Before I discovered my love for web design I was an elementary school teacher. I learned a lot during my five years of classroom teaching, like how to get 30 kids to stop talking or what desk arrangements make the most sense.
I also picked up a good understanding of how our brains learn best. Our brains tap into prior knowledge as we create new meaning and make connections.
If you want to learn how to drive a car you have to first learn the rules of the road. Unless of course you want to get a speeding ticket your first time out!
All this to say, before I get into the details of naming conventions or notebook content, I think it’s worth taking a minute to talk about important terminology and Evernote basics for designers.
Evernote Basics for Designers
What I am going to share with you is how I use each of the main components of Evernote within my design business.
We’ll start with the smallest unit and work our way up:
All of Evernote is based upon notes. At the core, notes are simple word processing documents. But they can be much more than that too. Notes can contain text, photos, audio, files, etc., up to 25mb in size (or 100mb for premium users).
The desktop visual editor is fairly decent and although it doesn’t offer everything Word or even Google Docs might, it does contain some pretty neat features like checkboxes for lists, audio note attachments, PDF annotations, and sharing capabilities.
I like to think of notes as individual files. If you’d save it in Word as a separate file, then you’ll probably want to create a separate note in Evernote. For example, I write every blog post first as a note. Then those notes are all filed together in one larger “Blog Posts” notebook.
In Evernote, you will group your notes together into named notebooks. It’s okay to get relatively specific with your notebooks. You can have up to 250 notebooks and although this isn’t unlimited, I have yet to come close to reaching that limit.
I have a notebook for each client/project that I work with, a notebook for blog posts, for blog post ideas, for code snippets, for tutorials, for receipts, for personal things, and the list goes on. I’ll go into further detail of my client notebooks and business notebooks in another post.
With all these notebooks, it’s essential that there be another level to the organizational hierarchy. That’s where stacks come in to play. Stacks are groups of notebooks. These stacks are created by dragging notebooks on top of one another. Stacks can be expanded and collapsed to make it easy to find what you are looking for.
For example, I have a stack that houses a notebook for each of my current design projects and a stack for all my completed projects. The completed project stack stays closed unless I need to access a client’s information for maintenance purposes. My current project stack can stay open for easy access to regularly accessed notes.
I’ve also created a stack for personal things, my design business, my blog, courses I take, other projects, and a stack where I archive old notebooks that I might need later. Read more about how I use stacks.
I started using tags earlier this year when I realized that Evernote truly was becoming my organizational hub and would be for the foreseeable future. For designers who are just getting started in Evernote, you may want to skip using tags for now until you get more comfortable with how and why they would be effective.
Tags are their own beast and there are plenty of arguments out there on how to properly use them. Some people tag anything and everything while others try to limit their tags to a few main categories. Some super-users of Evernote will forgo notebooks completely and create a complex tagging system.
The good news is, no matter what strategy you choose you can have unlimited tags and also nest tags several layers deep.
The important thing to know about tags is that they are searchable across notebooks. For example, this post was first written on a note in my Blog Post notebook. The research I did before writing lives in a Post Research notebook. All of those notes are tagged with Evernote and a quick search will bring up all the materials I need in one swoop.
For my design business, I use tags similarly to how I use categories in WordPress: sparingly. After reading Jamie Ruben’s post on going paperless I set up some basic taxonomy rules for myself. These help me avoid duplicate tags or tags that don’t make sense.
- Tags will be used to gather notes across notebooks.
- Tags will be used to gather information about blog categories across notebooks.
- Tags will be used to gather personal and family information across notebooks.
- Tags will be used to notate year the note was created.
- All tags will be lowercase.
- All tags will be singular.
- Hyphens will be used instead of spaces.
If these rules excite that super-geek part of you, definitely go read Jamie’s post. If these rules scare you—ignore tags completely! You’ll still be able to create a highly functioning organizational system without tags.
Now that you are familiar with some Evernote basics, it’s time to take action! Your tasks are to:
- Browse the Getting Started with Evernote guide.
- Create a test note and play around with all the tools.
- Begin thinking of different notebooks that would work for your business.
This is the second post in the Designer Guide to Evernote series.
Check back next week, when we'll talk about setting up a hierarchy for notebooks and stacks, and the naming conventions I use to make it easy to find important things.