Moving From Evernote To Apple Notes

I am a big fan of what Apple’s Notes has transformed into with the latest release of OS X 10.11 and iOS 9.0! I say transformed because it has truly become a new product with these latest releases. Prior to these updates, the app was barely worth mentioning, and certainly not reliable enough to be used for storing important note based data. I had been a long time Evernote user prior to using Notes.app and I have to say that although Evernote has some great features, the downsides outweighed the benefits. Overall Apple Notes fits me a lot better.

One of the biggest hurdles to making the jump from Evernote to Notes is also one of my biggest annoyances with Evernote; available export formats. You have two options for exporting notes out of Evernote: 1. “.ENEX” 2. “.HTML”. If you are simply making a backup, these may be ok, but if you need this data to move somewhere else, they are close to worthless. Even if your notes are simply text, you have no option to export as plain/rich text.

After a good bit of trial and error, I finally came up with a way to get my data mostly migrated from Evernote to Notes.app several months back. The method was not super streamlined, and did leave some text needing to be tweaked, but for the most part it got me most of the way there.

The only caveat to this method was that I used the beta version of the software that I used as the intermediary between Evernote and Notes, and this version has since been removed now that the software has launched for $9.99. The Write app is nice, but of course my end goal is to have everything in Notes. I am more than willing to spend $9.99 to save the time and hassle of manually getting all my notes moved over, but since I do not have the paid version, I am uncertain if my method will still work with the paid version of the app.


UPDATES TO POST

UPDATE 2015-10-18: It seems as though step 4 below is not possible if you updates Notes.app on your mac to the new El Capitan version. I will be looking for an alternate method for this step and update when found. If you find a way to import with the new version of Notes, please let me know! Thanks! See Below!

UPDATE 2015-10-19: I tried using the release version of Write over the weekend and it does not support the importing of Evernote archives. This whole process has really fallen apart! 😦

I found two scripts for importing .txt files into Notes.app. One is for single text files, and one if for a folder of notes. The scripts are working for me on El Cap.

Single File: http://d.pr/f/yjhj
Folder Import: http://d.pr/f/1aBrG (folder must contain at least 2 notes)

Update 2015-12-26: A new post by Larry Salibra with another script to aid in migration!


What was needed?

  • My Mac
  • Evernote installed and fully synced
  • A Mac app by the name “Write

These steps outlined below is what it took to get my Evernote data migrated over to Apple Notes.

  1. Export all your Evernote notes to an Evernote .ENEX export file.
  2. Open the Write App and import your .ENEX data into Write.
  3. Once all your notes are in Write, you can now export them all as individual plain text notes.
  4. Now take your plain text notes and drag them all into Apple Notes.
  5. This will import all the text files into Notes and you can begin organizing and fixing as necessary.

Like I said, this is not the most straightforward approach, but it did work for me. It was much better than manually copying over hundreds of notes.

As a side note, you can also get a great app from Write for free than can be used to keep a running backup of your Notes.app notes. It’s called “Notes Exporter” and is a quick way to export all your Notes.app notes into individual text files for a backup.


*It is important to say that Although Evernote’s format is very much a “Lock in”, it is fair to say that Notes.app is as well since it has no native Import/Export options built in. You will reply on third party tools at this point to get plain text in/out of Notes.app.

Apple’s iOS Apps

Utter the words “I use the stock apps on my iPhone” in a group of nerds and you will surely be flooded with all the reasons you are “doing it wrong”. In the not too distant past of iOS this was absolutely deserved by all rights. With every new year that rolls around, we see another update to iOS, and along with that overall update, we get updated versions of each of the default Apple apps that come as part of the OS. This year is no exception with the upcoming iOS 9. Most of Apple’s apps get minor updates with each release, but with iOS 9 we are going to see a pretty major revision to a lot of the Apple properties.

With each revision to iOS, I like to go back and check out all the stock apps to see how they have changed and to see if they meet my needs for the particular task they are designed for. There are so many amazing third party apps written by talented developers on iOS, but no matter how good they are, there are always small things that the apps are simply not allowed to do. The integration of Apple’s apps will always be that little bit more. The truth is, if a stock app does what I need, I am more than happy to use it – and sometimes prefer it – due to that extra bit of integration. I will even occasionally put up with some deficiencies in the app because I do get that extra integration benefit as a trade off.

