How Evernote Changed My Life | Part 1

Dedication:  This article is dedicated to my Dad & my best friend Mary

Part 1 | Why I Fell In Love with Evernote & How it Changed My Life

Part 2 |  Illustrated Examples of How I Use Evernote


Introduction

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part series of articles which shares my very personal journey becoming acquainted with and ultimately mesmerized with Evernote.  I wrote this in part to answer one question that I’m so frequently asked…why do I love Evernote so much.  Part 2  gives an illustration of one way that I use Evernote.

Both parts together constitute what I believe to be a great introduction to Evernote’s purpose, how it can be used, and how it can easily be incorporated into anyone’s day-to-day life.  My hope is that I’ve given readers enough information about my own personal journey using Evernote to allow them to begin using the free note taking service too, in tandem with a significant reduction in the overall learning curve.

Background

Friends and family members often ask me why I love Evernote so much. They want to know why I can state so confidently that I can’t live without EV (EV is my own Evernote abbreviation…officially it’s EN.)  They want to know exactly what I use it for as well as the ins & outs of how I go about using Evernote. They want to know how I fell in love with it. Last and most important, they want to know if they would also benefit, and if the benefits would be great enough to justify tackling Evernote’s learning curve…essentially they want to be convinced one way or another to try it or rule it out as personally useful.

That’s Why I Wrote This Post…to answer those questions…but first…

For People Who’ve Never Heard of Evernote…I’ll try to give you a brief explanation of what Evernote is & why it holds such an esteemed position amongst note taking apps.

Evernote is a free app that is primarily designed to help people take notes. Those notes can take many, many different forms, ranging from student notes taken during class lectures or those used for gathering research in preparation of writing research papers, to simple things that assist is in daily living like grocery lists, reminders of where things are stored, to do lists etc….you name it and Evernote can probably handle it.

Evernote’s Evolution

Today, in 2016, Evernote is very different from the app I first fell in love with almost 10 years ago. But those changes aren’t really visible to users. Because at its core Evernote is still the same…it’s just better.  The people who work for Evernote are passionate group…they’re especially passionate about their products…probably because most of them were first users who fell in love with EV long before they chose a career there.

The Evernote employees I’ve interacted with truly want to see their company succeed because its success means their own personal success too…you’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate group of individuals.  At its core Evernote does a few simple things brilliantly.   As its further developed and new features are added they are carefully integrated to keep the simple yet vital core unchanged.

The new features added to Evernote since I first discovered it truly do add new utility without increasing complications.  Evernote manages to do this without changing the way users interact with it too.  This, I’m certain, is one key to Evernote’s success.

I’m a beta tester for Evernote, and have been for many years. It was scary at first when I contemplated the idea because my data base of information had become so extremely vital to me.  To risk hurting this in any way through my use of untested software was a huge concern…but it just isn’t a concern anymore. I now understand that my information will always be protected (this is a top priority to the EV teams,) and it will always be available to me…whether I’m a free user or a premium user. The product is designed to safeguard your data…so as long as I keep my account active…my data will always be there. This holds true for everyone.

A Little More About Data Safety

Even it you stop using Evernote for a long periods of time. As long as you remember your username and password or you have access to the email account you used to register with EV, your notes will be there waiting for you. If you want to have them always available to regardless of network availability or location, you can turn on a feature that automatically downloads all of data to keep stored on your device for offline usage.  I do this on most of my devices because we travel internationally and networks aren’t always readily available.  EV manages disk usage requirements well too. My 9000+ notes in roughly 210 notebooks only take up about 200 mb’s of space, which is astonishing to me since I use A LOT of photos and screenshots!

The one big change that I’ve seen through the years with Evernote is the company’s realization that simple doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t need to offer basic tutorials to new users.  Back when I began, Evernote really had no tools to help new users learn the basics.  Granted, those basics are simple…but I did have a bit of a rough time at first trying to grasp a few basic concepts.  That experience would have been entirely different if I were a new user today, because Evernote does have that support now.

But there was one concept that I struggled to grasp…in retrospect it’s amusing because the concept is so simple.  So I thought I’d explain it here just to help out anyone else who might be trying out Evernote for the first time.

Evernote’s Data Hierarchy Works Like This:

  • a note is the smallest unit – you can have as many notes as you want (actually there are some upper limits but trust me, they just don’t matter)
  • a notebook is the next size up if you will.  Many notes can be grouped together to form a notebook.  Although notebooks can be created with no notes too…it’s all up to the use how you want to get started.  Do you want to create a few notebooks and start creating notes from within each one?  Or do you want to just create some notes and see how things unfold…and then create some notebooks and move notes into them for grouping purposes.
  • a stack is the largest unit.  Many notebooks are grouped together into a stack.  I like to think of stacks as filing cabinets.  At home we have one vertical filing cabinet for financial stuff, one for household stuff and one for school and kids’ education stuff.

