In its early days, Evernote was a simple note-taking app. Since then, it’s turned into a productivity powerhouse that can help you capture, organize, recall, and work with your information. While some think Evernote isn’t worth it anymore, its huge list of features still attract tons of users.
All that power is great — but it doesn’t make for an easy learning experience. Learning how to use Evernote on your own takes a long time, which is why we’ve put together this tutorial that will show you how to take full advantage of the most important Evernote features.
We can’t cover everything, but we’ll highlight the main functions, the best ways to use the apps, and the basics of what you need to know to become an Evernote productivity master.
Let’s get started!
1. What Is Evernote?
As I mentioned, Evernote used to be a note-taking app — and that’s still its primary function. But so many features have been added that it’s now a productivity suite.
At its core, though, it’s still driven by notes. You can create new notes, add text and multimedia to them, and store them in notebooks. Evernote supports nested notebooks and tags to help you find previous notes. It has a powerful search function for recalling things you saved long ago.
It lets you create checklists, presentations, reminders, photo and audio notes, and much more.
While the desktop Evernote client is usually considered to be the main plank of the platform, its mobile apps have steadily been getting better, too. You can easily capture information, whether text, photo, or audio, in just a few taps.
Evernote’s Web Clipper — one of its most popular tools — helps you capture information from your browser (and one of the reasons it’s still better than OneNote). You can also access your notes through the browser interface on any computer. And Evernote’s many integrations let you make your other apps even more powerful.
In short, Evernote is a full productivity tool. As you can probably imagine, all these features can get overwhelming when you’re a beginner. So we’ll start with the basics.
2. A Note on Different Platforms
Evernote is available for Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, Android, Windows Phone, iOS, and even BlackBerry. The features provided on most of these platforms are very similar. I’ll try to cover multiple different platforms when I talk about specific features, but I’ll occasionally only focus on a single platform.
If the screenshots don’t match what you see on your computer, it’s probably because I used a different app (I’ll be switching between Windows and Mac for different examples).
Unfortunately, there are a surprising number of differences between the Mac and Windows apps. Most of the functionality is similar, and accessing those functions is usually straightforward, but there are exceptions. I’ve tried to make it clear where there are differences, but I may have missed a few things here and there. When in doubt, check the help files.
3. The Core of Evernote: Notes
Evernote is built around notes, so we’ll start there.
A note is exactly what it sounds like: a simple text file that contains information. It has a title, a body, and room for tags that can help you find it later.
Evernote also supports rich text, so you can change the typeface, font size, styling, and even highlight. You can insert bulleted lists, checkboxes (we’ll go over some of their uses in a moment), and tables.
To create a new note, just click the New Note button at the top of your screen. That creates a new note in the current notebook. You can also hit Ctrl + N (or Cmd + N on a Mac).
Then, just add a title (if you want one) and start typing!
More than Just Text
Notes aren’t limited to simple text, however. You can put all sorts of things in as well. Like photos, for example. Just click and drag a photo into your note, and you’ll see it right next to your text.
You can also click the Attach button in the menu (it may be hidden behind the >> symbol):
Want to add a photo or audio recording directly from your computer? Click the corresponding button from the menu (again, possibly behind the >> button in the toolbar).
In addition to photos, you can drag any other sort of file into your note. Try it with an MP3 file or a video. You can even attach other types of files, like Excel spreadsheets or Pages documents (and with a Premium subscription, you can search them, too). And the Google Drive button lets you attach files directly from your cloud storage.
Using Evernote as a To-Do List
You can easily turn a note (or many notes) into a to-do list by using Evernote’s checkboxes. Click the checkbox button in the formatting bar to insert a checkbox. It works the same was as a list: when you hit enter, you’ll get another box. Hit enter twice to stop the list.
To check an item off your list, just click the box. (You can clear it in the same way.)
But, task management is not its main strength. It takes some work to get Evernote set up as a task management app, and it shows. You can’t, for example, attach due dates or reminders to specific tasks. You can set a reminder for the note itself, as we’ll see in a moment, but that’s not the same.
It also doesn’t provide the collaborative tools you might find in other task management systems.
Evernote doesn’t directly sync with task management apps that give you this functionality, either. You can use an app like TaskClone to sync your tasks with your favorite task management app, but there’s no native support.
Nonetheless, checkboxes can be useful in making notes of follow-up items from meetings, grocery lists, or any other kind of list for which you want to track your progress.
Getting Information on Your Notes
Evernote keeps a lot of information about your notes on hand, and you can see it by clicking the Note Info button in the top-right corner of the note view. It contains information like the created and updated dates, source URL for clipped items, size, tags, location of creation, author, and others.
