Learning About Evernote – An Interview with Mitchell Allen

Mitchell Allen is a prolific writer, pretty good chess player, and all around technophile. He did a Q&A on the topic of online cloud storage with Sharon Hurley Hall and one of the programs he talked about was Evernote, which I use and love but know I don’t use all that well. After discussing whether this should be a guest post or a Q&A we decided on the Q&A. Don’t get confused with both of us being “Mitch” here; I asked the questions so I’m in bold; thus, Mitch gets the first word here. 🙂


Mitchell Allen

Mitch, thanks for inviting me to answer some questions about one of my favorite productivity tools. I’ll leave the techno-babble on the doorstep and bring in this little basket of basics.

1. For folks that don’t know (because they didn’t read my Evernote for Android post), tell folks what Evernote is.

Evernote is a tool for saving just about anything. Notes, pictures, music clips, videos and files. Once you have saved your stuff, Evernote helps you find it later. It is like having your own little World Wide Web.

Like the real web, you can access your stuff on many different devices. That’s because Evernote automatically syncs your devices with your online account.

Finally, you can share your stuff. I will talk about that in a moment.

2. At a very high level, can you tell folks how you personally use it?

Here are the top five things I do every day:

•  Save web pages
•  Jot down ideas for stories
•  Update to-do lists
• Hunt for references (stuff I said a long time ago, links to resources)
•  Manage my disaster recovery plan

The web pages are better than bookmarking because the text is right there. Sometimes it looks awful, but most pages are legible.

I have dozens of notebooks, each of which could be the next Great American Novel. LOL Most of the time, I’m just feeling creative and I like to jot down the ideas while they’re fresh in my mind.

Evernote has a very simple keyboard shortcut for creating a checkbox in a note (Ctrl+Shift+C). I create lists and try to check them off as soon as I can.

Hunting for references is probably the most frequent activity. I am always looking up stuff about Microsoft Excel, for example. I also spend a lot of time tracking down web addresses to include in my email correspondence.

Because of my freelance software business, I am always looking for the best ways to safeguard my stuff. Evernote is the perfect tool for me to keep track of my progress, as well as my thoughts about different backup strategies.


3. You pay for Evernote; what extra benefits does that get you and is it worth the expense for most people?

The limits on a free account are very generous: 100 notebooks, 60MB upload per month, 25MB per note and 25MB per attachment (actually, the attachment plus the note together cannot exceed 25MB). I was pushing up against the 60MB limit, so I don’t mind paying 5.00 a month for a premium account. I get 250 notebooks, 1GB upload per month, 100MB per note and 100MB per attachment (same restriction on combined size of note and attachment.) I am always editing my notes and all that syncing counts toward my quota!

Folks who only occasionally hit the limit on uploads can pony up the cash for just the months when they need it.

4. I just discovered that I can keep a journal or log by using Notebooks on Evernote. Can you explain Notebooks better and how people can really use them to their advantage?

Well, I promised not to get too technical, so think of a notebook as a steno pad. For a journal, you add a new note each day, similar to starting on a fresh page in your steno pad. You know those colorful sticky tabs that folks use to bookmark different sections of a report? Well, that’s your tags. Only, with Evernote, you kind of have to remember what tags you use. Otherwise, there is no point – you won’t be able to search for them later!

Actually, you don’t have to use tags, because Evernote will let you search for phrases, just like a Google search. Here is a useful link from the Evernote blog.

5. Is there a way to set up Evernote as a task manager?

As recently as February, 2013, the CEO of Evernote stated that the tool wasn’t all that great for to-do lists. But, if you Google task manager +evernote, you’ll find a bunch of people who seem to manage it.

Personally, I stopped using Evernote for task management. Gmail, Basecamp and my own custom-built tools are more suitable for the types of tasks I need to manage. I use Evernote to keep to-do lists for personal stuff, if I don’t need a reminder.

6. We actually share a notebook; can you compare the differences between sharing notebooks as opposed to using Dropbox for sharing?

This is one feature I don’t care for. It clutters up my space. I have joined a few shared notebooks and I have to wade past their tags. Ugh. I prefer to use Dropbox to transfer files and Google Docs for, well, documents!


7. I’ve never understood how to use the Shortcuts area; can you talk about that?

The new version of Evernote shortcuts took some getting used to. Instead of bookmarks across the top, the shortcuts now appear on the left side, along with the tags, notebooks and everything else. The trick is to drag the note from the preview area onto the Shortcuts title or within the section itself.

