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What is Evernote, and how can it make you a social media power user?

by Alex in | | |

Making effective use of social media isn’t about which tools you use, which networks you join or how many followers you have. People who have made social media a valuable, joyful part of their professional and personal lives are people who have made a number of fundamental shifts in the way they work, relate and most crucially, think. And those shifts aren’t limited to the way they engage with social media: they’re deeply embedded in the way web users have reconstructed — and socialized — their entire toolkit. Beginning with the simple notebook.

What is Evernote? Evernote is the notebook of choice for social media users. This extraordinarily flexible digital, online notebook gives you a single place to create or compile all your notes, web clippings, snapshots or documents. And because it syncs to the web you can even use it as a collaboration tool (building shared notebooks with colleagues) or a publishing engine (by connecting Evernote to your blog, or publishing entire notebooks). Using Evernote doesn’t just make you more efficient: it actually retrains you as a social thinker.

Here are the 10 mental shifts Evernote can help you make, transforming the way you relate to the online (and offline!) world:

  1. Think creative. Thinking social means thinking like a creator, not a consumer. Whether you’re going to blog, snap, video or tweet, you need to maintain an ideas file that captures all your moments of creative inspiration, and provides a source of renewal during those times when when your inspiration runs dry. An Evernote ideas notebook can capture topic ideas or partial drafts, quick sketches, voice memos, or web clippings that spark new thinking. Get in the habit of adding to your ideas notebook whenever you have the faintest glimmer of inspiration, and you’ll discover that the more you jot down, the more inspiration flows.
  2. Think sharing. If the work you are doing for yourself can also be useful to others, share it. That’s one of the fundamental principles underlying many of the web’s great social successes, from people who share their browser bookmarks on delicious, to people who share their bibliographies through Zotero. As any frequent sharer will tell you, what seems like a selfless act is repaid many times over, thanks to the feedback and resources you get back once you start sharing yourself. But in a culture built around the mythology of scarcity, it takes conscious effort to develop the instinct to share. You can develop that instinct by sharing selected Evernote notebooks with the world, so that other people can benefit from your effort — whether that effort was expended on evaluations of 14 different software tools, or compiling the best tips on taking kids to Disneyland.
  3. Think collaborative. You don’t need to do everything yourself. The proliferation of tools for online collaboration means it’s often more efficient to make a rough start yourself, and then invite others to contribute to your efforts. Every article on Wikipedia is a collaborative effort, but you don’t have to be that public in your collaborations. Develop your capacity for collaboration by inviting just a few people to contribute to a shared notebook, whether it’s a group of colleagues pooling their notes on taming the office bureaucracy, or a group of friends pooling their research into summer vacation spots. Once you discover how easy and effective it is to collaborate within a small team, you’ll be ready to venture into other forms of online collaboration.
  4. Think tagging. Keywords are more useful than file folders. That may seem heretical to anyone who grew up with the Dewey decimal system or a cabinet full of topic-specific files. When you’re dealing with online content, however, you have the flexibility to organize content in multiple ways, which makes it easier to find and harder to forget. Instead of  (or in addition to) filing that document about end-of-year performance evaluations in your Evernote “HR” notebook, you can tag it with keywords like “year end”, “evaluation”, “performance”, etc. Now you’ll see it when you’re looking at everything related to “year end”, and you won’t forget to build time for those performance evaluations into your December schedule.
  5. Think searchable. What you can find, you can use. Social media ninjas are power searchers: they know the ins and outs of Boolean syntax, and tame their email backlogs with a single search string. Evernote’s built-in character recognition makes just about everything you add to Evernote fully searchable, so that you suddenly have a single place to look for every back-of-the-envelope notation, every business card, every thought you’ve jotted down.
  6. Think cloud. If you’re relying on daily backups to prevent losing your work, there’s always a little part of your brain that’s worried about what could happen to your data between now and the next backup. (Because you wouldn’t consider not backing up, would you? No, I thought not.) But as more and more of our work moves onto the “cloud” — i.e. web servers that store your data remotely, rather than on your local computer — we free up that brain space for productive thinking. Every Evernote notebook is automatically backed up to the cloud (as long as you check the “synchronized” button when you set it up) so you know that every note you type, record or snap will be there forever.
  7. Think visual. Photos, drawings, videos and info graphics constitute much of what people share through social sites and networks. That’s because we’re visual creatures: images often communicate more powerfully than words. Evernote can help you cultivate your ability to think visually by helping you get past one of the biggest obstacles to thinking visually: the difficulty in organizing or making sense of all those images. Snap pictures of whiteboards (they’ll be searchable, thanks to Evernote’s text recognition), work you love (whether it’s a sculpture or a window display) or sights that make your heart sing.
  8. Think mobile. You bring a social sensibility to everything you do once you stop leaving the social web at your desk, and start carrying it in your pocket. Every major social web service has its own iOS and/or Android apps, or a mobile-optimized interface that makes it easy to contribute to (or tap into) the social brain while you’re at the local coffee shop or on the road overseas. Evernote helps you keep your own brain with you by syncing your notebooks to your phone or iPad, so you never need to feel choose between accessing your notes or getting some fresh air!
  9. Think web. There’s no point in you remembering a fact or developing a solution that somebody else has already written down or solved. Worried that relying on other people’s work will stunt your brain power? The web is your brain — or at least part of it — so the sooner you get comfy treat the great magical internet as an extension of your grey matter, the sooner you’ll be able to apply your neurones to the stuff other people haven’t or can’t tackle for you. Evernote’s web clipper makes it easy for you to compile an extended memory bank by snapping and storing the most useful parts of the web to your local computer (and iPad, and smartphone).
  10. Think connected. As powerful as a service like Twitter or Flickr might be, it’s a thousand times more powerful once you start combining it with other types of software. Evernote connects with many other web services: you can post to Evernote from Twitter, create documents from Gmail, or clip interesting blog posts from your favourite RSS reader. Learning to create your own toolsets and workflows is crucial to unleashing the power of the social web.
First posted on October 25,2011

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