In the Mac version of Evernote, it also contains word and character counts. If you want to get this same information in Windows, you’ll need to right-click somewhere in the body of the note and select Word and Resource Counts. If you display the status bar with View > Status Bar, you’ll also get a count.
4. Organizing with Notebooks
As you might expect, Evernote’s notebooks hold your notes. Every note is stored within one, and only one, notebook. Notebooks are displayed in the left panel of the desktop client.
There are two types of notebooks:
Synchronized notebooks are synced between all of your devices and the browser version of the app.
Local notebooks are only accessible on a single device.
In general, it’s a good idea to use synchronized notebooks, because it gives you more portability. If you have a notebook that you definitely won’t need on any other devices, you could create it as a local notebook. You can’t change notebook types, but it’s easy to move your notes to a different notebook if you change your mind.
To create a new notebook, go to File > New Notebook and select whether you want a synchronized or local notebook.
In Windows, you’ll need to go to File > New Local Notebook… if you want one that doesn’t synchronize. After you’ve created your notebook, you’ll see it in the left panel.
When you select it, you’ll see a list of all the notes contained in that notebook in the middle of the window. From there, just click a note to display it in the right panel.
Changing Notebook Views
When you’ve selected a notebook and you’re seeing a list of all the notes it contains, Evernote defaults to the “most recently edited” organization. This is often a useful way to view your notes, but you can change the ordering in the notebook to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Click the Note List View button to change the sort order. You’re given many options, including updated and created dates, titles, tags, size, source URL, reminder date, and more. If you can think of a sorting method, Evernote can probably do it.
You can also change your note view from this menu. The Snippet view shows you the note title and a bit of text from the beginning of the note, which is nice, but tends to take up a lot of room. The list view is much more compact. Card and thumbnail views give you a better look at the notes you’re working with, but take up more room.
Another level of organization in Evernote is the notebook stack, which collects multiple notebooks under a single heading. The stack itself doesn’t contain any notes — just notebooks. It doesn’t change any functionality, but it does make Evernote easier to navigate if you have a lot of notebooks.
Here, you can see a few minimized stacks (“1 Hubstaff” and “2 MakeUseOf”) and some expanded stacks (“3 Other” and “Fun”):
To create a stack, right-click on a notebook in the left panel and mouse over Add to Stack. Select New Stack and you’ll be prompted to name your notebook stack. To add more notebooks to the stack, simply drag them or right-click and select Add to Stack, then choose the stack.
5. Using Search to Find Anything
One of the best features in Evernote is its powerful search. When you have more than a few hundred notes, it can be tough to find the one you’re looking for. Search solves that problem. (As does cleaning up your notes and notebooks.)
Evernote’s search bar is the one place you need to go to find anything. Just type in the word or words you’re looking for, and Evernote will show you every note that has a match.
Note that in Windows you need to be viewing the notebook or set of notebooks that you want to search. (To search everything, click on Notebooks in the left panel to bring up all your notes.)
Evernote for Mac’s search is a bit more intuitive; the primary search bar in the top-right searches all of your notes. If you press Cmd + F while in a note, you can search the note text. The Mac search bar makes it easy to look for tags, notebooks, and suggested search terms.
You can also search tags or search within specific notebooks if you have an idea of where your note might be.
There are a few operators you can use to further refine your search:
- intitle: limits your search to note titles
- notebook: limits your search to a single notebook
- any: returns notes that contain any of the search terms, instead of all of the search terms
- tag: searches for notes with the specified tag
- -tag: searches for notes not tagged with the tag
- todo: searches notes with one or more checkboxes
There are other search operators that you may want to use, too. Check out Evernote’s full list of advanced search syntax.
You can also save searches that you run regularly. Click File > New Saved Search in Windows or Edit > Find > Save Search on a Mac, and you’ll get a new Saved Searches section in the left panel. Now all you need to do is click on the saved search to get the results without having to type them in every time.
6. Advanced Organizational Techniques
Creating notebooks, storing notes, and using Evernote’s great search capabilities will get you far in your productivity quest. But there are plenty more features for you to take advantage of.
Evernote allows you to tag your notes for another detailed level of organization. This can be especially useful if you have notes that are related to each other, but are stored in different notebooks.
To add a tag to a note, just click the Add tag… field from the note and start typing a tag. Each note can have many tags, so you can be as detailed as you want.
Tags are very useful in systems like “Getting Things Done”, where you want to track items’ progress through a workflow.
You can also view notes by tag in the left panel by selecting a tag under the Tag heading.
You can insert hyperlinks to websites, but did you know that you can also insert links to other notes? This is useful if you have a large number of notes on the same topic. You can also use a single note as a table of contents for a large number of other notes — this is great for working on large projects or organizing a lot of information very clearly.
To insert a note link, right-click a note in the note list to copy the link, and then paste it wherever you’d like. You’ll get a clickable link with the name of the note as the anchor text.