I discovered that, if you drag a note onto a tag, that tag is added to the note, which was not what I expected! As a further experiment, I dragged a note onto the title Notebooks and it moved the note from its old notebook into my default notebook.

8. What’s that Atlas thing all about?

I never paid the Atlas any attention. From the Evernote website and forums, I learned that it uses geotagging to establish where the note originated. So, if you take a lot of pictures, this might be useful. Of course, that brings up the issue of privacy and security surrounding geotagged images. If the notes are private, that should be no problem. But if you link to them or share them, be careful about the information you are sending along with the image!

9. I tend to mainly use it for saving URLs to look at later on when I’m either on the Nook or my phone, and I have my grocery list there as well. You know me a bit better than most; how better could I use it?

I don’t subscribe to a best practices philosophy for productivity tools. Each of us has his own way of viewing the world and how things should work in it. If the two uses you just mentioned make your life easier in some way, then Evernote has done its job.

What I will say is that you should play with it as much as you can. As you get comfortable with the features and annoyances, you will come up with more ideas.

The beauty of Evernote is that you don’t have to commit to anything. I used to save my freelance proposals on Evernote. It was a hassle, so I stopped.

10. I know you use a lot of things. Is Evernote the easiest, the best, or is there something better or easier?

The only thing easier than Evernote is pencil and paper. There may be better-designed alternatives but I am satisfied with 90% of Evernote. The lone 10% annoyance is that it freezes temporarily while I am typing. Not always, but enough to get on my nerves if I’m trying to get some ideas down. I have a lot of software running on my laptop, so it may not even be Evernote!

The best thing about Evernote is that it does not force you into a specific way of working. As I work with it more and more, I continually refine my interactions. Yet, like most productivity software, it just sits in my taskbar until I need it.

26 thoughts on “Learning About Evernote – An Interview with Mitchell Allen”

  1. I use Evernote regularly on my Android phone – primarily to take quick notes when I am on the move. Since I write a lot of food reviews, I use evernote to take bullet points while on a restaurant. At times, on business travel, I use it to note down expenses so I can claim them later.

    However, I never used it for bookmarking, got to try now 🙂

    1. Ajith, while you certainly can save just the links to websites, your online Evernote account will hold the entire web page – or even just a highlighted portion.

      Of course, the phone version might not work the way I expect it to, so be sure to let us know how it goes!



  2. I purchased Evernote a year or so back and find it very useful since it syncs automatically across all my gadgets (Ipad/Android phone/Imac etc) this means that I can always access notes as and when I need them I have, however had difficulties with the ‘clip’ function and rarely use it. Cost-wise it is a good deal and more versatile than a simple notepad. I probably should check out more of its functions butthere never seems to be a spare hour to check it all out.

    1. David, just five minutes ago, I was trying to clip a screen shot of a web page. On my laptop, the Chrome browser Evernote extension has the annoying habit of remembering the last type of clipping operation.

      I suppose that is great if I am clipping a slew of pictures, but I usually clip articles and I would love having a default.

      What bugs you the most about the clipper?



  3. Thanks Mitchell, those are some helpful tips. I’ll have to give dragging a note into a tag. I haven’t heard of that before. I’m on my Chrome browser right now but I’m going to come back using Firefox and add more. (Mitch Mitchell can explain that one) LOL

  4. It’s me again, blogging superhero, only using Firefox this time. I love Evernote but like you Mitchell, I prefer Dropbox for file sharing. I have somewhere around 60 Gigs on Dropbox so it makes more sense anyway. As far as saving URL’s, I’m a huge fan of Pocket.

    Like Mitch, I use Android and a Nook. I’m not sure about iPhone but Android has an awesome sharing tool and after installing the Evernote app, that becomes one of the sharing options on almost everything.

    One last thing, I’ve become a podcast addict and when I listen to a show that I want to save for later, Evernote is the perfect tool.

    Oops, I’m sorry but I lied, I have one more thing…. My vision board. I have a Notebook (I think of them as folders) titled, “Vision Board”. I add notes of things I want to work toward. I have, for example, photos of an amazing Jeep, homes on the California beach and even median home prices for San Diego.

    1. Hi Brian! I’m using Firefox for this reply.

      I do have videos and mp3’s stashed away – and as far as videos go, I wonder if I should stick to bookmarking them in YouTube. I can’t help but wonder if the database size is hampering the responsiveness. Do you find that to be the case?

      I like the Vision Board folder (wink-wink for “folder”). I have one called Wish List. For the most part, I just created a table with item, price and link columns. A checkbox beside the item lets me know if I’ve purchased something (you’d think I would remember!)

      What is Pocket?



