App of the Week: How Evernote Organized My Life

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App: Evernote Platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, desktop apps also available for Mac and PC Web site: Evernote.com Cost: Free ($5 monthly or $45 annually for premium service)

I'm a note taker. Over the years, my desktop, both actual and virtual, has been littered with pieces of paper containing to-do lists, phone numbers and notes of all varieties. More recently, my text editor got a regular workout as I tried to rein in all the thoughts flying through my annoyingly active brain. Needless to say, it wasn't the best system.

When I first read about Evernote, the note-taking app, I thought it sounded cool but I couldn't see the benefits of an iPhone app when I often needed these notes sitting in front of me on the computer. But all that changed when I upgraded my Mac's software, logged into the new App Store and downloaded Evernote for my laptop.

What I didn't realize by ignoring this popular software was that Evernote doesn't just allow you to take notes of all varieties and keep them categorized, it syncs them with an online version of the software as well. With my new laptop app installed, my notes were synced wherever I went, simplifying everything.

While it is true that Evernote is exceptionally good at keeping track of notes, that is really just the tip of the iceberg. While I favor just simple note taking via the text editor, there are a myriad of options for capturing information from voice and video to photos, Web links and screenshots. Attaching files and documents, like e-mail, is a single click away. Everything is automatically saved (extremely handy) and kept in a simple window that syncs with other instances of the application -- web, mobile, etc.

My favorite has to be the to-do list checkbox. I keep a constant running to-do list that I update daily to keep me from forgetting, well, everything. Evernote lets you put a checkbox next to each list item. Sure, I could just erase lines from the note, but then I don't get to see all the crap I've accomplished!

Another handy feature for corralling information is the Web Clipper. The simple add-on for virtually every browser puts a button on the toolbar of the browser. Click it to grab screenshots, text or images from a Web page and quickly place it into a note.

It is also worth noting that while the text editor isn't as feature-rich as a word processor, there is extensive formatting available making it convenient for things like writing blog posts. The text from any note can be exported as HTML as well.

After loading Evernote down with notes, I realized that probably its most useful features are built around its organizational structure. Unlike my disjointed jumble of digital scribbles in the past, all my notes through Evernote are perfectly organized by folder and can be tagged with keywords and phrases. Even more impressive, the text in every note and in every image is fully searchable and searches can be saved for later use. Evernote actually scans images and detects text in them including handwriting with amazing accuracy.

Generally, I'm not big on sharing my ramblings with people, but the extensive sharing features provided with Evernote have caused me to rethink that notion. From collaboration on business documents to providing lists of gifts people should buy me (hint, hint), all of my notes can be shared online. Custom links can be generated for individual notes, making it easy to send via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook.

If that isn't enough, Evernote has its own kind of app store called Trunk that links to various add-ons provided by other developers. From services that will digitize your hard-copy documents to voice-to-text conversion, there is an app for that, apparently.

There are some size restrictions on free accounts (60 MB) as compared to their paid premium service (1 GB). I haven't come close to using my monthly bandwidth, but some of the features of their premium service, including searchable PDF documents, no file-type restrictions, note history and, of course, no advertisements, could make the $5 a month worth it.

As interested in technology and gadgets as I am, I find very few things indispensable, but Evernote is certainly on that list. There is no doubt it keeps me better organized than before and I've only been using it a couple weeks. Pretty amazing for a glorified legal pad.

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