In Evernote this would translate to 3 stacks which would be called…FinancialHousehold….and Education.


Wrap Up of My Introduction to Evernote

That’s it!  That’s really all there is to it!  Why I had such a problem grasping this I’ll never know…but it probably had a lot to do with my frame of mind when I first began using Evernote.  You can read more about how I fell in love with it immediately below or skip all that and scroll down to the bottom where I have a link to Part 2 of this article which gives one example of how I use Evernote.


Evernote Enters My Life | My EV Journal

This marks the beginning of my personal journey into the wonders of the Evernote realm. It describes how my love affair with Evernote began and evolved overtime.  It continues up to present time and my current statue as a proud, self-proclaimed Evernote Ambassador Extraordinaire…

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m one of Evernote’s most enthusiastic supporters!  

My reason is a simple one…Evernote, in conjunction with my diagnoses of both OCD & ADHD, subsequent counseling and ADHD medication, allowed me to completely turn my life around.  

About 10 years ago I’d finally come to the realization that my destiny appeared to be all laid out for me.   I was slowly losing more and more control over managing our day-to-day lives.  The good news was that I have an amazing and supportive family who was ready and willing to step in and help.  But at 40+- years of age I also felt that I was much to young to be experiencing this kind of disabling phenomenon…I felt much older than my actual age.

My diagnosis presented some unique challenges.  OCD when combined with ADHD can really be a debilitating mix…especially if both tend fall on the more severe side of the spectrum.  But through hard work and medication for the ADHD part, I ultimately arrived at a place of clarity…something that was necessary to find a solution…that final solution proved to be Evernote.


Friends and family oftentimes ask me why I use Evernote and what I really use Evernote for…

I fear that my definitive declaration of ‘everything‘ fails to satisfy anyone’s curiosity or to even enlighten someone very much.

But it’s so true!  It dawned on me as I began writing this, that my Who’s Who Directory might be a great way to illustrate one of my uses of Evernote.  So, if you want to see that, scroll to the bottom for a link to Part 2.  If you want to read even more about my personal journey keep reading here.


My Personal Journey Continues…

From around the time that my eldest son left for college to the time that his younger brother did too…which was a period of about 2 years…my personal life seemed to be on this downward spiral that was out of  control.   

Our family life during that period of time was crazy busy.  We’d just finished helping one boy started on the college journey and on beginning his new, almost adult life, and we were helping our 2nd son begin the same journey.  We’d invited a classmate his to live with us for the school year because his family moved to the UK and he desperately ( my word….not his :-) ) wanted to graduate with his classmates back home.  We began dealing with a technical situation at home which ultimately altered my interests in a profound way…which will be the subject of a different post hopefully sometime soon.  But in a nutshell, we ultimately learned that our home computer network had been hacked and had become part of a botnet that was sending virus-laden SPAM around the world. 

It still shocks me today to realize how quickly our home life could change from that of organized chaos to just plain chaos.  It still shocks me too to recognize how profoundly something as simple as a little chaos at home could translate into this personal sense of futility, leading to desperation……leading to just wanting to give up on everything.  I’d never felt so alone which was bizarre because I was surrounded by loving people!

But, I was at one of the lowest points in my life…and I was really afraid that there was no escaping the inevitable conclusion.  I really felt like I was much older than my years.  I looked young on the outside…but my mind seemed to be that of a very confused 90 year old.  This progression had been a slow one, so I didn’t really see or notice it was happening until I arrived at this awful place where I felt anxious all the time and completely overwhelmed with life.  Even accomplishing small daily tasks had become a huge struggle for me.  I wasn’t depressed per se…but I was becoming depressed because frankly, my life was pretty awful and there didn’t seem to be any way to turn it around.

My eldest son recognized one aspect of the problem…my OCD tendencies.  It was upon his advice that I finally acted and decided to seek out a therapist to help me.  I worked with her for almost a year…she was amazing and taught me a lot of great ways to control my OCD tendencies.  But even that wasn’t helping the way we’d hoped it would.  There was something more that was preventing me from accomplishing anything and in the end it was the 2nd diagnosis, ADHD that was sort of like the missing link I needed to fix myself…because I was finally able to recognize that I did need fixing.  And that my life wasn’t just following some predestined course which I couldn’t alter. (Which is sort of how I felt when I first met her when we began our work together.)


Back to Evernote

Hopefully if you’ve been reading along you’ll realize that prior to my discovery of Evernote, I was feeling completely overwhelmed with so much data.  It literally made me feel as though my head were constantly spinning.

