A couple of years ago, I downloaded the free Evernote app–that free note-taking and organization app you can get for just about every iOS and Android platform. I dutifully downloaded it on my computer and iPad and while I used it for the occasional note or to save a thought, it largely sat idle and buried in the midst of all those other apps that I got on a whim.
Recently, however, I’ve discovered the real power of this incredible app–especially for those of us in ministry who lead churches and organize staff. With the help of an Evernote organizational system called “The Secret Weapon” that I discovered online (again, free!), I began to set up my Evernote as the primary tool I use to organize my ministry life. Here are just a few of the ways that it’s been helping me and my staff to literally get on the same page:
- Organizing emails: If you’re like me, your email inbox is usually crammed full of stuff that people need from you: from meeting notes to counseling requests to those people in your church who constantly forward those “funny” emails that could be sermon illustrations (but probably not). Before I set up this new organizational system, I had 6,000+ emails in my inbox–some put in email files but most just sitting there clogging up space. When I needed to find an important email, I would up doing a search for it, which coughed up a whole lot of unrelated stuff I had to wade through. The real key to handling email, however, is the same as handling the snail mail you get: only handle it once by either acting on it, filing it, or tossing it right away. You can use Evernote as an effective filing system for the emails you want to keep. Each Evernote account comes with its own Evernote email address, which links to a notebook on your Evernote account. Simply rename that notebook “Pending Actions” and, once a day, sort through those important emails to act on them or file them in another Evernote notebook. The Secret Weapon lays out a process for doing this, including tagging your notes to make them easier to organize and find according to priority. My email inboxes are now all empty at the end of each day and I have captured all the important ones in Evernote by putting them in the proper notebooks.
- Preparing for meetings: Evernote allows you to create multiple notebooks which can then be organized into “stacks.” For example, I have a stack named “Meetings” and in there are notebooks for all the committee and group meetings that I attend. When I get an email with minutes or meeting agenda from my SPR chairperson, for example, I simply forward the email to my Pending Actions folder, then move it to the SPR notebook for later reference. This way, I can gather all the relevant information for the meeting in one place, rather than having to search multiple locations. Evernote allows you to attach files, drop in web pages and photos, or whatever else you might need for your meetings. When I show up at the next SPR meeting, I simply open Evernote and, voila, all the information I need is right there.
- Sharing information: With the paid version of Evernote (only $45 per year), you can create notebooks that can be shared and edited with members of your staff or your church leaders (all they need is the free Evernote account). For example, each week I create a new staff meeting note, which is shared with all my staff members. I put in my agenda items for the staff meeting and then each staff member can add his or her items to the shared note. When we come to staff meeting, all of us have the updated agenda and can take notes that are also shared between us. This is a fantastic collaboration tool and works in many contexts.
- Gathering sermon ideas: Evernote offers a free plug-in called the Web Clipper, which is installed as an icon on your browser’s toolbar. Whenever you see a web page with a sermon idea or illustration on it, all you have to do is click on the Evernote Web Clipper icon in the toolbar and it will bring up your Evernote file system, asking you to which notebook you want to save the page. This is a powerful system for saving those “aha” pieces of stuff you come across every day and, again, it’s free! I use this a lot for gathering ideas for my writing for Homiletics as well as my own sermon prep.
- Making a to-do list: Evernote’s tag system allows you to create tags that can prioritize your tasks. For example, if I have an email or note that requires action now, I can tag it with “Now.” When I want to pull up all the tasks I need to do ASAP, I just click on the “Now” tag and all those tasks tagged with that designation will appear. This saves you having to complete a whole separate to-do list.
These are just a few of the ways that Evernote is helping me and my staff to be more productive and organized. We pastors need all the help we can get, and Evernote is standing by with all the tools!