It’s Time to Retire Your Trusty Day Planner

This is the fourth in a 5-part series by Dr. Frank Buck on developing a productivity suite of tools to support the organized school leader. The suite includes the Calendar (the places we must be); the Task list (the things we must do); the Contacts (the people with whom we connect); the Notes (the reference information we need to have at hand); and Email (the hub of communication) Part 1 and Part 2.


By Frank Buck

Let’s take a quick quiz. Where would you keep each of the following pieces of information?

  • Hotel or frequent flyer rewards numbers?
  • Account numbers for vendors?
  • The code for the copying machine?
  • Your automobile’s VIN number, tag number, and a record of repairs?
  • A checklist of the steps involved in hiring a teacher in your school district?
  • Gift ideas for family members?
  • The digital notes related to a current project?
  • Notes from a workshop?

Diary or personal organizer planner open to blank page

Ask the well-organized educator of a generation ago, and your answer would likely have been “in the back of my planner.” In addition to serving as the calendar, the to-do list, and the address book, the paper planner (with the help of some paper clips) was also the place for commonly-needed reference information.

Each year’s refill encouraged this practice by including maps of the United States and the world, forms to record gift ideas and maintenance records, and measurement conversion charts, just to name a few. Because the planner went just about everywhere, that reference information was also available most of the time. Handy as the paper planner was – it’s an inadequate tool for a digital world.

Evernote: The Place for Digital Notes

Middle-level educators typically work with many students and many activities. The amount of information we need at our fingertips is large. Much of that information arrives digitally. We want the ability to access it digitally. When we share it with others, we want a way to do so digitally.


Evernote is to the digital world what the back of the planner was to the paper world. I recommend it for three reasons:

  • It provides structure. Our computers have an organized system of file folders. Our mobile devices generally lack that structure. Evernote uses the metaphor of “notebooks” to store information.
  • It syncs with all of your devices. After creating an account at Evernote, you download the desktop software for each of your computers and the app for each of your mobile devices. When you enter or change information one place, it is changed everywhere. You can access your information from anywhere.
  • It allows you to store text, pictures, and audio within a single note. Your phone likely has an app for taking notes (and probably resembles a yellow legal pad). It has a camera and likely has an audio recorder.evernote-components
    What if you are in a workshop where you find yourself taking notes, photos, and audio notes. Those three varieties of media are now stored in three different places on your phone. Your notes are stored with other notes. The photos are stored with other photos. The audio notes are stored with other audio notes. With Evernote, all of that information is stored in one note.

Start with Three Notebooks

Evernote can be overwhelming, but it does not have to be. Start simple and get used to the notes/notebooks environment. Create three notebooks:

  • Inbox—Right-click on this notebook and make it your “default notebook.” Anything you put into Evernote will go there first. Later in the day, look at what you have added. Decide what action, if any, is required. Add any to-do’s to your task list. Decide where you need to “file” the notes you have added. Filing a note is as easy as choosing from a drop-down list of notebooks. [Notice the name of this notebook begins with a punctuation mark, a period. That period causes this notebook to sort to the top of the list.]
  • Personal Information—The lives of busy people are filled with random pieces of information. Inside my Personal Information notebook are notes labeled A-C, D-F, G-L, etc. The A-C note provides an alphabetical listing of all account numbers, codes, membership numbers, and other random bits of information for items beginning with the letters A through C. The next time I have to enter my Hilton Honors number into a website, I come to this notebook, scroll to the G-L note, electronically copy the needed information, and paste it into the website. This one notebook will allow you to rid yourself of many random scraps of paper.
  • Miscellaneous—A notebook called Miscellaneous provides a place for those notes you don’t know where to file. Your system of notebooks will evolve. Once that system matures, Miscellaneous will likely be empty. Until then, it provides a good catch-all.

Evernote will expand to fit your needs

In time, you will create other notebooks. Many of them will parallel the names of digital folders in your computer or paper folders in your filing cabinet. Other notebooks you create might be:

  • Address lists
  • Automobile
  • Checklists
  • Emergency
  • Entertainment
  • Financial
  • House
  • Lesson Plans
  • Journal
  • Motivation
  • Teacher Observations
  • Travel 

Evernote-schoolI Thought I Didn’t Need It

When I first read about Evernote, I learned it was a place to organize digital material. “No thanks,” I said. “I have a system of folders on my computer that organize my digital material.”

I read that Evernote allowed you to access your material from other computers. “No thanks,” I said. “I have Dropbox. I can put information there and access it from other computers as well as from my mobile devices.”

