How I use Evernote as a pastor

I use Evernote as my digital brain – how does that help me as a pastor?


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.

nexus2cee_web-evernote-tutorialSo 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!

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25 comments on “How I use Evernote as a pastor”

  1. Brilliant tool – thanks for commending it. I also use it in conjunction with an app called CamScanner – to snap paper-based articles and other docs, enhance them if too dark (really useful bit – better than the camera in Evernote), crop them, and then send them into Evernote as a pdf. Really useful for banns certificates for the day a couple turn up and you’ve forgotten the certificate.

  2. Great stuff, Chris. I use Evernote in much the same way. I guess the examples are endless, but two additional ways I use it:

    – expenses: receipts get snapped (Evernote’s ‘scannable’ app is brilliant: it’ll turn a snap of a receipt into a clear PDF which can be saved straight into my ‘expenses’ notebook in a tap) or e-receipts get emailed in; and then once a month I merge all the receipts into one note, fill in the expenses claim form my PCC provided (an excel file; saved at the top of my expenses notebook for easy finding), and the whole note gets emailed straight to our PCC treasurer. Easy peasy paperless expenses.

    – staff meetings: I happen to have landed the job of taking notes: people we’ve met, things we need to do. And it all goes in to a single note for that week. The note gets emailed out to all staff at the end of the meeting. If all of our staff we tech-savvy we could even use Evernote’s note sharing feature. But email it is. Then at the start of the next meeting, I duplicate last week’s note so we can review tasks, edit them, delete them, add new ones, and on we go…

  3. Wowsers! Never has an article made me feel so inadequate on the organisation/productivity front! You’ve inspired the desire in me – but how do I begin?

      1. Done! I’ve clipped some pages, etc. No idea where to start with notebooks and topics! Will it help to get it on my phone? I love the idea of expenses, that’ll make life much easier.

      2. Just use your own best and most likely notebooks, Chris s- the power, as I say, is in the tags which means you can access one note under multiple quick searches. Yes, on your phone is really useful Packing lists, passport numbers, car registration number, travel insurance details…

  4. I’ve used it when starting at a new church to photograph people and make a note of their names. Most people are happy if you explain it’s to help you pray for them and remember their name! Probably only useful when you start somewhere new?

  5. I also have a folder for sermon illustrations – when I think of something that might be useful for an illustration it goes in there – ideally with a tag for how it might be used…

  6. We combine Evernote with an app amazing called IQtell which enables email, productivity and project management based on the GTD system. It is brilliant and you can link thinks to Evernote very simply, ie. Your having a facilities meeting that you want to take snaps from church X into, just link the Evernote files of snaps and th email correspondence with the vicarage at the church you’ve visited to the diary date of the facilities meeting and you can pul it all up in an instant. It also allows project sharing so if all of a team are using it you can store data in such a way that they can all access to items you create

  7. Chris,
    You’ve convinced me (just about). What level of subscription would you recommend? At what level can i get the “make my scrawls into a searchable pdf”?

    1. That takes the Premium subscription, Tom, which I think around £40pa, which gives unlimited upload limits, presentation options and other bells and whistles too. Start free and then have a play. The more intensively you use it the more useful it is. and with users in the tens on millions, it’s not going away.

      1. Forgive my silly question. That sounds like evernote is able to convert handwriting to text. Have I understood that correctly? If so, wow!!!! I think I’m in. Most of the time I find myself drowning in paper.

  8. Having resisted it for years as I couldn’t see the point when I already have other word-processing software that seemed to do the job, I finally started using Evernote a few months ago, still not entirely sure of what the benefit might be.
    I’m gradually increasing my use of it and slowly migrating my work into it.

    I think the one thing that is the best feature for me is the ‘all in one place’ -ness. Yes, I have word-processing software, and yes (as a Mac user) I have an iCloud account so that I can sync work across devices. But, for one thing, I quickly ran out of space on my free 5GB of iCloud real estate and didn’t fancy paying for more.
    With Evernote, whether its a picture, pdf, document, or whatever, it can go where I want it, tagged so I can easily find it, and it syncs on all my devices so I have it with me wherever I go. I can also share work with others on my team via a URL rather than having to email the actual file. And they don’t have to have Evernote to view it. And there are no limits on space (in theory).

    I was disappointed when last year they removed the ‘all devices’ feature of the Basic package, but I’m trialing a year of the premium package as they had a half price offer at the time.

    1. It’s the all in one place, of any kind element – and the more you trust it, the more useful it becomes. Car tyre pressures, passport and insurance details, the cover of a book you want to buy – anything that you might ever need again, is there and searchable. I use it multiple times a day.

  9. I agree about Evernote’s usefulness. I use it extensively but only as a filing cabinet. Onenote works better for project management and wunderlist for lists, for me. I tried to make Evernote fit everything and failed

    The thing that really does it for me with evernote is being able to apply multiple tags to notes and documents, thereby making them available in more than one place. I take a note that references multiple Bible books and don’t have to file it just under the main one (which means I’d never find it again when I need references to the others)

    But that raises a question for me that I’d love your thought on Chris. I’ve flirted with the idea from time to time of storing *everything* in Evernote. All teaching material, sermons, Bible notes, reference and book writing material. The advantages would be obvious I’ve just never quite had the guts to not have a local filing system, with all its attendant disadvantages. I use a PC so don’t have the possibility of a local equivalent like Devonthink

    You seem to be an even more enthusiastic user than me (love the trigger list of names BTW). Would you be in favour of going all in, the whole hog and committing your entire document system to it?

      1. I think that’s the thing with “everything buckets”. The more you commit to the tool and the more familiar you become with it the more useful it becomes. Perhaps the inhibition about using anything fully is the fear of dependency. I bet the next generation won’t have the same issue

        BTW do you use anything else electronic? Finding the right combination has had all kinds of benefits for me in terms of head space, peace, clarity and generally escaping amorphous chaos. I’m always interested to hear what others have found useful which is what drew me to your evernote post

      2. We use Asana to keep in touch as a team (for those who don’t share an office), but I find that Evernote does all I need, simply, without masses amounts of learning or curating.

      3. I think there are a lot of us who are no longer the up and coming generation who have been late adopters of tech, already having paper systems that work for us. For whom tech could nevertheless be an invaluable help

        Wonder if it might be worth you getting 5-10 pastors / missions workers who use on a daily basis in a number of different ministry situations to describe their setups and the value thereof / what are the benefits or what problems do the tools help solve in a series of guest posts.

        It was only about four years ago I set about finding the right setup that would resolve some of my besetting issues and it took a couple of years of experimenting with tools, settling on some core ones and then (most critically) figuring out how to set them up most helpfully so they would actually perform and I would actually use them. I wish I had had a range of views from other pastors who had adopted before me. It would have saved a lot of time and brain

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