4 Effective Strategies to Organize Evernote

Tips & Stories

4 Effective Strategies to Organize Evernote

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 08 Feb 2016

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 08 Feb 2016

Think of Evernote as the engine that helps keep your world running.

If you peeled back the hood, you’d be surprised to see that there is the capability to create an engine that is reliable and trusty (like a Ford), or super sporty (like a Ferrari).

But, how exactly do you get that engine working?

No matter which ‘engine’ you desire, the important thing to remember is that the system should reflect your needs. A family of four won’t be needing that sports car as much as they would a minivan or an SUV. It’s the same in Evernote: you want to figure out what your challenges are, and then decide which organizational system will best help get things done productively.

Organization has always been a hot topic on our blog, social channels, and forum. Since the power of Evernote is its flexibility, arguments over which system is best won’t go away anytime soon. For all the unique people who use our product, there are limitless ways to harness it.

From stacks to tags to no system at all, here is a roundup of some of our favorite organizational methods.

1. Search

Setup Difficulty Level: Easy

Maintenance Level: Easy

One of the biggest dangers when adopting an organizational system is overthinking things. What do you capture? How do you categorize content? How will you find it later?

Theoretically, you don’t need to organize at all. You could create a limitless number of notes and rely on Evernote’s powerful search to find any content within them, even text in attached files like PDFs.

Relying on search as your organizational structure also allows you to import a ton of content from outside of Evernote without worrying about which notebooks or tags to use. You can capture content with our web clipper, send emails directly into Evernote, or even invoke apps to smartly capture content for you like IFTTT, Zapier, or Scannable.

2. Tags

Setup Difficulty Level: Moderate

Maintenance Level: Moderate

To tag, or not. That is (very) often the question. Tags can be the basis of a robust productivity worfklow, and they have many champions. Michael Hyatt and Thomas Honeyman immediately come to mind. Both have written very extensively about how and why they use tags.

The biggest factor is that tags help build a foundation tailored to their specific workflows. For Michael Hyatt, nested tags provide a necessary structure that keeps his filing system on task and efficient.

Social media guru Bryan Kramer views tags as a powerful way to archive information and quickly find it later in an effort to build his personal brand:

True, tagging may initially seem a like bit of a chore. However, you don’t need to tag every [note]. Just the really important ones that will allow you to archive your information for an easier search later on. And if you happen to use to wrong tag, no sweat. Evernote has a forgiving organization system that allows you to recall your last search and even cross reference details.

Resources & Guides on Evernote Tagging:

Evernote Workflows and Organization for Starting Over

How to Use Tags to Organize Your Evernote

Michael Hyatt’s Tagging System in Evernote

Thomas Honeyman on Tagging with Evernote

3. Notebook Stacks

Setup Difficulty Level: Moderate

Maintenance Level: Easy

If notes are the fundamental element of your content, then you want to be able to structure them in a way that suits your needs. One of the best ways is the power of notebook stacks.

As Evernote productivity consultant Stacey Harmon notes, stacks are the building blocks to success within Evernote:

Notebooks and stacks… provide human friendly organization to your data in Evernote. You can visually group notes and projects together in any way that suits you. Think of notebooks as manilla folders, and stacks as filing cabinet drawers.

Harmon also emphasizes that it’s vital to embrace finding a system that works for you. Evernote is flexible enough that you can settle on a framework for organizing, and if you don’t like it, it’s relatively simple to adopt a new strategy quickly.

“Don’t be afraid to create notebooks and stacks and organize them any way you like,” Harmon says. “It is not difficult to change your notebook and stack structure. Once data is in Evernote, it is very easy to move around [you just need to learn how]. Most users go through several iterations of their notebook and stack structure over time. What you keep in Evernote evolves. How you conduct business evolves.”

No matter how your business does, your notebooks and stacks can evolve right with you.

Resources and articles:

Going Paperless: How I simplified my Notebook Organization in Evernote

4. Note Titles

Setup Difficulty Level: Challenging

Maintenance Level: Moderate

You can also use the titles of your notes themselves to create an organizational system that’s as flexible as your imagination allows.

Author Jamie Todd Rubin prefers to create naming conventions that are not redundant and help him use search in a more powerful way. For example, he set up a naming structure that helps him understand what books he has read in a given time.

I keep track of all of my reading in Evernote. I like knowing when I started reading something and when I finished reading something. (I have a whole collection of scripts that pulls interesting analytics from this data.) If I wanted to see the list of things I’ve read by Stephen King, for instance, I could run a simple search that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 10.57.40 AM

Naming conventions can also be used to organize notes within notebooks. To take advantage of this trick, it helps to know:

  1. Special characters ( .,_,@#!) will sort before numbers.
  2. Numbers (0 – 9) will sort after characters and punctuation but before alphabetical characters.

