How To Use Evernote To Store And Organize Your Ideas

I write for a lot of different sites and I write for a lot of different projects (books, etc.). Keeping track of what should go where can be a real challenge in a writing app itself (I use Byword for articles and Scrivener for larger writing projects) because you can really only store things in a singular fashion unless you have a series of nested folders for each site or project. Tagging written work only goes so far, and it isn’t something you can do in many operating systems, or even in both Mac OSX and in iOS because while you can use tags on the Mac but not in iOS. My text editors are where the writing takes place, and it is the best place for that activity. It’s not great for ideation or larger writing project organization.

That’s where Evernote fits in.

I’ve touted Evernote as a place where I store a lot of information that I want to be able to access anytime and anywhere. Evernote is a key cog in my “productivity path” and it’s where I organize all of my writing projects.

My task manager tells me when to write and for what site or project, and I have that set up because I’m writing for so many places these days. But I don’t use my task manager to store my specific ideas. So when I’m prompted to write for a specific site or project, the task is intentionally vague. I’ll use something like “Write piece for 99u” so that I am triggered to go to the place where the stored ideas for 99u exist, which is in Evernote.

I get my post ideas into Evernote in a number of ways:

  1. From iOS, I use Drafts. If I’m away from my Mac, I’ll key in an idea for a post and then send it to my root Evernote notebook, which is called “Inbox” and then process the ideas in there later. When I process the ideas, I’ll move them to other notebooks that are named after the various sites and projects I write for. Larger projects (like this Productivityist, for example) have notebook stacks that contain other related notebooks (Blog Posts, Products, etc.) within them.
  2. The Evernote Web Clipper. If I find something on the web that sparks an idea, I’ll clip it with the Evernote Web Clipper. Then I’ll assign the idea to the appropriate folder directly, skipping the Inbox notebook altogether.
  3. Email. Whether it’s through the action I have set up in Dispatch for my iPhone or through the email address provided with my Evernote account, if an idea has comes my way via email (like when a new app is released or some PR comes my way that sparks a post idea) I’ll send it to Evernote. Then I’ll process the Inbox notebook later, meaning that anything from email and Drafts gets assigned to the right notebooks then.

Evernote is a great idea incubator because you can set it and then forget it. Once you start building the sort of workflow that I have, then all you need to do is create a repeating task in your task management app of choice that you name “Evernote Weekly Review” and make sure you go through the notebooks in your Evernote account that you want to keep on top of regularly. A trick to ensure you only check those you need to rather than every notebook is to place an asterisk at the end of the notebook (or notebook stack) name. That asterisk will act as a trigger to tell you what notebooks need weekly reviewing and which ones don’t.

(Oh, and since Evernote displays notebooks alphabetically, I also place an asterisk at the beginning of my Inbox notebook so that it remains at the top of my Evernote notebooks.)

Just like your task management system setup, you need to set up Evernote in a way that is simple for you to deal with and can scale over time. Being deliberate with your naming conventions is critical, and don’t be afraid to have notebooks that are created for aspects of your writing projects. I’ve got a notebook stack called “Guest Posting” that contains all of the notebooks I use for the sites I have written for (and even ones that I’m looking to write for). “Productivityist” is a notebook stack as well, and there are many notebooks that fall under its umbrella. My task management app has many projects and few contexts. The same goes for Evernote – many notebooks, few tags.

Idea management isn’t easy because we often generate more ideas than we can handle at any given time. That’s why having a place where those ideas can go is crucial. You never know when you’ll want to call upon an idea you’ve had, whether you’re a writer, an entrepreneur, an artist, or even simply trying to make your work and life better. Evernote offers that storage facility for your ideas that you need. It just needs to be organized in a way that works for you so that you know where to find your ideas when you need them. Take the time to set it up right and as you and your ideas scale, Evernote will scale right along with you.

Photo credit: takje via SXC.HU