I learned, however, accessing information on my phone from Dropbox meant I was actually downloading a copy to the phone. The next time I wanted to access that document, it meant downloading yet another copy. Furthermore, making changes which synced back to the original was not happening.

Evernote supplied those capabilities. That’s what changed my mind. That’s what may change your mind.

Jump In. The Water’s Fine

Just like learning to swim, you’ll never do it until you first get in the water. If you wait until you master Evernote to start using it, you will continue to wait. Create an account today. It takes less than a minute.

Create the notebooks mentioned in this article. Create others you already feel you will need. Start creating notes. You can easily copy and paste information from other sources. The best way to learn is by doing.

For Additional Information

Here are several posts from my blog which explain various aspects of Evernote:

You can also find helpful videos at YouTube, produced by Evernote and other trainers.

Finally, when writing the new edition of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders, I was careful to talk about concepts which would endure rather than specific pieces of software which might not. Evernote is the exception. The book devotes an entire chapter to the concept of digital notes and uses Evernote as the recommendation for creating and storing them.

Where do you keep your digital notes?

The organized person of yesteryear used the back section of the paper planner. For today’s organized school leader (and “leaders” are found throughout the school), Evernote may just be your answer.

GetOrganized-Buck-cvrFrank Buck (@drfrankbuck) served as a middle-level teacher, principal, and central office administrator during a career of almost 30 years. He now speaks and writes on the subject of organization and time management. He is the author of the just-released second edition of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers. Read more about his work at


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

12 Responses

  1. Excellent ideas! My life would be a mess without Evernote, and you have some great tips about organizing it to make it simpler, but even more powerful.

  2. Thanks, Frank! Once people get the hang of Evernote, it becomes indispensable. Glad you liked the post.

  3. Yolanda Greene says:

    I completely agree with you Dr. Buck about using a digital note taking system. I’ve used Evernote in the past and then switched to Microsoft OneNote. In your opinion is there a benefit of Evernote over Microsoft OneNote?

  4. Yolanda, if you are using the entire Microsoft Office suite (especially if you are using Outlook for your calendar, tasks, etc.), OneNote is a great option. The methodology for the kinds of things I would store there are exactly the same as Evernote. For someone who is not replying heavily on Office, Evernote is probably the way to go. Lifehacker recently published a good compare/contract article on the two. It is located here:

    Thanks for your question and the interest in this article!

  5. teeokeefe says:

    I’ve been on the Evernote bandwagon (and learning to depend on it more always) since it was a standalone product. The community of users have grown by leaps and bounds since then and I find it an indispensable part of my daily life. My gripe? I was experimenting with some ways to track personal productivity last year and stumbled upon some hard core paper calendar people. Bullet Journalists and other loyal paper system followers continue to build redundancy into their process… and are REALLY invested in it personally. each pen stroke seems to be a source of pride. I’ve made a few suggestions that practically got me banned from groups (kidding… sorta) There are people who simply do NOT get the warm fuzzy feeling that their leather bound HIGHLY personalized life management system brings them. I love paper too, but I have trained myself to see where it adds value and where it doesn’t (most places it doesn’t) a hand written thank you note ALWAYS adds value. Keep fighting the good fight – it’s invigorating to participate in a community of E-note users who are open to expanding the boundaries of what Evernote can be used effectively to manage. And once you get some level of expertise in adding IFTTT recipes into the mix… whoa! The sky’s the limit!

  6. teeokeefe says:

    PS – I’ve seen some AWESOME contributions from the educational community on uses for Evernote in Pinterest. I am not an educator, but it sparked some new ideas for me. (I am a quality professional (6sigma & lean) turned business transformation consultant)

  7. Teresa, thanks for your input. I think this article has garnered interest from many inside and outside of education, because we are all struggling with with best practice in how to file and retrieve the digital information in our lives. Being an Evernote user yourself, you have experienced how much it helps your productivity. Like so many things, we all need to start somewhere. I hope you will come over to my blog and search the archives for other Evernote posts. Please keep in touch.

  8. Teresa, also if you want to include links to any of the Evernote pins you have seen on Pinterest that are particularly good, I know many readers would be interested.

  9. Todd Smith says:

    When is Part Five of the productivity suite of tools (Frank Buck) going to be posted?

    • MiddleWeb says:

      Todd – thanks for asking! Frank has so much to say about email that he broke it into two parts. The first part will appear here on May 15 and part 2 about 2-3 weeks later. Keep an eye out for it — it’s great stuff!

  10. peter madonia says:

    Thank you all.

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