Moleskine for Evernote: The satisfaction of a well-made notebook

I mentioned previously that I recently picked up one of Moleskine’s Evernote notebooks – long after they were first introduced, so I’m not blazing any trails in this area! Essentially, these notebooks are created with the note-taking app in mind, allowing you to scan them into the app with your iPhone’s camera.

After a week of pretty intensive usage, I’m smitten. I’ve spent the last year using a variety of cheap and cheerful A5 and A4 pads of varying quality to take meeting notes and get thoughts and ideas out of my head. Being somewhat of a controlling completist, the ‘quality’ notes were then scanned into Evernote using my desktop scanner at home.

imageThis way of working meant that I frequently had to carry a lot of loose paper around, until I had the chance to preserve it electronically in Evernote. Especially when traveling for work.

So, one way the Moleskine is superior to these pads is that the notes stay in one place, reducing the volume of paper I carry, while they can instantly be scanned into Evernote while I’m on the move, using my iPhone.

The ensuing weight reduction in my work backpack is tangible. And very, very welcome. I also have less of the ‘where is that piece of paper’ mental anguish, as I know any notes scribbled this week are in the Moleskine. And that’s how I’d like it to be going forward.

On another, more subjective note, the act of writing on quality paper in a nicely-made notebook has had an impact on my note-taking. I’ve noticed it’s less about the scribbles and more about well-chosen words and making links between by thoughts on paper. It’s almost as if I know it’ll be committed to Evernote and I want the notes to make as much sense as possible.

To be clear: they’re not ‘pretty’, they’re just more useful.

Plus, for the last year, I’ve been using a set of erasable pens I bought in Japan. These are perfect for use in notebooks where you can’t rip out pages and don’t want to scribble out. You can simple rub out your errors and keep going. On reflection, I think this is why Moleskine notebooks didn’t really work for me in the past – a sort of fear associated with not getting it right first time and then ‘messing up’ the beautiful page – with no way back!

Similarly, the Moleskine’s cover is well-made, protecting the notes while in my bag. It feels like it’ll last long than a random legal pad and is a lot more presentable when placed on the table in front of a client.

The Moleskine came with a set of Evernote-related stickers, the logic being that placing these stickers in some pre-defined context means that Evernote will automatically turn them into actions, reminders etc. Nope – I haven’t figured out how to use these yet. It’s been one of those weeks where my feet have barely touched the ground, so I’ll look at those another time.

I’m keen to keep this notebook for work-related content only. This means it’s going to be for meeting notes, workshop notes, sketching out training courses and making notes for blog posts. It makes sense (to me) to have a dedicated work notebook, allowing me to keep personal notes separate. In my experience, I prefer to flick through personal notes without the risk of stumbling across a work note that intrudes on my thinking or reminds me of something slightly stressful.

I’m in two minds as to where to keep personal notes now. I have a small shop’s worth of Traveler’s Notebooks I brought home from my various trips to Japan. These are beautiful and sit within a lovely leather cover. But they don’t have the hardcover of a Moleskine and are a lot more expensive to replace here in the UK.

That said, I’ve been to Japan every year for a few years, so maybe it’s sustainable to just pick up a dozen or so each time I visit!

Using the Moleskine has made me realise that my Traveler’s Notebook is a little bulky and unwieldy in comparison. So I’m going to strip out some of the ‘accessories’ I’ve stuck in there and get back to basics. Otherwise, it’ll end up like one of my long-lost Filofax binders: too heavy to reasonably carry from place to place.

Bottom line: would I recommend the Evernote Moleskine?

If you can stomach paying over £20 for a single notebook and you’re also a heavy Evernote user, then this could be for you. If you frequently lose loose pieces of paper, then it might also be helpful. But it doesn’t have to be a Moleskine – you can easily scan things into Evernote using most kinds of paper in my experience, as long as it’s white or off-white.

But I like them and will continue to use it until it’s full. I’ll then make a decision as to whether I’ll get another one, so I’m not stuck with a small stockpile of unused and unwanted notebooks in my study.

Yes, I know – stationery-related self-control. The new me!

Moleskine Evernote notebooks: Take a photo – it’ll last longer!

Ah. I’ve never had the opportunity to use this particular sarcastic comeback in real life, but it occurred to me this was what motivated me to trial Moleskine’s Evernote notebook: the ability to accurately record your notes from the page to the digital.

Because they’ll last longer.

Now, I’m pretty confident you don’t absolutely need to use this particular notebook to get your notes into Evernote. In fact, I know it – as I’ve frequently taken quick snaps of my inspired scribblings with my iPhone camera and added them to Evernote.

I’m not sure if I’ve fallen for Moleskine’s very slick marketing, but I think the combination of Evernote’s new 8.0 app on iOS and the quality paper and dotted lines in the Moleskine notebook make for better, more accurate and neater scans of the page.

image

In essence, the app recognises when you’re taking a photo of a page and attempts to line up the image – based on the fact that paper tends to have straight edges. A transparent green oblong appears on the screen in front of you as you hold your phone over the page and then Evernote turns it into a neat image within a note.

