Become a Mobile Productivity Ninja with Evernote

Optimize your use of this simple-yet-powerful task management and organizational tool.
August 20, 2012

Ninja warriors specialized in unorthodox warfare. If you’re a road warrior and use a tablet or smartphone you can be a mobile ninja. All you need is one unorthodox weapon—Evernote.

Evernote for Noobs

Think of Evernote as an external hard-drive for your brain, a place where you can save all kinds of digital stuff: notes, pictures, audio, PDFs, web pages—even ideas for an OPEN Forum article about Evernote.

But Evernote isn’t just a higgledy-piggledy repository for your digital detritus. Your items become an organized collection designed to help you get things done.

From desktop, laptop, or mobile device (Mac, PC, iOS, or Android) your items are uploaded to the Web so you can share them with your other devices and other people. Best of all, Evernote scans everything you send, so pictures of signs, wine labels, business cards, and anything else with words become searchable in Evernote.

But that’s not all:

  • Jot a note in Evernote’s 99 cent iPad companion, Penultimate, and almost undecipherable handwritten scribbles magically become searchable.

  • Annotations and captions can be added to images or screen-grabs with Evernote’s free Skitch app, and they’re searchable along with regular text notes.

  • Transcriptions of voicemail from Google VoiceFreedomVoice, or other services can even be sent to Evernote, too. “Let’s see, where’s that message from the guy who sharpens throwing axes?”

If you want to be the ultimate Evernote ninja, read Brett Kelly’s Evernote Essentials ($29). He writes the documentation for Evernote, and he’s an Evernote ninja himself.

Give Your E-mail a Karate Chop

My e-ail inbox used to fill up with messages I wanted to respond to or otherwise use. But days and weeks would go by until, in resignation, I just moved them all to the trash. Not any more.

Using one of Evernote’s most useful weapons, its ability to receive e-mail, my inbox is empty and I get more done. The Secret Weapon Manifesto explains how you can organize Evernote into action, waiting, read/review, and sticky notebooks with related who, what, where and when tags. It takes a few minutes to set up, but it’s well worth the investment. It’s a zen thing, and you’ll like it. Ninjas do.

Search Like a Master With Special Codes

Evernote’s search tool hides lots of sneaky operators that let you target items that have special attributes. You can see what’s in, say, just two notebooks (notebook:defense notebook:spies), or search for notebooks created on a certain date (“created:August 20, 2012” or “created:200120812”). “Updated” works the same way. The term “todo” let’s you find notes with checkboxes that are checked (todo:true) or not (todo:false), or either (todo:*). You can save searches you perform regularly, too.

Evernote also lets you assign notebooks—categories—to each item. But before you create stacks and stacks of notebooks, consider instead using tags—it’s a sneaky ninja trick that makes items a lot easier to find.

Encrypt Secret Messages

Select part of a note, or a whole page of spy pictures, then right click and choose “Encrypt Selected Text”. Give Evernote a secret code (don’t forget it!), and your selection is replaced with a small menu that lets you see—if you enter the correct code—what you’ve encrypted, or you can decrypt it permanently. Prying eyes won’t know what you know.

Share a Notebook with Co-Conspirators

When you send an e-mail blast with the latest joke to 20 people you clog up their inbox and demand attention to something that should be discretionary. Create a shared Evernote notebook, and everyone can laugh when it’s convenient for them.

Automate Data Capture

If you capture a report or other document, sneaky ninja that you are, it may not be from an e-mail or webpage, so moving it to Evernote takes more than just a click. If you set up a Windows auto-add folder, or the equivalent using Apple’s Automator, anything you put in the folder will automatically end up in Evernote.

I used to send items this way to an un-synced notebook called Auto Load so I could add tags and selectively sync them to keep from exceeding my free account’s 60Mb/month space quota. Now I pay $45 a year and have never approached my 1Gb/month limit. But I still use this ninja trick.

Save Sneaky Ideas for Later

Ninjas are known for cunning, and you never know when a brilliant idea may strike. That napkin scribble for a anti-gravity machine, so you can walk on walls, is just a photo and e-mail away from a secure spot in your Evernote library. Tag it with “idea” and you can work on it when you’re back at your ninja lair.

Tom Harnish is a serial entrepreneur. Always on the bleeding edge of technology, he learned what works (and what doesn't) leading projects, products and companies to success (mostly). He can't play a lot of musical instruments.

Photo credit: Evernote