Resources and articles:

Going Paperless: How I Title my Notes in Evernote

Gaming the Naming: The ABC’s of Organizing Your Evernote Notebooks

What’s your favorite way to organize notes? Let us know in the comments.


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35 Comments RSS

  • Ed

    Note titles wouldn’t be so challenging if they didn’t scroll off screen for longer notes. Makes it difficult to tweak the titles as the notes morph in composition. Or to remember what the note was to be about in the first place.

  • 70-461 braindumps

    Wow. Looking at the amount of notebooks you have is overwhelming 🙂 Do you find that to be a mental barrier for you when you review Evernote during a weekly review or does it make the process easier? I currently have about 8-9 notebooks and don’t utilize tags. After reading this, I’m considering getting a bit more detailed.

  • Alex N

    I use search with notebook stacks and note content + reminders. Tags only for reference. Some notebooks represent statuses for large projects (notes) and I move them around in kanban style (not gamnam lol). This in combination with reminders helps me focus on the main projects at a glance. Inserting “tags” into the notes content like _mac _waiting for _today etc makes searching for contexts a breeze. I wish I could assign colours to notes in card view…

    • Damian

      Like the Kanban (and ganman lol) style idea.
      I also would love to be able to color code notes!

  • Lolitta

    Hi Ed! Please reach out to our support team via https://help.evernote.com/hc/en-us/categories/200001917-Troubleshooting for help with this issue.

  • Steve

    I find that maintaining tags is actually quite hard. They all appear in a single column, and to organize them into a nested stack requires that I click one or more and then drag and scroll through the long list. The scrolling speed is slow, and my patience is thin.

    It would also be nice to be able to search for orphan tags.

    • Mark Evans

      Steve: In the windows client you can click the “tags” icon and you get your tags as a page that you can drag and drop to your hearts content for nesting.

      • Murat

        How about the MAC client?

        • Isaac

          The Mac client is the same. Just get it and find out!

      • Incredimetabeta

        Mark, In your reply to Steve you say:

        Steve: In the windows client you can
        click the “tags” icon and you get your
        tags as a page that you can drag and
        drop to your hearts content for nesting.

        In my ‘tags page’ it takes 18 horizontal scrolling clicks to get through the entire tags list. Your advice cannot solve my tag management problem, nor does it speak to the inherent limitations of EN’s tag interface.

  • Dave

    Being able to create an index of notes within a notebook is another fantastic feature that can be used to help stay organised, personally I would like to be able to pin a note to the top of the notebook (such as an index). I know you can sort and use some of the ways mentioned in this to get a note to the top but if it was pinned you could then sort the other notes as desired. It may seem a little thing but this would be immensely helpful in my work flow.

    • Sev

      If only colours were allowed it would make life so much simpler. Look at other providers

    • Aqiylah

      Yes! A Notes index would be extremely helpful, as would pinning. Pls consider these!

      • Mark Evans

        This is already available. Select several notes and then click “Create Table of Contents Note” It is a great way to organize permanent notes.

    • Lee

      Totally. I find the limited organization within notebooks super frustrating compared to some of the competitors like OneNote. Evernote kicks but in tons of other ways (especially the searchability which is why I switched) but organization is not one of them. Making the viewability of the note lists and the interface which has drop-downs from notestacks into notebooks is one area where I think evernote could improve so much in (ESPECIALLY in the Windows offline interface – it is just so bulky for screen-space and tough to navigate between notes despite the space it fills). I understand that by limiting the number of levels (ie. 1: stacks, 2: notebooks) you can streamline uploading/inputting content by the different mechanisms like email, but PLEASE make the functionality once you’re inside better (have a good look at how OneNote does it). Even the colour coding or Ed’s idea of pinning are options that wouldn’t undermine the simple stack>book system. In fact, the pinning would be great for notestacks too – I also use things like numbers and symbols to get my notebooks where I want them, but this is cumbersome and annyoing when you want to shuffle everything by one spot… (seriously – have a look at OneNote. Goodness. I love evernote but you guys have some serious room for improvement with this)

      • Murat

        +1. Only reason I am still using onenote and not committed to Evernote 100%. Actually use EN for personal use and Onenote for work.

  • Dennis Akers

    In fact combinations of all work well too. I use stacks for topics or projects that need a simple filing system and often tag them too. For example, Staff is the stack and staff members have notebooks inside. Then each note is also tagged with the name. It’s neat to look at and you can also find notes of a person who might be involved in a project in another stack. At the moment I’m using tags in my shortcuts as a “to do” system, though I’ve never always liked using Evernote for “to do” more for it’s visual use of space and the fact that you can’t physically reorder items to prioritise but with a bit of jiggery pogery and using tags as shortcuts its not bad. The danger is piling in too much info to a “to do” which is just a simple one off task. I use search when I’m completely lost but you still have to “hit on” the right word and form of the word. In general, any system needs housekeeping first thing Monday, or Sunday night, but combinations of notebooks, stacks, tags and search are all compatible!