You can then add several more pages from your notebook into this particular electronic note, summarising a meeting, a workshop or just the usual mental diarrhoea you’ve decided to commit to paper.

I used the notebook for the first time yesterday and found that it did an excellent job of recording my meeting notes. The resulting images in Evernote were crisp, clear and didn’t look like a photo of a piece of paper. It was as if the handwriting were magically lifted from the page and added to the electronic note in Evernote. So, no shadows or creases, no shine from the page. Just my handwriting on the screen.

Nice.

The notebooks come in a variety of sizes and formats. So if you’d rather not shell out £25 for a notebook on the off chance it’ll work for you, you might like to try one of the cheaper softcover notebooks they make.

They’re far from new and I’ve known about them for some time. It’s only now I’ve felt they would be useful for me.

This is also part of my effort to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ I carry with me for work. After last week’s (regular) business trip to Barcelona,  returned with real back pain from my backpack. Emptying it back at home,  realised this was in no small part due to the volume of A4 paper I was carrying around.

Journal articles, hand-written notes on looseleaf A4 paper, as well as magazines and an aluminium clipboard.

Ouch.

So, I’ve decided to leave the A4 at home and use this compact Moleskine notebook for all work-related notes, knowing I can scan the contents into Evernote as I go along.

Yesterday, I used my super-slim Cocoon backpack and took just my iPad Pro 9.7″, my Moleskine, my Midori notebook, some assorted cables for the iPad and a couple of bananas for sustenance. And it was a revelation. Another laptop-free day, but also a productive one. And a pain-free one.

I’m far from a minimalist. But it definitely felt good to carry less stuff around with me and if notebooks like this can help, then I’m all for it.

Evernote for iOS: simplified!

I’ve only spent a few minutes toying with the new version of Evernote for iOS, but I have to say I’m impressed. This newest version (Evernote 8.0) seems to be a complete rebuild of the app on iPhone and iPad and is a big step forward.

For me (and others, if you simply google it) Evernote was getting a bit slow, cumbersome and unwieldy. Alternative note-taking apps like Apple’s own Notes and Google’s Keep seemed to be snapping at its heels. Both are lightweight, fast and responsive.

But this upgrade to Evernote makes me glad I kept up my subscription. Using it on my iPhone 7 Plus is a pleasure. The interface has been pared right back to the essentials and all you get on launch is a list of your most recent apps, along with a massive ‘plus’ button at the bottom of the screen so you can start a new note.

It’s a vast improvement.

And it’s also prompted me to do some pruning and simplifying of my Evernote set-up. On reflection, I saw that I’d set up too complex a hierarchy of notebooks, themselves organised in thematic ‘stacks’. It seems after a little online research that ‘power users’ (no, I don’t like the term either) seem to make maximum use of tags and minimal use of notebooks.

It’s a bit like organising your emails into countless folders, when all you really need to do is use the search function in your email app.

So I’m re-organising things so that the only notebooks I have are those organised around:

  • My personal life
  • Job #1
  • Job #2

Everything should be able to fit into one of these and I’ll find content by using the tags I’ve been consistently applying to my notes for years. This should keep things nice and simple, especially when using the app on my phone.

Well done, Evernote. I’m looking forward to seeing how you shape up Evernote for macOS next.

Postach.io’s back!

You may recall I got very excited by a start-up called Postach.io come time ago. Simply put, their USP was taking your simple Evernote notes and turning them into a simple blog. Just tag a note as ‘published’ and it appeared as a new blog post.

Simples!

I quickly fell in love with it, due to its simplicity, its tight integration with Evernote (one of my favourite apps of all time) and how I could quickly write in Markdown.

Continue reading “Postach.io’s back!”

Add tasks to ToDoist from Slack

A nice integration of Slack and ToDoist – both excellent tools! You can now add tasks to ToDoist straight from Slack. As I spend a lot of my working day messaging colleagues from within Slack, I’m definitely going to be trying this out.

Check out the short video below for the (very simple) details on how to do this.

Creating a reading list with IFTTT, Instapaper and ToDoist

I’m a big fan of both Instapaper – a great tool for saving interesting reading materials for offline reading later – and IFTTT, the system that allows you to connect your various online accounts and create magical automated workflows. And, as any reader of this blog knows, I love me some ToDoist action.

Lately, I realised I was saving tons of interesting content to Instapaper with the intention of reading it – but never getting round to it.

Sad face

So, I set up a really simple recipe in IFTTT which means that every time I save something to Instapaper, it adds a task to my in-box in ToDoist with the title of the article and the tag ‘@Reading’. I also have a recurring task every couple of days to check out my Instapaper reading ‘queue’. Hopefully this will mean more reading and less forgetting.

These simple tools are so powerful. If you’d like to do the same, you can use my recipe on IFTTT.

