An Experiment: Migrating from Evernote to Apple Notes

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The other day I got a crazy idea to migrate everything in Evernote over to Apple Notes.

Why you might ask?

Having my shared notes in Apple Notes while everything else lived in Evernote really bugged me – probably more than it reasonably should have, but such is my life.

The other issue nagging at me was having to pay for Evernote Premium. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind paying for the service if it weren’t for their 2 device sync limit seeming like a total cash grab. Also, I’m already paying for the iCloud storage so why not use it.

Making the switch was a bit time-consuming, but I really didn’t have to give up as much as I thought I would. In fact, in some cases, Apple Notes has actually turned out to be better.

What I’m Liking:

  • Sharing Things to Notes – It’s no surprise that Apple has baked ways to add things to Notes into just about every part of MacOS and iOS, with one notable exception which I’ll discuss a bit later.
  • Sharing Notes with Others – Sure Evernote allows you to share notes, but none of my friends or family use Evernote, so the feature was lost on me, and a big reason I was stuck using Apple Notes.
  • Simplicity of Design – I really started to notice the feature bloat of Evernote. (Evernote, if you’re listening, please let users with only one account hide the account switcher in the sidebar.) Apple Notes brings me back to a much more minimal design.06_20_18 at 12.11.23PM
  • Folder Hierarchy – I don’t need crazy folder structures for my notes, but Evernote’s insistence on a two-level hierarchy forced me to adopt some weird workarounds including prefixing my notebooks and using tags as a way to add additional levels. As long as you’re adding folders from a Mac, Apple doesn’t seem to care how many levels you want to have.
  • Apple Pencil Support – Evernote claims to have Apple Pencil support but it’s horribly laggy and a real pain to use. As a result, I was already using other apps, including Apple Notes to do any sort of Apple Pencil work.

What I’m Missing:

  • Searching Notes – You’d think searching notes stored in the stock notes app would be easy for a Mac, and if you use Spotlight, it is. Unfortunately, I use Alfred, and for whatever reason, Apple has chosen to store notes in a database that seems to be ever changing preventing any Alfred workflows from keeping up. For now, I’m searching my notes using Spotlight, which means remembering a separate keyboard shortcut. (The fact that Apple’s storing these notes in a database could also be a real pain if I ever need to get my notes out of Apple Notes, but I’m going to choose not to think about that right now because Evernote’s no better.)
  • Evernote’s Web Clipper – It’s really hard to come anywhere close to Evernote’s Web Clipper. Apple Notes can only save links to websites not a full page unless you do a web archive or save it as a PDF which requires a few additional steps. That being said, I was noticing Evernote’s Web Clipper had been doing some odd things to some of my clipped websites, so maybe not all is lost.
  • Note Links – I like to include links to other notes in my notes, as well as within Omnifocus tasks and projects. With Apple Notes, you can’t actually get a link to a note unless you pretend to share the note with someone.
  • Saving Email Content – My mail client of choice, Airmail, has native support for sharing content to Evernote, but surprisingly not Apple Notes. I frequently save important emails for reference, so this is one of my most frustrating features to lose. Surprisingly, Apple’s own Mail apps also lack any ability to share to Notes.
  • Tags – I didn’t use tags extensively in Evernote, but they were helpful in grouping things by topic without having to create a full-blown notebook. For now, I’m dealing with this by sub-folders, but I hope Apple considers adding tags in the future.

There are a few scripts and tools to help you migrate from Evernote to Apple Notes, but I opted to migrate most of my notes manually unless they were purely text-based, which meant this was a pretty time-consuming experiment. (Thankfully, it seems to be a successful experiment.) I’m nearly done migrating the last of my Grad School notes, but already I’m feeling a lot better having one single place for all of my notes.

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Adding Wireless Charging to the Kindle Paperwhite

imageFive years ago, I bought a Kindle Paperwhite on a whim. During those 5 years, it has become one of my most cherished tech devices, rivaling only my iPhone or my AirPods.

It’s nothing fancy. I haven’t felt the need to upgrade to a newer model. It does one thing and does it well. It lets me read books anytime, anywhere, without hurting my wrists or triggering my OCD when it sits unevenly in my hand like actual books tend to do.

