There is no *real* Evernote alternative

Update: It took a while, but I realised eventually that I was wrong about Obsidian: it does have a hierarchical structure that allows you to store your notes in nested folders. Over this weekend, I’ve managed to switch from Evernote and NotesNook to Obsidian. Firstly, I’m glad to be free of the complications of NotesNook, but more importantly, I’m glad that there is a simple enough tool that gets the basics of moving things around right, even though it lacks a proper quick capture tool, and I still haven’t been able to figure out storing PDFs. I’m also not sure if I’ve done the importation right. Setting up syncing across devices using syncthing was fun 🙂 There appear to be some functionalities missing, but it looks like this was what I was looking for, and then some more.

What’s also cool about Obsidian is the plugins. There are a couple of AI plugins to look into, that add an AI Assistant that uses your Obsidian notes as base. I’m planning to try out bi-directional linking soon, and it should be fun going through YouTube videos on Obsidian.

The “why” I’m obsessing over note-taking is important. In my work, structured notes are a superpower. Connected notes even more so. I was all over the place with notes before Allwin introduced me to them, saying specifically it’s something he thought I’d benefit from. He was right.

The “Why” of note-taking: Structured note-taking enables me to write better, find information, prepare talks, note down some developments for reference. I’ve become so much more efficient at thinking about things and creating outputs because of my note taking. As an example, if I’m called on TV once the data protection bill comes out, I have comments I’ve made on data protection over the past 4 versions, all in Evernote. I’ve got some 70 odd notes for things I’ve said on TV, so basically I can talk about any issue at any time, because it’s easy for me to build on my previous work, by either referencing it for new points, or pointing out how things have changed. The act of going through these notes trigger new ideas or lines of thought. At times, they’re a reflection of what I was prioritising then in what I was going to say. It’s also a dumping ground for useful things: I must have saved over 200 tweets to go through on AI.

July 22: I’ve been experimenting with Evernote alternatives, essentially looking to exit Evernote once and for all. I’ve tried Notion, AnyType, SimpleNote, NotesNook, Obsidian and so many more.

I take notes like a maniac: both written and digital, having been urged to do so repeatedly by both Rajesh Jain and Sanjeev Bikhchandani.

I’m using a modified version of Tiago Forte’s PARA method (I’ve merged Areas and Resources, under Resources, and I’m using “Action” instead…kinda like a someday list of things to do: articles to write, videos to watch, articles to read etc. In addition, I have an “inactive” notebook for projects that are on hold for the time being. This method changed the way I process and store information, and has made me much more effective in my work. When I quick-capture something I move them into inbox, and then every couple of days (though sometimes, it’s a weekly exercise), I move notes from inbox into a notebook…often, into a project note. Once a project is completed, I simply move the entire notebook from Projects to Archives, or if incomplete, into inactive.

Here’s what I need:

  • Quick capture into a basic notebook
  • Cross platform availability, whether Windows, Mac, iOS, Android. I use all of these.
  • Hierarchical structure: Evernote’s hierarchical structure of Stacks > Notebooks > Notes is ideal.

Notion and Anytype are far too complex for simple hierarchical note-taking, Simplenote and Google Keep don’t have hierarchies, Obsidian seems linear too, although notes are interconnected. I don’t like OneNote: it’s too clunky.

Notesnook is the closest I’ve seen to Evernote. Its hierarchy appears to be Notebooks > Topics > Notes, although you can add notes in a notebook without attributing a topic to it. It’s not as intuitive to operate:

  • Moving notes and projects(as topics), in particular, is messed up:
    • There’s no drag-and-drop functionality to move notes around.
    • The hierarchy isn’t visible in the sidebar, and it takes too many clicks to move anything anywhere. Just slows down everything.
  • If you’re doing a quick capture into an inbox notebook, you can’t move it around: Notes here can belong to multiple notebooks, so with each instance of moving a note, you have to add it to a topic in a notebook, and then remove it from another notebook. Double the work for something that should have been drag and drop.

I’ve spent the last half and hour trying to process a weeks worth of notes, in terms of moving it to the correct notebook on NotesNook, and I’m fed up. On an average, I take around 5-10 notes a day, and this is just too painful.

While I still haven’t found something that works, I know that NotesNook is my (painful to use) replacement for the time being. I’m not averse to paying for something here: at present I’m paying for both Evernote and NotesNook.

Evernote has gone downhill over the past few months: it isn’t syncing as well. I’ve lost notes that I’ve typed on a flight, including notes that I culled out notes from a 100 page document, as soon as I’ve come online. Evernote customer service wasn’t very helpful there. In addition to this, Evernote is increasing prices: I really don’t want to pay more for a service going downhill.

I was keen on figuring out AnyType, but their onboarding is non-existent. I still can’t figure out the distinction between Sets and Collections in AnyType, and unfortunately, for both AnyType and NotesNook, there are no tutorials, posts or YouTube videos explaining how to set up the PARA method. AnyType doesn’t even have quick capture.

Meanwhile, earlier this week I decided to stop adding new notes to Evernote: I’ve replaced the quick capture button for Evernote with that for NotesNook on my phones, and removed Evernote from my phone homepage. Now I need somewhere to transfer all of those backed up ENX files with around 5000 notes to shift.

In case anyone has suggestions or a solutions, do let me know. My email address is [my twitter handle] AT gmail DOT com.