BurgersNFries

organization How I use tags to replicate nested folders

128 posts in this topic

I think BNF's post does a great job explaining why tags do important things that (Evernote) notebooks or (physical/digital) folders cannot do. Obviously, if stacks work for a particular user, great, but I'll add my voice to BNF's tag gospel, because there's light there that (judging from the forums) a lot of users aren't seeing, and she and I both would love to see other Evernoters—especially those who read this forum—find better organization with the program. Sorry to pick on you, Brandie, but saying that stacked notebooks can be used "instead of tags" suggests they have the same or similar functionality, and I want to make clear for any users tempted to believe that without looking into the matter that, for the reasons BNF laid out, that's not the case. I'm curious about what you would do in this example BNF gave, which I've modified minorly, to change some vocabulary (with changes in brackets):

let's say the policy is for both cars. To use [stacked notebooks], I'd need to have two copies of the document - one in the Car A [stacked notebook] & one in the Car B [stacked notebook]. But with tags, I simply have the one document & use all three tags, "insurance policies", "car A" and "car B'. When I want to find the insurance policy for Car A, I still just search on ""insurance policies" and "car A".

Do you make two copies of the same note, or do something different?

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here is another vote for tags over notebooks in most cases.

notebooks are the equivalent of organizing a library by the color of the book covers. you make a decision and have to agonize over what to do with books that fall into an ambiguous category (is orange in red or yellow?). stacked notebooks add more complexity, like organizing all red books from large to small, but it is the same kind of thinking.

tags are the equivalent of putting books on the shelf in any order, but instantly reshelving them any way you want: by author, title, content, color, etc.

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I take it one step further. I keep tags for:

- High level descriptions/categories

- Note collections that I want to link together

In many cases, however, I just search for keywords in the notes. A good example is my cooking recipe collection. I used to have lots of ingredient tags (a habit I developed in Delicious) but I have now junked almost all of those tags. e.g. I have a "poultry" tag. I do not have chicken, turkey, cornish hen, etc. tags.

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- High level descriptions/categories

I think that this is pretty much what I do. A short phrase describing the note. e.g. "Software" "Development" "C++"., etc. Plus a small number of genric, catchall tags, e.g. "_Todo", "Task". I tend to keep it all pretty simple.

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- High level descriptions/categories

I think that this is pretty much what I do. A short phrase describing the note. e.g. "Software" "Development" "C++"., etc. Plus a small number of genric, catchall tags, e.g. "_Todo", "Task". I tend to keep it all pretty simple.

In that vein, I think many people, new to Evernote, don't realize the power of the EN search engine as it relates to accurate titles & keywords. That probably leads to the overtagging. So I'm adding this previous post into the mix as well:

Here are two previous posts describing what works best for me:

I chose keywords in titles over tags because title is more visible, regardless of the Evernote client you are using. I also didn't want to worry about the issue of tag maintenance, etc.

Me too. I think people new to Evernote have a tendency to over tag (I did) and not utilize the EN search engine. I have hundreds of documents in my EN & almost never tag them. But I'm diligent about using an accurate title. I always include the date of the bill/letter in YYYYMMDD format as well as the company or the name of the sender/recipient (if it's something I sent). So if I need to find the Cox cable bill from May of 2007, I'd simply do this search:

intitle:cox 200705*

and boom...out of thousands of notes, the one note I'm looking for pops up, no matter what notebook it was in. And no tags involved.

I find it too easy to get caught up in the process of organizing things, getting it just right, filing everything precisely. For me, that ends up being a big time sink.

I agree that can happen. Another reason I don't like using too many tags or worry about which notebook to put something in. (Although I do use more notebooks than some of the other heavy users.)

And I think it's probably easier if someone has background in organizing physical papers/notes/documents before jumping into Evernote b/c I think it's too easy for someone to blame EN (or any digital organization tool, perhaps) b/c they can't find something. OTOH, if you've been filing paper for a while, sooner or later you realize you need to have structure in your organization so that you always know to look for your AT&T cell phone bill under "AT&T" rather than "telephone" or "cell phone". Or however you decide to file it. It just needs to be consistent or else you spend time looking for something you already "filed."

I think this post by John Pierce (jmpsfs) is accurate & well thought out & applicable to this thread, too. (I Evernoted it.)

