One of the biggest challenges that I faced early on in my ministry was trying to figure out a way to capture and organize all of my ideas, thoughts, and illustrations that could be used for future messages. I have tried a number of software systems and other tools but I found that they all had some weaknesses that limited my ability to fully utilize the research that I had filed and retrieve that information at a later date. That was until I discovered Evernote! I have found the power of this free on-line software so incredible that I just had to include it in my blog.
Maybe you hear a message that you want to use is some way in the future. Perhaps you’ve heard a good illustration or analogy that you could see yourself using again. Maybe God spoke to you in your private devotional time and you want to remember that key insight or truth that spoke to your heart. Perhaps you’re read in a book or magazine article a good statistic that you could use in an upcoming sermon series. Maybe you have amassed a large file of your own sermons and exegetical notes and you want to be able to easily retrieve this information later. The challenge lies in how to organize these various ideas so that they can be easily retrieved later. This is where Evernote can help.
Top 10 Reasons I Use Evernote:
1. Evernote is a “digital filing cabinet.” It has enabled me to go completely paperless. Now whenever I see an interesting newspaper or magazine article, I rip it out, scan the paper into Evernote, and toss it away. It is simple, clean, and efficient.
When I was in seminary, I first started filing my sermon illustrations by a simple drop file. If I came across an article in a magazine, I would have to cut it out and paste it to a card that was assigned a topic title and filed alphabetically. Then, when I graduated on to using a laptop computer for my sermon filing, I would have one Microsoft Office document that I could copy and paste material into. This system worked for a while but eventually it began to break down for a couple reasons: 1.) As I would file information into this Word document, over time it became extremely large and took some time to open, 2.) I was constantly having to remind myself to back up the document just in case something should happen to my hard drive, and 3.) I found it cumbersome to try to navigate through all of those entries to find just what I was looking for. I know that a lot of pastors today use Microsoft Excel (Preaching magazine once extolled using Excel as this kind of tool) but I found that these other systems were not easy or intuitive enough for me.
2. Evernote is like my “electronic brain.” However, unlike my brain, Evernote provides near-instant recall. To quote Evernote’s website: “Remember everything. Use Evernote to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer, phone, or device you use.” Evernote’s icon is an amalgam of an elephant silhouette and a Post-it. That pretty much says it all.
The other day, I had one of my church members ask me if I had any tithing testimonies or stories from people who have seen God bless them because of their financial obedience. I actually had a file in my Evernote under this very topic as I have kept record of emails that church members have sent me. Within just a matter of seconds, I was able to easily pull this file up on my iPhone and email it to him all within the same conversation.
Another example is when I was meeting with a fellow pastor and we were discussing a new church growth strategy. Although I couldn’t remember the exact title of the entry that I made in Evernote, I was able to remember that Andy Stanley was quoted in it. So I took my iPad and typed in “Andy Stanley” in the Evernote search bar and within just a matter of seconds, I was able to locate that file and speak to my Pastor friend about this key insight. I have found that having this “electronic brain” with me wherever I go – in the form of my iPhone or iPad – has allowed me to be a resource person to the people that I engage with on a daily basis.
3. Evernote is available in multiple platforms. You can download the software to your PC, Mac, iPhone or smartphone, iPad, etc. If you don’t have any of these devices with you – simply log on to the website (www.Evernote.com), sign in with your username and password, and you have instant access to all of your files remotely through any device with an Internet connection. The Web Interface is so easy to navigate, it will make you think you are sitting in front of your own computer! I don’t know of any other filing software that has this multi-platform capability on this scale.
4. Evernote coordinates with a variety of other programs. One of those I use often is JotNot, which is a document-scanning app for smartphones. You can take a picture of a document with your smartphone camera and JotNot will convert it to a scanned document. Then the JotNot program can send the scanned document directly to your Evernote account. The other week, I was visiting a church and I liked how they did their visitor cards. I simply took out my iPhone, used JotNot to take a picture of the card, and then hit a button to have the card scanned directly into my Evernote account wirelessly. Now here’s the really cool part. Evernote’s servers have OCR technology, which means that when you scan a picture, it “reads” the text in the picture and makes it searchable. All I would have to do is remember some key word that was on that visitor card and I could enter it in the search bar and pull it up! Evernote also coordinates with Olive Tree’s BibleReader app. This means that I can jot down notes while listening to a sermon using BibleReader and save the notes directly to Evernote for later categorization. Look for the Evernote “Trunk” to find all the other apps that coordinate with Evernote.
5. It’s easy to get stuff into Evernote. Michael Hyatt has detailed in his blog ten easy ways to get your sermon illustrations or any other content into Evernote:
- Type It. You can create a note and start typing. I find this particularly helpful for brainstorming, taking meeting notes (especially on the iPad), outlining a message, or even—as I am doing now—writing a chapter for a book!
