Last week, I showed you a use-case scenario for using both Evernote and Notion. We looked at how an aspiring school band director could use digital notes to organize the wealth of information needed for the job. We went on to show how this person would filter information to find exactly what’s needed at the time.

Today, we go into more depth about Evernote tags.

The decision over whether to organize with notebooks versus tags has been a long-standing debate in the Evernote community. I use both.

If you looked at my Evernote sidebar, you would see the notebook list. At the top is the inbox. A dot as the first character sorts the inbox to the top of the list. It’s a place to trap notes until I make a decision about where to put them.

Current Projects

After that, I have a stack (a group of notebooks) called Current Projects. The slash as the first character sorts it to the top of the list just below the Inbox. The tasks related to those projects are in my digital task manager, Remember The Milk. Those tasks point to supporting reference material in these notebooks.

Having a “Current Projects” stack keeps things that are works in progress separate from those things that are simply reference material.

Reference Notebooks

Scrolling down reveals the list of reference notebooks. The very last is a stack for completed projects which now become reference material.

One thing to remember if you collaborate with other people is that you can share a notebook. When you do, every note in that notebook can be accessed, and if you desire, edited by those you choose to share it with. You can’t share a tag.

Why Tags?

For me, the primary use of tags is to serve as dividers within the notebook. To get started, for each notebook, create a tag by the same name. For example, I have a “Time Management” notebook. I also have a tag called “Time Management.” It serves as a placeholder.

When I click the dropdown beside that tag, you see the magic. Other tags are nested under it, all related to the broad subject of time management. You can nest tags under tags under tags to your heart’s content to create your own system of subcategories. When you create a tag, just drag it on top of the tag under which it should be nested.

The Tagging Strategy

I have a special strategy for how to construct my tags. Every “time management” tag starts with “TM” followed by a dash. When I start to tag a note by typing a name, as soon as I hit that TM, I see a list of all the tags that start that way…in other words I see all the tags I have used before in that notebook and can choose the right one. For example, if I clip a good article on iPhone usage, do I tag it “TM-Apple,” “TM-iOS,” “TM-iPhone,” or something else? Seeing what tags I already have helps me keep the list clean.

  1. Subtags under “Entertainment” begin with “Ent.”
  2. Subtags under “Journal” begin with “Jour.”
  3. Subtags for “School_Administration” begin with “SchAdmin.”

Again, the main Evernote tags are placeholders.

One very important tip when naming tags or notebooks. Never include a space in the name. Use a dash or underscore between words. That way, when you perform a search using that name, Evernote will see it as one unit and you won’t have to remember to enclose it in quotations.

So, to get organized with Evernote:

  1. Create an Inbox.
  2. Create a stack for your current projects to separate actionable from non-actionable material
  3. Create tags that parallel your notebooks.
  4. Begin each subtag will a prefix.

With a well-planned system of notebooks and tags, you can not only find what you’re looking for, but find what you need but had forgotten you had. Add “clean up Evernote tags” to your own to-do list. It’s worth it.

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