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jcarucci

Areas of Focus

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Up until now I've been creating a notebook for each project, but I'm starting to think this is a bad idea. I have these notebooks with 3 or 4 notes and it doesn't seem like a good system to me. I only have a 100+ notes at this point, but I want to come up with a good system before I accumulate a large number of notes. I’m thinking about organizing my Evernote data by using tags and having Notebooks for areas of focus. These areas would mirror my structure in Omnifocus. I’ve read a lot about how to organize things in Evernote and it sounds like the best way to do it is not have a large number of notebooks and use tags to tie things together. So this is what I’m thinking for my Notebooks:

 
  • Personal
    • Family
    • Finances
    • Sports
    • Travel
    • Reference
  • Work
    • Team
    • Software
    • Reference 

 

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There's lots about notebooks tags and titles in the forums.  Personally I'm pushing 17,000 notes,  mostly in one notebook,  tied together mainly with titles and a reasonable knowledge of the search grammar.  I tag only when there's a reason and use another notebook only when there's a very good reason.  It makes life easier.

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I haven't mentioned this yet to the community (I'm still _understanding_ Evernote), but I think Evernote users (and developers) should start by conceiving of a _storage structure_ and a _viewing (or retrieval) structure_ separately.  The two needs — storage and retrieval — are distinct.  What you've outlined is a reasonable _storage structure_.  Storage, though, is both relative easy and relatively unimportant.  It is _inextricably_ linked to Notebooks, though, because (as with other DBMS's) _every Note must be a Notebook, and can be in only one Notebook_.

 

I suggest thinking all the way through your _Viewing and Retrieval structure_.  Your goal is to create a database that meets your needs.  Only you can determine what they are.  My general suggestions are:

 - Store in Notebooks, View in Saved Searches

 - Set up your Storage Structure (i.e.: your Notebooks) to mirror a high-level taxonomic differentiation to _you_.  You should _never_ hesitate about in what Notebook a Note should be stored.  I store by _content_, because that, for me, is one of the first and un-changing characteristics of my Notes: they are, e.g.: dreams, or receipts, or articles to read, or sketches, etc.  Notes themselves are — this was my initial attraction to Evernote — atomic units in the database.

 

Keep in mind that, in Evernote, a Notebook is, to the user, identical to a privileged tag (it's a tag that comes with a saved search that shows in the Sidebar in the Notebooks section).  Creating a tag, assigning it, and moving a simple tag search to the sidebar is functionally equivalent to assigning a Note to a Notebook.  The characteristics of this privilege are the _only_ differentiation between a Notebook and a tag.  Note that you can easily convert a Notebook to a tag, and vice versa.

 

As long as you've allowed your OmniFocus structure to adjust to _you_, using your top-level folders as a basis for your storage structure in Evernote is a good idea, imho.

 

Projects (as generally understood in the business community) are an interesting case.  The issue isn't, imho, whether they should be Notebooks or "tags & saved searches" — the two are functionally equal.  The issue is _time_, specifically:  how to handle relatively medium-term grouping of Notes?  "Time" and "Medium-term" beg an additional question: how to handle superannuated Notes?  In terms of Evernote, the question becomes: how to retire Notebooks or tags?

 

I don't know yet.  Either can be moved into a holding bin (Stack: "Archived Projects"; Parent-tag: "Archived Projects").  It may simply be a matter of personal preference, but I can't let go of that _other_ (non-GUI) privilege of Notebooks (that _every Note must be a Notebook, and can be in only one Notebook_).  Because of that, and the fact that you are likely to want to regularly retire project without retiring all the Notes in that project, I suggest using Tags for projects, and moving those tags into an "Archived Projects" Parent-tag when no longer active.

 

Evernote is missing a common database item (afaict):  the _viewing container_ that hold items statically (not by search).  This is the container that should be used for projects.  I have no idea why it is absent in Evernote.

 

(NB: many additions Wed 9 April 2014)

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These are very interesting ideas. I've never thought of storage and viewing as separate before. I like the idea of saved searches. I didn't realize you can have them in your sidebar, that's great!

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These are very interesting ideas. I've never thought of storage and viewing as separate before. I like the idea of saved searches. I didn't realize you can have them in your sidebar, that's great!

 

This page — and the section Evernote Saved Search — are worth your time.  To put a Saved Search on your Shortcut list, drag it from the "Saved Searches" section of the search drop-down to the Shortcuts section of your Sidebar.

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My rules of the road:

 

Eschew notebooks as much as possible. Notebooks are limited to 250 per account, not including notebooks shared to you (Business users get more, I think). They don't play particularly well in search (you can only reference at most one notebook or stack in a search). Notebooks partition your notes; a note can only belong to one notebook. What they're useful for, mainly, is:

* sharing a group of notes with others

* keeping a group of notes unsynched with the Evernote servers (local notebooks, only available on desktop clients)

* keeping a group of notes available to you when you're offline (offline notebooks, available on mobile clients, and a premium feature)

* giving incoming notes from import, email, etc. a single landing place where they can be properly categorized -- an Inbox, of sorts.

 

I only create notebooks when I need them for the above purposes; the total number that I have is pretty small, less than 30 between my personal and work accounts.

