I have a problem. I have no idea where to put my text.
Let’s look at my requirements first. I need to:
- record private observations in a journal
- capture textual information for later reference
- draft blog posts and novel chapters
- keep all of the above organized and easy to access
- handle data entry via Siri (later reference via Siri a plus, but not required) or keyboard
Looking at that, I can see a number of ways those requirements could be met. Let’s start with the simplest.
Apple’s Notes app isn’t really all that bad now that it syncs with iCloud. Theoretically, it also syncs with Google via Gmail IMAP, but not in a way that’s editable by anything on the web, whereas iCloud notes can at least be entered and edited in a browser by going to iCloud.com. And it has the advantage that search is instant, indexed in the background because it’s a stock app, and deeply integrated into Siri for both data entry and retrieval.
The downside to Notes is that organization sucks. You have one list of notes, no formal tags and no way to sort them. Just a big pile with the most recent at the top. No hierarchy, no restrictive filtering (show me notes containing “#project” but not “#done”). Frankly, I don’t think I can live like that. Maybe I’m not getting simple enough, but that seems… sparse. There’s a difference between simple and simplistic, and I’m not sure Notes meets my needs.
The other problem with Notes is that it’s too hard to get things into. Even apps who don’t support Evernote and Simplenote directly usually have Email in the share panel, and I have email addresses to send stuff directly to Evernote and Simplenote. With Notes, it’s the more arduous—and thus less likely to actually get done—select all, copy, open notes, press + for new note, paste. Really, Apple?
So as much as I’d like to stick to a stock app for maximum Siri and Spotlight integration, it’s just not in the cards.
Simplenote, on the surface, doesn’t look much more advanced than Notes.app. Still one big pile of notes with no hierarchy. But Simplenote does have some significant advantages.
For one, it has real tags, allowing for more sophisticated filtering. This alone makes it a more realistic contender for keeping my work notes separate from personal stuff from writing stuff. But the lack of folders still bugs me.
And Simplenote has the ability to backup/sync with Dropbox. I’m not comfortable keeping all my notes in iCloud in a database I don’t have full access to, but keeping them in text files in a Dropbox folder is completely different story.
Simplenote also, as I mentioned above, allows me to get data into it via email, so I can use it to quickly store all sorts of things that I run across day to day. It’s text only, but I’m a text guy, so that’s fine by me. And I can send notes to it via Siri by having Siri email my Simplenote address. A little more cumbersome than just telling Siri to take a note, but doable.
The only things I really don’t like Simplenote for are writing fiction (though it does have word count) and journaling, again because of the lack of structure. But maybe that can be addressed.
Simplenote plus Day One and WriteUp
Now we’re cookin’. Simplenote would remain my go to inbox, where things germinate into readable ideas. Things that end up more journalish can be copy and pasted into Day One, where they will have more robust time stamping along with my current location and weather. Day One also has configurable alarms to remind you to journal and gives you a really nice calendarish way of looking at your journal entries. And for those of you who don’t understand the importance of journaling, go read Walden and come back when you’ve learned your lesson.
And Simplenote, through Dropbox, can also feed into WriteUp, one of my favorite text processors. I can access my notes in WriteUp by just opening up my Notes folder, and move files out of that into the appropriate blogging or fiction folders. So in this way, I get around Simplenote’s lack of hierarchy, but only in cases where hierarchy is important.
Evernote, the elephant in the room
The other alternative to all of the above is to keep using Evernote, which I’ve used on and off almost since they started. I have a Journal notebook stack in Evernote, which notebooks for each year, and an iOS app that makes adding timestamped journal entries to Evernote just as easy as Day One.
I also have a stack called Writing, with notebooks for all of my major writing projects. And in my notebook for my current project, I have saved web articles, images, draft chapters, even Word documents of past drafts.
The Evernote app for iOS is really fast and amazing, recently redesigned first and foremost for speed. And the Evernote ecosystem is varied and wide-ranging, with all kinds of apps tying into Evernote’s API.
On my Windows PC at work, I can add things to Evernote by hitting Win-A with pretty much anything selected. I can add something from Outlook to Evernote with a single click on the ribbon. Evernote has even taken over the Win-PrintScreen screenshot function in Windows.
Evernote can do everything.
Which is why I think it’s too much. My Evernote database feels unwieldy, clumsy and slow. I don’t think it really is slow, but it feels that way because there’s so much stuff in there. PDFs, images, saved emails, bank statements, the list goes on and on.
And even though Evernote can do everything by itself as all of the above, there’s a subtle mental friction to using it, at least for me. I can feel the weight of all that stuff, and it bugs me. Just because I can dump absolutely everything into Evernote, that doesn’t mean I should.
The more I think about it, the more the combination of Simplenote, Day One and WriteUp (along with Drafts, my text inbox that can one-tap send to all three, as well as create appointments, reminders, tweets, app.net and Facebook posts, etc.) works better for me than Evernote. It gives me just as ubiquitous capture as Evernote, but more structured silos to put the text into, so it doesn’t all bunch up on me.