Evernote is my digital brain. If you already know about it, skim down to how I use it. If not, let me introduce it – it’s free, by the way, although there is a paid Premium version which is quite cheap and offers some brilliant bells and whistles.
So what is it? It’s a system of unlimited storage and retrieval (think filing system, only don’t – it’s way better), easily accessible on the cloud, available on all your devices. What can you store there? Absolutely anything; lists, documents, photos, pdfs, articles, notes, reminders, agendas – anything you want to keep and retrieve. So, for instance, I once turned up in a hotel for a conference, only to open my bag and discover that I’d only half packed. Shirts, washbag, and a few other things were still sitting on my bed at home. I still don’t know how I did that! But as a result, I now have a packing list in Evernote – a checklist – which I use every time I travel, which contains everything I need; if it’s ticked off on the list, it’s gone in the bag. And I don’t have to create it every time. A section for international travel, a section for stuff I need if Im speaking (ever forgotten your notes?), a section for tech and charging cables.
Wait, you say, I have all that in my trusty Filofax/Moleskine/scrap of paper.
Well, let me take another angle. Let’s say you’re reading a book by John Stott, and he has a great quote on a verse in Ephesians, to do with racial tensions, and engaging with Martin Luther King. Where are you going to file that? For years I kept up a system of paper files and index cards for things like that. And I was constantly baffled by a decent cross-referencing system that didn’t take half my week to organise, and half my week to navigate.
Evernote uses tags – little shortcuts you define, which mean that quote, for instance, can be found any which way. Tag it ‘Stott’, ‘Race’, ‘MLK’ and the Ephesians reference – or whatever you choose – and whenever you search for that tag, up it pops. As will any other note, including those that have the word in the text as well as a tag, if you choose. You can chuck notes together in notebooks if you have a tidy mind, but it’s the tags that really give Evernote its power.
How do I get stuff into Evernote? Four main ways. If I’m browsing the web and hit an article I want to save for later, there’s a little clipper plug-in for my browser which, if I pick it, automatically sends the page through to Evernote. I can add tags at that point too, if I wish. Evernote also gives you an email address, so I use that for newsletters, or anything where I want to save anything I’ve saved or received. I forward my Kindle highlights to it, for instance, or Word documents. The one big weakness in Apple’s Mail, for me, is its lack of a tagging feature – this solves it, and gets the email out of my inbox. Third, I use my phone. Recently we were buying new laptop for my son, and comparing prices and specs in various stores – snap them in Evernote, and the information is stored and searchable. And then finally I have a physical scanner sitting on my desk, so I can turn anything into an Evernote file, with a click of a button. (Fujitsu ScanSnap). I can never get rid of enough paper, because people insist on sending me more of it!
So how do I use Evernote as a pastor? Here are some quick examples.
- TBR Someone recommends a book; I clip an article to read; I’m given a book token or Amazon voucher – everything like that is given a simple tag, ‘TBR’ – ‘to be read’. I browse conference book tables, take pictures of any titles I’m interested in, and then tag them so I can do a price check later
- Planning a future series, or a potential series. My normal practice is to work through biblical books in expository series, but occasionally we like to pause and look at things from a different angle. So we are about to have a short series on the value of Work. I’ve been reading, thinking, musing about it for months now, and occasionally I’ve come across an article or quotation Ive thought might be useful. Tag it ‘work series’, and when I get to some serious planning, months of stuff will pop on my screen whenever I need it.
- Taking notes. I use this two ways. I’m loving attending digital conferences, or watching stuff online. With that open in one window, and Evernote in another, I can take notes while I’m watching. and when something comes to mind that’s unrelated, hit pause, open another note, and then go back to watching. Increasingly I don’t use a screen to take notes when I’m actually at a conference – I’ve gone back to a Moleskine, because I find I listen better. But when I’ve done, I snap the page on the phone, and Evernote magically turns my scrawl into a searchable pdf.
- A trigger list of names. This is confession time – I don’t know everyone in our church. Each week though, I try to have a conversation with a face I recognise but I don’t recall. And then I have a little ‘trigger list’ of names and a reminder note to help me – bearded guy why does sound; journalist from Durham – that kind of thing, that fixes it in my mind. I have a shortcut to that list in Evernote, so it’s sitting at the top of my file
- A Sunday trigger list. This is my place to store all those little ideas that pop into your mind on a busy Sunday in one place, to process at home. Couldn’t I use a notebook or something? Yes, but I don’t always have one on me. I almost always have a phone.
- Other churches bits of kit. I love that display. Good lighting. We could use that idea for our refreshment table! Love that song. I’m a magpie, so I snap and save.
- Team brainstorming. Once in a while we all sit down to process something big, and we end up with load of flip-chart papers, scrawled with ideas. Lose them? File them? Nope – snap them on the phone into Evernote and…
On and on it goes: Challenging goals. Which books am I reading this year? What’s the briefing for that funeral?
So – how do you use Evernote – not just generally, but as a pastor? Pile in!