Mission Critical: Evernote

Last week I wrote about my on-going search for software that makes me more productive. I have learned over the years that a key to productivity is to get things out of my brain, so much of my search has been for a good storage place, or repository, for my information. My critical success factors for a personal repository are:

Accessibility: I need to be able to retrieve information wherever I may be located, be that at my desk, on the go, or just connected to the Internet.

Searchability: To quickly retrieve information, the repository must allow me to search on any word, and search must work quickly.

Flexibility: There are many tools out there that constrain you to a certain way of doing things. I have found that I don’t work well within such contraints, so I need a tool that I can tailor to work the way I work.

Rather than hash through all the different products I have tried over the years (Does anyone remember Lotus Agenda?) I want to focus on the tool that I am currently using, Evernote. Next to Gmail, Evernote is my most mission critical application today, and as I store more and more information into Evernote, it will become even more important.

Evernote aspires to be your personal electronic brain, and in my experience, it meets that aspiration. Here is how Evernote does against my critical success factors:

Accessibility: You will find Evernote desktop clients for both Windows and OS X, and mobile clients for iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm webOS, and Android. When all else fails, you can use Evernote’s web application with any web browser, including mobile browsers. All of the clients work against the same database of information that is stored on Evernote’s servers on the Internet. If you enter a note using the Mac client at home, you can work with that same note using the Windows client at work.

Searchability: Just enter a search term and Evernote searches all of the content that you enter in it in a matter of seconds. However, where Evernote gets really interesting is its ability to search for terms in pictures and in digital ink. When you enter a search term that contains the words in a picture, Evernote includes that picture in the search results. If you have a Tablet PC and write a note in digital ink, Evernote translates that digital ink in the background and again, any search terms that are in notes written in digital ink appear in search results. Store a PDF in an Evernote note and it will also be indexed to appear in search results. You can save frequently used searches, and the saved searches are available to all Evernote clients.

Flexibility: The three main features of Evernote that make it flexible are tagging, attributes, and notebooks. You can assign any note that you create in Evernote with one or more tags, and then filter your notes so that only the ones with a particular tag display, providing you with multiple views on your information. Attributes are information about your notes, such as the date on which it is created or whether a note contains a picture. You can add to-do checkboxes anywhere in a note, and the to-do checkboxes are tracked as an attribute. To display all the notes with to-dos not completed is a matter of selecting the Unfinished to-do items attribute for all notes. Notes are stored in one or more notebooks. For example, you can have separate notebooks for each project you work on. You can configure notebooks to synchronize with Evernote’s servers, or you can store a notebook on your PC’s hard drive and not have it synchronize with Evernote’s servers. Evernote also provides a way to make notebooks public, allowing you to share your notes with others.

I think you will agree with me that Evernote meets all my critical success factors for a personal repository. Perhaps the best part about Evernote is that it follows a freemium model. All of the clients I list above are free, and you are not charged to store information on Evernote’s servers, though you are limited to only 40 MB of data uploads per month. The price of using the free version are advertisements displayed in a small one-inch box in the client. The premium version costs $45 per year and for that you get a larger upload limit (500 MB), the ability to attach any file type and synchronize those files with Evernote’s servers, use SSL encryption to secure the transmission of information between the clients and Evernote, and you can turn off advertisements.

You can download the Evernote desktop clients from Evernote’s web site. The iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Palm webOS versions are available from their respective application stores, and the Windows Mobile version is available on Evernote’s web site.