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BNF: Specific searches have been helpful at times for me, but one problem I have a lot is that, since so many of my notes are web clippings that include a lot of text or long OCRed PDFs, searching for any keyword turns up far more hits than I want. For example, just now, I thought of a word I don't think I've ever purposefully clipped or created a note about: "eagle." There were 26 results, almost none about the animal (which is what I was thinking of when I thought to search for "eagle"). Those 26 notes pulled up:

  • 4 hits on the animal
  • 4 hits on the band (fine, Eagles)
  • 4 hits on the Philadelphia Eagles
  • 2 hits on "eagle eye"
  • "eagle scout"
  • "If Obama Is Serious About American Indians, He'll Offer More Than Eagle Feathers"
  • "eagle7765" (commenter on a website)
  • Eagleton, Indiana
  • "WAREAGLE" (commenter on YouTube)
  • Eagle, Colorado
  • Los Angeles's Eagle Rock neighborhood
  • "spread-eagle"
  • "legal eagle"

It also picked up "Google" in an OCRed image and gave me a PDF and a web clipping, neither of which displayed the word "eagle" but somehow came up in the search anyway (what's up with that?).

This is why I use a lot of tags, maybe not as specific as "eagle," but definitely, in Owyn's words, high-level descriptions/categories, such as, for example, "Animals" or "Nature" or "Biology." (I'm not actually that interested in eagles or other animals; this is just an example. I'm glad I did the search, though, because I found this again.)

Do you have recommendations for how to group together, say, mentions of eagle, the animal? In a case that like (if a user were actually interested in eagles), would you recommend an "Eagle" or "Animal" tag? How do you find things that are grouped by topic when a search for that keyword will turn up lots of extraneous stuff?

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BNF: Specific searches have been helpful at times for me, but one problem I have a lot is that, since so many of my notes are web clippings that include a lot of text or long OCRed PDFs, searching for any keyword turns up far more hits than I want. For example, just now, I thought of a word I don't think I've ever purposefully clipped or created a note about: "eagle." There were 26 results, almost none about the animal (which is what I was thinking of when I thought to search for "eagle"). Those 26 notes pulled up:

  • 4 hits on the animal
  • 4 hits on the band (fine, Eagles)
  • 4 hits on the Philadelphia Eagles
  • 2 hits on "eagle eye"
  • "eagle scout"
  • "If Obama Is Serious About American Indians, He'll Offer More Than Eagle Feathers"
  • "eagle7765" (commenter on a website)
  • Eagleton, Indiana
  • "WAREAGLE" (commenter on YouTube)
  • Eagle, Colorado
  • Los Angeles's Eagle Rock neighborhood
  • "spread-eagle"
  • "legal eagle"

It also picked up "Google" in an OCRed image and gave me a PDF and a web clipping, neither of which displayed the word "eagle" but somehow came up in the search anyway (what's up with that?).

This is why I use a lot of tags, maybe not as specific as "eagle," but definitely, in Owyn's words, high-level descriptions/categories, such as, for example, "Animals" or "Nature" or "Biology." (I'm not actually that interested in eagles or other animals; this is just an example. I'm glad I did the search, though, because I found this again.)

Do you have recommendations for how to group together, say, mentions of eagle, the animal? In a case that like (if a user were actually interested in eagles), would you recommend an "Eagle" or "Animal" tag? How do you find things that are grouped by topic when a search for that keyword will turn up lots of extraneous stuff?

PFM...IMO, this is a bit of a bogus search/trick question, since you're searching on a word you've never searched on before but are wanting/hoping to isolate the results in your Evernote database. But I'll play along... Additional considerations are...are you looking for a specific note you vaguely remember? Or all notes that strictly relate to the bird?

Since you say you've never searched on "eagle" before, then it's not surprising you're getting a lot of false positives on a fairly common, single word. However, going with your example, if I wanted to be able to facilitate this search in the future (since visually searching through 26 note titles shouldn't take too long to identify the four that pertain to the bird), I would probably decide to make a tag "Eagle - the animal". (I actually do have a "Windows (home not OS)" tag that I use to differentiate between windows repair/cleaning/tinting/sunscreens notes vs the operating system.) I would identify the 4 of 26 notes that pertained to the animal & apply the newly created tag. (If all 26 notes had accurate titles, this would only take a few minutes.)

But let's say there are more than 26 (easily managed) results. Something like over 200 results, which are not easily managed. Also, keep in mind EN does not support -notebook in the search parameters. I'm going to replicate your example on my database. What I did is search my EN on the word "eagle". I have 44,713 notes. Searching on "eagle" gives me 248 notes. Now, how to isolate the notes only pertaining to the bird... Keep in mind while EN supports -tags, it does not support -notebooks.

