Build a geeky database with tags in Evernote

I think Evernote is my digital brain. It’s a backup base. It’s a reference base. Especially this helps to become paperless.

I use it as my default bookmark, webclip app, note taker, recipe box, receipt box, repository of all my reference material, diary, meeting notes and so on. It’s great to have all the information I need indexed and searchable.

There are all features you need to organize data: notebooks, tags, image and PDF scanning, browser web clipper. Evernote has one big advantage over other tools: the more you add, the more useful it becomes. Though, if you don’t have a system for notebooks and tags from the start, these useful tool will become cluttered and messed up. The system shouldn’t be complex. I don’t recommend making system for the sake of the system itself.

The problem with notebooks

When I started with Evernote, I organized everything with notebooks, organized into stacks to create a hierarchy.

This was huge. Additionally, I’ve met with 2 greatest limitations of organization system based of notebooks:

  1. A note can be nested in one notebook only. I always have more relationships for every note. If you want to include a note in two or more notebooks, you have to duplicate the note and put a copy in each notebook. This doesn’t sound like a good system. You’d say that adding tags solves this problem, but actually, it’s not a solution. If you organize notes in a hierarchy of notebook and add multiple tags, how would you search by tags effectively? Over a short period my tags list grew to over 200 and I simply forgot about the most of them, using just the simplest. Having a hierarchy for tags separately is more work than it’s worth.
  2. You can only create a hierarchy of notebooks that is one level deep: a stack with a group of Notebooks. You can’t nest notebook in the notebook which is in notebook. I want to be able to organize things in multiple levels.

The solution is in minimization of notebook usage and building a wide hierarchy of tags, nested into several groups. I know that it might sound strange, but the system based of tags has some advantages:

  1. Notes can have multiple Tags, which means that a note can exist in multiple containers without duplication. For example, if I’m working on a note for a blog post about building personal brand in social media, I can tag it “blog draft”, “personal brand”, and “social media”. In this way, I can see this same note in different stacks, regardless of the tag I am using for search.
  2. Tags support multiple hierarchies. This allows organizing tags in a way better than notebooks.

How I use notebooks in Evernote

Notebooks in Evernote
Here’s how I use each:

  • Inbox — this notebook is used as place to put a note, which I don’t currently have time to categorize with tags and need to process later. Simply put, if I clip an article from web and which I want to read, but don’t know exactly which tag to appoint, I send it to the Inbox and review it later.
  • Cupboard — this is where I put notes I have processed and want to keep. All these notes have completed compulsory cross-tagging.
  • Diary — the name says for itself. I created it just for the sake of convenience, because I write noted to the Diary almost every day.
  • Sprints-17 — The place to store Unihost marketing team’s notes on SCRUM morning stand-ups. It’s here just for the sake of convenience as the Diary notebook.
  • Trash — this is where Notes go when you delete them. Until you “empty the trash,” you can restore them to another Notebook.

It’s much easier than I used before. Earlier I used almost the same notebooks as tags nowadays.

How I use tags

I created a hierarchy that reflects how I think about my life and business.

Tags in Evernote

Collections of tags in .what collection

These top levels are all collections. I begin each tag collection with a special character — a period, a carat, or a tilde. When tagging a note, this helps me know that there are more detailed tags under “.productivity” tag, thus I have to go deeper and find more precise one. Plus, special characters help me organize my tags. The best thing is that I can nest these tag collections as deep as I want to go.

For example, under my .what tag, I have nested five additional collections. Under .work , I have seven collections. Under .marketing , I have a set of collection 9 collections. Under .content marketing I have 22 notes.

In the .when collection, I have collections of .future events and .past events. Under them go tags for particular events, which are private and I’d like to restrict myself from showing them on the screenshot.

In the .who collection, I have a tag for each of my teammates and relatives.Tags in evernote

They start with ^ sign, because this helps in searching and tagging. When a note includes something on Anton, I simply start typing ^a in search and result is here without overlaps with other “a” letters:

searching in evernote

In the ~miscellaneous collection I have three tags:

  • !templates — here I keep reusable notes. For example, I have templates for Incident Response, Ideas & Inspiration Collection, Interview Score Card,
  • .checklists — here I store all the Employee Orientation Checklist, Personal Security Checklist, Meeting Notes Checklist, and more.
  • read later — that is my Pocket app. I clip posts and articles that I want to save for later reading. I can get to all these by simply searching for this Tag. The difference with the first notebook — Inbox is that notes with “read later” tag should already have tags.

My system is not perfect, but it works for me.

How I quickly search for notes

I know what you might think, “How does he find note with this ton of tags? Don’t notes with multiple tags appear in many searches which lowers the efficiency of search?” Yeah, agreed. It might be tough to find a note if you don’t know how to find. Here goes Evernote’s advanced search syntax.

Let’s look at some examples. If I need to find notes tagged with my wife’s name, I’d type:


Adding complexity, if I need all noted tagged with ^alyona, created during last week, but the note shouldn’t be nested in “.future events” tag:

tag:^alyona -tag:".future events" created:week-1

That’s useful, but you need to get used to it.


The key to Evernote is to commit to it and jump in with both feet. It’s pretty rotten if you’re just using it for a few isolated tasks, because absolutely, it doesn’t do any one thing perfectly and it’s not as fast as other apps.

So, if you want to give Evernote another shot, try putting everything in it that you want to hang onto. The more you add, the more useful Evernote becomes.


Resources and other materials to read on tags:

Remember Everything with Evernote: 30+ of the Best Tips and Tricks

How to Use Evernote Like a Pro

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