We are used to creating filing systems. Open a drawer in that metal filing cabinet and you reveal your folder structure for paper files, be it good or bad. Open the Documents folder on your computer, and you see the digital parallel of that metal filing cabinet. Again, it may be good; it may be bad.

For a couple of decades, the computer has been the center of our digital lives. A good filing system on the computer meant you could find what you needed. You also had a better idea of what your system contained.
Time Management
In the last few years, however, we have seen the center of our digital move from information stored on one computer to information stored “in the cloud,” and accessible from anywhere. And whereas our computers have powerful software and superior file structures, our mobile devices tend to lack on both fronts. Evernote has become the answer for me and for many other people. It allows us to create “notebooks” (Evernote’s version of folders). We can add information from any device. We can edit from any device. We can combine notes, photos, and audio in a single note.

A Notebook Starter List
Coming up with a good notebook structure is a challenge for the new user, and providing help is the purpose of this post. As a start, there are three notebooks I think are must-haves:

  1. .Inbox (notice the period in front of the word, which will cause that notebook to sort to the top)
  2. Miscellaneous (because you won’t structure a complete system at first, and having a catch-all gives you a place to put the notes for which a good category has not emerged)
  3. Personal Information (because we all need a place for the random membership numbers, codes, and account numbers in our lives)

I devoted a post on creating these three notebooks, and recommend reading it as a start. For educators, I wrote a second post which adds additional suggests for the teacher or principal.

I have been a big proponent of using a single, paper journal to take notes from phone calls, one-on-one meetings, larger meetings, and seminars. With the popularity of tablets, I see a growing number of people who carry that device everywhere and would like to use it as the place to take notes. If that situation describes you, this post will serve as a guide.

When you take notes, some of what you write are “to-dos” that you will need to transfer to whatever tool serves as your to-do list. This post provides a strategy for automating the process of getting the to-dos you wrote in Evernote over to your to-do list.

Adding Other Notebooks
Because I am retired from education, my notebook needs are different from what they would be if I were still a principal or central office administrator. Below are screen shots which show the notebooks I currently have in Evernote.

What do I have in each notebook? The following list will give you an idea:
Addresses—Our neighborhood publishes a pdf directory of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone in the subdivision. Right-clicking on that pdf and sending to Evernote makes this directory available to me from anywhere. A second note houses a similar directory from our church. Since finding duplicate entries on a list of names is something I have to do from time to time,  one note in this notebook gives me the Excel formula for the task.

Automobile—Create a note with the basic information about your automobile. Where did you purchase the car and when? Who was the salesman? What type of warranty is included and when does it expire? What is the VIN number, purchase price, and mileage at purchase? All of that goes in one note. Create a similar note for each vehicle in the family.

Each time you take the automobile to be serviced, create a note with a summary of the work performed and the mileage. When you have the tires replaced, create a note telling what type of tires you bought and the mileage at that point. Each time you create a note, it will be date and time stamped, giving you a chronological record.

Band—Although I am no longer a band director, I still judge, conduct honor bands, and keep my hand in the band world in a variety of ways. The band notebook houses such items as a rubric for judging concert bands, a checklist of tasks involved with conducting a honor band, and talking points about the importance of music in our schools.

Bonnie Lass, Cabrio, Lucy, Skipper—These four notebooks correspond to the four Shelties from recent years. One note has information related to adopting the dog: where we got the dog, along with contact information and microchip number, and the type of food the dog eats. One note lists the dog’s weight at each checkup, giving us an at-a-glance idea of how the weight is changing over time. If a pet was taken to the vet for illness, that visit is logged as its own note, complete with what the vet said and what medication was prescribed. Sure, the vet has all of this information in the pet’s folder, but when it’s in Evernote, you can view it whenever you like. At this point, you are probably thinking of creating a notebook for each of your children. Hold that thought for when we discuss “stacks.”

Checklists—This notebook includes such items as a list of what I may need to pack for a trip, what tasks need to be performed at the end of each grading period (a hold-over from my days as a principal), and a records retention list. A checklist provides a well-thought-out list of tasks to perform in a given scenario. Before a trip, I can email the one for packing to my to-do list.

