A Simple Guide to Indexing the Books You Read for Evernote

I was asked last week by some friends about how many books I read per week. My reply was at least one book a week. Truth is I’m typically reading 3 to 4 books at the same time. I used to grow frustrated at my inability to retain and/or use what I had read.

A simple way to index books for evernote

As a speaker, blogger or author, your ability to retrieve quotes, stories, and examples at a moments notice is a must. We can waste more time than we care to admit fumbling between books trying to remember where that quote or story lives.

I want to challenge you to become an active reader. An active reader strategically catalogs his learning so he can benefit others in the future. You should always be preparing. Collect stories, quotes, and ideas as you read because you never know what the future holds. When opportunity arises, it’s too late to prepare.

Once I became more intentional, I created a simple system to help me both index and use what I’ve read. In this example, I’ll be talking about how to index physical books and then store them in Evernote for easy retrieval later.

A Simple Guide to Indexing the Books You Read for Evernote

The process I’m about to share with you works great for both fiction and non-fiction books. I’ve also used this when reading biographies. This guide will help you become an active reader regardless of what book you are reading.

Step 1: Build your index with a blank page in the front of the book

The first thing I do even before diving into a new book is to look for a blank page in the front of the book. This will be my “index page.” I also try to have a blank page on the next page in case I fill up the first page.

Book Index Evernote 300

Step 2: Make an index mark in the margin

As you read the book, be sure to have a pen handy. Be on the lookout for the following items:

  • An amazing quote
  • A great list
  • A inspiring story
  • An interesting insight

Whenever I come across something noteworthy, the first thing I do is place an index mark on that page. This mark will easily show up as I flip through a book (see pic).

Evernote Book 400

Step 3: Underline or highlight the quote, story or statement you want to remember

I also will underline quotes and statements or place brackets around stories. This step might be obvious but this helps me find my content faster.

Step 4: Record a brief summary statement along with page number on your index page

Once I find something noteworthy, I will also take a moment and index it on my index page. I will first write down the page number and then a brief summary. If it is a quote, I will try to write down the entire quote (see pic above under step one).

The important thing I try to keep in mind is to keep my summary shorter than a tweet. This way I don’t spend too much time writing or filling up my index page too quickly.

Step 5: Snap a picture of your index page once you finish the book

After I finish a book (whether I reach the end or not), I will take a picture of my index pages. I prefer to use a tag called “book notes” for all of my indexed books.

Step 6: Use the Evernote search function when doing research

Since the words in your picture are searchable in Evernote, you can find anything quickly. I will search just in my “tag” for the keywords I’m looking for. This allows me to drastically reduce my research time.

A few final tips:

  • Make sure your handwriting is not too sloppy. Evernote does a fairly good job, but it cannot read bad handwriting.
  • Go back over old books and index them. It is a great review and it will help you to catalog great info from old books.
  • Create an Index Bookshelf that contains just the books you have indexed.
  • When researching, you can also just pick from these “indexed books” and browse the idex pages for inspiration for speaking and writing.

Question: When it comes to reading books, do you have a simple way to capture what you’ve learned? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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    Jonathan has been blogging since 2009 and is still in awe that the Creator of the Universe desires to have a relationship with him. His passions include spending time with his kids, reading, March Madness, surprise get-a-way trips with his wife, and watching funny YouTube videos.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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    10 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Indexing the Books You Read for Evernote

    1. Jonathan,

      Is the “Q” in the picture the index mark, or the colored in square? My interpretation is that the colored in square is the index and the “Q” is the category of the underlined material.

    2. Thanks for sharing the tips. Evernote has been such a great resource in finally documenting my thoughts. Its a must have for starters and professionals alike. Helps one growing that feeling of maintaining a personal library albeit on wheels.

    3. Great post Jonathan! I read a lot of books, but know that most of the insights slip through my hands because I rarely catalogue my learning. Thanks for this simple system to capture and retain the wisdom we glean from books! I’m going to use this system on the next book that I read.

    4. Thanks, Jonathan. Same question as sespring … what system would you / do you use for electronic books like Kindle?

    5. Nice idea! Why not simply page scan the section you want to keep along with your marginalia? That way you don’t have to worry if EN can recognize your handwriting and you can search by keyword.

    6. Thanks for sharing Jonathan. I have been looking for a way to organize all of my books in Evernote, and this will really help with that. I also read a lot of the Kindle version of books because I can have them with me at times on my phone, iPad, etc. How would you use this system to manage all of your Kindle books in Evernote?

      • Great question! It is slightly different with Kindle books. I should probably write a post on this. Basically, from your computer go to kindle.amazon.com ===> your books ===> click on a book ====> click “Your highlights” on right side of page. Those are your highlights for that book only. I then capture that page in Evernote. Make sense?