernote

All Evernote users can have up to 100,000 tags per account. Your notes can be associated with multiple tags.

Here is how you can quickly add a tag to notes in Evernote:

1. Open the note you wish to tag
2. Open the tags editor
3. Type to add your tags. Tag suggestions based on previous tags in Evernote will appear as you type.
4. Press Return to add a tag
5. To delete a tag, backspace over the tag text

Adding tags by platform:

Mac or Windows Desktop: On the top of the note, to the right of the Evernote notebook name, click to add tags
iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch: Under the note title, select the (‘i’) icon, and then tap Add Tag.
Android: On the top bar of the note, select ‘…’ and then Tags
Web browser: On the top right of the note, select Info and then click ‘+’ Tags

How are you using tags to organize content in Evernote? Share your tips in the comments.

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61 Comments RSS

  • Chris

    This system won’t work for users like me who use EN a lot on the iPad and iPhone.

    Until EN supports nested tags in iOS (if ever), a hierarchical tag structure won’t work effectively on that platform,

    • Steve

      It appears that using the web interface for this system won’t work either, unless I’m missing something. There is no apparent way to nest the tags.

    • Greg

      I agree. Tags are too cumbersome when they aren’t nested. I’ve ignored EN tags for years because of this.

      I for one would like to see fewer new features like chat, and instead see a focus on improving usability through better editing controls, improved search, and improved tagging (like nested tags and notebook specific tags). Plugins would be nice too. Markdown in EN anyone?

      • Greg

        I’ll add that even when using nested tags in EN on the desktop, the tags must be unique, so using the tag structure to make it easy to locate specific notes fails because a tag like “actionable” can only occur once.

        This leads to the management of several searches to tie multiple tags together into a context. It’s not usable.

      • Tim

        I totally agree with Greg. Stop adding features that are not relevant to the core of Evernote and continue to beef up those that make Evernote great.

        • Bernardo

          Can’t agree more. The UI was cluttering my way to use EN (too much divisions and boxes) but the latest updates on the information got me interested on EN back. Now setting up a GTD flow into it and all depends on good Tag Clustering. Very disappointed to see this is not beneficial on iOS…

        • Greg T

          I second that. My fear is that EN gets too heavy, cumbersome, over featured. Just started to explore tags but will resist based on these comments (I run iOS and OSX). How about an Undo feature to the core product? I’m an old head and even after a couple of years with a touch screen phone I make countless mistakes, over deletions, etc. Many times wish there was an undo button to save me.

          • Brown

            There is! Shake your iPhone when you make a mistake and you will get the option to undo your last action.

    • AYK

      Agree. I have the same problem and frustration. Hope this functionality would be added back soon enough

      • Alec

        You can add nested tags on the web UI. Just drag

  • Steve

    Is there a quick and easy way to organize my existing tags into the hierarchy described in the article? Drag and drop is tedious and labor intensive.

  • Jericho

    I use this site’s approach which is similar: http://www.thesecretweapon.org/

  • Darren Turpin

    Tags would be a lot more useful if the multi-select, drag-and-drop functionality was restored to the desktop version of Evernote.

    This used to be a standard feature but was broken in an earlier version upgrade (apparently deliberately, according to a support request I raised a few months ago). Now, any new tags that are added have to be individually dragged-and-dropped in order to organise them into folders, otherwise they’ll just sit in that single alphabetical list.

    If this basic usability feature was restored then we wouldn’t need to rely on the Power Tip mentioned above, as we could just set up a preferred folder / sub-folder structure and organise tags hierarchically via that.

    Unless I’m missing a setting or technique that someone knows that would help speed the re-organisation process?

    • Devon Henderson

      I do not have this issue on Windows or Mac. I can use CTRL (Win) or CMD (Mac) to select multiple tags and move them where I wish. Are you trying to do this in the Tag view or the sidebar? You need to be in the Tag view for it to work, but it works.

      http://i.gyazo.com/a93db784831bc8bfa2b9e8f586b2c67a.gif

  • Alex

    “With notebooks, you can have stacks. With tags, you can have hierarchies.” – nice sentence but you missed the extra “If you are using the desktop clients” because if you are using the web client beta or mobile clients then you don’t have that hierarchic and everything falls apart

    • Eric L.

