In the article I wrote last week, Learning How To Learn, I mentioned that one of the goals of reading, attending classes, and developing yourself, is to create an expanding digital library of the “things that you know.” I recommended that readers use Evernote as a tech platform because of the speed at which it can help you locate and recall information that you have previously consolidated.  I was recently having a conversation about how we structure notes in Evernote and wanted to use that conversation about how we use it as a company to provide a little more clarity on how you can use the app to build the library.

As I begin to discuss the way that I structure a note in Evernote, I want to remind you about the difference between searching for information that you don’t know and searching for information that you do know.  When you’re looking for information that you don’t know, you likely turn to Google so that you can find out what other people have to say about that topic.  The goal of the Evernote library is to consolidate everything that you learn so that you can find it when you need it.  While I distinguish between the two types of information for conceptual purposes, Google and Evernote have also teamed up to make it easy for you find information regardless of which of these two categories it falls into.  If you use the Evernote Web Clipper, which is an extension that works with many the Google Chrome browser, you can have your own Evernote notes appear in your search results.  Let’s say you were looking for a recipe for macaroni and cheese and turned to Google. This is what you would see:

Google Mac-n-cheese results

On the right side of the search results, you will see that my own Evernote notes appear as part of those results.  Therefore, even if you had you forgotten that you took a picture of my mom, Lucy’s, most amazing macaroni and cheese recipe (yup, she reads this blog – thanks Mom!) you would be able to open that up as well. You could also be reminded that you ate macaroni and cheese at Steuben’s in Denver during your last trip there, and that it was so good that you felt the need to add the restaurant in the Evernote Food app.  The point is that even though the information is stored in different places (the internet or in your Evernote account,) you can find all of it in just one search.

Starting With The End In Mind

I personally search for content in one of two frameworks, either by event or by function.  I consider “an event” to be  either a training event that I go to, a class I attend, a book or report I read, a conversation I had, so I search by event when I want to find a specific note in my library.  I search by function when I am looking for all of my notes that have something about a certain topic that is of interest to me right then.  If it is about business overall that function might be marketing/sales, finance/accounting, product/operations, building a team, etc.  If it is about my business, it might be about teaching/learning, decision-making or the pillars of observable behavior.  Because I don’t know exactly how I am going to be searching for something in the future, understanding that the notes I add into my library will be found in one of these two ways, I can go about adding notes into my Evernote library.

Building The Library

What do I put in the library?  If I attend a class and get the PowerPoint presentation an instructor is using, I save it as a PDF, drag it into a note and take my class notes above the file in the note.  If I get a handout, I scan it or take a picture of it and include it in a note.  If I read a blog post with something that I may want to come back to, I use Evernote Web Clipper to create a note and any topics from the note or thoughts that come to mind get added to the note.  If I read a report that I download, I create note.  If I am reading a book, I take notes about content in the book that I want to either remember or find quickly as well as any connected thoughts come to mind.  Take a look at an example of a note that I built from a report that I was reading last week:

Lacker Note

This note is designed to facilitate searching by either event or by function.  All of the information that I have typed above the PDF file is there so that I can search by event.  If I am ever looking for something I read about unemployment and want to find one of these facts, adding that in will ensure that the note comes up in a search using any of these words or the words contained in the file itself.  Evernote can search PDFs and pictures, so whether the words you are using are the author’s or your own, as long as they are the words you use to search with, you’ll find the note.  As you can see in the above note, I also add in anything that I want to do because I read the note.  If there is some action that I want to take, whether that is writing an article, doing more research, or something to bring up at a point in the future, you can see where I have the “next steps” piece at the end of my typing.

The second type of search I prepare for is by function.  Since The CP Journal exists to train people, I am always looking for information that relates to communicating the value of education and learning.  Periodically, as I am talking with clients about the value of training, I’ll go back and look for all of the articles I’ve read about this category of notes.  If anything in a note relates to this, I will add a tag to the note about “learning” which you can see at the top of the screen shot.  Because this also relates to economics and finance, I add that tag in as well.  As you build your library, whatever categories or mental models that you use to structure your learning should be included in these tags so you can group concepts together.

The Time It Takes

I’ll be the first to admit, it took time for me to make this library worthwhile.  At first, I didn’t see a lot of value in it because I was able to remember each and every note that I put in, but as the library developed and surpassed the limitations of my memory, that is when the real value presented itself. That is the goal of Evernote.  It is designed to expand your ability to recall information beyond your working memory.

I used a note about a speech the President of the Richmond Fed gave as the example for this post because economic principles isn’t something I spend a lot of time learning about.  But I do know that the value of learning and the impact of unemployment are something that I will want to come back to later on.  If I don’t take notes about the most important topics from the article and include the PDF in my library, it might take a long time to find this PDF if I do need it and I’ll have to re-read the entire article to find out if I have the right one or not.  Structuring how we learn can help eliminate time wasted by setting a library up the right way from the beginning.

Good luck building your library. If you have different ways in which you use Evernote, don’t hesitate to add a comment and to share your experience.