  • I realize many notes are pertaining to local tennis tournaments...so I add -tennis "assuming" none of them pertain to the bird
  • that takes me down to 130 results
  • I create a "Eagle - the bird" tag & apply it to all 130 notes
  • I change my search to all notes/tag:"Eagle - the bird"
  • I eliminate other notes based upon notebooks/tags/titles such as computer info, songs to get, letters, funnies, again "assuming" none of them relate to the bird, although some of the funnies may have eagles in them & I'm not sure if you want that in your results or not.

I'm now down to 102 notes in less than 10 minutes. (I timed it.) Most of the resultant notes are emails from others. In my case, I get Goodreads emails updates daily so some of those emails pertain to book titles or authors. I can isolate those notes by adding "goodreads" to the search criteria & untagging them. I'm now down to 99 notes., when I return to my search on all notes/tag:"Eagle - the bird" (Most are still emails from others.) Now, reverting to my question above... are you looking for a specific not you vaguely remember? Or all notes that strictly relate to the bird? If I'm looking for a specific note I vaguely remember, I should be able to browse those notes & quickly dismiss a lot of them based upon title or notebook. If I'm wanting to find all notes pertaining to the bird, I may well have to read all 99 notes.

I hope this helps.

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Sorry if you thought the example was silly. I used "eagle" just because it was a way to simulate an issue I had, and I thought the notes it brought up were funny. I hope you didn't think I was wasting your time. And thanks for playing along—though I didn't expect or hope you'd replicate the same search!

Your system is helpful to see in practice, so thanks for sharing it, especially since I may have to apply it in the future. I'm still left wondering, though, why you generally suggest people avoid using many tags. My very non-scientific guess is that I spend less time finding notes I want by doing heavy tagging on the front end, in the web clipper (where I tag most notes with two to five different tags corresponding to topics of the notes), and then searching with tags, than I do using keyword searches without tags or than I would if, every first time I wanted to pull together a bunch of notes on a given subject I went through the steps you say that you did. I've seen you detail how you organize, for example, receipts and financial notes easily with in-title data, and that makes a lot of sense to me. I guess I just don't understand why you say "I think many people, new to Evernote, don't realize the power of the EN search engine as it relates to accurate titles & keywords," since, in my experience so far, searching by keywords often does not quickly give me the note or notes I'm looking for (whereas tags, or keywords plus tags, do that for me). No need to justify what works for you; I'm only asking for more clarity on how to use keyword searches to quickly and accurately pull up notes I'm looking for—and only if you care to help me further with this. Thanks.

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This is why I use a lot of tags, maybe not as specific as "eagle," but definitely, in Owyn's words, high-level descriptions/categories, such as, for example, "Animals" or "Nature" or "Biology." (I'm not actually that interested in eagles or other animals; this is just an example. I'm glad I did the search, though, because I found this again.)

Do you have recommendations for how to group together, say, mentions of eagle, the animal? In a case that like (if a user were actually interested in eagles), would you recommend an "Eagle" or "Animal" tag? How do you find things that are grouped by topic when a search for that keyword will turn up lots of extraneous stuff?

Eagle - That actually is a good example.

I would probably use the tag:animal for the note and then use the following search:

eagle tag:animal

I'm a political junky and half of my Evernote notes are web captures. The articles can be quite lengthy so searches end up with results similar to your Eagle example. I try to tag notes as I capture the info in order to narrow down the possible choices. For instance - take the name Obama - I have 3 tags - "Obama Barack"; "Obama Michelle", and "Obama Cabinet". I also have a tag for "Vacations Politicians".

So if I want to see how much money has been spent on Michelle Obama's jaunts, specifically her trip to Spain, I search for:

tag:"Obama Michelle" tag:"Vacation Politicians" Spain

Here is a link that shows how I use tags.

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Jbenson and I do the exact same thing (with a lot of the same material, it seems). Again, I'm not asking anyone to tell us we're wrong for doing what we do. It works for us, and that's what matters. I'm just curious to hear, from anyone who cautions against overtagging, how not tagging as much as we do could pull up notes as quickly and accurately as our tag-heavy systems do. If there's a better system, I'll be happy to hear it and save the time I currently spend tagging.

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Peter. I ran the same test. I found 22 of 6653 notes. It took me seconds to scan the note titles in List mode and determine that none of the notes were applicable to the bird.

I spend time up front to make sure I have good note titles. Normally at the time I clip. I spend little time later adding tags. e.g. About half the clips/auto-forwarded items I currently receive end up going to a "News" archive notebook with just a "news" tag.

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Jbenson and I do the exact same thing (with a lot of the same material, it seems). Again, I'm not asking anyone to tell us we're wrong for doing what we do. It works for us, and that's what matters.

That's pretty much the name of the game.