      If the heirarchy is set up on the desktop, then you can at least tag things with lower-level tags on iOS and still benefit when you’re back at your desktop, right? (I’m hoping, since that’s what I’ve started doing, and I’d hate to find out that my class notes are pooched and have to be re-tagged!)

  • Lars

    I have the desktop client for mac – and cannot see how to make hierarchy

    • Chris

      Just drag over – not the easiest to be sure, but works well..

      • M Tedj

        Unfortunately, this drag-drop to nest on Mac is not working for me 🙁 I’ve tried MULTIPLE times, have the most updated version of the software, and am a premium client. Grrr….

        • Bhavik

          After creating a new tag, click the sync button. You can now drag and drop tags.

  • Albert

    Attention: Never delete the major tag of a hierarchie, you’ll delete ALL minor tags too. (Happened to me, lost about 100 tags.)

  • Danielle

    I use tags to find things I store in several notebooks. If I take for example the tag ‘app’ I can see 23 notes from 7 notebooks. If I scan through my tags, I can easily see which notes are still relevant and which not.

  • John

    Tags are good for casual use but not for power users like myself.

    • Devon Henderson

      Absolutely not true. You might not like them, but they are actually better than notebooks for power users. Because notes can have more than one tag but can only be in one notebook, tags function much more like your brain, and allow you to pull up information from a variety of trigger points or key words. 5,000 notes in my EN and it’s only manageable by tags and search.

      • Trevor

        I agree tags are powerful and useful, but they currently have some crippling drawbacks. If you export/import a notebook, then the tag heirarchy is lost. And if you share the notebook with someone, not only is the tag heirarchy lost, but the sharee cannot change it from the flat heirarchy they see. The tags are locked as flat.

        • Devon

          Agreed on the flaws. I’ve been staring at duplicated tags that I can’t delete in my Windows client for months due to shared notebooks.

    • Kent

      Tags are definitely for power users. Don’t be so quick to dismiss.

  • Dan

    The problem I see with no notebooks is the ability to have offline information available. TGIF only way I can see to do this is via a notebook.

    • Tad Simmons

      Isn’t it really easy to create a new notebook and share it with someone if you have properly tagged notes you can find with a search, then drop them into that notebook?

  • Anurag

    I dont find any use of Hierarchy..I cant see my tag hierarchy in my android phone..So i guess this feature is limited to desktop only.

  • Peter

    I’m still on EN for Mac v3.3.0. That’s because you can have and view long tag names in the tag view on the LHS; and you can also nest and re-arrange tags there as well. SO much easier then the crazy “tag” window that was introduced for no reason.

    And note how careful Taylor has been to only create tags with SHORT names. If he created longer ones, you could not view them.

    Hence, a tag structure like mine, would not work, because you could not read the tag name!!! CRAZY:

    Ops: Events: 2012: Dec: Xmas Party
    Ops: Events: 2012: Dec: Football Game
    Ops: Events: 2012: Dec: Swimming

  • Andres

    Since EN for iOS doesn’t support hierarchical tags, (which is painful, because is hard to choose features in which let your workflow rely on) a sort of JavaScript notation would do the trick. As in: resources.assets, projects.coolestprojectever .

  • Joe

    After reading on several different points of view on notebooks or tags, I was able to come up with a hierarchical tag system that works on windows as well as android. I’m fairly new to taking EN seriously, so there my be some flaws later on that I may encounter, but none so far.

    I arranged my tags in away that is a cross between what Michael Hyatt does, and someone else who I can’t remember. Michael divided his up into the main categories of what, when, who, reference, and miscellaneous. The other person used (not for sure what he called it) three letters and a period. I use the three letter and a period that would represent the questions that Michael asks. Then if I want to nest a tag under something, I simply type the main tag add a hyphen and what the new tag will be. So my system looks something like this:

    WHAT
    wha.work
    wha.work-communication
    wha.work-call
    wha.work-meeting
    wha.personal
    wha.personal-finances
    WHO
    who.john
    who.jack
    WHEN
    whe.future-event
    whe.past-event

    This seems to work very well so far. When I go to tag a note I ask the three questions, wha. whe. who. and it either drops down a list on the computer, or on my phone or tablet everything that starts with wha is grouped together and so on.