If you’d like to use something else as the anchor text, you can do that, too. Just highlight the text you’d like to link, press Cmd + K or Ctrl + K, and paste the note link into the resulting field.
Note that on a Mac, these links are green, where standard URL links are blue.
If you use a specific note or notebook often, you can add it to the shortcuts bar by dragging it into the left panel. Now you’ll be able to get back to that note or notebook with a single click.
This is especially useful if you keep any sort of master project list. But you can also use it to highlight the notes or projects you’re working on at any given time. Don’t be afraid to change these shortcuts on a regular basis to help you save time!
As I mentioned earlier, Evernote can’t give you reminders about specific tasks, but it can bring a note to your attention at a particular time. And it couldn’t be simpler: just click the clock on a note and you’ll see a reminder at the top of the note list in the notebook.
Click the clock again and you’ll be able to add a date. Evernote will remind you on that date that you need to do something with the note. (Though it won’t tell you what, so you’ll have to remember that on your own!)
While Evernote’s reminders aren’t quite as useful as some of the more detail-oriented features of competing task management apps, they can be a big help. And you can combine them with other tools to get even more use out of them.
Pro Tip: If you jot a quick note on your phone or tablet, put a reminder on it so you remember to edit, complete, or file it later.
7. Keyboard Shortcuts
Evernote has a huge number of keyboard shortcuts that you can use to navigate, create, capture, and search even faster. Your best bet is to check out the full list of keyboard shortcuts for Windows or for Mac, but here are a few highlights:
- Ctrl + Alt + N / Cmd + Ctrl + N — add a new note while in any application (provided Evernote is running)
- Cmd + Ctrl + E — search in Evernote
- Cmd + Y — quick look attachments
- Shift + Alt + N / Cmd + J — jump to notebook / note
- Ctrl + F10 (Windows) — show search explanation
- F6 (Windows) / Cmd + Opt + F (Mac) — search notes
- Ctrl + F / Cmd + F — search within note
- Cmd + / — copy public link
- Ctrl + K / Cmd + K — insert hyperlink
- Ctrl + Shift + B/O / Cmd + Shift + U/O — start an unordered or ordered list
There are plenty more, but these should get you started.
Extracting Text from Images and PDFs
All Evernote accounts have the ability to extract text from images using optical character recognition. As you can see here, Evernote recognizes the word “forest” from this book cover:
The app is really good at finding words in images if they’re in a fairly standard font. It can also grab words from handwriting in many cases. This is great if you have neat handwriting and like to take handwritten notes to scan in later. You don’t have to type out those notes — just run a regular search and Evernote will find the words in your writing.
If you have really unclear handwriting, you might not get many hits when you search.
If you have a Premium plan (you can see more details of the different plans below), you can also search text in PDFs and Office documents.
8. A Few Useful Options
You could go a long time without digging around through the options and preferences windows in Evernote, but there are a few things you might want to tweak early on. Head to Tools > Options (in Windows) or File > Preferences (for Mac).
The General tab (on a Mac) lets you select a default location for new notes, which can save you some time. Usually a note will be placed in the notebook you’re currently working in, but every once in a while, Evernote doesn’t know where to place the note. This tells it where it should go.
Keyboard Shortcuts (or Shortcut keys in Windows) is great for customizing the keys you use a lot. It’s also a good place to look up some of the more useful shortcuts if you forget them.
Formatting (or Note in Windows) lets you choose the default font options for each note. If you don’t like the default, change it here. You can change on a note-by-note basis, but it’s easier when every note starts with a font you like.
There are a few other options, but these will help you get Evernote customized in the beginning. Look around the other tabs to see what else you can change.
9. Collaboration, Sharing, and Publishing
While note-taking isn’t generally considered a collaborative activity, almost every major productivity app has some options for collaboration. And Evernote is no exception.
Collaborating on a notebook is easy: right right-click the notebook and select Share Notebook…
From there, you can set the notebook status to shared and add people with the email address attached to their Evernote account. You can give them different levels of access, from “Can view” to “Can edit and invite.”
This is great when you want to share the latest versions of documents, collect ideas from team members, or just have a shared space where you can all save things related to a specific project.
You can also share individual notes in the same way — just right-click, select users, and give them permissions.
And when you need more immediate collaboration, Evernote (at the Plus and Premium levels) lets you instant message as well. Just go to File > New Chat, enter the email address of the person you’d like to chat with, and start typing away. You can easily share notes via chat, too.
But you can share with the public, too. The right-click > More Sharing menu gives you tons of options. A public link will let people see the latest version of the note, and sharing directly to your favorite social network lets you get it out to as many people as possible.
You can even email the text of the note from within Evernote. The note text doesn’t show up in the preview, but don’t worry — it’ll be there.