For as long as I’ve owned it, there’s been only one complaint I’ve ever had with it – the battery life.

There’s a funny thing with battery life. Make it too short, and you are constantly worrying about charging a device. Make it too long, and you’ll notice you’re in the same boat because you forget to charge it. That’s my problem with the Kindle. The battery life is so good, I never think to charge it, so whenever I pick it up, it’s telling me the battery’s about to die.

I recently picked up an Anker wireless charging pad for my iPhone X so that I could mindlessly throw my phone behind me to charge on those nights I want to use my phone late into the wee hours. That charger happens to sit right next to where I also mindlessly throw my Kindle before bed.

The Kindle seems like the perfect device for wireless charging,. Surprisingly, Amazon hasn’t added it to any Kindle on their line, but it turns out I can.

For $13, I picked up a Qi wireless charger receiver, plugged it into my Paperwhite, and plopped my case back on it. (For those wondering, you’ll want the “Micro USB narrow-side” variant). I wasn’t sure if it would work through my case, but sure enough, it worked!

For $13, my 5-year-old Kindle now has wireless charging, and I couldn’t be happier.

Omnifocus 3 and Multiple Tags

IMG_3E109ED9355A-1Omnifocus plays such a major role in my life, so with Omnifocus 3 for iOS being released today, it only seemed fitting to write about it. I’ve only had a short amount of time to play with it, but I’m already envisioning new ways to improve my workflow.

Arguably one of the most sought-after features of version 3 is multiple tags. One of the first new tags I added was a “Today” tag. I foresee this Today tag replacing flags in my workflows, but until multiple tags are ready in the Mac version, I’m stuck using them to maintain my custom perspectives on the Mac.

I knew the lack of feature parity between version 2 on the Mac and version 3 on iOS would limit how much I got out of this release, so, for now, a lot of the benefits I’ll get out of the new features will have to wait.

So far, I’ve just started playing around with reorganizing contexts to fit within the new tag scheme. So far my list is broken up into the following:

  • Location (note this section is my existing context breakdown)
    • Campus
    • Home
    • Anywhere
    • Errands
  • Status
    • Today
    • Routine
    • Waiting for
    • Someday/Maybe
  • People
    • Coworkers, family members, etc. will be listed here as needed
  • Energy
    • High Energy
    • Low Energy
  • Activity
    • Read
    • Email
    • Call

This list will likely change and evolve as I get my hands on it more, but I can already tell how powerful tagging will be over contexts.

Omnifocus 3 brings with it many other major changes but tagging is on my mind most right now.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the Mac version so I can really take advantage of them fully.

Shiny Object Syndrome and Task Managers

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With all the tasks managers out there, it’s easy to get lost in shiny object syndrome. That new app comes out, and suddenly it seems like it will solve all your problems, making you an instant productivity guru. Oh, how I wish that were true!

I’ve been using OmniFocus for years, but I can’t say apps like Things 3 don’t tempt me. Over the years I’ve started keeping a few tricks in my back pocket to keep me on track and avoid going overboard.

  1. I don’t fight myself wanting to try a new app. Most apps offer a trial, and I enjoy playing around with software, so I give myself some time to play around with major new releases like Things 3. I also find trying new apps are a good chance to periodically reconsider how I organize my tasks, so not all is lost by trying an app.
  2. The keyword is TRY. Don’t spend days tirelessly transferring your tasks. Pick just enough that you can try out features, but don’t go overboard. I like to pick a single area – all of my personal tasks, for example. Those are usually plenty of tasks for me to quickly find what doesn’t work.
  3. Make a note of what doesn’t work for you. If I come across a feature I don’t like, I make a note of it in a comparison chart of sorts that I keep in Evernote. This has been a lifesaver. If I start getting restless with OmniFocus or a new point release for an app comes out, I can save myself the wasted time of trying the app again because I already know where the pain points are and whether or not another app will help. Of course, if a new release introduces a feature solving one of those pain points, I can update the chart and decide whether the pros outweigh the cons, but thus far, OmniFocus is well out in front, so I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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Top 4 Favorite Podcasts

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Taking a page out of Tiffany and Marco Arment’s podcast, Top Four, I thought it might be fun to do a quick run through of my top 4 podcasts right now.

