Digital Note Showdown | Part 2: Evernote

I have been a hot-and-cold user of Evernote for a few years now. By that, I mean I go through phases where I can’t live without it, then don’t touch it for weeks on end. I think the thing that always pulls me back though is the surrounding hype regarding Evernote. Everyone seems to love it. Every time I hear another interesting use for it, I give it a go and inevitably give up because most of the use cases require too much time investment. Is Evernote really that necessary though? I’m now going to explore the possibility of removing it entirely from my workflow.

First, lets consider how I use it now. I am not a big ‘tagger’ because this too, is too much of a time investment for me; to get a harmonious system up and running, and then implement it. I much prefer to have a couple of different notebooks and just text search for the rest.

My 7 Notebooks are:

  • Archive
Used to store articles I find online and ‘Like’ in Instapaper; Software serial keys; Personal numbers; Product warranties and guides; any other note I am not currently working on/ using.
  • Food
Recipes; beers with ratings.
  • Inbox (Default)
Bucket to collect all incoming or otherwise unsortable notes.
  • Programming
Help and links for various languages; tid bits I pick up and often forget.
  • References
Research sources for various projects, with note title being <Author, Date> to help with referencing later.
  • Travel
Contains scans of nick nacks and business cards I’ve collected in my travels, sorted by holiday.
  • Uni
Tracking which subjects I’ve completed/ need to complete.

I’ll be honest: I hardly refer back to notes anywhere other than in my Inbox. Every now and then I get in a ‘Spring Cleaning’ frame of mind and delete notes I haven’t touched since creation and don’t see myself needing in any foreseeable future. But I really get no utilitarian value out of my usage of Evernote. The reason for this is there are better ways to do many of the things I use it for, yet I continue to pursue the idea of Evernote being useful. For example, for storing links (like Archive, Food and Programming), Instapaper does a better job of formatting and making them available offline.

However there are some features that make Evernote incredibly useful. The inbuilt OCR imaging is fantastic and I am yet to find a better (and free) alternative. It isn’t the fact that images can be turned into text. It is the fact that Evernote stores an invisible database of words that appear in the image, which you can then search and locate in the original image. Secondly, the ability to add contextual information to a document such as a PDF, DOC, etc. is also incredibly useful. I can store the original, untouched file in Evernote, then append my own notes above/ below the document. The final thing that stops me from culling Evernote is the ability to create your own notes. I know this sounds kind of anti-climactic and obvious, but I seem to often overlook it. I can create rich text notes if I like, or plain text. Include images, check boxes and bullet points. I can supplement the recipes I find online with my own amendments or originals. If a saved webpage contains too much cruft, I can manually fix it.

Ultimately, it is the unique combination of rich note generation, website clipping, OCR and powerful search features that give Evernote staying power. It isn’t without its flaws, but I am prepared to put up with them because it does so may other things right. Sure, the rich text formatting is worse than most other products, and half the time the font selected isn’t actually the one being used. And sure, it isn’t as pretty or clean as Springpad or Instapaper, but it is powerful and versatile. And yes, I hate having to manage multiple services to do similar things, and yes I want an optimized workflow, but if you use a computer more than once a week, there is probably some way that Evernote can help you. Download it now and give it a go.

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