Notebook software is the 300 pound canary of productivity tools. Those who haven’t ever used them can be baffled by the simplicity and vagueness of the concept. “Note-taking software? Why do I need that? I have scrap paper and a pencil, don’t I?”. Blah, blah, blah, and that person probably also walked five miles to school uphill both ways. I shouldn’t be too insulting, as I used to be one of those people.
I have now seen the light, especially after Evernote helped me maintain at least a shred of sanity during an unexpected move in which I managed to find a new place to live and move in two weeks. I find that it is the very vagueness and simplicity of the concept that makes notebook software such a powerful tool. They provide you with an information ecosystem that enables you to organize both your work life and personal life.
Evernote has three levels of hierarchy. Notes can be in a notebook and a notebook can be in a stack. This is the big difference with OneNote, which has many more levels of hierarchy, as many as you want. I hope Crystal will do a tool tip on OneNote so you can compare the two. Right now you can get a start by looking at our guide to Notebook Software. To get back to Evernote, some people prefer its more free-from design, particularly as anything can be found using Evernote’s search capability.
Evernote wants to be your tool for remembering everything, thus its elephant logo. So one feature of Evernote is its device agnosticity. There is Evernote software or apps for almost every platform – all the major browsers, Windows, Mac, many mobile devices and tablets including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Nook, and more. Does not seem to be available for the various flavors of Unix/Linux yet, but that is the last major OS for it to conquer.
As part of being an individual’s information ecosystem, Evernote connects to a wide variety of other hardware and software. Each Evernote account has its own email address, so you can add a note to Evernote via email. A number of scanners now include Evernote as a destination for scanned files. Evernote is a channel on ifttt, so you can write ifttt recipes to, for example, archive all your tweets or WordPress blog posts in Evernote. Some of the third-party apps expand on Evernote’s basic functionality and are listed on the Evernote Trunk page. For example, Evernote does not provide templates (OneNote does). An app called Kustom Note does provide templates for Evernote. Disclaimer – I’ve only looked at Kustom Note briefly, not gotten it to work yet, but it does display some nice templates.
Evernote can include a variety of note formats, such as rich text notes, audio, and graphics (excluding video). Take a photo of a handwritten note, for example, or scan it, and Evernote will run optical character recognition (OCR) on the note and the text will be searchable. With Evernote’s Web Clipper, available for most browsers, you can add all or part of a web page to Evernote.
Let’s go back to my recent move. After getting a notice tacked to my door that I had 45 days to vacate my old apartment as it had been sold and was being demolished, my first step was to start looking at apartment sites (well, actually, my first step was to roll up into a ball and scream). I created a notebook in Evernote called Apartment Find. I clipped into it sites about apartment complexes of interest. I then could add information to that note such as a call to the complex verifying apartment availability and dates. I looked up the complex on the Apartment Ratings site with reviews of complexes (which, overall, is enough to persuade you to never ever move), and added notes about the reviews. As I narrowed down my options, I started adding more and more information on the few sites I was most interested in, including questions about that complex with the answers obtained from the apartment managers. Once I decided on a place, I then noted what I needed to take with me to fill out an application, get the credit check done, and sign the lease. Once the lease was signed, I found a mover, and started making notes on what I needed to do, for example take my cat to be boarded – clipped details such as hours and directions to the kennel into the note. Made notes about who to notify about changes of address and marked those off when done. Made notes about priority of items to move – for example, make sure the entertainment center and the electronics went in last and out first, as I had an appointment with Comcast the afternoon of the move. Made notes on appointments to get gas and cable hooked up. Made notes on items to be bought – new cleaning supplies, etc. and possible items of new furniture, including clipping web pages from Ikea or other suppliers. Anyway, that is the picture of an example. Evernote’s blog has examples of how people from all walks of life are using the software.
This blog, of course, is interested in tools for higher education, and again notebook software has a lot of utility. Since PDFs can be attached to a note, it can help keep track of what’s been read for a class/research project. Many schools at all levels of the education system are encouraging students to use notebook software to keep a portfolio of school accomplishments. Create a mind map for a project and store it in Evernote, with another note that is a project-specific to-do list. Both professors and students can keep a notebook for each class, attach the syllabus, add notes on due dates, scope of assignments, questions to ask the professor, and more.
There is no one software that is the holy grail of productivity, but notebook software is as close as we have come so far. Life is complicated. Stay on top of it with the notebook software of your choice.