This data took many forms…

Some of the Visible Evidence of My Losing Battle Over Managing Our Data

  • Lots and lots of manila and vertical files.  Some housed in vertical filing cabinets, others stacked alongside some of those file cabinets awaiting filing.  And even more stacks of brand new ones in many different colors for color coding purposes.  Then more stacks at strategic locations throughout our home that I was working on organizing.
  • One medium-sized drawer filled with notebooks that were specified for specific purposes…things like Home measurements, Family members sizes, measurements & preferences, notes on elder dog care, notes on possible travel destinations, and so on.
  • Post-it Notes everywhere
  • Bulletin boards in almost all rooms

I’ve been plagued with inheriting poor memory function from my Dad’s side of the family…it’s a lifelong affliction that’s oddly non-symmetrical in its impact and not at all like early dementia.

So, if I don’t write something down it will more than likely be lost forever.  Back then this manifested itself with post-it notes being strewn anywhere and everywhere.   In addition,  I used more bulletin boards than I’ve ever seen in any one home!

The sad thing about all this was that the harder I tried to get a handle on managing all of our data, the more overwhelming the whole situation became to me.  Concurrent to that feeling of losing my grip on all this was the fact that the sheer size and complexity of my systems themselves seemed destined to epic failure.

My Introduction to Evernote & How I Began Using It

I’d love to say that I immediately grasped Evernote’s ‘super powers’, that I downloaded and installed it on all my devices, and then watched a few YouTube videos and my transformation began…but that isn’t what happened at all!

I didn’t initially embrace EV…and in fact no little light bulb ever went off inside my head telling me that this was the path to take.  Instead my story was a pretty ordinary one, and frankly a much less interesting one too.

So here’s the real (kind of boring) sequence of events for how Evernote crept into my life…

I started using an iPad (the iPad 2) that I shared with my husband and I was looking for a few good apps for it. Evernote was one of a few free note apps that I downloaded.  I halfheartedly tried them all and didn’t see much difference beyond Apple’s built-in notes app other than a few formatting improvements.  But, as I embraced using the iPad more and more I began to look more seriously for a few good tools that would allow me to accomplish the tasks that I normally accomplished on my computer.  There weren’t many text editing or word processing apps back then…even Pages for ios didn’t yet exist!

I paid a lot of money for a word processing app that creates Word friendly documents, called Docs2Go…it cost something like $9.99…which seemed extravagant even back then for such basic functionality as being able to type up some documents and get them off my iPad.  But using Docs2Go wasn’t a great experience…it got the job done, but not in a iPadesque manner…it was clumsy and no frills.   Therefore I wasn’t prone to using it for writing quick notes.

But Apple’s note app wasn’t really great for quick notes either in my mind.  There were no formatting tools at all…no good method of organization and there was a very good chance that when I wrote a note to myself using it…I may not find it again for a very lone period of time.  I know now that’s because there were several note databases…each tied to an email account that was used on the device…but that wasn’t immediately obvious back then.

So one-by-one I tried out the different notes apps I’d downloaded, and one-by-one I eliminated them from the running.  Evernote was one of the last I tested out.  I didn’t much like the green elephant theme and there was a definite learning curve because of the stacks versus notebooks versus notes hierarchy…it seems so simple now but it wasn’t explained well back then.

Evernote’s Learning Curve Back in the Early Days was Considerable Because No Documentation Existed

In fact, a complete lack of documentation may have been Evernote’s most serious flaw back then.  So I was forced to spend a lot of time searching for documentation in other places…yet because there were so many platforms that EV runs on…which is definitely one of its biggest strengths…this scenario also made finding help for just the ios version much more difficult.  By the way…back then no one ever referred to the iPad and iPhone’s operating system as ios!  Operating systems weren’t discussed much in general conversations at all.

So, even my efforts to search for good documentation were relative failures.  Therefore I was forced to actually pay good money for Kindle and iBook guides that were either very out of date or ended up being for different operating systems or devices, or just didn’t cover the basics that I needed at that point in my learning process.  It was a fitful, frustrating start and looking back I’m sort of surprised that I even stuck with it…I guess that was thanks to the Ritalin!

Evernote’s Lack of Consistency or Uniformity in all Versions Makes Using it Across Many Different Platforms Still a Difficult Undertaking

There wasn’t good uniformity back then across platforms for how one used Evernote.  This problem still exists somewhat today…although it’s become less of an issue now.  But the Android version of Evernote as well as the Windows 8 versions operate completely differently than most others do.  This is still is a weakness that Evernote needs to address.

I can’t stress enough that my early use really occurred in fits and starts.  It was only after I had begun to build up a small database of notes that the brilliance of Evernote became clear to me.