- Email it. You can forward any email to your unique Evernote address, and it will show up in your default notebook a few seconds later. I do this several times a day. I often add additional comments to the note and tag it.
- Scan it. While I have gone paperless in my office, not everyone else in the world has. As a result, I still must process paper. If I determine that I need to save a copy of that document, I scan it directly into Evernote with my ScanSnap scanner (developed by Fujitsu and costs around $250). It scans automatically into a new Evernote entry. I can then toss the paper into the recycling bin.
- Clip it. When I encounter an interesting blog post or web page, I use the Evernote extension for Chrome to clip the entire page directly into Evernote. When I do so, I can assign it to a notebook and add any relevant tags. Evernote has these extensions or add-ins available for most browsers such as Safari, Internet Explorer, or Firefox.
- Paste it. Sometimes, I don’t want to save an entire email message or a web page. Perhaps I just want to save a quote, an image, or some other interesting item. No problem. I just select the text, copy it to the clipboard, and then use a keyboard shortcut to save whatever is on the clipboard to a new note.
- Drag it. If I have a file I want to save to Evernote, I can select it in Finder and then drag it to the Evernote icon on the dock. Evernote then creates a new note with the file attached. Note: With the free version of Evernote, you are limited to image, audio, ink, and PDF files. With the premium version, you can attach any kind of file.
- Print it. If you are working on a file in another program and want to save a copy in Evernote, you can select File | Print and then (at least on a Mac) “print” a PDF of the file to Evernote. Note that when you save a PDF to Evernote, it becomes fully searchable.
- Record it. Admittedly, I don’t use this much, but you could use this to record a note to yourself, a phone conversation, a meeting, or a lecture. This option is especially handy on the iPhone when you want to record an idea but aren’t in a position to type it.
- Photograph it. This is particularly useful with the iPhone. I use it all the time. Michael Hyatt says, “Recently, [my wife] Gail and I were shopping for a couple of side chairs for my home office. We took pictures of the ones we liked and stored them in Evernote. It was a simple matter of reviewing them when we got home. I have taken pictures of medications, license plates, and printer cartridges, etc. As an added bonus, Evernote indexes all the text in the picture.”
- Automate It. This is a bit technical, but I found it worth the effort. You can create a new “Mac service” that allows you to right-click on a file in Finder and send it directly to Evernote. You can also create an Auto Import folder using the Mac’s “Folder Actions.” Once you set it up, any file you save or drag into that folder will be immediately added to Evernote. I didn’t know what any of this meant until I set it up, using the links I have provided. It took me about 20 minutes to do it.
6. Your data is stored using the most cutting edge cloud technology. This means that all of your files are automatically backed up and synced to all of your devices and the Web! No more having to worry about losing your precious data. Your material is stored both locally on your computer through the Evernote app as well as backed up in the cloud automatically.
7. Your data is safely protected. Since all of your data is stored both locally on your computer and it is backed up in the cloud (remote server) automatically, even if something happened and the Evernote servers went down, your data is still stored safe and sound on your hard drive. And if you ever wanted to remove your content for a new bigger and better program, you can export all of your notes and content in HTML and XML format.
8. Evernote follows the “GTD: Getting-Things-Done” way of accomplishing tasks. The GTD system teaches that you need to quickly get things off your mind and into a general file. Then later, you can go into that file and categorize information into either action plans, tasks to delegate, etc. With Evernote, all of my new entries are immediately sent to my default notebook which I have simply titled – “Inbox.” At the end of the day, I then take everything that is in my Inbox and drag and drop it to the right notebook where it belongs. I currently have about a dozen notebooks including “Sermon Illustrations,” “Finished Sermons,” “Pastor Leadership File,” as well as other notebooks for future books I plan to write. This system has allowed me to be more efficient and therefore more productive.
9. Evernote is free! It costs you nothing to set up an account or to download the software on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or iPad. If you want, you can upgrade to the premium version for $45 per year which gives you up to 1GB of upload space per month (the free version is 60MB a month) as well as the ability to attach any file type to the note. However, I have found that the free version offers plenty of storage space that meets most of the needs for the average pastor.
10. Evernote will boost your productivity. I find myself adding about 6-10 new entries into this database every day. Not too long ago, I was driving and I heard a story on the radio that I thought would be a good illustration for my upcoming sermon series. I used Evernote to record a voice note and I stored it in my sermon illustration notebook. Later at my Mac, I was able to retrieve the voice memo, found the story through a simple Google search and copied it to Evernote. I have found myself using this software more than any other program on my computer. It is intuitive and easy-to-use. I admit, I had Evernote on my computer for over a year but I never really bothered to learn its full capabilities. I would strongly encourage you to download this program, learn it, and use it! You will thank me later! Also, Brett Kelly has compiled a remarkably practical e-book entitled Evernote Essentials that will help to open your eyes to this program’s potential. You can download his eBook from the web and you’ll be an Evernote ninja in no time!