Evernote vs OmniFocus, Pinboard, Day One, Dropbox, Word, Excel…
When last we left our intrepid blogger, I was using Evernote for pretty much everything. Despite Evernote’s amazing search and tagging, this got overwhelming. It got harder and harder for me to feel like I was in control of my data. I had the over 10,000 notes and it was climbing higher all the time. And not only that, but using Evernote to personalize Swiftkey turned my keyboard into a basket case. This wasn’t working, at least not for me.
The first thing I did was reinstall Day One. I wasn’t sure about this one, because it seems like daily journal entries should be one of the things at which Evernote excels, and I’d likely want to surface journal entries in Evernote searches.
But as it turns out, splitting that function off into a dedicated app led to a marked increase in journaling. A journal needs to feel like a safe space, a private space. Writing journal entries in Evernote felt like writing everything else in Evernote, and I didn’t really open up. Also, the friction to starting a journal entry—having to select the notebook, tags and come up with a title—was enough to make the difference between jotting down a stray thought/feeling and not bothering. Day One, expecially with the cheerful blue button on my Today screen, makes this easy.
And yes, I’m entering this data directly into Day One rather than using something like Drafts. This is still a point of contention for me. I love the idea of Drafts as a single inbox where I can write down anything and then decide what to do with it later. And if I’m not using Evernote for everything, the addition of a “where does this go?” question before the capture process does add considerable friction to the capture process. But until Drafts has a Mac app or at least a web app, it’s not a universal inbox. For now, it’s more important to me that my tools, and thus process, be the same no matter what computer I’m on.
Once I’d broken one category of data out of the Evernote monolith, the floodgates opened.
The next obvious step was to move my projects and actions out of Evernote and into OmniFocus. While I understand that David Allen recommends keeping project and action lists separate, there’s real value to my scattered brain in knowing when a project has no current actions. The only way to do that is in a hierarchical system like OmniFocus. And now that the iOS app is universal, I can create and modify perspectives on my phone for even faster, easier access to the tasks I need to do right now.
I was never 100% comfortable writing in Evernote. The RTF formatting is too inconsistent, and presentation varies wildly from one platform to the next. (For example, the iOS app supports padding around paragraphs of rich text, like HTML. The Mac version does not and runs them all together if you don’t manually insert line breaks. On the same note.) Also, I’ve been a Word & Excel guy since the mid 1990s. So moving my actual writing to Word and Excel documents stored in Dropbox was a no-brainer. I can still get to my writing from anywhere, including the web now that Dropbox’s web client seamlessly integrates with Office 365.
Blogging, too, was a compromise in Evernote. I’d write a blog post in Evernote, copy and paste it into WordPress and end up with one solid column of text because Evernote uses div tags to bracket paragraphs rather than paragraph tags. So I’m writing all my blog posts, like this one, directly in the WordPress app on iOS or the admin console via Safari on my laptop.
Bookmarks and other saved web data were choking my Evernote database, so they needed to go, too. I’m using Pinboard for this now, and it’s working pretty well. I chose Pinboard over Pocket or Instapaper because unlike those products, Pinboard is designed to be an archival service rather than a read later service. It’s fast, efficient and supports tagging for things I want to group later.
So what’s left for Evernote? I’ve taken out many of the things I was using Evernote for. No more web clippings, journal entries, writing drafts, actionable tasks or projects. What do I do with Evernote?
What Evernote was originally for. Reference. Evernote is where I store notes about ongoing projects, receipts, tax documents, documentation, and any other content that I create that doesn’t fit into one of the categories above. It’s not an “everything bucket,” but it is a catch-all for data that I need to hang on to but doesn’t have a specific home elsewhere. This leads to a database that is much smaller, more focused and has more of me in it. And ultimately, that makes Evernote less intimidating and more useful.