One of the things I struggle with periodically (or perhaps I should say I “refine” periodically) is my organizational strategy for keeping track of things on my computer, particularly teaching materials. I’ve been using Evernote for several years (I adopted the system in November, 2010, and have been using it consistently ever since), and as soon as I started teaching, I set up a system for those materials. I thought I’d share a little bit about the ways it’s working for me, and not working.

Here’s an overview of the system:

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Basically, I’ve got a notebook stack for each course I teach, and within the stack are notebooks for organizing various materials – a notebook for lectures, one for exams, one for course materials like syllabi, and a notebook for each individual semester I’ve taught the course, where I can archive correspondence I’d like to keep, or materials that I’ve changed significantly since using them in that semester.

So far, this seems to be working pretty well in terms of being able to find things when I need them. The weakest link here is my own negligence about always tagging things and putting them promptly into the correct notebook. But once I do that, it’s pretty easy to navigate instantly to the file that I want.

Originally, when I set this up I also had notebooks for images, but that started to get unwieldy very quickly (in terms of the number of images I was collecting). If I save ALL the photos and diagrams I have pulled off of websites, it gets out of control (I may find hundreds and hundreds of images in a single semester). So instead I’m saving only those that I think might be difficult to find in the future. A photo of a red-tailed hawk? I will always be able to google a replacement. An excellent diagram showing the life cycle of a snail? That might be more difficult to find again, so that’s one I’ll choose to keep.

One thing I may try and play with in the future: right now, when I’m preparing a powerpoint lecture to be delivered, I download it from Evernote, and store it in a folder on my desktop. It would be a lot cleaner, though, if I kept the files in Evernote and worked with them there . . . I may see if I can adjust to this workflow, and see if it makes things easier for me to find. I’m a bit concerned that I might accidentally overwrite a file that I still need . . . then again, that happens sometimes now, with my folder system, and at least in Evernote I would have the benefit of going back through the note’s history and possibly retrieving things I accidentally copied over.

In addition to a stack for each individual course, I have a stack of general refernences – things not tied to a specific course (like general correpondence with the university, letters of recommendation I’ve written for students, things like that). Again, I don’t have too many issues with finding things when I want them.

One thing I would like to get a better handle on is materials that I’ve found (usually on the internet), and am interested in reviewing, but I haven’t made the time yet to do that. Right now, they’re stashed in a few different places (some in Evernote, some in other folders in various places on my hard drive). I think the next thing I tackle will be a reorganization of those.

Anyhow, that’s the system I’m using right now. If anyone else out there is using Evernote in a different way, and has some tips to pass along, I would love to hear them!

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