Searching Evernote

How to use Evernote’s powerful search capabilities.

The first note I ever saved in Evernote was a snaptshot of a coffee mug. We were having lunch, and someone mentioned this new iPhone app that would let you search the text in photos. We had to try it out, and that coffee mug was the closest thing with lettering at hand. Snap a picture, give the server a few minutes to process the image, search, and viola—there was the mug, with the word magically highlighted.

Evernote is a great tool for archiving and organizing your digital documents. With great power comes great responsibility—responsibility to go back and use this information when you need it. Otherwise, why are you saving it?

It’s fun to go back and browse through a notebook sometimes, just like flipping through pages of a diary. The best way to find what you’re looking for, though, is to search for it.

I deleted the original mug photo to save space, so please enjoy this strip about Calvinball instead.
You can still see Evernote highlighting “Calvin” in the image.

Searching Evernote

Whenever possible, use tags to organize your notes, not notebooks. A note can only exist in one notebook at a time, but it can have multiple tags. If you try to set up a large taxonomical notebook struture for filing, you’ll never get anything filed. Use fewer notebooks, tag things that are interesting, and search to find notes instead of browsing.

The simplest way to search Evernote is to search for words that appear in the note you’re trying to find. If you enter multiple words, you will get notes that contain every word, someplace in the note. Use quotes to find exact phrases, and use the any: operator to find notes that contain any of the words after it.

Some of the common operators you’ll find useful are listed below.

Operator What It Does
any: Show notes that contain any of the following words, instead of all of them
tag: Show notes with the specified tag
intitle: Show notes with the following word in the title
updated: Show notes updated in the last 3 days (updated:day-3) or week (updated:week-1)
todo: Show notes with incomplete (todo:false) or completed (todo:true) checkboxes
reminderOrder: Show notes with reminders (reminderOrder:*; the specific value isn’t meaningful, just use * to search for any value)
reminderDoneTime: Show reminders completed on a specific day (reminderDoneTime:today), in the last week (reminderDoneTime:week-1), or not yet completed (-reminderDoneTime:*)

For the full list of operators, see Evernote’s Search Grammar guide.

Some versions of Evernote (including OS X but not iOS) support a natural language syntax to help you build queries. Instead of updated:day, you can type updated today and it will know what you mean.

Saving Searches

Most searches work fine as ad hoc searches. Search, find, done. It’s isn’t worth the time to set up a saved search. But if a particular search is an integral part of a workflow, you can save time, energy, and frustration by saving the search. Consider tracking bills that need paid.

When viewing a notebook, Evernote shows all incomplete reminders at the top of the note list. This is especially handy in the Planner notebook, where you can see the incompleted reminders during your weekly review. You can take this one better, and get a view of just your unpaid bills.

  1. Enter the following into the search field: tag:bills -reminderDoneTime:*. Evernote will show you every bill (tag:bills) that hasn’t been paid (-reminderDoneTime:*).
  2. Save the search. From the Edit menu, select Find > Save Search. Call it Unpaid Bills.

Now, whenever you search, you can just type unpaid bills and it will show you just the bills you need to pay. How cool is that? It gets cooler.

  1. Drag the search to your shortcuts. Start typing the name of the saved search in the search field, until it shows up under Saved Searches in the menu that pops up. Drag that menu item over to your Shortcuts area in the sidebar. Seeing all your unpaid bills is now just a click away.

    Like other shortcuts, these saved searches will sync to Evernote on your phone. Keep track of your most-used searches no matter where you are or which device you have available.

Two other searches you might find useful are What Did I Do Today? (updated:day-1 notebook:Planner) and Project Support (sourceurl:omnifocus* -reminderDoneTime:*).

Albert Einstein said, “intelligence is not the ability to store information, but the ability to find it.” Evernote brings you both. With a few keystrokes—or a click on a saved search—you can find your unpaid bills, saved receipts, inspirational posters, and even the odd photo of a coffee mug or two. (Assuming you haven’t deleted them, of course.)

Question: What’s your favorite Evernote search trick? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.