How I use EverNote — it's for my life!

In this article, I present a brief overview of how I use EverNote 2.2.1 to manage the stuff in my life.

I have two main EverNote databases (“ENbases”) — one for my office and one for everything else — and I keep them completely separate… Due to FERPA restrictions on student data leaving my office (I work in a college at a local university), I do not intermingle office and everything else at all.

For my office, we decided that it would be useful to maintain a list of CONTACTS (phone, email, or in-person) so that we formally document our relationship with individuals. We wanted to record notes, comments, impressions, etc about individuals in a non-official, secure, private way (ie: not associated with the student’s official application packet, etc). This contact list also enables gathering of statistics about the workload (as a side note, during a typical three-month period, I recorded nearly 1500 contacts).

I started to develop a database for our office, but decided to see what was already available out there so I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel. I searched for “phone log” and various other terms and stumbled upon the Wired article that says that EverNote is “ for your life”. Since I am an avid user, I understood this statement, and I started to explore EverNote. Within a few hours of playing with the free version, I purchased the PLUS version. I am so glad I did.

The ENbase for my office uses a slightly customized template (thanks Crane!) to record notes about conversations I have with prospective students and their families. If I receive a voicemail message, I record the name, telephone number, and brief notes from the caller’s message. Adding a template to the note list automatically assigns the “To Do” and “Phone Message” category. This way, I can quickly glance at my To Do category to see what’s on my plate, and using the category intersection panel, see only phone messages. Once I return the call, I check the Done box and add a “status” category (such as “Talked with caller”, “Left message”, “No answer”, or “Bad number”, etc) so I know the outcome of the call. The template also features a text box where I can make notes about our conversation for later reference. I can search EverNote by name, email, and phone number and have, at a glance, the most current information about the student’s relationship with the college. Additionally, I use my office ENbase to record policy changes, directives, things my boss said, and other work-related materials, and more.

My everything else ENbase is the more interesting, and certainly the more varied, of these two databases. It contains aspects of my personal life organized into categories and sub-categories (and sub-sub-categories, etc, as necessary).

I like to keep the top-level as clear as possible, so I have a category called “Personal” (a throwback to the time before I split office & personal ENbases, though if I were to do it all again, I would probably keep the Personal category because it keeps things tidy) under which I keep the bulk of my sub-categories.

Top-level categories

This image shows my Category panel in EverNote as I like to keep it when I’m not actively working in EverNote — a tidy, compact list of categories. As you can see, the Personal category contains a lot (763) of notes. While I have LOTS of different topics (175 categories at last count) in my everything else ENbase, I mainly focus on a few things… Culinary arts including recipes & menus, entertainment in varied forms (magazines, books, games, television, etc), EverNote, travel, and Getting Things Done/productivity. Here’s what part of that category looks like if it’s expanded…

Personal categories

* Culinary — I am passionate about cooking and I cook professionally at a 4-star French restaurant in town. I host elaborate multi-course dinner parties at my home. I have recently completed my first professional culinary certification and am a culinary instructor at the culinary college I attended. The Culinary category in my ENbase contains culinary-related materials, with a few noteworthy features. This category contains my transcripts from culinary school, lists of equivalent measures, Mobil restaurant star definitions, and other general culinary information.

– Certification — all of my research, notes, practice tests, recipes, and plate designs from my preparation for professional certification are stored in this sub-category. The first note in this sub-category was marked as a TO-DO item — I felt a great deal of satisfaction in marking it DONE when I completed my certification!

– Menus — this sub-category contains menus (in individual notes) that I have planned for dinner parties (from which I print the menus presented at the table), the date/time/location of the event, the people who attended, and any special notes (what wines paired well, which table-set we used, etc). This way, I can scan this category to see what dishes I’ve prepared for whom and when. The names of the dishes are internally linked to the recipe contained in EverNote. The menu is also added to the Event Date category so I can see, for example, what menu I prepared on July 28, 2007. The menu is also tagged as a TO-DO item, because I get great satisfaction from marking it DONE upon completion.


– Event Date (for example, a category called “July 28, 2007” contains information about an event that night) — this sub-category contains specific information about the event on that date. A copy of the invitation email is saved in this category, as is the menu (which is also assigned to the Menus category), the shopping list, mise en place list, and recipes. If a recipe is used in multiple events, it will be assigned to multiple Event Date categories (as well as the Recipes category). This allows me to track the recipes I use most frequently.

– Recipes — if I am surfing the internet and come across a recipe I want to capture, I clip it into EverNote and add “#bigoven#” to the note, which triggers an auto-category that reminds me to add the recipe to BigOven, my recipe manager. Because it is so fast to clip recipes into EverNote, I’ll collect a bunch of recipes from the internet and input them in batches into BigOven. When I add the recipes to BigOven, I either delete the recipe from EverNote or remove the “#bigoven#” text from the note if I want to keep the recipe in EverNote.

