The Evernote List Builder

To-do lists, packing lists, Lists of things I need to remember, Lists of things I’d like to learn. I live in lists.

I know I’m not alone. You don’t have to be Umberto Eco (or my friend Larry for that matter) to have experienced the “Vertigo of Lists” at one time or another — and so I wanted to share a really useful tool that I developed to help me manage many of my open-ended lists.

It’s called the Evernote List Builder!

What Is It?

Based on my Idea Scroll project, List Builder is an OS X Service that works in tandem with Evernote to quickly build open-ended lists of information from a variety of sources. I’ve made some specialized versions of these services for my clients doing Academic and Legal Research…. but this one is fantastic for general purpose list making!

Highlight Text... and Clip It To Your List!

You can clip and annotate items to an open-ended list in Evernote from pretty much any place you can cut-and-paste. Perhaps best of all, it adds your items to Evernote in the background so that you don’t have to keep shuttling between windows.


You can use this Service to quickly assemble lists of all kinds… but I’ve found that it works especially well for:

  • Vocabulary Lists
  • Travel Research
  • Academic Research (annotations for a particular book / article)
  • Price Comparisons / Shopping Lists
  • Research for my articles / posts
  • Remembering Books I want to read / Movies to see
  • Restaurants that I want to check out
  • Items like quotes, short passages of writing, etc.

Item Is Automatically Filled With Your Highlighted Text

A Real Life Example

My friend Yuko sent me an email a while back and, in it, she said “Hey – how about Okonomiyaki next time you visit?”

Um… sure?!?1

A quick Google Search revealed that Okonomiyaki was a kind of savory pancake… definitely something I would like and would want to remember for my next trip to Japan!

The List Item In Evernote -- Complete with Search Links and Timestamp!

So I highlighted the word Okonomiyaki in her email with my mouse and ran the Evernote List Builder by Control-Clicking on the text (or if you have a two-button mouse, by Right-Clicking) and selecting “Evernote List Builder” from the context menu. The highlighted text Okonomiyaki appeared in a special “Item” Dialog Box, where I could edit it if I wanted. It was fine as it was, so I just hit the return key to move on to the next dialog box.

Next, a “Description” Dialog Box appeared where I could type or paste in a description of the item. I chose the latter, copy-and-pasting a short blurb about Okonomiyaki that I found on Wikipedia. I clicked on the “Create New List” button and, voilà, all the information was clipped to my default Evernote notebook — without me ever having to open an Evernote window!

Some More Details…

The list title defaults to today’s date (and you can create multiple copies in case you just want to get a bunch of lists going now and title them later). In this case, I wanted to start a list for stuff to do the next time I go to Japan… and so I renamed it “Stuff To Do In Japan”.

You Can Easily Add Notes To Any One Of Your Lists!

From now on if I want to add items to this specific list, I can select it by pressing the “Select Existing List” button on the description dialog box instead of “Create New List”. List Builder keeps track of your open lists by looking for the tag @LIST on items in Evernote and, after it finds them, it presents you with a menu of these active lists to choose from!

List Builder is also kind enough to generate some “Quick Search” links for the item in some of the more commonly-checked places like Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, and even the iTunes Store! 2 In this case, the link calls up a page filled with Okonomiyaki ingredients and recipes, while iTunes has some podcasts about “How To Make Okonomiyaki“.

There is a small box at the end of the item to type in some additional details at a later time, if needed — and also a link to Search through your Evernote notes for other occurrences of the word Okonomiyaki via the Web Interface. 3

Pretty cool, right?

Usage Tips

  1. Remember — If you want to change the list’s title from a “Date-based Title” to a “Subject-based Title”, just rename the note in Evernote! That way, you can easily create more meaningful titles than “List for 2/17/11”. Call it whatever you like — So long as the @LIST tag exists, it’ll show up on the “Select Existing List” menu that lets you pick.
  2. “Select Existing List” will automatically highlight the most recent list used (until restart anyways…) Just hit RETURN here if you want to add to the same note you did last time.
  3. When a list is no longer active, you can remove the @LIST tag from it. The note remains in Evernote, but it won’t show up on the menu that lets you pick from your list.
  4. Don’t forget — Evernote’s built-in Email client and notebook sharing also makes it easy to circulate your lists to the people you’re working with!

It’s Even Faster With Keyboard Shortcuts!

Go to System Preferences To Set Up A Keyboard Shortcut

Instead of using the Control-Click function to select Evernote List Builder from the Context menu, you can set up a keyboard shortcut to run the List Builder even faster!

Start by opening System Preferences and choosing Keyboard => Keyboard Shortcuts. In the left panel select “Services” and, in the right panel, scroll down until you find “Evernote List Builder” (Tip — it’s under “Text”).

Now double-click in the blank space directly to the right of its name. When the text box appears, press the keys which you would like to become your shortcut. While you’re here, make sure that the check box next to Evernote List Builder is ticked as this activates the Service. Note — You can always return to this window and turn off the check box to disable this (or any) Service.

Make Sure The Box Is Checked!

Congratulations, you’ve just programmed your shortcut!

How do you install it?

Click the button below to download the List Builder!


  1. Download the ZIP file
  2. Unzip it!
  3. Drag the file called “Evernote List Builder” into your Home Folder’s Library=>Services Folder (You can create it if it doesn’t exist!). If you want List Builder available system-wide, then drag it into the main Library=>Services Folder.

If you don’t see the Service available for use after installation, restart your system!

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So What Are YOU Using List Builder For? Tell Us In The Comments Below!

  1. Sadly, I had no idea of what in the hell Okonomiyaki actually was. []
  2. You’ll be happy to know that the Amazon and iTunes affiliate links generate funds to support these free Services! []
  3. I will update this to search via the OS X Client if Evernote eventually enables URI-based queries!! []

5 Responses to “The Evernote List Builder”

  1. Steven Shrago February 22, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Great work! This sounds like something I will get a lot of use out of. Thanks very much for sharing!

  2. Eric December 29, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    It looks great, but I’am new to this and get a error.
    Syntaxiserror Item 1 of missing value can’t be ask (dutch error (item 1 of missing value kan niet worden opgevraagd)) he jump to the line set chosenList to title of item 1 of note_1
    Can you tell me how to fix it?

    • Justin Lancy December 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Not sure what’s going on here, Eric. Sorry! 🙁

  3. Fred Zelders December 29, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    Feature request:
    Please add the url where the item is clipped from in the Evernote note.