10 ways to get the most out of Evernote

Evernote's flexibility and convenience have millions of users hooked. Here are some of the best ways to put this note-taking tool to good use.

Evernote is a hugely popular (and free) note-taking utility that is taking the Web, the desktop, and the phone by storm. Designed to help you remember all those small-yet-important details you capture, Evernote works across all kinds of platforms and devices. More than 15 million people are now using Evernote notebooks. In December, Evernote Corporation was named Inc. magazine's 2011 Company of the Year. Here are 10 cool things you can try with your own free Evernote account.

Editor's note: You can download an excerpt from the author's upcoming book My Evernote to learn the basics of recording audio notes on various devices.

1: Access your notes anywhere

I'm a fan of Evernote (and I even wrote a book about it), but probably my favorite Evernote feature is its "use anywhere on anything" approach. You can install Evernote on your PC or Mac, download it to your phone (iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone), add it to your tablet, or update your notebooks online using a kiosk at the hotel. No matter where you are or what device you're using, if you have Web access, you can get to and work with your notes. Evernote even plays nice with different browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox.

2: Speak your mind

If you feel boxed in by always having to type your notes, Evernote gives you lots of options. The audio recording is simple and works seamlessly on your desktop or mobile devices. You just click or tap New Note, choose New Audio Note, and select Record -- and then speak your mind (Figure A). Evernote captures your audio note with amazing clarity and then gives you the chance to listen to the note and re-record it if you like. The audio note feature is available for your mobile phone, too, making it simple for you to take notes in traffic or dictate a quote or thought you want to remember without taking the time to type it out.

Figure A

You can easily record audio notes in Evernote for hands-free note-taking.

3: Add images -- with text, too

Evernote makes it easy to add images to your notebooks. You can drag and drop images to your notebook page, email images you captured on your mobile phone directly to your notebook, clip images from the Web, and more. Even better, Evernote's search capability finds the text you're looking for even within images, which means you can grab a photo of the meeting whiteboard, email it to your Evernote notebook, and find the content later by entering a word that reflects something you talked about at the meeting. Super simple.

4: Take advantage of your specialness

Even though Evernote does a good job of fitting itself for all types of platforms and devices, Evernote developers take this flexibility to a new level. The company continues to create fun and useful tools that help you take advantage of the best features of whatever hardware you may be using while improving the notes you take. For example, Skitch is a tool available for Android and Mac devices that enables you to add notes and embellishments to photos you capture. You can add captions, draw lines and arrows, and enhance images in all kinds of ways. Evernote Hello is an iPhone app that helps you keep track of new contacts in a rich, browsable history. And Evernote Clearly is an app for Google Chrome and Firefox browsers that helps you clean up Web pages so you can find and clip what you want easily. Whatever your device of choice, check out Evernote's extras to see what the group has developed for you.

5: Get just the clipper you need

The Evernote Web clipper is a utility that helps you gather information from the Web, while preserving the Web address, adding tags, and choosing the notebook in which you want to record the information. Evernote offers a number of clippers, depending on the browser you use. Some install an Evernote Clipper button on the toolbar; others require you to use hotkeys to get the clipper going. For Internet Explorer and Safari, the clipper installs automatically, but for Chrome and Firefox, you'll need to download the clipper separately. (Evernote provides the links you need, so no worries.)

Windows Live offers a utility that signs you in automatically so that you don't have to stop and log in each time you want to work with your Office 2010 Web App files. You will be prompted to install the Sign-In Assistant the first time you open a file in the Office 2010 Web Apps. You can simply click the link provided to start a wizard that walks you through the process of downloading and installing the tool.

6: Tag, Tag, Tag

I love tagging in Evernote. The whole process is flexible and tags are easy to add and easy to remove. You can create tags by typing them in the header area at the top of the note or by right-clicking in the tags area and choosing Create Tags. You can then assign tags to your note by dragging and dropping a tag on the intended note or by clicking in the header area and typing a new tag (Figure B). If you want to remove a tag, just click the X to its right in the header area. What's more, you can add all the tags you want so that when you search for notes using tags later (by clicking the Search box at the top of the center column and entering the word or phrase you're looking for), you can instantly pull up all the related notes.

Figure B

You can add and remove tags easily in the header area of the selected note.

7: Save your searches

If you often find yourself searching for the same information in your Evernote notebooks, create saved searches so the results are always a click away. Begin by entering the search phrase in the Search box at the top of the center column. Click the Create Saved Search tool (which looks like a magnifying glass with a small blue + in the lower-right corner of the search area) to open the Create Saved Search dialog box. Type a name for the search and click OK, and the search will appear in the Saved Searches area on the left side of your Evernote screen. To use the saved search, just click it. Evernote will display the results of the search instantly.

8: Tweet to and fro

Evernote also is friendly with your favorite social media accounts. You can actually tweet your notes directly into your Evernote notebook, if you like (a process that is surprisingly simple), and you can send notes from your Evernote notebook to Twitter, Facebook, and by email message, out into cyberspace. There's currently one limitation with posting to Facebook from Evernote: The posting happens once and then the content becomes part of Facebook -- no link is maintained. This means that if you update the content in Evernote, it won't get updated automatically on Facebook. But that's small potatoes when what you're trying to do it share your content with the world with the fewest number of keystrokes possible.

9: Think about going public

Evernote gives you a choice about the types of notebooks you want to create, and you can decide who sees them. If you want a notebook to be super-safe and secure -- for your eyes only -- you can create a notebook that stays only on your desktop computer and never synchronizes to the Web. This is called a local notebook. The problem with this approach is that you lose out on some of the fun. You won't be able to use different devices like your smartphone or iPad to work with the notes you've added, since Evernote uses the Web to synchronize your notebooks with your devices and computers. If you want to create a notebook that is synchronized with the Web, you create what's called a, well, synchronized notebook. And finally, if you just want to let it all hang out and share your notebook with everyone (which is actually an interesting way to create a collaborative blog or wiki), you can create a public notebook that you share with the world.

10: Spend some time in the Trunk

In addition to all the great functionality built into the free version of Evernote, you can upgrade to the Premium version for $5 per month or $45 per year. The Premium plan increases the amount of storage you have for your notes (up to 1 GB), enables mobile device users to access their notebooks offline, lets you search PDFs, turns on collaborative editing in shared notebooks, and does away with the fairly unobtrusive advertising that is part of the free Evernote. For both versions, you get access to the Evernote Trunk, which contains interesting add-ons for hardware, software, and notebooks that can enhance your note-taking experience. You'll find things like a great drawing tablet for your handwritten notes, a utility for managing business cards, and a program that records phone calls.

Keeping it together

If you collect scraps of paper, write on receipts, or simply try to keep things organized in your head, take a look at Evernote. It's free, it's easy, and it will grow on you. And maybe -- who knows? -- it will help give you a little mental space so you can spend more time dreaming and less time searching frantically for that important note you can't quite seem to put your finger on.