    • Devon Henderson

      A lot of power users swear by the very method you use, so be confident! You’re in good company 🙂

    • Dave Yuhas

      If EN’s tag system was truly hierarchical/nested there would be no need to type the 3-letter prefix. Just type WHAT and all the sub tags (as EN call them) would appear in a list. EN’s idea of nested tags is the same as for stacks – purely cosmetic.

  • Neil Hinrichsen

    It really irritates me to see Evernote writing about “How to Use Tags to Organize Evernote” when all they’ve done down the years is to steadily cripple this feature.

    Starting with the insipid support for hierarchies of tags. It seems to escape everyone at Evernote that some of wish to use EN for more that just finding labels from wine bottles – like, organising large amounts of notes in a hierarchical structure.

    So, if you use hierarchies you rapidly find: they’re not supported on all platforms; if you export and reimport notes your hierarchy is lost; you can no longer move tags ‘in bulk’, only one at a time; there’s no easy way to see all the notes for a tag and its subtags; the ability to navigate tags in the sidebar is gone again (it vanished in v3; was reinstated in v4 after I discussed this at length with Phil Libin – then removed again in v5, just another example of EN’s infuriating ‘ignore the users’ approach to UI design).

    I love EN the product, and loathe EN the company. They seem intent on constantly changing the UI to frustrate users (look no further than the recent Penultimate screw-up for a prime example).

    • Devon Henderson

      You can both re-arrange tags in bulk and navigate tags in the sidebar in both the Windows and Mac current versions of Evernote.

      • Vinod

        Devon, can you show a screenshot or gif of how to collapse and expand nested tags in the latest version 6.02 of Evernote?

  • Matt

    the biggest prob I have is that I cannot add tags on the fly from my iPhone.

    In fact, it would be great if the mobile versions were as full featured as the desktop since I spend so much more time (and have many little org oppty moments throughout the day) than at my desktop.

    I agree w earlier comment that it would be nice for en to focus on improving core capture and file features rather than things like workchat.

    • Matt

      All of that said, these ARE first world problems for which I am grateful.

  • Brian Meyer

    This is a perfect system when you align it with something like organizing your home. With both the tagging system and an organization system, it’s cake to know where things are.
    Here’s my writeup on how to do home organization with Evernote: http://www.scrubly.com/blog/how-to-evernote/achieve-ultimate-home-organization-with-evernote/

  • Robert Ford

    There’s not much point in adding tags to notes that aren’t visible. I suppose I can use the time I spend waiting for an update to review my tagging system in whatever software I move to. Suggest you spend more time bug fixing than blogging.

    • Devon Henderson

      Are you on the latest Mac version? App Store version? EN needs to re-index your notes, and if you check the forums, many users have found that simply rebooting their computer has fixed the issue. I also suggest, if using the App Store version, to instead download it from the EN website – updates come much faster.

  • Joey

    Are there any plans to bring nested tags to the new beta web version or iOS? I really do prefer using nested tags for hierarchy over the hyphenated, single tag route, but I will go through the trouble of revising my structure if I know “universal” nesting isn’t in the works.

  • Rick

    You say, “From audio notes to websites, it’s the perfect place to capture and store the content you need to be productive.”
    I say, “Not only that! From audio notes to websites, it’s the extremely imperfect place to organize and retrieve the content you need and makes the product highly unproductive.
    You say, “The power of Evernote is that there is no right or wrong way to use it.”
    I say, “Just show steps of one, just one way, one way to to organize and retrieve the content you need” Steps, as in process, as in end-to-end, from concept to completion.

  • Brian

    How can I tell what notes haven’t been tagged within a tag context? Like if I have 200 receipts in a receipts notebook, and I want to tag the year, the type of receipt, I’m blind except for visually scanning to figure out which ones I might not have gone and tagged with their year yet.

    • Geoff

      Brian: Just use -tag: in search (nothing after the colon).

