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7 Effective Kinds of Evernote Tags

I use Evernote almost exclusively for task and information management.  There are two primary reasons for my loyalty: reminders and tagging functionality.  I’ll cover reminders later.  For now, let’s look at tagging and some ways to use tags that you might not have seen.  I’ll assume that you have a pretty good sense of how to use Evernote.  If you need some Evernote guidance, take a look at Michael Hyatt’s Evernote posts, or the Evernote users guide.

I have over 6500 notes in my Evernote account. They live in two folders, and one of those is a temporary home until they get “filed”. I use tags instead of folders. The two work similarly in Evernote, but while a note can only live in one folder, a note can have as many tags as you want to give it. This gives me a multidimensional filing system that allows me to find my stuff when I need it.

My current tag count is around 750.  That sounds like a lot, but they fall into 7 general categories.  Some categories you will have heard of, others are unique to my system, as far as I know.

  1. “when” tags. This is pretty standard for the most effective Evernote users I am aware of.  There appear to be two general categories: “now”, “soon”, “later”, etc. for prioritizing work, or specific future events tags, that Michael Hyatt recommends.  I have combined the two and have both specific events and the more generic when tags.  I do this because some things I do are not related to a specific future event, but still need time tracking. Several of my priority tags (“soon”, “later”, etc.) are falling into disuse because I am setting more reminders in Evernote (look for a future post).
  2. “who” tags. Another pretty standard set of tags.  I use these primarily so I can remember a piece of information based on who it is about or who gave the information to me.  I can often remember that someone said something that I need to know, but not remember exactly what they told me.  This is a different usage from the “@person” tag I discuss below.
  3. “where” tags.  This is a combination of locations where something happened that I want to remember and locations where something needs to happen.  Usually, my most common locations, such as the library, get a tag of the form “@library” versus “beach” or “campus”, which are more about where something happened.
  4. “project” tags. This is also a reasonably common set of tags.  When we think about projects, many tasks and pieces of information come to mind.  I like to capture them and store them for later brainstorming and planning.  As in The Secret Weapon, I organize my project tags in two “parent” tags – “.Active projects” and “.Inactive projects”.  When a project is finished, I rename its tag, adding a period to the beginning so it stays out of the autofinder (mostly, your mileage may vary).  I schedule time to review my “.Inactive projects” to harvest and tag reference information notes.  I typically delete dated communication record kinds of notes.  Once the tag is empty, I delete it.
  5. “role” tags.  One of my core uses of the Evernote-as-GTD system is to help me surface my roles.  We all have a lot of roles, but they are difficult to identify.  Each of my roles has a specific tag.  Every to-do has a role associated with it.  Each role has a vision statement with its own tag (see below).
  6. “location” tags.  I have two slightly different kinds of location tags – “@place” tags and “@person” tags.  @place tags are straightforward, like the @library tag mentioned above.  @person tags are for a handful of people and give me a way to organize thoughts that I need to share with individuals face-to-face.  I developed the discipline of checking this tag when I am about to see one of the few people important enough to have an @person tag.  If there is something I need to discuss, I have a note.  This has saved me from countless emails and phone calls that weren’t urgent.  It has also saved the people I work with many, many interruptions of the “I just thought of something you need to know” variety.
  7. “organization” tags.  I use organization tags to keep up with my reference information.  I have about 30 different tags.  Some straightforward examples: “expenses”, “pictures”, “quotes”, “receipts”.  Some of the more unusual ones: “refine actions” (in reference to this post from David Allen) is a tag for those things that I need to think about more before proceeding. “vision” gives me a tag for each vision document I have (more on this in a later post).  “gifts” gives me a place to keep gift ideas – they can be cross-tagged with the person’s name (including mine).

So, there you have it.  Seven categories of tags that help me keep my “external brain” in order.

Getting your system right is a skill.  If you practice and experiment, you’ll get better.  Word of warning: don’t overthink this at the beginning.  Instead have a recurring quarterly tag audit.  This will help you find false duplicate tags (e.g. “post” and “posts”) and prune tags that you really aren’t using.  Over time, your tags will begin to mirror your thought processes.

Question: Do you use a kind of tag that we didn’t cover?  Let us know in the comments.

Related posts
Summary of “Learning to Learn” (HBR)
July 22, 2016
GTD “trusted” system
September 22, 2015
Ticklers (or how to remember to do stuff)
June 23, 2015
Self Improvement

Summary of “Learning to Learn” (HBR)

The March 2016 issue of HBR includes an article titled Learning to Learn by Erika Anderson.

As the business and technological environment continues to change at increasingly high rates, it requires us (as knowledge workers, particularly) to adapt. Sometimes adapting involves learning new topics. This HBR article discusses the underpinnings of the ability to succeed in learning.  We have to resist our biases against novelty and acquiring new and difficult competencies. Such competencies will make us more valuable in our current jobs and the overall marketplace. Read on for a summary of how to identify and grow those underpinnings.

Aspiration Embracing change requires some desire to adapt, which can be difficult to muster. The author suggests boosting our desire to accomplish a change or learn by clearly identifying how the new thing will benefit us directly. We should link the change to something we already aspire to, such as a higher level of income or another skill that we would like to achieve. In this way, we can avoid our “not invented here” bias, by focusing on the positive aspects of a change.

Self-awareness We are typically terrible at knowing our skill level on many tasks. This article cites a study in which 94% of professors surveyed indicated that they were better than average. Many studies have replicated this result (look for a future post). This lack of self-awareness pushes us to think “I’m already pretty good; why do I need to get better?” Anderson recommends changing your self talk. As an example, she suggests we replace a thought like “I’m already pretty good at this” with something like “What facts do I have that show how good I am?” Such a thought will lead to greater openness to new ideas.

Curiosity Sometimes, we defend against learning a new skill because we think it is not interesting. But, most likely, there are people who currently exercise the skill – they must find something interesting, fulfilling, or valuable in it. If we can be curious, we can dig in and find out – read an article or talk to someone with the skill. It is likely that you can find something interesting or something more to be curious about.

Vulnerability It is tough for adults to admit that they need improvement. When we are beginners in the new skill, we feel inadequate. While this is frustrating and somewhat embarrassing, it is simply part of the territory. It is likely that people who already have the skill remember when they were learning and made novice mistakes. If so, they are equally likely to have patience with your naive questions and poor skill level. We might as well adopt a novice mindset and recognize at the outset that we will stumble around for a little while, and that we will get better over time.

Think through some of these ideas, get your mindset shifted, and get in and start learning.

Question: How are you maintaining your learning mindset?

Let us know in the comments.
Related posts
How Productivity Training Is Being Done Poorly – A Pair of Articles
September 17, 2016
7 Effective Kinds of Evernote Tags
August 5, 2016
What Consumes Your Attention Controls Your Life
March 23, 2016