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?
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.
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
- Lesson Plans
- Teacher Observations
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:
- Evernote and Lesson Plans
- Evernote App for Android Now Includes Handwriting
- Evernote Update for Android
- How to Be Successful with Digital Note Taking
- New to Evernote? The Notebooks You Need
- Taking Notes Digitally Using Evernote and TaskClone
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.
Frank 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 FrankBuck.org.