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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Stagnation Period: Over?

Wake Up and Live
So this is the third time I have tried writing this article… not because I have started, erased and begun again, but WordPress decided to not warn me “popping out” the post window will erase what I have already written. Scrap that! Turns out somebody was smart enough to implement an autosave drafting feature! Thank you technology. Well I have actually now typed more than my draft, so I’m just going to stop ri…

I digress. After a quick design touch up, my blog is back in action, inspiring to me to write. So in the meantime, enjoy this picture.


Simplenote the Motivator

The story of how Simplenote motivated me to actually start writing a blog after so long without being able to put ‘pen to paper’.

Simplenote – Homescreen worthy.

Yes, I know, the blog isn’t exactly racing towards having hundreds of posts, but I actually have written more than I ever have, for any reason, other than school assignments! You see, it’s all just sitting in Simplenote – but not stagnating; it is being fine-tuned whenever I have time. That is the beauty of Simplenote. It is there when I need it, providing a distraction free writing environment that lets me focus on my ideas and getting something written.

I recall the moment Simplenote got me to start writing, quite well. It was during a long road trip to the beach. I was bored, but listening to music on my iPhone. I tried playing games but I never get too captivated by any of the iOS offerings so I was still looking for something to do. I opened up Simplenote and saw a note that said ‘Blog Post Ideas’. It contained several general ideas I had picked up over the past few days since creating this blog. I thought, “Why don’t I just start writing whatever comes into my head?”

I tapped out several hundred words on a series that I am yet to finalise. Even on that little iPhone keyboard, it wasn’t too painful, as I can almost touch type with it. Also, with the keyboard filling up most of the screen, there was almost no temptation to waste time revising what I had already written, or be subconsciously paralysed from writing by seeing a blank canvas, a feeling I experience quite often. I just tapped away, not caring if what I had written made sense, so long as it conveyed the story I want to tell. I can always go back over this work, when I am not feeling like writing, to polish it off. Even if that never happens, does it need to be polished?

The most interesting articles I read online are laced with opinion and emotion from the author – not just the facts. I am more likely to agree with someone’s point of view if I empathise with them, feel like I know them or like them. I also find that the more I ‘polish’ anything I write, the more emotion that gets scrubbed away.

Anyway, I digress…

Without Simplenote on my iPhone, synced to my laptop with ResophNotes (yes, it’s a PC), I never would have started writing anything for this blog and it would have sat dormant indefinately. So if you’re having trouble writing, why not give it a shot? There’s something soothing and refreshing about using a plain text editor with a decent font (I’m looking at you Notes on iOS and your Marker Felt font!).