Tag: notes

After Evernote

This post is about my distributed electronic notes system. It’s basically what I am using to replace Evernote after I could no longer use that tool.

Where the wild files are

The core of it is Dropbox, although any cloud storage drive with clients for everything would do. In my Dropbox drive, I have a directory structure organised by topic –


Each of those directories contains text files – this blog post, for example, lives in a file called “~/Dropbox/notes/blog/distributed-notes”. Some of these directories have subdirectories for finer division of the topic.

Because these directories are in Dropbox, they get copied automatically to all of the devices where I have Dropbox installed – my laptop and my phone, for instance – but the information does not exist solely in the cloud: if Dropbox went away tomorrow, I would still have all the local copies of my files as well as local backups.

Phoning it in

I use the text editor of my choice* to edit these files on the general purpose computers in my life, and then I use a text editor with Dropbox support on my Android phone.

There are a number of editors available on Android which can access Dropbox, but the one I am using is 920 Text Editor: it’s functional without being flashy, displaying text on the screen in a readable but compact font so I can see enough of the file to get context when I’m working on something. The most important thing about it is that it will edit any file in Dropbox – some Android editors setup their own application folder within Dropbox, which is not helpful for editing shared data.

The workflow for editing an existing file is easy: go to Dropbox, find the file, open the file. Usually it goes directly to 920 Text, but sometimes I will be asked to select an application.

Creating a new file on the phone is slightly more fiddly: I can’t create it in 920 Text. Rather, the file has to be made by Dropbox and then opened with 920 Text. This workflow goes: create new text file, save file, close file, then reopen with 920 Text. That’s a bit more convoluted than I would like, but it is not the main workflow anyway.


The last thing I wanted to discuss here was writing blog posts in this system.

This blog is implemented in WordPress, and I often had trouble copying blog text from Evernote into the WordPress text editor.

I’m managing that now by writing in basic HTML and then pasting the text into the WordPress text editor rather than the visual editor. This way I spend a lot less time mucking about with tweaking line breaks, and all it requires is putting in a few explicit tags for italics and headlines.

The next thing

I have exported all of my notes from Evernote, but I have yet to convert them into general purpose text files. I’ll post that script when it’s written.

[*] vim.

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Organising Papers

It’s tax return time in the USA, and so I am spending a lot of time sifting through papers and typing numbers and dates into a tax program*.

This leads me to thinking about my paper notes.

Electronic notes are easy enough – I’m not using Evernote any more, but I have a similarly folder-structured set of notes. I’ll write about the specifics of that once I’ve finished importing all my Evernote notes into it.

But paper? How should that be arranged?

Actually, there’s a couple of issues here which intersect in the problematicalness:

  1. I’ve got a lot of notebooks and, with a couple of exceptions, no clear plan about what goes in each one. If they’re classified at all, it’s by location – the one in the backpack, the one on the shelf over my desk at home, the one that travels with us… very much situational rather than functional.
  2. I rarely go back and read old notes.

Fortunately, I don’t have much in the way of loose-leaf notes: I’ve never been one for grabbing napkins or envelopes to scribble on, for example, and if I make a note on a piece of scrap paper it usually gets transferred into an electronic form.

How should I manage my notebooks, then?

Well, I think the key thing is to figure out time for review rather worrying about saying what things go where. Having a single notebook would be nice, but it’s not that important as long as the notes are seen again.

So, here’s the plan.

  1. keep writing in the notebooks I already write in.
  2. have a standing weekly task to review my notebooks. Read what’s been written that week, then start digging back into the past.
  3. stuff which has been read and doesn’t need to be looked at again should be crossed out. Not obliterated: just a single diagonal stroke through the entry so I know I don’t need to worry about that page any more.
    Not needing to be looked again could be because the idea has been used, the page is just obsolete, or because it’s been copied into the electronic realm.

Now, what notebooks do I have to trawl through?

[*] I admire those who do their own taxes on paper, but I did not grow up with the US tax system and the paperwork here is frighteningly complex compared to the Inland Revenue’s forms.

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