People read books for a variety of reasons. Me? I read books for knowledge.

I don’t read for entertainment, and have no interest in fiction or novels. When I read a book, I want to make sure I walk away from it with at least a handful of new ideas, case studies, quotes or inspirations.

I need to have learned something that will help me build my business, or improve my skills as a writer.

Which leads me to one of the biggest challenges I face when reading books: actually retaining the information I’ve just read.

My memory sucks, and always has. My younger brother is constantly telling stories of our childhood that I simply can’t remember, or only recall the details of once he starts telling them.

There’s no point in reading 2-3 books a month only to have the valuable information flow in one ear and out the other.

So, I developed a method of retaining ideas I get from books using Evernote.

Evernote, in it’s simplest form, is a note-taking app. But it’s much more than that.

It’s difficult to describe just how much you can do with Evernote. You can create and manage notes in such a large variety of ways that it really is an app for everyone.

I read how a few business personalities were using Evernote to organize their thoughts and ideas, but I often found them to be far too complicated. For example, Michael Hyatt’s post was insightful, but I’m not nearly as busy as he is and have no desire to be.

I needed a simpler system that I would stick to. My Evernote system comes down to two things:

  1. A Notebook Stack that contains all of my books
  2. A Tag Matrix that allows me to tag notes for future reference

Here’s how I made both of these:

1) Creating a Notebook Stack

Evernote allows you to organize your notes into digital “Notebooks”. You can think of these as categories, allowing you to separate and organize notes based on their content. For example, you could have Notebooks labeled as Marketing, Travel, Finances, Personal, Ideas, and so on.

Evernote also lets you “stack” these Notebooks into one “pile”. You could compile all of your business-related notebooks into one Stack called Business, for example. Think of Notebook Stacks as folders on your computer.

I like to create a separate Notebook for every book I read. I then combine all of these Notebooks into a single stack called “Book Notes”. Here’s what that looks like:

evernote tutorial

Pretty straightforward.

Apparently, Evernote has a limit of 250 Notebooks for free users, but allows up to 5,000 for a Business account. I’ll worry about that once I’ve read 250 books.

Now let’s setup that tagging matrix.

2) Building your Tagging Matrix

A Tagging Matrix is an organized list of tags. Tags allow you to easily find your notes later when you’re searching for ideas and inspiration.

Each time I save a note from a book, I insert a tag of both the Topic and Type of note.

Here’s how I organize my tags:

evernote tutorial

When it comes to Type of notes, they almost always fall under Case Study, Idea, Illustration, Quote, or Story.

I’m sure you can figure out what Topic tags are for. This list continues to grow as I come up with new note topics to save.

And that’s it! I’m now ready to start saving notes from awesome books I’m reading.

Here’s how that process works:

Step 1) I come across something in a book that’s super-duper cool that I want to save for later

Like, for example, this quote from David Bowie on creativity that I found in Auston Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist“:

“The only art that I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” – David Bowie

Step 2) Use Evernote’s camera/scan feature to snap a pic of the quote with my phone

Evernote allows you to snap a pic, or even scan and convert that pic into a document, right within their mobile app:

evernote tutorial

Step 3) Add the appropriate tags

Tags are the most important part! You want to be able to find this note later, after all.

evernote tutorial

Step 4) Save the note to that specific book’s Notebook

evernote tutorial

Step 5) Bask in your wonderfully organized glory! (and try out the search feature

Now the note is saved, cataloged, and easily searchable for future reference.

So, next time I’m searching for a quote on creativity, I can search my library of notes with “quote creativity“.

evernote tutorial

This process has been vital in improving my writings. Being able to retain all of the valuable information you consume on a daily basis is priceless.

I have Notebooks setup for stuff I read on the internet as well. If I come across a great blog post, or a small nugget of gold I want to save for later, I can use Evernote’s Web Clipper Chrome extension to save it directly from my browser.

Have you used Evernote to organize some aspect of your life? Or all of it? Let me know below! I’m always looking for new Evernote hacks.