 

I do use tagging pretty religiously, but I keep a fairly small and reusable tag vocabulary, < 200 tags in total (some of them just exist for test purposes since I often try out scenarios that forum users report as problematic; my work account tends to have more because I have unique tags to label projects, but the general set of tags stays about constant). Notes often have more than one tag, much as research papers often have more than one keyword. I have a tree of tags, but I don't use it to navigate my notes; I tend to use typed-in searches most of the time, and keep saved searches for common searches, or those that are currently active, e.g. one for the current work project(s).

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Yes, I too have been slowly combining notebooks to decrease the number I use. Now I no longer have a single notebook per project, I have a projects notebook and use tags to differentiate content between projects. 

Likewise, I used to have "personal" and a "receipts" notebooks, but I have since ditched the receipts notebook. Now, receipts go wherever they belong and are tagged "receipt". For example, if it is related to a household thing, they go in the household notebook I share with my partner. If it is something I purchased fro myself, it goes in the personal notebook. If it is for work, it goes in my work notebook. 

 

If I want to see all of my receipts, I just type tag:receipt 

If I want to narrow it down by context, I search within whichever notebook I need "personal" "work" "household"

 

By using this approach I've managed to knock out perhaps 5 notebooks. I am actively looking for effective strategies to go down even further. 

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Keep in mind that, in Evernote, a Notebook is, to the user, identical to a privileged tag (it's a tag that comes with a saved search that shows in the Sidebar in the Notebooks section).  Creating a tag, assigning it, and moving a simple tag search to the sidebar is functionally equivalent to assigning a Note to a Notebook.  The characteristics of this privilege are the _only_ differentiation between a Notebook and a tag.  Note that you can easily convert a Notebook to a tag, and vice versa.

I'd be a little leery of this oversimplification. Notebooks and tags are two different things, and are used differently. There are similarities for sure, and yes, you can convert one from the other, kinda-sorta, pretty easily (though there's no one-step conversion), but I don't think that conflating them buys you much; oversimplification can lead to confusion when a user runs into differences in behavior (e.g, you can have one notebook in a search, but you can have multiple tags).

In truth, they are not that difficult to grasp conceptually. I like to think of it this way: notebooks contain, and tags describe. In the notebook metaphor's real-world analog, a note can exist in only one notebook. On the other hand, the same tag (or label) can be placed on any number of notes regardless of which notebook they exist in. Once you understand this, then you can move on to building a structure that works for you in the framework of Evernote's world (understanding that sometimes there's no fit there).

 

Projects (as generally understood in the business community) are an interesting case.  The issue isn't, imho, whether they should be Notebooks or "tags & saved searches" — the two are functionally equal.  The issue is _time_, specifically:  how to handle relatively medium-term grouping of Notes?  "Time" and "Medium-term" beg an additional question: how to handle superannuated Notes?  In terms of Evernote, the question becomes: how to retire Notebooks or tags?

 

I don't know yet.  Either can be moved into a holding bin (Stack: "Archived Projects"; Parent-tag: "Archived Projects").  It may simply be a matter of personal preference, but I can't let go of that _other_ (non-GUI) privilege of Notebooks (that _every Note must be a Notebook, and can be in only one Notebook_).  Because of that, and the fact that you are likely to want to regularly retire project without retiring all the Notes in that project, I suggest using Tags for projects, and moving those tags into an "Archived Projects" Parent-tag when no longer active.

I use tags, not notebooks (notebooks are a limited resource) to designate projects -- it should be easy to select all of the notes related to a project via a single tag. The notebooks that they live in are just a reflection of current activity status. Notes for active projects go into a Todo notebook, usually with a due date for the master note, maybe with a Todo tag, and maybe with a saved search to get to a project's notes quickly. Once the project is complete, its notes get shuffled off into a standard Work notebook, clearing any due dates, and removing any Todo tags. Beyond that, if I change jobs, I can peel off all of the notes related to that job into a single notebook, and move it into an archive stack. I don't retire tags, you can have lots of those.

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The right way to set up Evernote is the way that works best for YOU. That being said, it's always useful to hear how other people do it.

Personally, I'm not a tagger. For me, adding a tag is an extra step, and one I easily forget to do.

Notebooks are very useful to me because they make it easier for me to get relevant search results. I have over 25,000 notes, and you'd be astonished how many keywords are common.

Example: I want to find an article I read recently about the structure of the galaxy. When I search for "galaxy" on all notes, I get 262 matches. When I do the same search in my Reference notebook, I get 11. Found it!

However, I do have only a few notebooks, for high-level divisions. Reference for things I read and want to recall later. Receipts for all receipts (sorry, Scott, the idea of putting a "receipts" tag on every single receipt fills me with horror). Writing for all my writing projects.

I think I tend to use titles instead of tags. Example: right now I'm finishing up a novel called "Children of the Eighth Day" -- in notes I refer to it as C8D. In my writing notebook I have dozens of notes related to this project, and all of the had C8D in the title (C8D Characters, C8D General Notes, C8D Chapter 6, etc.) This lets me bring up all the notes on that project as a saved search.

So...Notebooks for big categories, titles for individual projects, no tagging. That's what works for me.

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