After More Than A Decade, I’m Done With Evernote

This week I finally was able to check a todo item off my list that I had been procrastinating for over a month. I migrated tens of thousands of mostly PDF documents out of Evernote and overhauled my personal information management system. If you’re curious how I used to do things, I wrote that up a few years back. I had so much stuff in Evernote and had been using it for well over a decade, but it was time to revisit how I was storing and using digital stuff. It’s worth mentioning, that I didn’t take many actual notes in Evernote and as time went on I couldn’t stand using it for that purpose. The app had really become bloated and I didn’t enjoy writing in it. The kicker, at least for me, was also that it didn’t natively support Markdown. The other thing I used it for was to archiving everything I posted and favorited online. This was all done through a service called IFTTT (If This Then That), about which I could (and probably should) write something up as well. Another time, but I’ll touch on what I did with all those notes a little further down.

If Evernote was the center of my digital life, my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap was the key that enabled it. I just purchased a new one this year after the original one I bought back in 2010 stopped working. I cannot recommend it enough. I scan everything – mail, receipts, bills, warranties, documentation, but not photos. I use the scanner for the vast majority of it but also use Scanbot Pro on my iPhone or iPad. For what its worth, I use Scan Cafe to scan my physical photos.

One of the main reasons I started using Evernote to begin with was for its incredible optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, which is no longer a unique feature. Today, if you want to search through indexed PDFs, Google Drive and macOS both have this feature, which in my experience works just as well, if not better. What OCR allows me to do is search the text inside a PDF document. For example, if I want to gather all of my doctor bills to review , I simply search for my doctor’s name (or some other unique identifier that appears on all of his bills) and in a matter of a second, they’re gathered and ready for review. I cannot overstate what a tremendous timesaver being completely paperless is. It takes up no space, is completely affordable and allows you to be a digital hoarder with no shame whatsoever.

Evernote can export notes in their native format (.enex) or in HTML. Thankfully many note-taking apps can easily import Evernote files. You can do it one-by-one by simply dragging a note from Evernote to a folder on your computer (I did this all on my MacBook Pro, not on my iPad) or select multiple notes and drag them together. You can also select a single or multiple notes and export just the file attachments. This was particularly helpful to me since, again, most of what I had in Evernote were PDFs. I already pay for G Suite so I settled on using Google Drive to store PDFs. G Suite is Google’s paid service (I pay $5/month) and differs form their free services you probably use. The great thing about G Suite, aside from being able to use my own domain, is the lack of advertising and data collection by Google. They have no plans to change this in the future, which is great. According to them, they do not collect, scan or use data in G Suite Core Services for advertising purposes. While I don’t feel awesome about Google from a privacy standpoint, but I’m willing to give a little to get the convenience and interoperability with devices and other services I use. Once I moved all of my documents to Google Drive, I created a single folder on my iCloud Drive and dropped them all in there for redundancy. I also plan to back them up on a physical drive.

As I exported the documents, I deleted them from Evernote, which left me with my notes and backups of my posts and favorites from social networks. In Evernote I had a few notebooks that were shared with Laura, so I needed to put the notes somewhere I could continue doing this, so I migrated those notes to Apple Notes. For all other notes, I migrated them to my current note-taking app of choice, Bear. In both cases, the notes were easily migrated by simply selecting them and dragging them to a folder on my desktop. Each app has an importing function that handles Evernote files.

As I mentioned earlier, I used a service called IFTTT with Evernote. The service allows you to easily create if-then statements that move digital things around from one service to another. It does a bunch of other cool stuff, but I used it to gather tweets I posted and favorited on Twitter, photos I posted on Instagram, posts on tumblr (I haven’t used it in a long time), favorite articles and highlights from Instapaper and Pinboard bookmarks. I decided to delete all of this stuff and not migrate it. I’m no longer active on Twitter and I moved all my tumblr posts to my WordPress blog. Everything else, I can easily export whenever I want, which I do periodically and no longer feel the need to have it all contained in a single app or service. When I export stuff, I just throw it in a folder on Google Drive and back it up to a physical backup drive as well.

