Evernote Organization with Notebooks

Evernote users have a hallowed tradition of getting into verbal fisticuffs over which organization tool is the best for their notes: notebooks or tags. I am more fond of tags myself, but notebooks have their uses, and that’s what I want to explore on this page.


Notebooks: What are They?

Think of your Evernote account as a Russian Matryoshka doll. Notes are the smallest of the stackable dolls, and they contain all of your data. The notes go inside notebooks, which are a little larger. Notebooks go inside stacks, which are bigger yet. Finally, stacks go inside your account, which is the largest doll that holds everything. How many dolls are there? You can have anywhere from 0 to 100,000 notes and 1-250 notebooks (a stack counts as a notebook).

Special Features of Notebooks: Local

Notebooks can be designated as local, shared, and offline. First, lets look at local notebooks. The default notebook “syncs” (automatically keeps up to date across all of your computers, phones, devices). However, if you want to keep one of your Matryoshka dolls at home on your desktop and off the cloud, you can use a local notebook. I can certainly imagine use cases in which you do not want your information stored in Evernote’s servers, but I think this defeats the purpose of the Evernote app, so I would use it mainly for sensitive information.

Special Features of Notebooks: Shared

Sharing a notebook is the opposite of what you do with the local one, because you are showing your Matryoshka doll to the entire world. You can share notes individually, of course, but working at the notebook level can be a convenient way to share lots of notes. I have a notebook shared with the world here.

Or, you can share your notebook with a select group of people like your classmates or colleagues. This can be a great tool for collaboration.

Special Features of Notebooks: Offline

Finally, there is the ability to make notebooks offline on mobile devices. Only premium users have this feature available to them, and it is not yet supported on the desktop clients. The screenshot of the Android interface below comes from the Evernote blog.

What is the difference between offline and local? Normally, your mobile device does not store notes, but pulls them down off the cloud. Making them offline tells your Evernote account to store them on the device as well (just like your desktop does automatically), and this is useful if you know you will be without an Internet connection. In contrast, local notebooks never leave the computer on which they were created, so they are not in the cloud, and nothing in them can be viewed on your mobile device, or any other computer for that matter.

Notebooks = Coarse Categories

A lot of people seem to use notebooks as a coarse method for grouping notes, and tags as a way to introduce finer distinctions. The broad categories typically correspond to major divisions of data in a person’s life, and might look something like the folders currently in your hard drive. In the example of the iOS interface below (taken from the Evernote blog), the owner of the account has some notebooks floating free (Recipes and Soups) and others in the Personal and Work stacks.

Everyone has to participate in the Matryoshka doll thing, because you need to have at least one notebook. For the sake of simplicity I usually stick with just a couple of these. I have a notebook called ローカル (“local”) and one called オンライン (“online”) along with a few shared notebooks. Instead of trying (in vain) to sort out my personal and professional life, or to agonize over whether or not a picture of the soup I ate last night ought to go into a Recipes or Soup notebook, I decided to divide my notes up according to how I used them. The “online” notebook is for online notes (content that I want downloaded onto my mobile devices and synced across devices) and “local” is for a notebook holding content that I don’t want synced to the cloud.

Other Notebook Organization Schemes

I have to admit that my use of notebooks is idiosyncratic, and probably unappealing to most people, who prefer lots of nested Matryoshka dolls. Fortunately, others have written at length about much more systematic approaches to organizing their Evernote notebooks!

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