I'm just curious to hear, from anyone who cautions against overtagging, how not tagging as much as we do could pull up notes as quickly and accurately as our tag-heavy systems do. If there's a better system, I'll be happy to hear it and save the time I currently spend tagging.

Evernote just isn't set up very well to manage large numbers of tags, in my opinion, unless you are very systematic about organizing them, There are some nice tricks you can play, like using common prefixes to help organize, and which allow you to do AND/OR filtering. But for a person who is new to tagging, I think that it's easy to overdo.

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Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

I agree with Owyn on the importance of a well structured title. For my personal stuff, here is the format I use religiously.

YYYY MM DD State City Company Person Action

2011 12 11 MN Rogers Target JLB Xmas gifts

But for the web clippings I prefer to keep the title exactly as it originally was written. Example:

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But for the web clippings I prefer to keep the title exactly as it originally was written. Example:

Agreed. But, it only takes seconds in most cases to confirm that the title is appropriate when clipped. Sometimes, particularly with selection rather than article clips, the default title is just not good enough.

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But for the web clippings I prefer to keep the title exactly as it originally was written. Example:

Agreed. But, it only takes seconds in most cases to confirm that the title is appropriate when clipped. Sometimes, particularly with selection rather than article clips, the default title is just not good enough.

Yup, but after Evernote crippled the Firefox clipper, I switched to Clearly.

Clipping with Clearly requires a manual sync before I can edit the title on my Windows client.

And usually, I will clip several different web pages at the same time.

I can multi-tag (Ctrl Alt T) faster than I can type and edit the titles. Especially when the title contains names like Moammar Gaddafi.

More importantly, I prefer the more snarky, eye-catching titles that are used by sites such as Drudge.

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Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that. As I use the the web client in Chrome as my default Evernote client recent clips are just 1 or 2 clicks away for me. Even from Clearly. In addition, Clearly clips are (currently) article clips. In most cases the default title is appropriate.

Hmmm. That actually is not true. I spend a lot more time policing titles for technical notes & for music notes. It still does not take me a lot of time. I worked out the standard patterns some time ago for my major use cases.

Anyway. Sermon -> Off. Bit like preaching to the choir. Or, arguing about dogma at the seminary. B)

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Owyn, I believe you use the Web because you have a version of Linux on your computer. So, your Clearly captures will show up faster because there is no need to manually sync the Web version. I do not use the Web, so I have to sync before I can see the Clearly capture.

And because there is no Due Date field, I rely on the Created Date for my future appointments, tasks, and reminders. This means the Clearly captures are a few screens down. The addition of a manual sync, and then scrolling down to find the new Clearly captures takes a few extra seconds and is a bit tedious.

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Sorry if you thought the example was silly. I used "eagle" just because it was a way to simulate an issue I had, and I thought the notes it brought up were funny. I hope you didn't think I was wasting your time. And thanks for playing along—though I didn't expect or hope you'd replicate the same search

To clarify, I think it's bogus/trick b/c you (I) collect/organize info on a certain topic/search/focus that we are doing at the time. And/or we may have auto feeds via email forwarding. Subsequently trying to search your (my) existing database is a totally different factor, IMO. IE, I may spend time collecting rice recipes. Then I may spend time collecting kidney diet recipes for my dog (many include rice.) But now, if I go back into my database & search on rice, it's a totally different deal - it's not focused on rice recipes or canine KD recipes. I will get my rice recipes, I will get rice recipes that are kidney diet recipes for my dog, I will get info on rice paper or Rice University. or "Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation", etc. You've not refined/expanded a search, you've totally changed the parameters & the results are limited to what you've already "clipped" into Evernote. I'm not saying this is a bad thing - just understand it for the skewed thing that it is.

I'm still left wondering, though, why you generally suggest people avoid using many tags. My very non-scientific guess is that I spend less time finding notes I want by doing heavy tagging on the front end, in the web clipper (where I tag most notes with two to five different tags corresponding to topics of the notes), and then searching with tags, than I do using keyword searches without tags or than I would if, every first time I wanted to pull together a bunch of notes on a given subject I went through the steps you say that you did. I've seen you detail how you organize, for example, receipts and financial notes easily with in-title data, and that makes a lot of sense to me. I guess I just don't understand why you say "I think many people, new to Evernote, don't realize the power of the EN search engine as it relates to accurate titles & keywords," since, in my experience so far, searching by keywords often does not quickly give me the note or notes I'm looking for (whereas tags, or keywords plus tags, do that for me). No need to justify what works for you; I'm only asking for more clarity on how to use keyword searches to quickly and accurately pull up notes I'm looking for—and only if you care to help me further with this. Thanks.

