It’s a shame about Evernote. I’m still enjoying Google Keep for my note-keeping needs. And Trello, too, actually.
Amy has great advice here, but the big takeaway for me is that you need to regularly go through your notes. Otherwise your note tool, whatever it is, is just a digital junk drawer. In that sense, switching tools can actually be a good thing.
I had a complex relationship with Evernote. I used it for quite a while but recently began to have trouble finding stuff in it. It had gradually become a junk drawer where I stuck things I wasn’t sure what to do with. The problem was when I would return to Evernote, I couldn’t effectively see what I had saved. It was essentially a giant pile of notes and while there was an order, reviewing what I had was still tough.
The Evernote interface had also come to feel clunky to me. For example, the web client would return me to the top of my list of saved items whenever I deleted or moved something, which was annoying in notebooks with long lists. The mobile client took a while to open, so it wasn’t great for capturing stuff on the fly. The only things I loved were the Chrome Web Clipper, which I used to screenshot maps and directions into my phone and the ability to email notes into my account. Other than those two features, using Evernote felt like a chore.
It was time to find another note-taking tool.
I ran through the usual suspects for online note-taking. I found Thinkery and loved it but it’s no longer supported and the plans for it seemed amorphous at best. I opted into a Dropbox Papers trial, but it was really more of a word processor than a note-taking tool. It didn’t support tags and there wasn’t a mobile client. OneNote also didn’t have a simple tagging concept and also felt like overkill. It’s a great tool, but way more than I needed for my basic notes to myself. I also took another look at SimpleNote, but the web interface felt uncomfortably slow to me. As with Remember the Milk, I saw recommendations for Emacs and org-mode and as with Remember the Milk, it seemed like a lot more work than I was willing to commit to. I was aware of Google Keep, but stayed away from it because of Google’s awful track record with services. If Google hadn’t kept Notebook going, would they really hang on to Keep?
I also looked into the various tools available via Sandstorm, but nothing looked very good to me in terms of interfaces. I wanted to choose an open source tool, but not at the expense of usability. It’s the same reason I rejected a text file solution—it seemed tough to deal with on mobile.
Unfortunately, I never found anything that worked for me, so I gave Google Keep a try, emboldened by the fact that you could easily save notes into Drive. I figured when Google killed Keep, it would be easy to get my notes out. Keep turned out to be a good interim solution; so far it’s working for me.
Google Keep has a nice, simple interface. There’s no way to format text and you can upload images, but not other file formats. You can change the color of your note, you can add checkboxes, and you can add labels, but that’s about it. All of these limitations make Keep incredibly fast. You’re limited to 50 labels, which feels arbitrary to me, but other than that, it does what I need it to.
What’s been more helpful than Keep is the process of going through my old Evernote notes, while moving to Keep.
Reviewing those notes and seeing what I had used and not used informed my approach to Keep.
For instance, I had a lot of disparate links to bars and restaurants that were pretty much impossible to find. So in transitioning to Keep, I put them all in a single note, organized by borough. I had gift ideas spread across different notes, so I consolidated them. Some of my issues with Evernote weren’t Evernote issues, but my own. Note-taking software isn’t a junk drawer. You need to organize your ideas. You can’t just cram everything into a tool and expect the tool to make sense of things for you.
So one of the things I did with Keep was create a *to file tag, which I use when I add something new. This is a label I can revisit weekly for the purpose of properly organizing things I’m adding. If I see a cool bar I want to try, I’ll add it to Keep as *to file (the asterisk forces the label to the top of the label list), and then when I do my weekly review, I can put it someplace more meaningful, like on a list of Queens bars and restaurants or even on my Remember the Milk to-do list as a place to visit at a specific time.
I could use this same process with any note-taking tool. But moving all of my notes from Evernote to Keep clarified the workflow for me.
Keep has a Reminder feature I don’t use, but I imagine it could work as a to-do list, also. I haven’t used this, although the quick-and-easy way to automatically add checkboxes to text is fantastic for my weekly shopping list.
The mobile interface is also great. It opens quickly and makes it easy to jot down ideas. It’s so easy, I don’t miss emailing notes into my account, which I did a lot with Evernote. But that was partially because the Evernote interface was so tough to deal with; I was just trying to avoid it.
Google Keep has a fast, sparse mobile interface.