Recipe header

If I decide to use a specific recipe stored in EverNote for an event, I add the Event Date category (see above) to the recipe to associate it with the event. If I decide to use a recipe that is not in EverNote for an event, I add it to EverNote.

* EverNote — my EverNote categories contain tips and tricks on using EverNote, records of conversations with MarcClarke (in a sub-category), a list of feature requests and bug reports I’ve submitted, and other related stuff I don’t want to lose.

* Travel — general travel tips (how to turn off email while on vacation, how to sleep on a plane, tips for selecting seats on a plane, directions from my house to the local airports, etc) are placed in this category.

Specific travel plans, research, restaurant info, etc, are placed into sub-categories named for the destination. For example…
– Florida — general Florida travel tips are assigned to this category.
– Bradenton — specifics about traveling to Bradenton, Florida are assigned to this sub-category of Florida. This includes flight itineraries and directions that I’ll use again (to the condo from the airport, for example). Generally, I will delete the flight itineraries after travel is completed. In my culinary pursuits, if I locate a recipe that I want to take with me when I travel there, I will tag it with the destination name. For example, I can get really good, fresh seafood from a fish house near Bradenton (go figure), so I cook lots of seafood while down there. If I locate a good seafood recipe in my wanderings around the internet and want to prepare it while vacationing in Bradenton, I assign it to the following categories: Recipes and Bradenton.

Recipe destined for Bradenton

– Las Vegas — general Las Vegas travel tips are assigned to this category. Under this category are names of restaurants in Vegas with reviews, research, and tips. If there is a new restaurant I’d like to try on an upcoming trip, it is tagged with “#dine#” which triggers an auto-category to remind me.

This is a brief overview with a few drill-downs into how I use EverNote. Please let me know of any questions!

7 thoughts on “How I use EverNote — it's for my life!”

  • Wow! This is a great post on how you use EN2.2. I love seeing how other people make use of its features for their very specific needs. Very cool.

    Yeah, I can see how the new Notebooks/Tags/Saved Searches paradigm in EN3 isn’t going to work for you either! Or the lack of templates. Or the missing auto-categories. Or….

    Thanks for the post!

  • Wow, I spent half my night wondering where all these features went. Evernote 3 seems like a downgrade in many ways. 🙁

  • Hello, great article! But pictures are missing, due to the age of the article I think?! 🙁

    Thank you very much anyway, I think things has changed a lot since you has written your article, but it inspired me to re-think how and wether to make use of latest EN for organizing my life, too. I will explore it, maybe i’ll find a way in wich EN will be useful for me, too, even if I’m not a cook using it for organizing, my dinners or recipies.

    With best regards, hidden

  • I really enjoyed your article!

    I’ve been an EN2.2 user for a while, although I haven’t done anything as elaborate as what you’ve done. I suppose that alone speaks to the power of EN – I just used it as a long streaming list of notes, and just the list and search features in its simplest form was adequate for me. (I’m not saying that my needs aren’t complex, just the opposite, however EN did everything I wanted without having to get all wrapped up in tweaking the tool itself.)

    Anyway, I left the company I was working for, and left EN at the same time. I never upgraded (downgraded?) to EN3, and from what I’ve seen/heard, wasn’t interested in switching. I looked for something new to start the next phase of my career with, and have been using Ultra Recall for the past 6 months. It is certainly a very capable tool, but it lacks the simplicity of the power available with EN2. UR has as dedicated a following as EN, but for me, I was complicated enough, and I don’t need my tools to be as complicated as I am.

    So here’s my dilemma – Do I:

    A) Continue with EN knowing that it has reached its End-of-Life (cynical jab @ EN3), and risk technical obsolescence when the next OS comes along where EN2 no longer works; or

    B) Keep searching for the next best thing in note taking since EN2 (another cynical jab @ EN3)?

    Life is full of agonizing reappraisals.

    Anyway, thanks again for your article!


  • Hi Mike! Thanks for your message. I certainly understand the frustration you feel with EN2->En3. I feel it too, and am continually frustrated by the lack of power in En3.

    Personally, I still use EN2 every day. However, I also consider other alternatives, like OneNote and Ultra Recall. I agree with you that nothing else comes close to EN2’s simple power, but I have to face the fact that EN2 is end-of-life. I like Ultra Recall (I’ve started considering it again based on your message, actually) and am encouraged to see some tagging features therein.

    The search continues! Please keep us informed as you go through your own search.

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