Considering notes on iOS

The guys over at the Mac Power Users podcast spent a while reviewing the various options we iOS users have when it comes to Notes apps. The podcast covers the pros and cons of the popular apps, including: Apple Notes, Evernote, OneNote and just using plain text files (!!).

You can listen to the notes episode here.

As might be obvious from this blog, I’m an Evernote user and, while I don’t think it’s perfect, it’s the best option I’ve found in years. It needs tightening up and speeding up, but for me, it’s light years ahead of OneNote. And I don’t have the discipline to simply use plain text notes.

The podcast got me thinking about how to take notes and how to make them more useful. I think it’s helpful not just to consider how you’re going to record the information, but to make it easy to find again in future (otherwise, why record it in the first place?). Evernote allows me to put notes in ‘notebooks’, add tags to each note and has a very powerful search that also leverages OCR – optical character recognition.

This is a magic-like technology that can take scanned information and recognise the words on the page. It’s pretty good at understanding my handwriting, via scanned notes, and superb at parsing PDFs I’ve put into Evernote. As a result, I never have to take more than a few seconds to find anything I’ve put in Evernote.

Yes, it’s a bit bloated now and can take a while to sync – but I’m hopeful the new leadership at Evernote are now more focused on their core product and want to make the kinds of improvements that will stem the flow of people abandoning the platform for Apple Notes.

The podcast is definitely worth a listen – I’m a subscriber – especially if you’re thinking about organising your key information in an app.

An excellent ToDoist update

The latest update to my task management app of choice – ToDoist – has brought with it something I’ve craved since the introduction of 3D Touch to the iPhone: adding new tasks via force touch.

This update might sound like a small improvement, but it’s something I’ve wanted for a while. I’ll admit I’ve been force-touching the icon each time there’s been a ToDoist update, hoping that ‘this time, it’ll work’. Well, it finally does – thanks guys!

Force-touching the ToDoist icon now brings up three options: 1) a view of the next 7 days, 2) a view of tasks due today and 3) the option to add a new task. Tapping the latter takes you straight into the ‘Add+’ screen. You can also search the contents of your ToDoist task and project database via Spotlight, putting searches just a quick swipe away.

You can see details – and demonstrations – of all the most recent ToDoist updates for iOS and Apple Watch via their latest video below:

The smoother and easier it is to enter a task into an app like this, the more likely you are to use it – at least, in my experience. Making task entry as easy as a force touch of the app’s icon is a great example of this. You remember something important and all you need to do is tap and type.

Just one more reason I like ToDoist – an elegant blend of simplicity and power. I just wish all my other iOS apps were as satisfying to use. I’m looking at you, Evernote!

OmniFocus: about turn!

Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying my return to OmniFocus. Yet today, I find myself back using ToDoist.

If I’m honest, the OmniFocus experiment only lasted a couple of weeks.

What’s wrong with OmniFocus? Nothing. It’s a superb app. But after using it intensively for work and personal projects, I realised that all its amazing functionality was slowing me down. I was spending too much time setting up custom perspectives and trying to figure out how to set it up ‘just so’.

It’s complexity was – for me – its downfall.

I took an evening to get slip back into ToDoist and (cliche alert!) it was like stepping into a favourite – and comfortable – pair of shoes. While ToDost doesn’t have all the whizz-bang of OmniFocus, it makes life easier for me.

And isn’t that the point of these apps?

I’ve realised that I need a quick and simple task management app, not an app that can launch a thousand ships. I’ve also realised that I really like sharing projects, something that isn’t possible with OmniFocus and is just a couple of clicks away with ToDoist.

In fact, last week I upgraded to ToDoist for Business, so that I can use it with colleagues on a project-by-project basis. Great for delegation!

Another difference that I really noticed was that OmniFocus uses tags very differently. I’d built up the habit of assigning multiple tags to tasks in ToDoist (e.g. ‘phone’, ‘5mins’ and so on) which allowed the task to appear in various perspectives. OmniFocus forces you to chose a single tag and I realised this was causing me to slow down and spend time considering which was the most appropriate tag.

Really counterintuitive for a ‘productivity’ app.

In ToDoist, I use tags (or ‘labels’) with abandon, so I can understand the perceived difficulty of a task, what tools I’ll need, where I’ll need to be and who else is involved. I work in various locations and with a lot of different people, so this is very important to me.

Flicking through the labels column allows me to see what I can do where I am or who I’m with. This gives me incredible flexibility and is the very opposite of a static ‘to do’ list on paper, where tasks appear based on the order in which you thought to write them down.

So, while OmniFocus thoroughly deserves all the accolades it’s received over the years, it’s just not for me. ToDoist helps me get more done and it’s only by trying another app that I’ve realised it. A slightly inefficient and time-consuming exercise, but worth it in the end, I think.

All of which for me means that there is no one, perfect task management app. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. And when considering which one to use in 2016, maybe try a few different ones and see how they work for you. On top of all the apps’ functionality, there’s one very important metric: do you want to use it? If you don’t, it’s going to sit unused on your computer/smartphone and you’ll fall back on your memory.

Which is never a good idea.