Using Evernote in Project Management

Does technology suck the productivity out of your day? With smart phones, tablets, ultra-books and laptops it’s hard to even use the toilet without some app or other sending you a reminder or giving you a ‘poke’.

Curious Common Magpie looking at the camera with jewellery, Pica pica, isolated on whiteThe technology magpie

How many of you suffer from ‘shinny-shinny’ syndrome? It’s that syndrome where, like the magpie attracted to all things shinny,  you must try the latest tech or app or upgrade. Have you ordered your iPhone 6? Have you upgraded to ios 8.0? You spend half your life playing with features you don’t need, that do things you don’t need to do.

A history of note takingnotebook

Once-apon-a-time there was the pencil and the paper notebook. Remember those? You wrote down all your notes in the notebook and dated them so you could track back to what you did. I know project managers that were able to trace their entire careers through their historic notebooks.

But it was difficult to find things. You had to remember roughly when you did something to find the notes. Some people used coloured tabs like mini post-it notes to highlight things but these had a tendency to get lost. But at least it was all there in one place and mobile.

time-systemThen came the loose-leaf time managers. Time/system was my favourite. They added weekly, monthly and yearly planners to the daily diary and a loose-leaf notes section. You could then slot notes into the relevant tab in your binder. Great, until you misfiled something, or dropped it and had the rings pop open, or the page holes tore….

 

Technology to the rescue… NOT!

Technology was supposed to help. Initially it was tied to the desk so not portable. You’d have to type up your notes and store them on your desktop or the server.  And the applications weren’t very good at organising information. One exception was Lotus Agenda but sadly it fell by the wayside as Windows took over the desktop landscape.

Then the ‘shinny-shinny’ era started, first with laptops and then smart phones and tablets. Apps that could do everything bar make the tea appeared. Yet in the quest to make life easier, the developers have in effect made it more complicated. Too many options, too many features.

As a busy project manager personal productivity is very important to me and many of today’s applications suffer from feature bloat. The average user barely scratches the surface of the capabilities of Microsoft Office yet every new release boasts new features. Microsoft’s SharePoint is another powerful system with incredible search and workflow capabilities. But most large firms I have worked for use it as a file store because it’s easier to manage than a network file store location. More on Sharepoint in another post

 

Back to simplicity

EvernoteEvery now and then, a developer gets it right. They eschew features for simplicity. They ignore the clamour to add, add, add and keep it simple. 37 signals Basecamp is one such tool and Evernote is another.

 

Evernote is basically an electronic notebook in the good old fashioned sense. You organise your information in notebooks, each containing a series of notes. A note can be anything you want:

  • Text you type in and format
  • Files you attach
  • Screen shots
  • Photos you take with a webcam or inbuilt camera (phone or tabley)
  • Hyperlinks, article snippets or entire web pages all clipped straight from the browser
  • Voice notes
  • Create to-do lists or other checklists within a note

The list goes on. It’s the equivalent of your paper notebook but with a Polaroid camera to grab images to stick in it and a pair of scissors to cut out all the latest media articles from papers and magazines and stick them in it.

You have your notebook back. Only now it’s searchable. You can add tags to make searching even easier and more relevant. It’s stored in ‘the cloud’ so changes on one device can be seen on another. It can be shared.  It is hugely powerful but the simplicity of the interface hides the complexity allowing the user to focus on the job they need to get done.

Using Evernote for project management

I use Evernote to help me manage my projects, usually one notebook per project.

  • No it doesn’t replace my planning tool. The main project plan is still a vital document and needs a specialist tool to create and manage it. But my day to day management tasks I do manage using checklists in an Evernote note.
  • I have separate notes for each of my team, to manage the objectives and discussions we have.
  • I have an ideas note to capture ideas around the project when they occur to me.
  • I might have a code snippets note if I’m doing some technical things
  • I might have a swipe file to clip website information that might be useful to the project

Evernote doesn’t replace the core project repositories such as the shared drive on a file server, or the project SharePoint site. Because it is designed to handle mixed and free format information it doesn’t naturally have the structure and rigour of shared drives and SharePoint. I’ll discuss Sharepoint in detail in a future post.

OrganisedFor me, it’s much more about keeping me organised so that I can lay my hands on anything and everything I have touched in the project that isn’t held on one of the core project repositories. You don’t need to be particularly organised with Evernote. Providing you apply the appropriate tages its search capability will do the ‘organising’ and enable you to find any note you’ve made.

Can it work in your environment?

Many organisations have embraced the cloud and have become comfortable with the blurred line between personal and business applications. There is a business version of Evernote where corporate notebooks are administered centrally and access is controlled by administrators to protect the firm’s data. This won’t stop people copying form corporate to personal notebooks or from shared drives to personal notes.

Those that adopt the technology handle this through company policies and a degree of network monitoring. But for some industries like financial services, and for some business areas like accounting, it is a step too far at the moment. Evernote have said they will not allow versions of Evernote to be created behind corporate firewalls. We shall see.

The competition

 There are other similar applications around. One that has been around for some time but has only recently been ported across to Mac, tablets and smart phones is OneNote from Microsoft.  Once a Windows only hidden, if under developed, gem OneNote has had a major revamp in Office 2013 and is now a serious competitor to Evernote. Microsoft have no qualms about staying behind corporate firewalls so for many data sensitive organisations this could be the productivity tool for the here and now. I intend to evaluate OneNote and will report back in a future post.

What do you use?

What productivity applications do you use when managing your projects? Leave a comment or reply to the email that had the link to this post. Let’s get organised and Get It Done!

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5 comments on “Using Evernote in Project Management
  1. This is very useful and practical! Now I can be more confident working with a group because Evernote is an easy and proficient way to share notes and information when you join forces on a project with a team.

    There’s more here: http://www.process.st/2014/09/how-to-use-evernote-for-business-document-management/

  2. DevC says:

    Where was Evernote 10 to 15 years ago. It is one of the best apps going at present. Elizabeth try it you will not be disappointed. Once again a great article Allen.

  3. Mark Dansie says:

    I agree Evernote is also one of my essential tools for project management alongside Highrise and Basecamp, all three are very simple to use and very very smart!

    If you like to use a pencil then the electronic equivalent, the stylus in the Note3 (the best smartphone available today in my opinion) is the answer

    • admin says:

      Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve reviewed Basecamp but never used it but I’ve not come across Highrise. If you have the time to write a review of either or both I’d love to publish them as guest blog posts.

      Allen

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I’m still stuck on the pen and paper! As a writer, it’s essential to me. I have a whiteboard in my office and I record tasks and my schedule on there too. I’ve never really got on with apps to organise notes although I have tried plenty of them. Maybe I should look again.

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  1. […] Allen Ruddock tells of how he got from pencil and paper to EverNote, and how he’s using it to manage the information his project generates. […]

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