I take notes. A lot of notes. I take notes when I read, when I’m in meetings, when I’m listening to lectures, when I’m figuring out what I need to do any given day. In fact, if I ever tell you that I’m going to do something, but you don’t see me make myself a note about it, don’t believe me.
Notes are the key to remembering, for me. Or, more precisely: the act of taking notes is the key to remembering. Something about the act of taking notes helps make an idea, or an issue, or a plan more real to me.
I used to take these notes longhand, in various notebooks, some devoted to particular projects, some to more general notetaking. Several years back, though, I began shifting my notetaking to the computer, so that those notes would be more easily searchable and repurposeable.
Originally, I used Word for this purpose, but after one MS Office upgrade too many, requiring that all of my documents be converted (and thus become unreadable to the older version of the software), I decided that I wanted something more lightweight. The purpose of these notes, after all, was the text that went into them, and not their formatting; plain vanilla “.txt” files were likely to remain highly flexible into the future.
But those .txt files started proliferating on my machine, and so did the folders I used to organize them. And while Mac OS X’s search capabilities via Spotlight aren’t all that bad now, that wasn’t always the case. So when I stumbled across Steven Johnson’s post about how he used DEVONthink, I was sold.
DEVONthink is an extraordinarily powerful information management system — a bit too powerful, quite honestly, for what I needed it to do. So back in May, when Shawn Miller guest-posted here on ProfHacker about how he uses Evernote, I was persuaded to give it a try.
One might begin to think I’m too easily swayed, but honestly, I test out a lot of software that doesn’t stick with me long. I’ve been using Evernote for just shy of two months now, though, and I’m fairly sure I’ll be using it for a while. A few reasons why:
1. Automatic. I have Evernote installed on my office desktop, my home desktop, my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone. And each of those instances automatically connects to the Evernote server to keep my notes synchronized across all my devices. I’ve had one incident in which I accidentally overwrote a more recent version of a note by editing an old version before my iPhone had finished downloading the most recent updates to my notebooks, but now I’m more cautious to be sure everything has synchronized before I start typing in an existing note.
2. Web accessible. My notes are also of course directly accessible from the Evernote server, should I not have one of those five devices with me.
3. Lightweight. The Evernote application itself has a very small footprint, using the teeniest amount of memory and disk space. It’s also quite nice in terms of response time. And as most of my notes are just plain text, the database doesn’t take up much in the way of space.
4. Flexible. Of course, I don’t have to confine my notes to text with Evernote: I can easily capture entire web pages with the Chrome (or other browser) extension, I can import images and PDFs, and any number of other things I haven’t even tried yet. And, as Shawn pointed out, images are OCRable, so that the text within them becomes searchable just like the rest of my notes.
5. Free. As I was just experimenting with Evernote over the last two months, I haven’t committed to the paid version as yet. But the free version is thus far everything I need. I’ve never come anywhere near using all of the monthly data allowance of the free version, and the little ad in the corner of the application is inoffensive. At some point, I’ll probably upgrade to the paid version, partially for a bit more flexibility in the kinds of files I can attach to notes, and partially to support the team developing a really great project.
I do perhaps wish that my text files were really stored as text files (Evernote saves them in its own proprietary XML-based format, as well as in HTML format), but for what I’m doing, just being able to find and copy the notes is enough. And overall I’ve had a great experience with Evernote so far, which is allowing my notetaking habit to become more productive and more organized than before.