Siri
Siri is an area of iOS where this extra integration really pays off. Siri is able to interact with Apple’s apps on a much deeper level than third party apps. This may not always be the case, and hopefully will change in upcoming versions of iOS; but, as it is still the case within iOS 9, we can assume it will be at least another year before Siri can interact at this level with third party apps. Siri, as a service, continuously improves and enables more hands free use of our devices, which is a great direction for users. With Siri on the Apple Watch and combined with HomeKit, we are enabled to become more detached physically from our devices without losing the connected benefits they provide.

Notes
Notes is not an app I seriously used until very recently. When notes was a yellow legal pad with a felt tip marker font, I wanted nothing to do with it. With the iOS 7 UI refresh, the app became at least approachable to most. I have used many different note taking solutions through the years, and recently grew tired of fighting with the solution I was using. I decided to give Apple Notes a try. A month later, I am still using it full time as my main bucket for notes. The update to Notes for iOS 9 is going to really make this switch worth it, I believe. The new features of iOS 9 will make it a real contender for most people who currently use other solutions that don’t offer the same level of integration. When it comes down to it, I need my notes to be with me on all devices and Notes is doing that for me. I do have the occastional sync issue, but it tends to fail pretty gracefully, and I end up with duplicate notes rather than missing notes. This I feel will improve as more things move to iCloud syncing.

Reminders
Reminders is another app that I have used on and off. When it comes to getting stuff done, I have gone through the entire spectrum on solutions and workflows. Omnifocus > Things > Omnifocus 2 > Todoist. What do I use now? I actually use Reminders as my full time single “GTD bucket”. This would blow most people’s minds, but its effectiveness is in its simplicity. I need to capture stuff and then do it. Reminders does this and has all the scheduling options I need. I am not at all saying this would work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Using Siri to add new items to my lists is really great. The backend sync could be improved, and I believe it is going to be with the upcoming iOS 9, as more things switch to iCloud sync rather than the old IMAP standard. UPDATE: I am back on Todoist and happier than ever! Reminders is great, but when it get’s complicated, it breaks down pretty quickly.

Calendar
Calendar has not always been my calendar of choice. There are plenty of other great calendar apps, but there were two things that made me decide to switch to iOS’ default. For one, the icon date. I am one of the people who looks at the icon for the current date. The default Calendar’s icon updates with the current date, while others cannot. Like Siri, this is another area where I would like to see APIs opened up for third parties. Second is the fact that it supports all calendar types, so I can use a single app. Using two calendar apps is not a great solution for me, so I just use the one and it does what I need. The Calendar app on my phone is mostly a viewing app, whereas the majority of event editing and creation I do on my Mac with Calendar.app or Fantastical’s great natural language parser. Being that I use the calendar app on my phone in this way, I don’t need a lot of the bells and whistles of other calendar apps when I am on the go.

Mail
Mail is another app that has a ton of great alternatives on iOS. Most of these apps have clever ways for dealing with email while on the go. Most of those features are also for email services I don’t use, so they are of no benefit to me. No matter what email app you use, when you send from a link, it will use the Apple Mail app. This means you need to have all your accounts in Apple Mail anyway, so why not just use it. Again, I don’t find using multiple apps for the same purpose to be helpful to me. The majority of my mail handling happens before it gets to my device (Sanebox & Mail rules) anyway, so the on-device tools become less necessary.

Podcasts
Podcasts is the one area where I am going the other way. Plain and simple, it does not work. The sync does not work at all and there seems to be reason for it. No matter the setup, it doesn’t sync reliably. Between mobile and mobile, computer and mobile… nothing. I have had instances where it won’t even keep things straight on a single device. Quite literally, every time there is any update to iOS, I immediately go and check to see if sync works. As of 8.4, it still doesn’t. I need this app to do 2 things: play audio and sync. That’s it. Until it can do that, I cannot give it the honor of being in the primary position for its task. Fingers crossed for iOS 9. UPDATE 2015-10-19: Sync works now and everything is going great with Podcasts.app now!

Maps
Maps has gotten a lot of negative reviews since its launch, but for me I have not really had any overall problems with it. It has given me erroneous directions occasionally, and had some crashing issues at one point, but overall, it does what it is supposed to do. I am not saying this is the perfect app for everyone; again, for my particular limited use case, it’s fine. If you rely on public transit, you will hopefully be in luck with iOS 9. Once again, the Siri integration makes Maps super easy to use.

