Years ago, when I first tried Evernote, it wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t want my files locked into a proprietary system; instead, I wanted to store my materials in a transparent folder structure.
I’m less picky today. I think this is partly because my relationship to digital material has changed: Rather than just handling document files that originate from one or two places, I now deal with all sorts of digital ephemera from any number of sources, and I need to a place to stash it all. I like that Evernote is cross-platform and offers several easy points of entry–the email address being my favorite. Sure, my materials are archived in Evernote’s file-structure, but there’s an export tool if ever I (or they) need to make an exit.
My first step in adapting to this system was to make an @Inbox folder. (The @ symbol pushes the Inbox to the top of an alphabetically-sorted notebook list.) All new materials–web clippings, email forwards, files, screenshots, whatever–are first sent to that notebook. Every few days I clear out the @Inbox notebook, archiving most things, and acting on what remains.
Inboxes are often unfairly vilified–a visual representation of digital accumulation. (I’ll write more on this subject later.) But I would instead argue that Inboxes are empowering: A place to sort, to prioritize, and to then act. So, for me, the first step in making Evernote–or any similar system–functional begins with an Inbox to which all material is first sent.