Jump to content

My EN structure and the underlying principal underneath the eternal Notebook vs Tag question

Recommended Posts

An often question asked when using Evernote is, "When do I use a Notebook and when do I use a Tag?"

Allow me to state an underlying principal regarding these two Evernote facets and how that principal shaped how I configured my Evernote structure.  I do so only to share what works for me in case it can help others in this community.

There is a one-to-one relationship between a Note and a Notebook.  This means a Note can only be in one Notebook.

There is a one-to-many relationship between a Note and Tags.  This means a Note can have many Tags.

Since I use Evernote for my version of "Getting Things Done" (aka GTD), Notebooks represent the "state" of a Note as a Note cannot be in more than one state.  And my GTD setup has Notes in one of three states - Action Pending, Action Completed, and Reference Material.  So, I only have three Notebooks (for my 4K and growing Note population).

I use Tags to qualify the Notes.  For Notes that do not have any action associated with them, Tags are used to describe the reference material (which can be multiple Tags).  For Notes related to actions, the Tags indicate what the Note is about (which can be multiple Tags), what kind of action is needed, the priority of the action, and when the action will be addressed in non-specific terms (e.g. Now, Next, Soon, Later, Someday).  Reminders provide specific timing if needed.

This structure generates a data repository that Evernote's search capabilities, filters, saved searches, shortcuts, Home page, and widgets provide me with a work compass I use everyday and a filing cabinet filled with reference material useful to me today and in the future.  


  • Like 2
Link to comment
  • Level 5

Thanks for this. I use notebooks, tags not as much, but I haven't created my fully systematic approach yet. My work would want a different structure than yours, but you present an interesting way of using the available Evernote features as tools for getting at one's work.

Link to comment
  • Level 5*
1 hour ago, dvollc said:

I use Tags to qualify the Notes.

I used Tags to classify notes   
I used Notebooks to identify notes as shared/offline/local (legacy)

>And my GTD setup has Notes in one of three states - Action Pending, Action Completed, and Reference Material.   

I used the Reminder feature to identify tasks   
Reminders also have built-in due-date and completed status/date


Link to comment
  • Level 5*

Hi.  Thanks for the summary,  though as you say everyone's mileage may be different.  I'm a long-time user,  currently just shy of 60,000 notes.  My original strategy was only to create a new notebook when I had to - so current projects / shared notebooks or notes added maybe 10 extra notebooks with the vast bulk of my notes being in the Default Notebook.

- So every action started with a search;  finding the most recent notes for the person,  company or project that i was interested in.  Because  60,000 notes is a LOT of notes,  I'd then have to exclude topics,  add tags to identify notes to include or exclude from searches next time... there was a considerable curation overhead.

So I've transitioned to having a separate notebook for each person, company or fact - surprisingly (to me,  anyway) that meant as lilttle as 500(ish) notebooks.  Overlaps are handled by tags - all my Amazon purchases (forinstance) go into the |Amazon notebook.  The fancy "|" prepend meaning I can specify the notebook name easily.  Since there were quite a few last year,  each individual purchase (which included acknowledgement,  'on its way' and 'delivered' emails) also got a tag (like <24"-monitor>) - although I'm now transitioning to an additional level of 'parent' and 'child' notes.

|Amazon's Parent Note lists all the purchases in one ToC,  and all the Child notes listed there are ToCs or single notes containing the various .msg email files for each individual purchase,  dragged and dropped directly from Outlook into the note. I can reopen them in Outlook at any time to read them in full or respond.

My two main email addresses are running at zero inbox,  and if I want to find out when I bought that new monitor screen that just stopped working,  all I need is a couple of clicks to see the related emails - which is far faster than searching 60,000 notes and finding the required three or four emails/ notes from much longer lists of hits.

Plus - my note growth is now negative;  I'm condensing the total as what would have been several notes for each item becomes one (or maybe two);  and I'm mindful of succession.  Sooner or later some other family member is going to need to take over this database and while I'm a bit of a supernerd for searching and organisation, they're... not.  So the admin needs to be simple, well documented and family-fumble proof.

I also use Filterize to keep some ToCs up to date,  including lists of "uncompleted tasks due up to today",  "due in next 7 days" and "due 8+ days" - plus that add-in means I can just redirect emails into Evernote and Filterize will automatically sort them into the correct notebook and add any required tags.

Sorry to go on at length - one of my "someday" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ tasks is to fully document the process - when I do I'll post it in the Forums!


  • Like 1
Link to comment

Hello @DTLow.  What goals do you achieve with your EN structure?  Also, I am wondering if your use of the word "classify" is synonymous with me using "qualify".  However, I don't want to assume.  Can you provide more about your use of tags?

Link to comment
  • Level 5

Just for the record: @DTLow has AFAIK moved on to DEVONThink, because v10 does not support the scripting he needs for his quite elaborate workflows.

He has contributed a lot to this forum, and I appreciate his continued presence here. Probably questions related to workflows in v10 are better posted as questions directed at the general audience.

Link to comment
  • Level 5*
2 hours ago, dvollc said:

Hello @gazumped.  You say you have "a separate notebook for each person, company or fact".  Is it not possible for a note to be associated with more than one person or company?  If so, how do you handle it?

There are overlaps,  sure;  I choose the notebook by the most important link if there's more than one,  and add tags for any others. 

In the Amazon example I gave I'm bought my monitor from Amazon,  but it's a Lenovo monitor,  and by my own logic I should also have a |Lenovo notebook.  In this case I'll tag the |Amazon-filed notes with "lenovo" and "24-inch monitor".  


Link to comment
  • Level 5*
3 hours ago, dvollc said:

What goals do you achieve with your EN structure?

The access and retrieval of specific data; text search also works

For tasks, I used Evernote for simple goal/project/task management 
Identifying outstanding tasks and their due dates (GTD stuff)
For receipts and financial transactions; budget and expense reporting

>Also, I am wondering if your use of the word "classify" is synonymous with me using "qualify"

I think of qualify more as - 
be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition.

Link to comment
  • Level 5
7 hours ago, dvollc said:

Hello @Dave-in-Decatur.  You piqued my interest.  Can you describe the structure you (will) have?

😄 Sadly, no, since I don't have it yet! I'm sure I will continue to use subject-oriented notebooks, simply because I'm used to it and my mind (I do not speak of "the human mind"☺️) works that way. Beyond that, I've been compiling a lengthy Evernote note on this subject (and have added this thread to it), and will have to dedicate a few days to considering and maybe experimenting with possibilities to figure out what I want to do.

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...