Camera
Camera is arguably one of the most important iOS apps to me. This is another area where there are a ton of really awesome applications for taking and manipulating photos, but every single one of them has the same small thing that they cannot do, and that is to be a shortcut on the lockscreen. When you want to take a photo, you more than likely want to do it quickly. There is no quicker way to take a photo with the iPhone than sliding up from the bottom on the lockscreen. Until the lockscreen is opened up to third parties for shortcuts, the Apple Camera app will be my main camera for capturing. With the new extensions available in Photos for iOS 9, it opens up a great world for editing more seamlessly, which I cannot wait for! I also have to say that the iCloud Photo Library has been really great and works without any issues for me. Having my entire library of photos on all of my devices is a dream come true.

Capturing Workflow. How I am most effective.

I have been organized for quite some time when it comes to collecting information and then digging it up at a later date. From complex file structure, to more simplified apps that manage files, I have gone from one end to the other. For the most part, over the last 5 or so years, I have relied predominantly on Evernote and OmniFocus to store everything in my life that I wanted to retrieve later. To be completely honest, it has always been a pretty good solution, but it was never 100% perfect. I don’t really blame Evernote, because managing an app of that scale, which actually runs on damn near every platform under the sun, is no easy task. Slowly over the years, however, I began thinking about what other options there were for capturing and storing my life. Both Evernote and OmniFocus are great tools, but I was thinking they may not be the right tools for me. Starting in January of this year (not a ‘new years resolution’, just a convenient time to transition), I decided to start looking into some alternatives. I wanted to use the month of January to explore new options since the month is generally pretty slow and if things went horribly wrong, I would not be in the middle of major projects, etc. After trying some different setups during the first 1-2 weeks, I pretty quickly fell into a new flow that was working really well, and most importantly was really easy to maintain!

The great thing about Evernote was the ability to store everything and search for it. The problem I ran into more times than not, was actually being able to find the stuff at a later date. It seemed that the more stuff I put in, the harder it was to find something to get out. Speaking of getting things out, it is super easy to get things in to Evernote, but getting them out is quite a different story, and not a fun story. As for OmniFocus, it is a fine tool, but there were two reasons for me switching away. The first was that it was not the right tool for the job: it had way more bells and whistles than I needed. The second issue had to do with the apps. They do have an app on each of the platforms that I use (Mac, iPhone, and iPad), but the issue I have is that each of the applications looks completely different. Functionally they are pretty much the same, but when I am looking to capture tasks and get through them quickly, having to remember how each version works is not what I want to be focusing on.

The end solution for me became a more simplified approach. All my notes are captured as plain ‘ol boring text. It seems kind of weird and ancient, but turns out to be very effective and much easier to work with. There are a bunch of way more famous internet people than me who tout the virtues of plain text, so I will leave it to them to teach you the ways! I have to say though, I was skeptical for a while, thinking that there is no way that plain text would be ‘powerful enough’ to capture everything, but in reality, it absolutely is. The flow of plain text makes for a much easier means of capturing, organizing, parsing, and archiving information. The biggest key to this process is having access to the same repository of text from a number of locations. The fact that plain text is readable and editable by pretty much everything, adds to its power. By keeping each note as a single file in a single repository, you can then act on those files from a number of different applications and locations, and always have the latest information available to you.

If you have a system that is working really well for you, don’t switch; there is no reason to. If you have a system that is kind of working but you think, “there must be a better way”, this may be worth looking into. Most importantly, if you are driving yourself crazy because you can never find what you need, when you need it, definitely look into this type of system –or any system– before you completely lose your mind!

The tools I use to be the most effective.

27" iMac (home) / 11" MacBook Air (work)

  • nvALT – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading

iPhone 5s

  • Notesy – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Drafts – A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

iPad Air

  • Notesy – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Drafts – A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Paper – Sketching and drawing
  • Paper Pencil – Hardware stylus used for drawing / sketching ideas
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

Non Digital

Looking for an insane comparison of pretty much every iOS text editor in existence!? Brett has you covered! iTextEditors

UPDATE 2014-06-20
I am back with Evernote! I think what I needed more than anything was a fresh approach and look at how I was doing everything when it came to capturing text. Nothing wrong with plain text, in fact that is still the way I keep most of my notes in Evernote (in markdown too). An important thing to remember is that just because you can keep everything in Evernote, this doesn’t me that I have to.

UPDATE 2014-10-01
I have now also reverted back to Omnifocus! Kind of makes this post weird huh? Well, after using the beta of Omnifocus 2 for a while, I really liked the changes. Once version 2 made its way onto the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, I was ready to start using it fulltime. I did a migration of data and some clean up and haven’t looked back. They have really got a lot right here in this new version 2.