Notebooks or tags with Evernote?

Evernote notebooks and tags

I’ve gotten a few questions about how I use tags and notebooks in Evernote. Now, while I think one of the cool things about Evernote is that you can set it up however makes the most sense to you personally, I realize it helps to see how other people do it, if only to rule out what doesn’t make sense for you. So in that spirit, here’s the system I’ve developed so far.

My primary notebook is creatively named Default, and that’s where all of my notes start out and most of them end up. All but two of my other notebooks (Dish Network for day job stuff and Images for notes consisting entirely of pictures) are named for various writing projects, including a notebook for As you can see from the item counts, if you factor out the work and image notebooks, none of the project-oriented notebooks come anywhere near the size of the main notebook. They are handy, though, for quickly seeing everything related to a specific project in one place.

Tags are harder to keep organized. I have only six top level tags, and could probably get rid of two of them if I tried. But out of those, I really only use the first two (and their subtags): !GTD and !Reference. They’re prefaced with exclamation points so they sort automatically to the top.

The !GTD tag itself is never actually used at all. But it contains all my GTD contexts, as well as another tag, !Vision, for more Covey-style planning, goals, roles and values stuff.

For the vast majority of stuff in my Evernote database, each note will have either one or more @ tags representing the context in which I need to address the note contents, or it will be tagged simply with !Reference. I used to use a lot of keyword tags, but over time found I couldn’t keep them standardized well enough and that Evernote’s built in content search was more than sufficient to pull up notes I might have forgotten otherwise.

The only other tag worth mentioning is Bookmarks, which is where I put stuff that formerly would have gone into Delicious or Foxmarks (now Xmarks, or so I hear). Though honestly I’ve gotten so accustomed to typing whatever I’m looking for into the search bar on my browser that I hardly use bookmarks at all anymore. Starting to see a pattern here?

18 thoughts on “Notebooks or tags with Evernote?”

  1. I can’t figure a way to search by tags only. I prefer to tag items like “bills.” It would be nice to search for “bills” without bringing up every note or document that has the word “bill” in it, like an article about Bill Clinton for example, that isn’t a bill at all.

    The only way I can figure to do it is to click on the tag. But I have so many notebooks that my tags are way down at the bottom of the screen . . .

  2. Hey Jeff,
    I see that you have close to 3000 notes in Evernote. Have you noticed any slowing down? I'm fairly new to Evernote, but not new to notetaking. I have almost 6000 notes in a PC Program called Personal Knowbase. I'm thinking about moving all that to my evernote account, but was just wondering about whether this would overload the system. These notes are solely text notes. No graphics.

  3. Hey Jeff – great post! I'm a huge fan of Evernote as well (see here:” rel=”nofollow”> I always feel like I'm struggling with conformity of tags. Like you, I created parent/child tags, which proved to be helpful – but even then, over time, I noticed I don't really pay attention to them. I just search "tag:x tag:y" and maybe even save the search. Ultimately, I'll end up getting rid of a lot of the tags as its just taking up space.

    My specific question for you is about your GTD contexts – though I professed my love for RTM, I've been using Nozbe because of its integration with Evernote (really cool!). Are you using GTD for your tasks/to-do lists or do you keep those there to match what is in your to-do list? Thanks!

  4. Hey Jeff

    Thanks for the solid info…very helpful for me as I was trying to implement a cross-platform GTD system. Two quickies:

    1 – It’s over a year since this post…have you tweaked anything since this writing besides using Egretlist?

    2 – How do you handle due dates for tasks? And/or priorities?

    Thanks again!

  5. I just got Evernote this week and i’m having some trouble with the initial setup. I don’t really have projects at home. And at work they are all managed within outlook. Right now i have a personal notebook, tasks notebook, inbox, and work. But i don’t like dumping everything into personal.

    What would you suggest

  6. @Jeff you don’t appeared to have answered your question though 😉 And I wish I knew the answer! The conclusion I have come to however is that tags (in all sorts of applications) are highly overrated. Or should that be just “easily overused” (abused).

    When I started with Evernote a year ago, I got (in hindsight) wrong footed by a blogpost describing how to do everything with just 1 notebook and tons of tags. I now try to avoid tags if possible (cuts down processing time!) and dont hesitate for a second to create a new notebook! Because as you say, the search function works perfectly well. Why tag a blog article like this with “GTD, Evernote” when every second word is just that anyway!

    That’s not to say they’re worthless. I think they come into their own when categorising note content with a general term. E.g. “code conventions” is one I use a lot for articles about do’s and dont’s when programming.

    I suppose, basically, I always try to adhere to the horizontal/vertical focus analogy. Notebooks are your vertical focus (hence, perfect for active projects or responsibilities) and tags are the horizontal (making them good for @contexts). I only use Evernote for reference though. It’s lack of calendar/reminder function and the lack of decent iPad GTD apps, that leverage Evernote (Egretlist looks OK, but is only iPhone) means that my ToDo lists live outside of Evernote. And so for reference only I seldom need a horizontal focus.

    I did once indulge in a colourful array of “note type” tags, like .memo, .blogpost, .thoughts, .agendaLog, etc. and although I still use .memo to round up all those little “notes to self” (bit like a virtual post-it note), I soon realised I never need to focus on “only blogposts” or “only thoughts” and as mentioned already, the extra overhead of having to pedantically label everything, just meant that most of it backed up (untagged!) in my inbox anyway. Processing it all became a chore, completely defeating GTD.

    @Corbin, yes just follow your gut feeling to start (or of course somebodies recommendations). It doesn’t matter too much where or how you start out, you’ll soon see if the cap fits and your system will evolve with time. If you don’t like chucking everything into personal, ask yourself why not? Is it because you don’t want to mix, say, GTD related blogposts with Gran’s best recipes or your wedding plans? Then perhaps the solution would be to factor out 3 new notebooks. Quite a handy new feature are the notebook stacks, which basically just means you can also organise notebooks hierarchically but the Ace is, if you put notebooks A, B and C into stack X, you can still view and search X as though it were a single notebook. I’d like to see this for tags!!!

  7. @Rich, I was faced with the same dilemma. I basically had a few notebooks and 8 parent tags with several child tags under that.

    Right now i have Inbox, Personal Stack (Corbin’s Notebook, Journal), Tasks Stack (Active, Completed, Focus, Incubating), Work Stack (Accomplishments)

    and i have some tags for categorization.

    i’d be interested to learn how you have your notebook hierarchy set up – h4x0re@gmail

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