Well, whatever works for you works for you & you should go with that. But to answer your questions (I hope), when I started with Evernote, I'd tag emails from my manager. Later, I realized this was redundant b/c he has a fairly unique name. I do still put work emails in a separate notebook. But I just go to that notebook & search on his last name & I get all emails from him. (As well as one that are cc'd to him.) I work for a moderate sized company & all the people I get emails from have fairly unique names. So again, this protocol applies to all the emails I would need to pluck from Evernote.

Another example of overtagging is the first post in this thread. Using folders on a hard drive, I'd have a "cars" folder. But using tags, I have a "cars" parent tag but (normally) only use the specific car (IE Car A) tag. And the Cox bill example I included above...no need to tag it as "cox" or "cable" or "internet", "telephone", etc. Just the notebook "Bills" and the accurate title suffice. Since I include the date of the bill in the title, no year tag is needed.

Hope this makes sense...

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I'm afraid I phrased my questions badly and got a bunch of you saying things that you've said before and which didn't need to be repeated here, at least not for my sake. As Owyn said, "Bit like preaching to the choir. Or, arguing about dogma at the seminary." :) That said, I really appreciate what you've shared, and I actually do have a little better handle on what I was wondering about earlier.

But to answer your questions (I hope), when I started with Evernote, I'd tag emails from my manager. Later, I realized this was redundant b/c he has a fairly unique name. I do still put work emails in a separate notebook. But I just go to that notebook & search on his last name & I get all emails from him. (As well as one that are cc'd to him.)

That makes sense to me, and it's something I should probably internalize. For example, I have a number of tags for people I know. Most of them, of course, have names (at least full names) that are not going to end up in unrelated notes, so that's probably a waste. That said, I guess I stick with it for two reasons:

  1. Jbenson's Obama example: searching Obama will turn up a lot more than just clips about the president. Similarly, if I want to search for a friend named Tom Johnson, searching "Tom" won't give me what I want (because of false positives), and searching "Tom Johnson" may cut out a note I made in which I didn't use his last name. So I keep tags to be fool-proof—though I guess I could just make sure to be more consistent about keywords in note bodies.
  2. Since I use lots of tags to pull together topics I'm interested in, I've gotten used to scrolling through my tag list to look back into topics I haven't thought about recently but which I have tagged notes about. I don't have "Eagle" or "Animals," but I do have "Agriculture," "Cities," "Demographics," "Energy," "Immigration," "Photography," "Transportation," and a few hundred more of these general topic tags. Since I'm in the habit of using those to keep things organized, I keep it going even when I don't need to, thanks to unique keywords (such as with people's names).

Another example of overtagging is the first post in this thread. Using folders on a hard drive, I'd have a "cars" folder. But using tags, I have a "cars" parent tag but (normally) only use the specific car (IE Car A) tag. And the Cox bill example I included above...no need to tag it as "cox" or "cable" or "internet", "telephone", etc. Just the notebook "Bills" and the accurate title suffice. Since I include the date of the bill in the title, no year tag is needed.

Hope this makes sense...

Yep, that makes total sense and I, like maybe a lot of Evernoters, have done less of that with time. Again, thanks to all of you for your help and clarifications.

Unrelated note: Jbenson, are you trying to plan your next vacation so you "happen to run into" the first lady? :D

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Unrelated note: Jbenson, are you trying to plan your next vacation so you "happen to run into" the first lady? :D

I'd love that to happen, especially if she and her husband are put into early retirement.

Unfortunately, I don't think I could afford the places she frequents.

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All I can say is I really hope you're not supporting your hometown candidate. Ok, better shut up and get off politics now... :D

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All I can say is I really hope you're not supporting your hometown candidate. Ok, better shut up and get off politics now... :D

I support her for Congress, but not for the Presidency.

I lived most of my life in Massachusetts, so I cringed when she said:

"You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” while she was .....in New Hampshire.

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Here's an example where notebook organization is more important than tags. I have a notebook called "Contacts" which is simply an export of all my contacts from my Outook. Therefore, if I do a search for "Larry" in that specific notebook I will get contacts only (every one I know called Larry). However, when I do a global search for Larry I get a bewildering series of notes all of which have a mention of Larry. I would have to weed through 50 of them to find the contact that I need. On the other hand, I am going on a cruise to the Caribbean and have tagged all cruise related notes as "cruise 2012". However, when I want to add information about a specific port I add a specific tag" Cozumel" or "Caymans". In this way I can use tags to bore down to as detailed info as I need.

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