Dave Nelsen

By Dave Nelsen, Contributing Writer, @DaveNelsen

Unbelievably, this is my 70th TEQ column and I’ve never told you about my favorite app, what I call my second brain. Without it, I’d be half as productive. If you embrace it, you’ll be twice as productive.

I’m talking about Evernote (or OneNote, Microsoft’s very, very, very good copy). Microsoft is not a very innovative company, but they are perhaps the world’s best “fast follower.” They didn’t invent spreadsheets. Remember VisiCalc? When Microsoft saw VisiCalc, they recognized that the world had changed, so they copied it … and in time made it even better. Today, Excel is the world’s second most popular application (after Word, another copied product).

The fact that Microsoft has copied Evernote tells you how important it is. Warning! If you use Evernote by parroting the way you organize information today (meaning hierarchical organization of your files, notes, tasks, ideas, etc.), you’ll fail. The key to making Evernote hum is to abandon all (or at least most) organization and instead become a search ninja. If you achieve that, you’ll discover that you can save information far faster and retrieve it more reliably. Yes, it’s a giant time saver on both ends.

As Evernote says on its homepage, you’ll “feel organized without the effort.” Consider for a moment the serious implications of “feeling organized …” versus “being organized …”.

Here’s an example of the immense power of feeling organized.

Sadly, my dad is now in a memory care facility so I’m managing his affairs. Every month, I get piles of paper (not to mention email) from every entity involved in his world. It’s not always obvious in this ongoing data tsunami what’s important and what’s not, so I save it all … in one giant folder (what Evernote calls a Notebook) using my Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner (a critical companion to Evernote).

One afternoon this past summer, while I was driving in the middle of nowhere (literally … somewhere in northern Maine), my sister called from Phoenix and said, “Dad and I are at his cardiologist’s office and we need to know what prescriptions he’s on.” Since United Healthcare mails me a monthly summary of his prescriptions (on paper), and since I scan this and everything else into Evernote, and since Evernote syncs my second brain across all of my devices, the only thing I had to do was pull off the road, search the “dad” Notebook for the newest document containing the word “prescriptions,” and then email it to my sister.

I had no idea that I’d ever need one of these United Healthcare statements. I never even look at most of them. And yet, when called 859 miles from home, I was able to find the required information and get it my sister in something like 30 seconds.

Here’s the thing. The amount of information in the world is roughly doubling each year. Maybe you’ll be fine managing twice as much material next year, but 4X, 8X, 16X? And that’s just the next four years!

It’s time to learn Evernote (or OneNote if you’re a Microsoft Office 365 fan) and invest some time in becoming a search expert (see “tags”, “locations”, etc.). Once you do, you’ll be able to save stuff without wasting time reviewing it and without wasting more time figuring out where to put it (and without wasting even more time trying to find it in the future).

On that last point, a recent Microsoft study revealed that the average employee wastes 76 hours per year just lookin’ for stuff. That’s almost two work weeks. I wonder how much more time they waste needlessly reviewing and needlessly filing stuff?

OK, I’ve made a killer case, but here’s the thing. You and your employees probably won’t be using Evernote/OneNote anytime soon. Why? Because new habits are hard and because when humans engage with new technology, their productivity initially goes down before it goes up. Too many people don’t take the time to learn technology or they abandon it while at the low point of what I call the “productivity J-curve”. Get it? Yes, like the shape of the letter “J”, your productivity will at first drop and you have to trust that your productivity will eventually shoot upwards. Keep the faith, baby!

Speaking of trust, here’s another impediment. When humans organize information hierarchically (folders, within folders, within folders …), we have confidence (albeit misplaced) that our brains will be able to find it later. Putting 100% of my dad’s information into one giant pile is, in a sense, giving up control.

Humans are very uncomfortable with losing control, but it’s time to admit that the machines are just better than we are at some things (and yes, eventually, at all things).

For information storage and retrieval, it’s time to trust the machines. I’m not just kissing up to our future overlords here (although that’s not a bad idea in any case).

There are a million other great features in Evernote but being on real paper, this column is limited in length. Please Google “best Evernote tutorial” and pick any of the page 1 results to get started.

It’s so strange. My sister would tell you that I’m the world’s most organized person. Now you know that I don’t have to be organized to be organized. So, stop trying to be organized yourself. It’s futile anyway. With Evernote or OneNote, you’ll feel organized … and be far more productive.

P.S. – FYI, this is the one app where you should pay for the Premium version. It’s priceless (not to be confused with being free)!