  • Scott

    Please allow users the option to choose which image to set as a note’s icon. You have no idea how much of an impact this would make from an organizational standpoint. I have been asking for this simple feature since 2008. Some people are more visual than others.

  • Stephan

    My main problem is that no one other than the owner can change titles of Notebooks and Notes and that they are not synchronized. This becomes a nightmare for my virtual team and makes Evernote almost useless despite great efforts to stay organized following some of the suggestions here and elsewhere. Suggestions welcome!

  • Kurt

    Tags . . . . the big reason I use them at all (mostly) is that sometimes I will create a note about something but which doesn’t contain that subject word. So then, when I search for notes on that topic I will retrieve notes that have the keyword in the text of the note itself and ones without the word there but present only as a tag. As long, that is, as I remember what word I’m using as my subject collocating tag.

  • Jacob

    Please please please implement LaTeX functionality into Evernote!

  • Alex

    Why on earth has Evernote made sending/sharing notes such a chore? Rather than getting the content as one used to, one now has to login to access it. Very restrictive decision to try to force new subs. You are burning your current subs and I believe that if you haven’t seen it in your metrics already, you will eventually see many leave to other platforms. Sad to see such a major decision not thought through and that will hurt the long-term viability of the business. Cmon guys – you can do better than that. Really!

    • hindy

      I need someone to show me how to do this . is there a way to get a live demonstration. ?

    • DTLow

      Have you looked at Public Links. Sign on is not required, just a browser

  • Shellah

    When, oh, when will Evernote have more tiers (levels) of nested notebooks? Just two levels (stacks and notebooks) is not enough for visual organizers like me. I look at Evernote lists of stacks, notebooks and notes and my head spins because there is no order to it.

  • Peter hanisch

    Let users be able to colour their stacks. This way if you have a number of them it is so much easier to pick one out from the others.

  • Larry Goldman

    I use yet another organizing technique that I learned on some evernote-related blog – master notes with links. Anything that gets a significant amount of effort (and therefore will lead to quite a few notes) gets a master note. For me this is all my ongoing relationships, annual goals, and significant projects. I usually map out some sort of plan for the project. As I work on the project i keep track of the basics in the master note with links to notes that capture important details. Most of my own generated ideas go in the master note while external things i find or are sent to me are notes that I link to. I’ve practically given up on using tags – one of the few is an @master tag that goes on every master note. Minimal number of notebooks (home, work, industry). I use search – sometime to find the appropriate master note where things are organized.

  • Rhianwen Llewellyn

    This helped a lot! All of my notes are so much more organized now. I have 17 notebooks that are a lot easier to manage now because of how much this helped. Thanks Evernote!

  • Robert Kennedy III

    Tags are helpful. But here’s where I disagree with Michael Hyatt and others who champion the use of tags…it makes sharing more difficult. I want my wife to have access to certain notes that are related specifically to our family. So, I share a notebook with her and then anything that goes into that notebook, she automatically has access to. Easy peasy. No tagging, no remembering to share or title correctly. Nothing except saving to the right notebook.

    I personally prefer the Notebooks and Stacks system. While I do have moments where I overthink it, it help keep visually organized when I look in my Evernote application on desktop OR mobile.

  • Suzanne

    I wish we could put one note in more than 1 notebook. Then when I updated the note, it would update in both notebooks.

    • Damian

      Have you tried putting new notes in the other notebooks that are just a link to the ‘original’ notebook? or using tags to ‘duplicate’ the notebook functionality? Neither are super elegant but they may offer a solution.

  • steve streetman

    would be nice if some of these techniques actually were available on a MAC. no notebook stacks. tags aren’t as useful. why is it so hard when most of this is online anyway?

    • Forrest Dylan Bryant

      Hi, Steve: To create a notebook stack in Evernote for Mac, go to the Notebooks list from the sidebar or View menu, then drag one notebook onto another notebook. A new stack will be created containing both notebooks.

  • Arie

    Excellent blog post! Good to know that I use them all to fit my needs. It’d be good if tag can be colorful and can be highlighted and can have emoji beside the tag. Just my 2 cents.

  • Trish

    This article is not too helpful. Evernote needs to find better ways to visually organize notes. Searching for a tag or digging through notebooks is no different than having to flip through a disorganized physical notebook. Evernote has so much potential! Just find a better way for us to keep large amounts of notes organized.