10. The Web Clipper
Evernote has a lot of great integrations, as we’ll see in a moment, but one of the most useful tools that extends the app’s functionality comes directly from Evernote itself: the web clipper.
The web clipper is a browser extension that clips web pages or parts of pages into Evernote notes. Want to read an article later? Clip it. See an idea you like for your interior design project? Save it with a single click. Find a hilarious meme you want to keep for your own use? Put it into Evernote with ease.
There are infinite uses for the Evernote web clipper, and it’s extremely easy to use. Just install it in your browser, sign in with your Evernote credentials, and click it on any page you’d like to save.
When you click the extension, you’ll get a number of options:
- Article: clips the main portion of the page, focusing on the text (as you can see in the image above, it removes things like featured images)
- Simplified article: attempts to get rid of parts of the article you don’t need
- Full page: everything on the page
- Bookmark: saves the URL, an image, and a short description of the page
- Screenshot: lets you choose which part of the page to save as an image
The clipper also lets you choose which notebook to clip into and lets you add tags and comments before you even create the note.
If you’re going to use Evernote to manage your life, the web clipper is an absolutely indispensable tool.
11. Mobile Apps
Evernote’s desktop app is a great productivity tool, but the mobile apps make it even more powerful. I’ll just provide a quick overview here.
Like the desktop client, the mobile apps let you capture ideas, organize them, and find them when you need them again. They’re best at capturing — you aren’t likely to be doing a whole lot of organizing, pruning, or editing from your phone. But you will probably want to jot notes, take photos, and add new tasks.
And these apps are optimized for those activities. The iOS app has a single create button that lets you make a new note with a single tap. If you hold the button, you can get a new audio note, photo, or reminder.
The mobile apps are great for scanning business cards and other documents, making quick notes when you’re away from your computer, and finding things that you noted earlier when on the go.
Evernote’s latest updates to both the Android and iOS apps have made them easier to use, faster, and more intuitive than ever. The iOS app, however, is generally considered to be much better.
Evernote integrates with a huge number of other apps to help you get more things done. In fact, Evernote actually has four other apps that you can use directly with the main app:
- Skitch – a sketching and image annotation app
- Scannable – a paper-scanning app
- Penultimate – a handwriting and sketching app for the iPad
But there are tons of apps out there that can work directly with Evernote. They can save or read documents from notes, create documents from emails, help you manage tasks, sign documents online, and a whole lot more.
There are even scanners that integrate with Evernote.
And, of course, both IFTTT and Zapier let you create interesting recipes that automate your workflow with Evernote. There are far too many integrations and interesting ways to use them to list them all here. Your best bet is to check out the Evernote integrations page and see the cool things people have done with IFTTT and Zapier.
13. Basic vs. Plus vs. Premium
Evernote’s paid plans have undergone a number of changes over the past few years. And they very well could be changed again. So your best bet is to check Evernote.com for information on the plans.
At the time of this writing, though, here’s what you get with each plan:
- Basic (free)
- 60 MB of uploads per month
- 2 devices
- Search for text inside images
- Plus ($34.99 / year)
- 1 GB of uploads per month
- Unlimited devices
- Offline notebooks
- Forward emails to create notes
- Instant messaging
- Premium ($69.99 / year)
- 10 GB of uploads per month
- Search for text in PDFs
- Search for text in Office documents
- Annotate PDFs
- Digitize business cards
- Presentation mode
- Related content
Which is right for you? For most people, it will come down to the upload limits and number of devices. 60 MB is a lot if you’re only uploading text, but if you’re also uploading images, sound files, and videos, you can get past that quickly.
Having access on unlimited devices is nice, too. If you use Evernote constantly, having a massive 10 GB per month of uploads plus a number of cool features like digitizing business cards and presenting right from the Evernote desktop app might be worth it.
Try the free plan first to see if you want to upgrade. If you do, try the Plus plan. If you still need more, you can always upgrade. There’s also a business version, which runs $12 per user per month. It gives you added security and central user administration.
Evernote: The Complete Productivity Solution
Whether you’re looking to jot a few notes or run an entire project management system, Evernote has you covered. It’s absolutely jam-packed full of features, and we’ve only scratched the surface here. It would take an entire book to do the app justice.
But with the knowledge above, and some time to play around and experiment, you’ll become an Evernote expert in no time. Whether you use it as your personal project management system, a place to jot ideas, or an all-purpose organizational tool, you can capture, store, organize, find, and take action on all of the things you need to do with its help.
What do you use Evernote for? Which features do you find to be the most useful? Or do you prefer an alternative note-taking app? Share your best tips in the comments below!
Image Credit: VikiVector via Shutterstock
Originally written by Mark O’Neil on September 1, 2012