  • Mark Kelly

    Evernote is a great theory and has lost of potential power, but it is it’s own worst enemy.
    Ever try print out a multipage note?
    Ever try to format notes with hierarchical bullet points?
    ever try choosing a font which is legible on-screen then fail to reformat to print?
    Ever want a second color highlight, or a choice of bullet points?
    It truely is crippled by its own development, a messy hybrid of pure simple note taking and platforms with differing options, features and interfaces.
    And DON’T EVEN MENTION THE WINDOWS TOUCH APP!!
    Fails to sync more than 15% of notes!!

  • Kim

    Since Evernote has changed it seems the tag hierarchy system is no longer possible. Last year I set up a tag system and now it is essentially gone. Is there a way to create the hierarchy in the new version?

  • Erik

    The functionality is there. You can build a tag hierarchy by saving searches (using multiple tags and operators), these searches can be given specific names and are also synced to EN web app. @EN team: An improvement would be to give more “focus” on these saved searches by listing them on the left pane in the same way as notebooks.

  • Ron

    I don’t understand why Evernote would advocate for this system… And I really REALLY hope the Evernote PMs aren’t taking any cues for product direction from this backwards and narrow viewpoint.

    This is one student’s opinion on how to use evernote like a GTD inbox for a small amount of notes, but Evernote’s best use case for professionals is not behaving like an inbox, it’s behaving as a filing cabinet.

    Also by nesting tags inside “.TagName” syntax groups it eliminates the ability to browse alphabetically. Notebooks are a critical piece of the UI for navigation and archiving notes over time. To Evernote product folks – for the love of god do not retool the software to follow this guy’s stupid system. Tags are not a panacea for navigating archived documents

  • Jason Carlin

    Sorry to be that guy, but this drives me nuts.

    A “hashtag” is not a symbol. The symbol in question is called a “number sign”. It is sometimes colloquially referred to as a “pound sign” or a “hash sign”. Hashtags are something completely different.

  • M Tedj

    FIGURED IT OUT!!! OK, here’s how to nest tags when using the Mac Desktop version (6.1):
    – Go to VIEW > Tags
    – Select to sort by Name (not Note Count)
    – Now you can drag-and-drop tags to be nested into other tags.
    – If this doesn’t work immediately, restart Evernote (I had to restart mine after initially creating the tags before it worked).
    Good luck, y’all!

  • Anne

    Three words: “The Secret Weapon”.
    The best template I’ve personally seen for setting up tags–everyone’s been borrowing from it including the Michael Hyatt guy who also has a great website). It’s not perfect but it’s a great starting point.
    Okay that’s way more than three words but you get my drift….

    http://www.thesecretweapon.org/the-secret-weapon-manifesto/setting-up-the-secret-weapon

  • Kees

    Thanks for this article. It is really inspiring me but i have a lot of problems implementing it. Could you please give me more examples of “media-types”. I can only come up with the tag:article and is see in the example 17 types.

    Thanks

  • David

    And, there is still a problem in that only Notebooks can be stored offline, not tags – which seems both a major flaw and very easy to fix.

  • Pascal Held

    There is a web-service https://filterize.net/q/18 where you can manage your evernote tag hierarchies. The main advantage is, that you can specify important parent tags which will be added automatically. For example: You have a .Projects tag and a tag for each project. With the evernote search you can’t just search for .Projects and find all project related notes. If you select .Projects, filterize will add this label to every project related note in the background.

  • Tom

    If you need hierarchical notebooks, sections, pages and sub-pages, you could try OneNote.

  • Peter Hoag

    All – Just switched from storing more than 4,000 documents in several dozen folders and an alphabetical list of several 100 tags to more than 4,000 documents in 5 folders and a hierarchical list less than 100 tags. QUESTION: When I tap the screen at the top of a new document to add one or more tags, I was hoping that I would be able to simply click on one or more tags in a popup of version of my hierarchical list of tags. But no, I need to retype the tags in the space of above the document – which is not a very efficient way to add these tags to my documents.

  • subeh007

    how to make parent tag,which include child tag in android????

  • Sam

    Tags don’t even synchronize well enough for users to trust them and use them freely. And like the tens upon tens of people here say, stop adding features most of us won’t even try, instead stick to the features that matter the most. Understand your users, who they are (most of them are serious professionals) and enhance basic functions like setting up tables. And why can’t you allow deeper stacks for notebooks?