We all need to hang onto notes and information, and the online and digital tools around us give us a huge range of different ways of tackling that simple-sounding task.

I am writing this now on a word processor, good old MS Word – it’s easy to format things attractively and make use of templates, spellchecks, word counters and other useful functions that are handy when writing something formal or important or that has to appear a certain way.

What about quick notes though, do you really want to fire up a full-blown sledgehammer of an application like Word for your shopping list or reminders?  And what about bits of written information that come to you in other ways from other sources, that you just need to capture and be able to come back to?  Things you want to remember, store, archive or hang on to for whatever reason – goodness knows there are enough of them in our lives.

There are many different choices now for information organising, and before you settle for one over another it’s well worth considering what features matter most to you.   For me, the synching across multiple devices matters, as does inputting in a variety of formats.  I can type as fast as I can think on my mac – but not on my phone, where I would rather dictate a voice note.

CC 26-7-13 EvernoteMy note-taking application of choice is Evernote.  You can install it on every device and platform going, and it’s simply an extremely easy way to store – everything.  Lists, receipts, reminders, ideas, snippets…  Have a look at Evernote.com.  And you get nearly all the functionality for nothing, with a few nifty ‘freemium’ upgrades if you need it

It does the three things you need it to do: lets you capture things easily, access them easily, AND (most importantly of all) FIND the thing you need easily and quickly when you want it.

Capture is easy and flexible – type a quick note, dictate via Siri, forward an email or document, record a voice note directly, or take a photo… Many people even scan handwritten notes, because the built in-OCR means that even these can be searched and organised.  At a push and with a steady hand you can easily use your phone or tablet camera as a scanner to get receipts or sketches into your database quickly.  There are also clipping services you install as browser extensions, and a secret email address you can forward things to.

You can install Evernote on your computer, access it on any web browser, there are mobile apps for every platform… Once you have logged in to your account on each device you have access to your full database of stuff, whatever you have stored. You can also share notebooks securely with others – very handy for families, and there is a new business-oriented product from Evernote too that works similarly.

When you create a note – which you can organise into notebooks, by different projects, in whatever way makes sense for you/your life – you can also add a number of tags.  The search functionality is very powerful, and I find the best way to use tags is to add words that are not present in the note but that you might describe it by, such as tagging ‘travel’ to a flight  confirmation.  Then you can easily find it even if you forgot which airline you booked wiht.  When you have the browser extension installed, you can also opt to have your Evernote database searched simultaneously whenever you run a Google search.

Once you start using it you will find loads of ways that it helps make life more efficient and productive, here are some that I find fun and interesting:

  • Saving screenshots of payments made /bills paid
  • Scanning children’s artwork or school reports to easily email to relatives in UK
  • Safely carrying scans of documents for travel such as insurance and passports
  • Capturing audio notes for article ideas that come to me at odd times
  • Snapping a pic of the label of that lovely wine you want to look out for again

As well as all the more obvious and mundane work-related stuff.

It’s important to point out this is far from the only application on offer.  Many people swear by Devonthink, as a power-user’s information organiser which also incorporates news/rss reading and has more complex querying functions.  Also there is the newly-launched Google Keep, which seems to owe a lot to Evernote.  Personally, after the chaotic devastation of losing Google Reader a few weeks ago, I would not trust Google as my information database, simply because of their track record of killing off products on a whim.  Evernote has been around since 2006 and says that they intend to stick around for 100 years – pretty bold claim, and it’s fun to speculate about what things like the internet or information management might mean then…  But I like their approach, the way they communicate, and how the product just works.

How do you take notes, remember things and organise your information?

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, July 26th 2013

©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL

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