      1. Oh, you have to check out Pocket Mitchell. It’s a super simple bookmarking app that syncs across all of your devices. It works with all of the major browsers, Android, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, and even Blackberry for those confused folk. lol

        I have it installed on my Galaxy, Nook, 2 laptops and my desktop. Whenever I’m on a site I want to check out later or on another device, I just add it to my pocket. It’s great when I’m out checking blogs on Feedly and want to read more when I get home. If I’m watching a YouTube video that I want my wife to see, I add it to pocket and she can open up Pocket on our computer and watch it almost instantly. I think you just gave me a decent Hangout idea. Go to getpocket.com to check it out.

        I’ve never added a YouTube video to Evernote. I just add the URL.

      2. Wow! I checked it out and you know what is even more exciting? When I saw how many apps it integrated with, I logged in to IFTTT.com to see if Pocket works with that. It does!

        This means that you could probably fine-tune Feedly to fetch just what you want.

        When I get a moment, I will definitely play with these. Thanks, Brian!



      1. I’m note paying anything Mitch, I just got lucky and got 48 GB from a Samsung promotion when I bought my phone. It was a very nice bonus for a phone I was going to buy anyway. If you have a Samsung smartphone, go to dropbox.com/help/297/en to see if it qualifies for the free 48GB.

      2. Brian, I really don’t need that kind of space, but I went to check anyway and I only qualified for 6.25GB, which I already have because I already did 5 things. I could get up to 16GB if I invited people, but I can’t think of a reason to do it… I’ll have to think about it some more though because maybe I need to invite my wife so I can send her files…

  5. Hey Mitch (both of you!),

    I use Evernote all the time just for the web clipping. I like to save a lot of tutorials, and when I grab a spare moment I’ll cycle through the ones I haven’t got to yet and give it a whirl.

    It’s way better than bookmarking as you said. Sometimes the title of the bookmarks doesn’t quite match what the page is about and you end up never visiting it again.

    I’ve only come up no the limits one or two times, but the fees are more than reasonable in my opinion, so if I was a heavier user I wouldn’t hesitate to pay.

    File transfers are something I never do with Evernote, either. I used Dropbox, Google Drive (15gb of space, but a bit more difficult to share), and I’ve just started using Bittorrent Sync.

    Great info, Mitch (and Mitch) -thanks for the effort!

    1. That’s a great point about the bookmarking titles, John. Even with Evernote, I have to be careful to retitle and tag my clippings so that I can find them later.

      Have you run into the duplicate clipping mess? In Chrome, I get to see related clippings after a save. More and more, I’m finding that I clipped the same page six months ago! LOL



  6. One of the things I distinctly remember (when I met both of you guys) is confusing one for the other (I am not that good at remembering faces either..so that didn’t help).

    Well, eventually it worked out 😀

    Anyways, great interview 😀

    I use Evernote too. Have been using it for a while now. I started out with using it as my personal diary, expanded it later to ideas journal and then to my planner (planning both my life and my blog, which is of course, part of my life).

    I still have a free account. I don’t use images or anything else in my entries..just text, so it doesn’t use much space).

    Anyways, nice to see both of you guys here 🙂 Thank you for sharing this with us, Mitch 😀

    1. Hi Jeevan! I love the example you are giving about how Evernote is slowly assimilating you into the Borg. LOL

      But that is exactly what I wanted to convey here.



  7. Thank you for doing this topic gentlemen. I wonder if either of you would or have done something similar to this on Feedly?
    I like to use Evernote to dictate blog posts or website articles and then I copy / paste them into WordPress.

    Now the question I have not been able to figure out and have researched it and can not find the answer. Maybe I can get it here with the kind help of the Hosts or Readers.. Is there a way to encrypt text on the free version? Why would I want to do this? I would like to store my numerous passwords on Evernote. Any idea how?
    Thank you in advance for the answers and advice and I will click the “Notify me…” button to make sure I get the replies. 🙂

    1. Hi Troy! I used Feedly eons ago, but I barely remember enough to offer useful advice. If it is anything like Delicious (remember them?) then you have Evernote Super Lite. LOL

      Anyway, for encrypting, I found a tuturoial for you!

      That said, I think you should rethink the idea of storing passwords on Evernote – because you just told the world you will! LOL – Seriously, though, look into KeePass, LastPass and (my favorite) RoboForm.

      Follow my CommentLuv link to read my thoughts on where the responsibility of encryption lies.



      1. that is some really good advice and I appreciate the input and the leads. I will definitely check out the programs that you have suggested. Thank you once again

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