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.

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Evernote For Android

Y’all know I haven’t had my smartphone for a very long time, but I have learned about a couple of things here and there that are helpful, for whatever reason, to both the phone and my home PC. One of those programs is an app and program called Evernote.

Evernote is basically a connection between your computer and your smartphone. What it allows you do to is capture something on either end and by doing a sync having it show up on the other platform so you can use it. For instance, something I use it for because my short term memory is going (hey, I’m over 50!) is for a grocery list. I created what’s called a “note” that I titled “grocery list”. Then I just pop in what I need to remember to buy from the grocery store and, because I always have my phone on me, when I’m in the store and have totally forgotten why I’m there I can grab the phone, run the sync, and what I put in it at home will be there.

Something else you can do from the other end is take a picture and save it in a note and then run the sync when you get home. This means you can easily save images you took elsewhere to your computer for use elsewhere; I use them in some blogs posts here and there. Also, when I’m away from home something I tend to often do it come upon a website that I’d like to see again at home, most of the time blogs I want to comment on but don’t have time then and there. All I have to do is highlight the link, go to the phone’s menu and select save, and then pick the Evernote program and it creates a new note with that link.

You can also do all these things in reverse but there are some differences. No matter what you do, you can’t copy an image to your smartphone from Evernote. And sometimes if the link doesn’t come through as a link from your computer you can’t look that up either. At least I haven’t yet figured out how to copy and paste anything on the smartphone; if anyone has any ideas on that one please let me know.

You can create categories called “notebooks” so you can have multiple types of messages. You can also tag these things so if you’re unsure where they are you can search for them. I haven’t gotten to that point yet but if I ever become a power user I might. You’re allowed up to 2GB of data that you can have for free on Evernote; that’s not bad at all.

Oh yeah, but that tells you that the app and program are free; can’t beat that. It was recommended to me and now I’ll recommend it to you; enjoy!

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