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!

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!”

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.

Evernote and IFTTT: boom!

Great news if you’re an Evernote user (check!) who also relies on IFTTT (check!):

Evernote just got a whole lot better“.

You can now, for example, post to Tumblr simply by adding a note to a pre-determined Evernote notebook. This makes offline Tumblr post writing much easier, especially when using and iPhone. Or, post to WordPress by using an Evernote tag.

This has such potential. And basically does away with the need for the likes of Postach.io. Especially when they charge for this exact same service.

Time to get my thinking cap on. This could be super useful.

We need to talk about Evernote

Those who know me in real life know I’m something of an Evernote fan. An Evernote evangelist, even. I’ve used the app for years and spent quite some time singing its praises on this blog and elsewhere.

Over the years, Evernote has helped me get more organised when traveling for business; it has helped me complete my doctorate in psychology; it has even helped me get more reading done. It’s just an incredibly flexible and useful application.

But recent developments have me worried.

Evernote seemed to venture out into unconnected areas of app development (an app to track your meals?) and launched a bunch of physical items like bags and desktop organisers. It’s all very well to diversify like that when your core product is working (and selling) like a dream.

Evernote, however, is still a work in progress and is far from perfect.

Recently, they lost their CEO Phil Libin and his replacement fired over 10% of the workforce and seems to have put in place some cost-saving measures, including office closures. Talent is apparently leaving the business in droves and while the app is wildly popular, only a minority of users are actually paying for it.

It’s not all bad news, however. The new CEO, Chris O’Neill, has written about his plans for the company and it sounds like they’re planning a return to their core focus:

I joined Evernote as CEO two months ago because I saw the rare opportunity to help transform a product I rely on into a world class business. Since starting, I’ve gotten to know the amazing people here and have met many of our loyal users. This team has achieved three incredible feats: they’ve created one of the most important productivity tools in history, established one of the strongest personal success brands, and built a real revenue-driven business. My goal is to dramatically increase the impact of this solid foundation.

Evernote’s strength is in its core: notes, sync, and search. That’s where we’re going to focus. Achieving that focus means making some difficult decisions. Today we let go of 47 people from the Evernote team and announced the closure of three of our global offices. We are grateful for the immense contributions of each and every affected person.
I believe that a smaller, more focused team today will set us up for growth and expansion tomorrow. Here are two things that you can expect from us over the next several months: we will launch major foundational product improvements around the core features that you care about most, and we will pull back on initiatives that fail to support our mission.

Sad job losses aside, there’s a glimmer of hope in that message. A return to focus on what made them great and planned improvements to the app across platforms.

Why such passion and anxiety for a computer app? I suppose it’s because I use it so much and it’s become so central to how I organise my life. Knowing “stuff” is in Evernote reduces my stress, allows me to keep on top of work and really (I’ve said it before) serves as my “outboard brain”.

For someone whose epilepsy has left me with a less than perfect memory, an app like Evernote is more than handy. It’s crucial.

When Apple announced the massive upgrade to their own Notes app, my first thought was “that’s nice… but it’s no Evernote”. Maybe in time, it’ll become a realistic alternative to Evernote, but I suspect it’ll always remain on the Mac and iOS platforms. Evernote is basically platform agnostic and therein lies a good chunk of its flexibility.

As someone who organisations pay to advise their employees on personal productivity, I can attest to the difference an app like Evernote has made to employees’ ability to keep on top of workload and the psychological release it gives people. Yes, maybe a well-organised list on paper would have the same effect, but I’ve yet to see it.

My plea? Well, I hope Evernote follow through on their CEO’s promise and work hard to improve the stability and functionality of their core note-taking and information-organising app. All of that should come before new apps and any other diversification. I also hope that all of you who find Evernote to be useful think about upgrading your account to pay for the tool.

That will make Evernote the sustainable business it needs to be, for some time to come.

Checking it twice

I travel a lot. A. Lot.

Mostly for business, mostly short trips to UK cities and occasionally further afield. Personal trips too, mostly within Europe, but at least once a year something to either North America or (like last year and later this year) Asia – in the form of Japan.

And in all this travelling – which I dearly love (most of the time) – there is just one tip that I can safely pass on to anyone out there:

Make a list.

Readers of this blog will know I‘m an avid user of Evernote  (This blog is now ‘hosted’ in Evernote and published via Postach.io ) and one of the best use cases for this epic app is the checklist. I’ve now crafted a pretty good travel / packing checklist which is use and re-use when packing. It has saved my bacon more than once and is front of mind this morning as I prep for a trip to Spain.

Using Evernote, you can put together a checklist in just seconds. You can then have it sync across all your devices and share it with others. No, you don’t have to use Evernote, but I find I’m less likely to lose this list than if it was on  scrap of paper. And I alway have Evernote with me in some form – on my phone or tablet. Far less likely to have a random scrap of paper which I can add items to when inspiration strikes.

My checklist is not your checklist.

I’m not going to share my list in full. Details of this checklist would probably completely ruin whatever shred of credibility I have left. Let’s just say it’s tech-heavy. More electronic devices and cables than I’m comfortable taking about openly.

