Evernote: My External Brain

A few notes with the linear algebra tag, as seen on the mobile interface

A few notes with the linear algebra tag

As we slide in to the new year, with resolutions to finally get organized, I wanted to share a quick tool that’s really helped me: Evernote. I know this is going to sound like some kind of paid promotion. I promise you it’s not. I’m just so genuinely thankful that I finally found an easy way to keep track of everything I need.

Evernote is my collection of bookmarks, important documents, and random lists and notes all in one place. It’s where I store papers I’ve been meaning to read or ones to reference, links for things I want to try out in classes, ideas for math tea activities, and all the music and books that people tell me to check out. As a person with a fairly limited long-term memory, Evernote is a lifesaver.

Evernote is an application for both desktop and mobile interfaces. You can type straight into it, send photos to it with your phone camera, forward emails to it, or clip websites into it from a browser extension. It’ll take video and audio notes too. Whenever I bump into something I might want to remember or use later, I dump it into a note.

What sets it apart from just a bookmark list is that every note is tagged and searchable. So when I’m working on getting a course ready, I don’t even have to remember the things I wanted to try out. I can just search for the tag for, say, linear algebra, and everything will pop up.

Notes can be shared with collaborators, which is nice for departments, research groups, or just keeping a shared family grocery list. I’m also a big fan of the scanner feature, that lets me scan documents in straight from my phone. Sometimes when students are presenting work on a document camera, I’ll scan it in to Evernote quickly and email it on to the class so they can have a copy to look at. It even makes scanned documents searchable, but it still seems a little shaky on my handwriting (which is completely understandable).

Other people have developed very specific ways to use Evernote to manage to do lists and create elaborate systems to manage their tasks. But they’re all too fiddly for me. I just keep a running set of tags: each course I might teach has one, as well as all my different research interests, hobbies, and projects. It’s possible to organize your notes into little folders called stacks, but I really don’t bother. The tags are enough for me.

So if you’ve got a neglected bookmarks folder, a stack of old post-it reminders, and a few random notes in your phone that you’d like to consolidate, give it a shot. And if have a tip for how you use Evernote, or if you prefer a different application, let me know in the comments.

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