Evernote does everything, which is great, but for me, it became this black hole where I put everything, and that created a problem. When you have everything, you have nothing. So the narrower scope of Google Keep is a feature. Learning that a lot of the things I used Evernote for don’t require an online tool was also helpful. For example, I saved all of my electronic manuals in Evernote. But because Keep doesn’t support PDFs, I just have the files on my computer, which makes more sense.
I’m sort of zen about Google Keep. If it lives on, my notes are fine, and if Google bails on it, it’s simple enough to export my data into readable files. But I feel like I have a good handle on what’s in Keep, so if/when Google abandons it, moving to something else won’t be catastrophic.
What works: Great, fast interface
What doesn’t work: Google’s track record with non-search products
Who should work with it: Anyone looking for a very simple way to take text-based notes across devices.
This isn’t Linux-specific but it’s really great advice from Scott Nesbitt for using Evernote. I especially agree with the part about reviewing what you’re putting into it. Because Evernote does lend itself to becoming that junk drawer you never want to open.
I’m an Evernote fan and the new web interface is super nice. Between that and the browser extension, I’m not sure they need to support a client (not that they’ve ever supported a Linux client…).
I know Evernote is hardly a new service. It also lacks a Linux client. Despite these two things, I still feel the need to sing its praises to Linux users.
Evernote is a virtual closet for all of your electronic scraps. Like a physical closet, it can either be jammed full of stuff with no rhyme or reason, or it can be organized to death. Evernote supports both methods.
For me, it’s been a great, central place to keep notes to myself.
Just a quick procedural note: I pretty much live in my calendar. Evernote is used for anything that doesn’t have a date attached to it. So specific posts are on my calendar, but amorphous post ideas are in Evernote. Articles I want to read later are saved in Pocket.
I discovered Evernote this summer. Whenever I go on vacation, I wind up with a bunch of assorted notes to myself. They range from articles that come across my radar that I don’t have time to fully process, to music, movie, and book recommendations, to ideas I want to follow up on. In the past, I’ve used email and paper to track everything, but my wife suggested Evernote.
Evernote has an Android client, so it was great for me. Anything I found on my phone I could easily send into Evernote. Plus, it was very easy to write notes to myself. As a result, when we got back from vacation, I had a neat list of links and ideas to review in one place.
From there, I just got in the habit of using it as the central place for all of my lists and drafts. I had been using SimpleNote, but the Android clients for it weren’t very good. I had also been keeping things in PBWorks, but there wasn’t an Android client for that.
In a lot of ways, there’s nothing special about Evernote. It’s just a centralized collection of text documents organized into what Evernote calls notebooks. The strength of it is the clients, which make it available on just about everything. And for me, the strength is also my commitment to using it.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s no official Linux client, although there is NeverNote, a clone for Linux. GNOME Notes also has some Evernote integration. But the browser extensions are really good, as is the web interface, so I’m not even sure I’d bother installing a client, even if one were available. Lately, I’ve been emailing a lot of stuff into Evernote and that’s also been wonderfully convenient (every Evernote account has a personalized email address that allows you to email content into it).
Evernote web clipper in action
Evernote also supports two-step authentication using the Google Authenticator. In general, I’m gravitating toward services that offer that option, since security is always a concern (Evernote was hacked earlier this year).
Productivity is a funny thing. For many, it’s very easy to become obsessed with it to the point where you’re being unproductive. Evernote, with all of its features and versatility, definitely lends itself to that rabbit hole. I try not to overthink it and instead use Evernote as the one place where I keep stuff I might want someplace other than my laptop. I also try and check it every day, because I do sometimes send things there and then forget about them. But as I mentioned above, anything with any kind of due date gets thrown on the calendar. And this workflow works very well for me. But the reason it works so well is because I focus on the process and not the tool. I focus on what I want to do (keep track of my stuff) and not what I want to do it with (Evernote). It’s a subtle distinction, but it prevents me from becoming obsessed with mastering Evernote at the expense of actually getting work done.
There are lots of Evernote alternatives. When I looked at a bunch of these, I was surprisingly impressed by OneNote and wary of Google, a company that doesn’t always stick with its products. Evernote worked best for me but it won’t be the right fit for everyone.
Evernote is amazingly robust. I’m sure I’m not touching a lot of the functionality that’s possible, but for anyone who feels like they have a lot of electronic stuff all over the place (like in text files, Dropbox, and assorted email accounts), Evernote solves a problem. It’s not a Linux-specific problem, but because Linux people tend to jump around computers and devices, the Evernote solution will speak to a lot of us. If you’ve somehow avoided checking it out before now, it’s worth investigating. Even without an official Linux client.