But some things are always on there, regardless of my destination: epilepsy meds, passport and a charger (and international adaptor) for my phone. With just these things, I could survive losing everything else. American Express travel insurance has kicked in several times over the years, meaning I can buy ‘essentials’ when luggage goes missing (thank you, American Airlines).

But that’s the disaster catered for. For run of the mill trips, I break it down into the following prompts:

  • What will I need at the airport?

  • What will I need on the flight?

  • What will I need at the destination?

  • What do I need for entertainment?

Anything out of the ordinary gets added to my standard checklist, which includes toiletries, clothes, running gear and so on. Working through this list means I rarely leave anything behind and feel a lot more secure locking my front door behind me. And far less bored/frustrated on a long flight. And a lot more organised when I arrive at my destination.

Yes, I rarely go anywhere where buying replacement items would be impossible. But that’s a chore. And it can get pretty expensive very quickly. As recent trips to Sweden and Switzerland have highlighted…

It’s a way of life

Not Evernote (although I could argue for that), but thinking in terms of checklists. It’s a mindset, really. If you’re interested, I can recommend ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ as a powerful insight into the way checklists can make the world safer and more efficient. Relying on checklists for frequent activities means you’re not wasting brainpower ‘remembering to remember’ but can focus on more important things.

If I hadn’t worked through my checklist this morning, I would have forgotten to pack the new phone case I got to take my Samsung Note 3 running (yes, it looks hilarious strapped to my arm but I don’t care) and a textbook I need to read for an upcoming coaching course I’m attending.

Checklists aren’t lazy, old-fashioned or boring. When you find yourself in another country without an adaptor for your phone or important medications (note the order I wrote that…says a lot about my priorities!) then you’ll wish you’d had a checklist.

To get your started, here’s a link to a useful post on Evernote’s blog all about checklists.

Happy travels!

Postach.io joins the App Centre

932326b07b28d2bce64e168404c95d96The really very excellent Postach.io has joined the Evernote App Centre.

What’s Postach.io, I hear you say?

If you use Evernote, it’s an idiot-proof method for turning notes into a perfectly serviceable blog. It’s definitely idiot-proof as I’ve managed it – took about one minute to get it up and running. I really have a soft spot for Postach.io as it leverages a technology I use several times every day (Evernote) and means you don’t have to ever worry about your posts going AWOL when your blog host goes belly-up.

Even if (fingers crossed) Postach.io was vaporised tomorrow, all your blog posts would still be sitting in your Evernote account.

Genius.

Yes, it’s missing lots of the bells and whistles of more advanced blogging platforms like WordPress and (shudder) Blogger, but I think that’s an advantage – it’s all about getting words down on the page and publishing.

Another advantage: Evernote works so well with IFTTT, you could set up all kinds of crazy auto-posting from other services like Twitter and Facebook. You could send all your tweets, Instagram photos and Tumblr posts to a single, easy to maintain blog.

I can’t wait to see how it develops over time – you can already import posts from Tumblr and I hear there’s a WordPress importer on the way. You can add Disqus for comments and use Google Analytics to keep track of hits. All in all, it’s a great alternative to the most established blogging services out there.

Who knows – they might be able to tempt me to blog there full time.

Check out the Postach.io Feed for examples of what others are publishing using this great app right now…

Once bitten: backing up with Evernote

After my recent blog melt-down and apparent loss of (about) two year’s worth of writing, I’ve decided to adopt a “safety first” approach and ensure this never happens again.

Aside from scheduling regular back-ups of the WordPress blog itself, I’m also using the very excellent “If This, Then That” (IFTTT) service to send all new WordPress posts straight to an Evernote notebook.

IFTTT is an idiot-proof tool for linking up your online services in very creative ways. I’ve been using it for about a year and love it. For example, I have one recipe that sends all my Foursquare check-ins as appointments to my Google calendar. This then represents a log of where I’ve been and with who. For someone with an appalling memory (due part to my Epilepsy), this is a handy way of logging my movements for the future.

I’ve just realised how this latest incarnation of my blog has little or no reference to Evernote. Therefore I can only surmise that 2011 and 2012 were big years for Evernote in my blog – and these are the blog posts I’ve yet to rescue.

Put simply, Evernote is probably the most useful app I’ve discovered. Think of it as the most flexible notebook that you’ve ever owned. Like an article on a website? One click later and it’s saved forever for offline reading. Want to save a receipt for an online purchase? Forward the email to your unique Evernote email address and it’ll be magically transformed into a note for safekeeping.

Evernote can also be used to track to-do lists, store scanned documentation, photos of belongings… the use cases for this tool are pretty much infinite. It’s also (mainstream) platform agnostic, being available for iOS, Windows, Mac, Android, Windows phone and even Blackberry.

I’ll definitely have to write a few posts on how I use Evernote – I’m a bit of an advocate and have converted a number of colleagues to using it. In the meantime, I can rest easy knowing that each new blog post is automatically logged in my Evernote account for the future.