The first time you started Evernote on your Mac or PC you saw on the left hand side a list of “Notebooks”.

It’s oh so tempting to jump in and create a load of different notebooks to store your notes.  There is a good chance that you went and created a whole bunch of notebooks, and then, a few months down the line, discovered you were not using them, and felt vaguely uneasy about not using Evernote “properly”.

Here is what you need to know about notebooks: Each Evernote note can be in one, and only one notebook.

Imagine you are on vacation this summer.  You are at a restaurant and have a fantastic bottle of wine.  Of course you want to capture the memory, so you create an Evernote note on your mobile device, perhaps even with a photo of the label.   Which notebook do you store this note in?  If you’d created a notebook called “wine” and another called “holiday2012” you’d be stuck – a note can be stored in one, and only one notebook.

In fact it’s a trick question – you shouldn’t use notebooks to classify your notes like this – for that you’ll use tags (coming up tomorrow).  So what should you use notebooks for?  Use notebooks as bulk containers of notes.  You can share notebooks with other people, and you can also choose to sync selected notebooks on mobile devices so that they are available when there is no internet connection.

So think in terms of what you want to share, and sync.  These are some of my notebooks:

  • Book PDFs contains the PDF files for books I’ve bought.  I don’t want to sync these to my phone because they are so big, which is why I’ve grouped them in their own notebook;
  • Family contains notes related to my family, for example football schedules for my sons, photos of doctor appointments, etc.  I share this with my wife, which is why I have it as its own notebook;
  • Personal contains all other notes.

You’ll be unlikely to have many more notebooks than this unless you do a lot of sharing.

I recommend that you start off with just one notebook and only create more if you have a really good reason.  Don’t worry if it contains thousands of notes since as you’ll see later, tags provide a great way to group your notes, and Evernote’s search facility makes it very easy to find your notes.

Next up: What is an Evernote Tag?