Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Working in the Cloud, Part 3: Evernote

In this third part of the series, I am going to describe how I use Evernote. In earlier posts, I described my use of Dropbox and Google Drive.

Like Google Drive, Evernote has many features beyond data storage. As in my previous two posts, I will describe how I use it, rather than attempt to be comprehensive. 

First and foremost, Evernote is great for typing up notes of all sorts. At this point, I often find that I start drafting up my ideas for lots of things in Evernote. Even if it is eventually going to be an email or a presentation or a blog post, I will usually start with Evernote. I am often taking notes in meetings, or while on the phone. No longer do I have these notes on various papers that I either have to carry around or that I forget at the office when I am somewhere else. I also make notes for my classes, and keep those in a note. Then I pull up the note on any device, and I am ready for class. I use Evernote to save receipts too, particularly if I need to file for reimbursement later. 

Editing notes is the centerpiece of Evernote, so it can be done on any device. Moreover, the interface looks very similar on tablets, laptops, and the desktop, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time finding the features I use on one device when I move to a different one.

Notes are accessible in a few different ways. I can add tags to my notes, and later pull up notes with a particular tag or set of tags. Notes can also be sorted into different notebooks, which are the equivalent of file folders in other storage systems. Notes that have reminders will be listed under reminders. For a note that I return to frequently, I add it to a list of shortcuts. Finally, notes are sorted by date of creation, with the most recent notes at the top within easy reach. This makes organization, and therefore finding the note I want to work on, pretty easy.

One of my favorite ways to use Evernote is in conjunction with its native reminder feature. For instance, if I need to photocopy something at the office, I might type a quick note to myself in Evernote and set up a reminder. The reminder can have a due date or not. If it does have a due date, Evernote sends an email to you on that day as well. 

Have you ever had the experience of having an email you can’t get to right now but want to answer later? This is where Evernote works really well. Evernote accounts come with an email address. Suppose I have an email from Maria that I want to get to later. I will forward Maria's email to my Evernote address. When it arrives, I add a reminder to the email-now-note, and then I do not forget to respond (reminders can also be added by altering the subject line of the email when I forward it). There are also times when I receive an email request that I can respond to, but also requires additional action later. When I respond, I blind-copy my Evernote address, so that I see the email and it reminds me to follow up on it.

In fact, Evernote interacts well with email in other ways. You can type a quick note as an email, and send it to Evernote. You can even set it up so that the email appends to an existing note, gets filed in a particular notebook, is tagged the way you want it, and it can have a reminder added as well.

Another way that I have come to use Evernote is to save items from the web, in a few different ways. Evernote has a web clipper for your task bar that lets you quickly take a screenshot (entire screen or a selected portion) and save it to Evernote. This works well if there is a graph or some data in a table that I want to save. If I am reading a blog post, often through Feedly or Instapaper, and I decide I want to keep the article, then I save it to Evernote. Then I tag it, and in this way I build a collection of ideas to share with colleagues, with students, with teachers, etc.

I also share my notes in one of two ways. Either I email the entire note, or I get a URL for the note, and share that instead. An advantage of using the URL is that I can post it somewhere, like a Lino or Padlet board, or some other public web space, and anyone can follow the link to see the note. Another advantage is that by following the URL, anyone accessing the note will see the most updated version.

Evernote’s storage limit works differently than Dropbox or Google Drive. Rather than a fixed limit, Evernote allows its users to add up to 60 MB (for the free account) per month. So I don’t worry that I have to go back through old notes to delete them; rather, I just have to be careful of how much I add each month (and I have never hit my limit).

Now we come to limitations. Evernote is great for notes. I also add PDF files, scans of documents, and occasional photos to Evernote. But I do not save other sorts of files, like spreadsheets or LaTeX files. I could save a LaTeX file into Evernote, but I am not sure that I could go through my usual cycle of editing, compiling, editing more, etc. Files other than notes are saved by "clipping" them to a note. Evernote doesn't seem made for the purpose of keeping files that are updated a lot. In this sense, Evernote probably could not be my only cloud service.

Syncing with Evernote is reliable, but not constant. Whereas every change is sent to Google Drive every few seconds as I work, and Dropbox is always working in the background to sync my files once saved, Evernote syncs either when prompted, or at other intervals. This has only come up when I make a last-minute addition to a note for my class in Evernote on my desktop, and then proceed to class with Evernote on a different device. If I don’t hit the sync button on Evernote, it may be a while before it syncs, and therefore I am without the latest version of my notes for class.

Basic (read: free) Evernote accounts require internet access in order to access my notes. This makes it the same as Google Drive. However, because Evernote is not syncing my notes every few seconds, if I am on a slow connection, I am not as likely to lose access to my note. However, I will lose the ability to open other notes if I am without internet. Evernote Premium users can access notes offline by designating particular notebooks that will be stored locally on the device.

Evernote Summary:

+Notes can be created and edited on any device.
+Notes can be organized in multiple ways, including notebooks, tags, reminders, and shortcuts.
+Notes can be added via email.
+Notes can have reminders, with or without dates.
+Notes can be created by saving items from the web.
+Evernote has an upload limit per month, rather than a fixed storage limit.

-Evernote is not designed for editing spreadsheets or PDFs or other files besides notes.
-Sync immediately before moving to another device to guarantee notes are up-to-date.
-For Basic users, accessing notes requires an internet connection.

There are certainly a lot more ways to use Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote than I have covered here. Still, I hope this has given readers at least an idea of some of the different ways of taking advantage of these three services.  

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