Cooking, Shopping, Health, House—Good articles show up in my RSS feed every day. The Evernote web clipper allows me to save those good articles to Evernote and place them in the appropriate categories with just a couple of clicks.

Gift Ideas—While browsing in stores, you see ideas for future gifts. Take out your phone, open Evernote, create a new note, and tap the picture of the camera. Your phone’s camera opens, and the picture you take goes into Evernote. Key in some details, such as where you saw the gift, and the price. Save it in the “Gift Ideas” notebook. Each note will represent a different gift idea. When you purchase one of the gifts, delete the note, or move it somewhere else. You might even create a notebook for “Gifts Bought” to establish a record of purchases made. If you have ever bought your spouse the exact same gift you gave him or her a year ago, the value of a “Gifts Bought” notebook becomes obvious.

Motivation—This notebook provides a place for stories or poems that to use later as devotionals, in presentations, or in writings.

Public Speaking—This notebook includes everything from tips on relating to the audience to how to design better PowerPoint slides. What hobbies, avocations, or major roles do you have in your life? Chances are, you will want a notebook for each one.

Recommendations—If you receive an email praising you for great work, what do you do with it? Saving it with all of your other archived email will likely insure you never see those wonderful words again. Forward the email to Evernote, using the special email address Evernote provides. Save it in a notebook sure to provide those needed “warm fuzzies.”

These descriptions give you a good start towards deciding what notebooks you may want, and what to put into them.


On your computer, you have the ability to nest folders. Evernote provides a much flatter file structure. We have discussed notebooks and notes. Evernote offers one more level of hierarchy—stacks.

Stacks comprise two of more notebooks. Think of a stack as being like a bookcase. One bookcase may hold notebooks related to your personal life, another holds lesson plans, another holds aspects of your professional life. To create a stack, you simply drag one notebook on top of another.

Current Projects
You will notice I have one stack. It is called “/Current Projects” and contains notebooks for each of my projects I have in my life that is a “word in progress.” My to-do list is the hub of my project activity. The steps involved in the project, as well as much of the information about it, and start/due dates, are housed in the to-do list.

However, we all having supporting material for our projects. Some of it may be paper-based, and we need a place to be paper-based support material. We will also have digital project-support material. My wife and I are planning a week-long trip to New York City. Along the way, we are receiving emails related to that trip and gathering information we will want to access while there. I can forward each item to the “New York Trip” notebook in the Current Projects stack.

When the New York trip is over, I will look inside that notebook and decide what need to be deleted or saved somewhere else. You could even have a stack called “Completed Projects,” where the entire notebook could be moved. I don’t currently have a “Completed Project” stack, but as I continue to use Evernote, I will likely create one.

Notice the title of my stack started with a “/”. The slash, being a punctuation, sorts ahead of all letters or numbers. In the order of punctuation marks, a slash sorts after a period. I want my Inbox to be at the top of the list and my Current Projects stack to be the next item. The period in front of Inbox and slash in front of Current Projects accomplishes that aim for me.

If you have children, you may want to create a stack for each child. Within the stack, each notebook could represent a year in that child’s life. The individual notes would capture anything of significance which happened during the year. Record visits to the doctor, with one note per visit. Evernote automatically date and time stamps each one. Did the child play Little League baseball? If so, what was the team’s record, coach’s name, and what was significant about the season? You could scan report cards or even artwork. Evernote can be a way to keep up with the significant milestones in the lives of your children.

I have made far more use of notebooks than I have tags in Evernote. Going back to the example of doctor visit’s, you would create a new note in the notebook for that year for that child. You could tag that note “doctor” or “medical.” If you maintain consistency, searching for the tag “doctor” or “medical” would show all such visits for any family member.

Make It Your Own

I have given you some insight into how I structure my Evernote notebooks. Your structure will be different, because your needs are different.

Tell me about how you have structured Evernote. Is there anything about my setup you find interesting?