To Stack, or not to Stack…the Evernote question

One of the things that has surprised me as I’ve started to get to grips with Evernote and read around the subject, is the variety of ways people are using it.

The Secret Weapon uses it as a fully fledged GTD app (though I prefer Nozbe for task management), Michael Hyatt has an expansive stack structure whilst Christopher Mayo has an extreme minimalist no stack technique.

My personal approach is in something of a state of flux but one thing is definitely true; the number of notebooks I have is trending downwards, and I no have no stacked notebooks.  I’d like to share my approach with you and as always would welcome thoughts and suggestions for how to maximise my productivity!

Here’s my basic Notebook structure:


this structure is starting to work quite nicely for me, and uses a blend of techniques picked up from other people and from trial & error:

Tip 1: Have an inbox

This is GTD 101 but even though I’m not using Evernote for pure GTD, having an inbox is a really effective way of introducing a ‘holding pen’ of stuff that’s made it’s way to Evernote from my Doxie, from emails, my phone etc.  It basically tells me that I still need to process anything in here, which may vary from putting it into a specialised notebook, updating the description or most importantly to my approach: adding tags.

 Tip 2: Tags are your friend

You could achieve what I would consider a mostly optimal solution with two notebooks (an inbox and a main notebook) plus tags.  Evernote has an excellent filter and search capability that will look for keywords in your note descriptions, in the text of the notes themselves (including anything processed by OCR) and of course the tags themselves.

I have an assortment of tags, but my workhorses are

  • Correspondence: A fancy name for ‘stuff I get in the post’
  • Reference document: Something that has information on it I might need in the future (i.e. a gas bill or a receipt)
  • Bill: Self-explanatory really…includes any invoices and/or receipts
  • Bank Statement: I’m not as paperless as I’d like to be with my banks, so this is all my scanned statements.
  • Wife’s name/Children’s names – Anything that pertains specifically to other family members e.g. Children’s Premium bond certificates.
  • Payslip – Scanned wage/payslips
  • Tax – Anything from Her Majesty’s Revenue (boo hiss)

Tip 3: Separate the thing you need online/offline

As I said before, you could in theory stick with only two notebooks, but it can be handy to separate into a few logical boxes, particularly if as a Premium Evernote subscriber you have some ‘important stuff’ you want to access via your mobile device when it’s offline.  My approach has been to separate out:

  • Camera tips: A little collection of tips & tricks for when I’m out taking photos
  • Home/Work documents – this is going to steadily grow into a potentially huge archive of all kinds of documentation, so I want it to be separate from the things I want to reference more regularly
  • Recipes – Just feels right to have these all in one place…
  • Skitch – This was created automatically when I downloaded Skitch, and I have my doubts about its longevity (one for another post perhaps)
  • Health trackers – I have a daily tracking spreadsheet that I upload to Evernote, so having a dedicated notebook keeps each daily sheet in a tidy place.
  • General notebook – this is for ‘everything else’ and is the default destination for things processed from my inbox.

Tip 4: Resist the urge to have notebooks for everything

I started out with notebooks for many more things – web clips, invoices, photos etc…but it became obvious over time that they weren’t accumulating a large amount of specialist notes.  My recommendation would be to aim for half a dozen key notebooks, and then over time assess whether you have any key ‘themes’ emerging where it would be useful to have all notes of a certain theme together without needing to search for tags or filters.

Tip 5: Ignore one, all or none of these tips

As with everything, this is a very personal thing so what works for me may not tick your boxes…but I think the key here is sharing of experience and experimentation; there could well be snippets of other people’s techniques that you can incorporate into your own.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!


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