I can’t remember what podcast actually started me down this addicting habit, but what an addiction it’s become. I listen to way too many podcasts these days, so many in fact, I do so at a cringe-worthy 2x speed just to get through them all. If I’m wearing my AirPods, you can almost bet I’m listening to a podcast. (By the way, my podcast app of choice is Overcast, and it’s free.)

Looking over my list, a few trends have emerged:

  • My tastes have definitely changed. My favorite podcasts used to be full of productivity tips and tech news. These days, my favorite podcasts tend to feature interesting stories and conversations between people I really enjoy listening to.
  • I may have a slight obsession with some podcasters.Merlin Mann and CGP Grey fascinate me. Not only are they incredible storytellers and conversationalists, some of the best tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years have come from listening to them.

So here we go.

#1 – image.pngDo By Friday – Discussions about current events, lots of laughs, absurd weekly challenges, and a whole lot of internet randomness brought to you by two of the folks behind Cards Against Humanity and Merlin Mann. What’s more to love in a podcast. I look forward to Alex, Max, and Merlin’s antics every Friday morning. Note to new listeners: this show has quite a few long-running bits so you might want to listen back to understand Powder Nation, Gary the Privacy Clown, scoot scoots, and plenty of jazz breaks.

#2 – image.pngCortex – If there was every one person’s mind I wanted to pick apart more than anyone else’s in the world (not in a creepy way), it’d be CGPGrey. The intentionality he lives by is incredible, and the relationship he has with Myke is great. (Pro Tip: Someone on Reddit shared a Google Doc listing all of CGP Grey’s tips over the episodes. It’s pretty amazing.)

#3 – image.pngBack to Work – Another Merlin appearance – Merlin and Dan are just incredible in this podcast. Don’t let the title fool you – it’s really not about work these days. Just two good friends talking about whatever strikes their fancy – Apple news, decluttering, comics, anxiety, and managing to survive without losing your mind in the world of today.

#4 – image.pngReconcilable Differences – Speaking of great relationships, I’ve really come to appreciate the conversations between John Siracusa and Merlin Mann. Topic wise, I’d compare this with Back to Work – meaning they cover everything and anything, but their banter back and forth is what makes the show.

Honorable Mentions

image.pngHello Internet – Another CGPGrey podcast. This one is a bit more topical. If you couldn’t tell by the title, it’s a show about random things on the internet (plane crashes, sports, hot stoppers, emoji, and Youtube) with a pretty dedicated group of listeners and long-running bits (that, unfortunately, include hating on the Maryland flag) just like Do By Friday.

image.pngReply All – This podcast has featured some of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard on a podcast. From tracking down those pesky tech support scammers all the way to their office in India to the mysterious person behind Pizza Rat, they never seem to disappoint. Their recurring bits of Super Tech Support and Yes Yes No are also surprisingly informative.

image.pngThe Girl Next Door Podcast – This podcast has become quite a guilty pleasure of mine. Kelsey and Erica talk everything from household duties and relationships to makeup and neighborhood gossip. Plus every episode starts with a cocktail. Cheers!

 

Photo by Barrett Ward on Unsplash

My 3 Non-Negotiable Rules for Technology

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Nine times out of ten, when someone finds out work for an IT department, the inevitable follow up question is “Oh, so you can fix my computer?” While the answer is most likely yes, I actually try to avoid fixing computers for family and friends wherever possible because I don’t want to become their go-to person or liable for anything that may go wrong (or they think has gone wrong). Thankfully over the years, my job has transitioned to less tech support and more management, so I have an easy out, and can simply say “Actually, I don’t fix computers,” which usually ends the conversation.

With that being said, I’m not against providing answers or insight as to good technology practices or app recommendations. In fact, that’s the part I truly enjoy about supporting technology – helping people use technology smarter.

A few days ago, I realized I’ve managed to distill my tech advice into 3 non-negotiable rules:

  1. Buy as much RAM and HD space as you can afford. – You won’t regret having the extra when you need it.
  2. Back up, back up, back up. – Having a local back up like TimeMachine is good. Having a local back up and a cloud back up like Backblaze is even better.
  3. Practice good password hygiene. – Don’t re-use passwords or variations of passwords. Use a password manager like 1Password.