If you’re thinking about going paperless (you should!), get yourself a Fujitsu ScanSnap and keep your documents local on your Mac or put them on Google Drive where you can easily search them from any device. You could also store each document as a in individual note in Apple Notes, which I did consider, but the hassle of having to create a title for every note (I’m OCD like that and rarely took the time to do this in Evernote) and then attach the PDF to the note just felt like too much effort, especially considering the number of documents I was migrating. If I was starting over from scratch, I might consider it more seriously. Using Apple Notes for this purpose as well as taking notes has the added advantage of consolidating everything in one app. If only I weren’t so fussy and fickle with note-taking apps…

If you’ve been procrastinating migrating away from Evernote, I’m here to tell you it’s a pretty painless process. And in my case, since I was paying for Premium, it’ll save me $70 per year.

How To Make Pinboard, Instapaper and Evernote Work For You

I try not to use free software if I can help it. Paying for software says, ‘I like what you’re doing. I would like to support you. Please keep making things’. There’s a small set of applications that I use daily and an even smaller set that I simply could not do without. One of those applications is Pinboard. Just go spend the $10.21 for an account. You’ll thank me later. Pinboard is made by Maciej Cegłowski. I like Maciej (pronounced Mahtch-ay) even more since I saw him speak at XOXO recently. He posted a text version of his talk, which is worth reading.

My good friend Greg emailed me over the weekend about my Pinboard workflow, particularly how I use it in combination with Instapaper and Evernote. It seemed like something a few other people might benefit from, so I figured I would write something up. This assumes you have an account and some familiarity with each app. The other app that you’ll need is IFTTT.

After years of using Pinboard, I got completely schooled by Shawn Blanc, who turned me on to Joel Carranza’s “Particular Pinboard, which I now use instead of the standard bookmarklet across all of my browsers. I bookmark a lot stuff, and it’s often stuff I don’t care about right this minute, but might care about later. Since I want to be able to find things, I tag absolutely everything. Pinboard has a setting allowing you to auto-imports articles added to Instapaper, which is fine if that’s all you want to do. The biggest drawback of this is that those articles won’t be tagged, which maybe you don’t care about, but you should.

I use Instapaper as I imagine most people do – reading things later, the vast majority of which are articles. I don’t really read or watch the news, though I do listen to it on NPR. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but news is bad for you. I use the bookmarklet Instapaper provides across all browsers. Instapaper has the ability to save favorited posts to Pinboard and Evernote, which I have turned on. You should auth Pinboard with Instapaper as well, which allows you to easily save articles from the Instapaper app (or web interface) to Pinboard with tags. It might seem redundant, but if I like something, it will already be saved in Pinboard, only without tags. If I manually share the liked articles to Pinboard via the iOS app, then I can add tags. Remember, tags allow you to easily find stuff later.

You’ve got Pinboard and Instapaper playing nice, which is easy and awesome, but why stop there? To make it awesomer, I add Evernote to the mix. Lots of people use Evernote for notes. I have tried, but I just hate it. I find its interface to be bloated and distracting and it doesn’t support Markdown, which is how I write when I take notes. I basically use Evernote as a corpus for digital stuff in my life. The biggest reason is search and OCR for PDFs. I happily pay for Evernote Premium. Every single thing I post online is saved in Evernote with the help of IFTTT. As a result, I have the piece of mind that no matter what happens to Tumblr, Foursqaure, Twitter, etc. everything is easily read by the NSA and backed up on my hard drive and on Evernote’s servers in the Internet heavens.

The final ingredient in my workflow is IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That and it’s easily one of my very favorite things on the Internet. I wish they would take my money so I didn’t have to lose sleep thinking about when they’re going to go away. If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, the basic premise is you can connect all kinds of unrelated and seemingly incompatible services and devices to do things for you, which they call recipes. The recipes that I use to have everything flow into Evernote are:

Instapaper Liked -> Evernote – I bookmark a lot of garbage and it’s not all stuff I care about finding later. This recipe simply saves only the articles I like in Instapaper.

Save Pinboard Links to Evernote – Does what it says and lets you have everything go to a notebook of your choosing.

I highly recommend poking around IFTTT recipes for other things that help make your life easier. What’s so wonderful about it is that you set it and forget it. As much as I love to tinker, I also like it when things just work and IFTTT is a highly functional secret weapon.

Any questions?