When You Need a Bucket, Reach for Evernote

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In an age when we’re bombarded with constant streams of information, most of us could use a tool that allows us to store all sorts of data, one we could refer to when trying to formulate through our research and our ideas.

This is particularly true of us GTD’ers. After all, collecting data is an essential part of the GTD process.

But this isn’t to say that GTD’ers shouldn’t necessarily use the same tool to collect data that they use to collect to-dos. Sometimes we couldn’t do that if we wanted to. For example, Cultured Code’s Things, one of the most popular GTD apps, cannot import attachments; competitor OmniFocus, on the other hand, allows users to throw in images, audio and PDFs. (See OMNIFOCUS: PROS AND CONS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A THINGS USER for a comparison of both GTD apps.)

Whether your GTD app of choice lets you import reference material or not, there are advantages to using a separate app. Because notetaking and archiving apps have one specific goal, they may offer features not available in a GTD app, such as a ubiquitous capture mode. And given the tendency of many a GTD’er to switch between products, it makes sense for them to have a separate storage system.

Three Amigos?

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Three notetaking and archiving products have stood out among the competition over the years.

The first, DEVONthink, is quite a powerful tool. Too complex for the general population, it is thus seen more as niche product — one which is beginning to look outdated to boot.

Microsoft’s OneNote is a capable performer. Like its chief competitor, Evernote, it’s geared toward the broad-base consumer market. But many reviewers give Evernote a slight edge. Kerry Dawson, for example, thought Evernote was easier to learn.

Evernote has garnered excellent reviews and won awards like the 2013 Apple Design Award. It also counts many happy users — including myself.

Part of the reason for this success lies in Evernote’s power and ease of use. Besides an intuitive layout, Evernote has a text editor, a photo upload tool, a web clipping feature, a secret email address, and a voice recording device, all of which can be used to upload content to your account. Evernote also has an excellent OCR feature which lets you search for text contained within images and PDFs. All of this information is stored in the cloud so that you access it from your computer, smartphone or tablet. (Evernote has Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry apps.)

Capturing data isn’t the only thing Evernote excels at. Its organizing and editing capabilities work really well, too. Besides being able to create different notebooks and tag every note, you can also search for text contained within a note, using boolean terms and wild cards if you like.

This means you could select a notebook called Article Ideas, a tag for “dailymacview,” and type into the search bar “gtd” to find all the notes that meet these criteria, even if the letters “gtd” are handwritten on a scrap of paper or whiteboard.

Another benefit of Evernote comes in the Evernote Market, which features a wealth of third-party products, apps and plug-ins under the Evernote umbrella. This includes cool products like the Evernote Sketchbook by Moleskine, the first paper notebook specifically designed for users who would like to create digitized versions of handwritten notes, and the Jot Script Evernote Edition Stylus.

Lastly, Evernote has a reminders feature, but I won’t go in detail about it because this article focuses on Evernote as a storage system. Besides, full-blown GTD’ers are unlikely to settle for a basic reminder, although some people have spent a remarkable amount of time and energy trying to turn Evernote into a full-blown GTD app.

Of course, not everything is perfect. I’ve found Evernote crashes a bit too often. It’s also not designed for large documents — Dropbox is probably a better fit for that.

Price: Is it Worth it?

Evernote comes in two flavors: a free and a paid version, called Evernote Premium. The main difference? The paid one gets you a 1GB upload cap (as opposed to 60MB with the free one). Premium users can also search through PDFs, access notebooks offline, and even give other users the ability to edit a note, adding collaboration to the experience. (You can require that collaborators be an Evernote account holder or not.) Evernote Premium costs $45 per year or $5 per month.

Summary

Because it’s cross-platform and easy to use, Evernote makes for an excellent notetaking and information storage system. Its tagging and organizational abilities make it a breeze to locate info, and I love being able to take pictures knowing I can search for text on them.

That said, I would love being able to record audio and have it transcribed, like the deceased Jott. But other than that, I would only ask that it crash less, and I look forward to whatever features Evernote will be able to incorporate to iOS8 and Yosemite. (I would be thrilled if related notebooks and notes could become accessible through Things.)

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