Following these three rules surprisingly cover a good deal of questions and complaints I get about technology. Moreover, they reduce the likelihood of the major catastrophe events that always seem to crop up – slow computers, not being able to install app updates, losing precious photos, compromised accounts, forgotten passwords, etc.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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Archiving Notebooks in Evernote (and a few thoughts on Tags)

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I’ve discussed how the way I organize Evernote has evolved recently. One of those more recent additions is that I’ve started creating notebooks for active projects, but I hadn’t come to a decision on what to do with them once they were no longer active.

Having just returned from Ireland, making my “Trip to Ireland” project inactive, I had a decision to make. That decision was that notes from inactive projects would get tagged and collapsed into their respective Reference notebook. In the case of my “Trip to Ireland” notes, I tagged them all with Ireland and moved them to my Personal reference notebook. They’re all still easily accessible in case I get the opportunity to go to Ireland again or someone asks about it, but otherwise out of the way.

Interestingly enough, shortly after I made my decision, Stacey Harmon came out with a post suggesting that very same thing:

Collapsing or archiving notebooks. If you’re regularly managing your notebooks (see above), you can use tags to convert your Notebooks to tags when you’re no longer using them. Simply tag all the data in that Notebook, and put it into an Archive notebook.

Her post is a great read if you’re having trouble with deciding how to organize Evernote. While I don’t follow her method, I do agree with her on why tags shouldn’t be your primary way of organizing Evernote. That being said, what I find most interesting about the Evernote community though, is how quickly and adamantly the user base divided into two camps: using tags is the only way to go or using notebooks is the only way to go.

My system has developed from a mix of ideas from GTD, Tiago Forte, and Stacey Harmon. New items go to the inbox (GTD) where they’re then filed away in their appropriate notebooks based on how often I’ll need to be using them (Forte and Harmon). Tags are used to identify overarching themes or topics (e.g. Buddhism, Ireland, accessibility, quantified self, etc.) allowing me to browse by topic if need be, but Evernote’s search is always my first instinct. It works without all the fiddly effort of managing a complex tagging system.

My Grad School Notetaking Workflow

Now that I’ve had my iPad Pro for a while, I’ve finally settled into a routine for managing my course notes. I rely on two main apps (Goodnotes and Evernote) and both my Macbook Pro and iPad Pro.

Setting Up for the Week

Each week before class, I duplicate an existing copy of my weekly course notes to save time typing out my preferred format. It’s broken down into Administrative (typically action items or important information about the course), a list of assigned readings, an area for taking notes during that week’s lecture, and a place for the lecture slides.

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(Note in the screenshot above I have two reminders listed in the sidebar. They serve as a workaround to pin notes to the top like Apple Notes. Until Evernote decides to add the feature, this is the next best thing. I just turn off notifications so I’m not pestered by dates.)

Next, I download the assigned readings for the next week as well as the lecture slides from the previous class from the course site on Blackboard. Newly assigned readings get put into Goodnotes on the Mac. While I’m in Goodnotes, I also export any readings from the previous week to PDF and delete the previous week’s category.

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Back in Evernote, I create notes for each of the new readings and link to them in the weekly note using the Copy Note Link feature. I used to include my reading notes directly in the Weekly notes, but after noticing a few of the assigned readings were papers I’d already read for another class, I switched to keeping my notes directly with the papers themselves, linking each class to the single note for the paper. It makes noticing connections a lot easier.

The last step in preparing for the week is to create tasks in Omnifocus. I typically prefer to have all the assignments plugged in at the start of the semester, but for this class, it’s easier to enter them on a weekly basis.

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Reading

With set up done, I switch to my iPad Pro for reading and annotation within Goodnotes. If something seems particularly noteworthy I make note of that in the stub note in Evernote, but for the most part, the annotation is sufficient.

In Class

During class, I use my iPad Pro to switch between typing notes into Evernote and making additional annotations in Goodnotes.