Evernote’s Brilliance

The main brilliance of Evernote was that all I had to do was take down some information in a note and give it a title….although even a title wasn’t really necessary…and my note would just magically appear on all my devices…oftentimes instantaneously!   I didn’t need to do a thing for this to happen…it just worked…and it always worked…it was extremely reliable and consistent!  It worked everywhere with all kinds of devices…it didn’t matter how many I had or what type they were…my note was always everywhere almost instantaneously!  This opened up a whole new way of moving data across devices for me.

Remember this was the pre-cloud era.  But essentially that’s what Evernote created…a really efficient cloud that just works so seamlessly that it seems like magic!  Not only that but I could format my notes with bold, italic, underlined, highlighted and strikeout fonts.  I could add two kinds of lists…numbered and bulleted ones, as well as create to-do lists with check boxes…and then I could share these with anyone else really easily.  I could add photos and screenshots and even make audio recordings…all within one simple note.  And it was all very easy to do once I figured out the stack-notebook-note hierarchy.

Around the time that I finally completely embraced Evernote I also became more involved in Internet activities and found that I needed to create a growing number of user accounts with passwords.  The final impetus nudging me towards Evernote Evangelist  arose because I discovered that I could write those passwords in a note in Evernote and then encrypt them…if I paid $45 a year for a premium account…this, for me, was a very small price to pay to be able to keep encrypted notes with me all the time (this too was prior to great password managers like Dashlane appearing on the scene.)


The Final Evolution of My Personal Journey…My Transformation…

In many ways Evernote helped me become the person I am today.  

EV for me, was a kind of magical (albeit slightly limited format-wise,) word processor,  but a really powerful one that also contained an immensely organized filing system that I could carry around in my pocket!  One that I could always access and almost always find things in.  It completely solved my data crisis!  

More importantly, by helping me to organize all that data it took a huge burden off my shoulders so that I could finally think again, and relax and enjoy my life.  

I’d been living under this oppressive burden of anxiety for so long…yet I never even realized it!  It was only when the burden began to dissipate  that I really understood how much this stress and anxiety been hindering me and preventing me from leading the kind of active, fulfilled life that I’d formerly had…and longed for again.

Once I had my life back, but with a newfound confidence I’d never experienced before, I  decided to strike out on my own to build a new career…one that would never have been possible before.  This blog is one small branch of that new career.  

A Little Bit More About My Early Evernote Discoveries

I soon leaned that there was even more to Evernote…even way back then.  It also let you add tags and it automatically attached Geo-location tags so I could almost always find my notes again if I just recalled where I was when I first wrote them.  Perhaps the main failing of my elaborate hard-copy system was that I could never find things again once they were safely tucked away in a well labeled, color coded files.   There were simply too many of them and my mind was too cluttered to really work it all out well enough to  make it work well.  I could go on and on here…but I won’t…that’s for another post I think.  Because Evernote continues to innovate and grow and their features they continue to address my increasingly demanding needs.  But my main point is this one.


I was a very slow adopter while using the free version of Evernote.   My love for the app grew slowly over time.  As my number of my notes grew, Evernote’s features became more and more useful and valuable too me.  

Today, in 2016, I do virtually everything with Evernote…from word processing to writing for my websites…although the new WordPress editor is so great that I stopped using Evernote for this purpose about 6 months ago and I just use that now…but I did use EV for that too for a long time before.  

Part 2 of this article | Provides example of how I actually use Evernote now with my evolving Who’s Who Directory of  Important Figures in the History of the Internet 

Links:

Evernote changed their paid tiers in 2015.  Their core product is free and from what I can tell it will remain that way always.  When I upgraded to the premium plan, that was the only paid plan available and it was $45 per year.  I was happy to pay that amount for 2 key benefits:

  • The ability to password protect the app on all of my devices
  • The ability to encrypt text within notes

I’ve written another article about those security features.

I’ve also written an article about the Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner that my husband got me for my birthday last year.  This scanner has been a tremendous aid to me in helping me to reduce and remove the remaining stacks of clutter in our home.  It’s been an even bigger help deal in coping with the huge amount of paperwork and making decisions about family possessions as my elderly parents downsized and sold our childhood home.

Last, anyone who is using a paid plan with Evernote has the opportunity to gain points which can be applied towards paying their annual plan fee.  The point system itself is too complex to explain here and the points themselves aren’t easy to accumulate enough of to make much of a difference…but the bargain seeker in me won’t let me ignore the fact that in essence, if someone chose to try out Evernote and then chose to upgrade to a paid plan I could can gain a few points towards my own plan if they use this link to begin using Evernote.:-)

If you want to try Evernote and don’t want me to get points :-( or (more likely:-/)  my point link isn’t working, you can use this link.

Here’s an article by Evernote that explains the new paid plan alternatives…there are 4 plans available now.

Please leave me a comment if you’d like to.  If you have anything that you’d like that share about Evernote, or if you’d like to ask me a question…I always reply to readers questions ASAP and you can comment anonymously.