Why the Concept of Evernote Notebooks Is Flawed

Evernote is an amazing service. I can’t imagine managing all my task and projects without it. I use Evernote regularly for some six years and since I sorted out my methodology and published it as a book and an online course, I can’t fathom how Evernote itself can’t grasp how flawed the concept of notebooks really is.

Evernote hides inside its service one of the best implementation of tags available, but somehow they haven’t recognized it yet and heavily promote the use of notebooks instead which is beyond my understanding.

As Evernote Certified Consultant I pointed out many times during my exam and even within the community of fellow consultants, that Evernote should really focus on promoting tags instead of notebooks because tags offer more versatility compared to somewhat rigid notebooks.

Evernote limits

First, notebooks are heavily limited in numbers. Compared to 100.000 tags, you can create only 250 personal notebooks which is ridiculous.

Evernote limits

Excluding usage

Second, notebooks shouldn’t be used as a project storage. Not only you are heavily limited, as I mentioned above, but more importantly, you can’t have the same note saved in two or more notebooks at the same time.

After many years of using Evernote as a project management tool, it happened to me many times that I had to assign one note to three or even more projects, because sometimes, people just tend to send you overviews by emails and they don’t want to send the current progress of each project in a separate email. No, they just send it all in one email. Now, when you want to store this email in notebooks, which one will you choose? The most important project? The most recent project?

I hope you see how flawed this is. Yet Evernote still suggests that you use notebooks this way while completely ignoring their gold nugget, tags.

With tags, you don’t have to think about this for too long. You can assign 100 tags per note. So if that overview email mentions 5 projects, you can simply assign 5 tags to this note and you’re done.

Proper naming convention

When I suggest that we should switch from notebooks to tags, the most frequent counter argument is that with tags, everything would turn into a mess after some time. Yes, if the limit of 250 notebooks makes your Evernote less messy because you can’t simply create more notebooks, that’s fine. With 100.000 tags, you must get into a very messy situation, right? Wrong.

All it takes is a little bit of thinking and a little bit of discipline. With the right naming convention you can keep your list of tags organized even with almost a thousand of them, like in my case:

Keeping tags organized

As you can see in the image above, I have just six notebooks, everything else is managed by tags. Also, I have already almost 6.000 notes in my personal account and yet I am able to find anything almost instantly.

Let’s say I need to find that contract signed with that company. Hmm, let’s see. I can easily start searching among all my notes and with just two tags, I’m done: d.contract, k.AUTOCONT:

Search for anything, super fast!

All tags representing document type start with the d. prefix. You can have d.contract, d.email_sent, d.email_received, d.offer, and so on.

All tags representing people or companies start with the k. prefix. You can have k.Smith_John, k.MICROSOFT and so on.

Now, when you search for notes with tags assigned, you don’t have to think about the name of the tag, all you need to know is, that there should always be some document type, some person or company and ideally even some project assigned to the note.

Yes, you guessed it. All tags representing project start with the p. prefix.

Managing tasks with Evernote

Let’s make it really simple. You should be able to keep track of the progress of your tasks because buying a milk won’t always cut it. Some of the tasks I keep the track of take more than a year to finish, so without a proper system, I would be completely lost.

Luckily, you can use Evernote as a task manager. Compared to any other alternative, the tags are again the main reason why you shouldn’t consider anything else.

Tasks are basically notes with a reminder and due date assigned. This way, you can easily sort all your tasks by due date. Active tasks belong to t.active notebook, idle tasks belong to t.idle notebook and completed tasks, well, to t.completed notebook.

With the so-called Arrow Notation, you can keep track of everything that happens within the particular task. Smith_John -> means that Smith gave you some information or asked you to do something while -> Smith_John means that you gave Smith some information or delegated some job to him.

Imagine you bump into somebody at work and by searching for -> Peter you get immediately everything you need to discuss with this poor guy. That’s what I call power and that’s how I am able to manage all of my 129 currently active projects.

It’s not a coincidence, it’s a system

Yes, this is just a quick sneak peek of the methodology I have invented during my almost 10 years of using Evernote. I call it THE SYSTEM2, because all you need is two types of notebooks, two types of notes and two types of tags.

THE SYSTEM2 is a book and an online course. It’s based on GTD, but takes it to the next level. It’s Evernote on steroids and it’s available for anyone who wants to get the most out of Evernote.

System2 book

System2 course