Tidying Up

The day after class, I make sure my weekly note for the previous class is complete by adding the final annotated copy of the readings into the stub notes I created for them (they’re already linked to the main weekly note), adding the lecture slides. I end up with something that looks a bit like this.

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And then it’s time to start this whole process over for the next week!

 

One Word for 2018

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Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Like most everyone else, January is my time of thinking ahead for the year. I typically take off either the week before Christmas or the week after New Years to reflect, regroup and plan out the upcoming year. It’s a tradition I look forward to more and more every year.

Looking back over 2017, it was a crazy year that far beyond anything I could have planned. My word for 2017 was “acceptance,” and I hoped to get better at accepting all the things in my life I simply can’t change. Mindfulness played a big part, and in many ways, I’d say my year of acceptance was a success. Fewer things trigger my anxiety, but it’s still definitely a work in progress.

For 2018, my one word is “slow.”

Mindfulness has allowed me to notice that a great deal of my stress is simply due to my tendency to rush from one thing to another. Rushing leads me to feel as though I’m barely treading water, and it’s downright exhausting.

My year of slow will be focused on being present and intentional in the things I do. That means more paying attention to how I feel throughout the day, more focused attention on what I want to accomplish, and taking some time to enjoy all the incredible things I actually get to do.

Now, onto being present in the rest of my day.

 

A Few Improvements to my Evernote Organization

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

 

A few months ago I wrote about how I’m organizing Evernote. Have no fear! I’m still loving my basic set up, but I have made a few additions to keep important information at hand.

I’m not sure which podcast introduced me to Tiago Forte, but in the weeks after learning of him, I spent hours reading into his P.A.R.A. method – a “universal system for organizing digital information.” His idea is simple – The tools you use aren’t important as long as you have a system to organize things. Of course, any mention of systems has my attention.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but P.A.R.A. stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. He has a 4-part series if you’re interested in learning all the details. Unfortunately, the posts are now behind a paywall though, so here’s an interview he did with Evernote that goes over the basics.

I’ve not adopted his system fully, but I did walk away with a few insights.

Take Away 1: Projects vs. Areas of Responsibility

Coming from a GTD mindset, projects and areas of responsibility seem fairly straightforward, but I was surprised to discover I was mixing them up just as Forte mentioned. He describes a project as “a series of tasks linked to a goal with a deadline,” whereas an area of responsibility is “a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.” Projects can be completed. Areas of responsibility are ongoing.

Forte argues that when you mix the two together, it’s difficult to see everything you’ve committed to, and I couldn’t agree more. Clarifying the commitments required by my ongoing areas of responsibility has given me a better understanding of just how feasible taking on that extra project might be.

Take Away 2: Make Most Used Information the Most Accessible

It’s no surprise that information isn’t equal. Some notes are used more than others. Part of Forte’s P.A.R.A. method includes keeping your notes organized hierarchically so that your most used information is easily accessible. More actionable information flows up to the top Project level, whereas lesser-used information flows down to Archives.

Forte suggests moving everything into Archives to start. As you need to use notes, move them to their appropriate level, and they will gradually end up in their respective areas. I actually tried this, but quickly found his distinctions between Resources, Areas, and Archives too arbitrary for my needs.

Instead, I settled on a simplified system. I created two stacks – one for Current Projects and one for everything else, Reference. Like, Forte suggested, I just moved my existing notebooks into a Reference stack. For any projects that require supporting documentation, I create a notebook under Current Projects. Once completed, their content will be archived to their respective area under Reference.

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(Side note: I’ve also made two other changes: Agendas now live in their own notebook for easier access, and I created a separate Reference notebook for book highlights.)

Take Away 3: Review and Improve your Notes as You Use Them

A lot of people seem to treat Evernote as a junk drawer. I’m guilty as well. Forte has a whole system for randomly resurfacing his notes and annotating them. As cool as it is, I simply don’t have time to review and revise notes each day. Moreover, I find his rules for when to highlight versus bold a bit fiddly. Instead, I’m simply trying to make a point to improve my notes each time I use them. As I use a note, I’ll clarify or highlight the portion I used.

With these three takeaways, my notes should become more and more useful over time. I’m sure that the system will evolve, but for now this seems to be a nice blend of simplicity and functionality.

 

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