Why did I never get into Evernote?

I just noticed that the Evernote app updated itself on my phone, and that got me thinking about how I just don’t use it much. I made a serious effort a year or two ago, in the middle of my last big project, dutifully taking pictures of white boards, making notes during meetings, TODO checklists, etc.; however, I almost never went back and reread the notes, reviewed the snapshots, or worked through the TODO lists, and somehow, the project still chugged along just fine.

The surprising part (for me) is that Evernote is exactly what I would have designed if you’d asked me to design a note-taking/idea-organising app. From my POV, the app did everything right:

  • Search works
  • You can group notes by subject or by tags
  • You can share notes
  • The smartphone app works offline and syncs when you’re back online
  • It organises media like pictures the same way it organizes text notes
  • The UI is simple and uncluttered (at least, it was back when I was using it)

Maybe the problem isn’t Evernote, but the idea of taking notes at meetings. I have piles of old engineering notebooks from past consulting gigs, and I doubt I ever went back and reviewed 0.5% of them after I wrote them.

I guess this is a good lesson for information architecture and tech design. I started with a process that didn’t work for me (paper-based note taking) and assumed that if I added some tech pixie dust to it — web apps, search, tags, smartphone app, etc. — it would suddenly change and become functional. That didn’t happen, because it almost never happens, and it’s not Evernote’s fault.

About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
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5 Responses to Why did I never get into Evernote?

  1. I’ve used Evernote regularly for the past 18 months. I find it a fantastic centre for what you described even going so far as to store documents and receipts. My biggest problem with Evernote aside from the occasional crashes is that it feels extremely unresponsive, especially in the latest iOS update on older (4S) hardware. The 5S I just purchased seems to compensate for what feels like a bloated app.

    Being organized is a joy when it happens but having to wait for Evernote to catch up means I’m using it less and less. Hopefully they address this but it’s never seemed to be a priority.

    Finally, any good note taking system be it paper based or digital needs to have a good methodology for organization and cleanup. Evernote just provides the tools.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michael. I’m guessing that, in the past, paper-based note taking also worked well for you, so Evernote just helped automate an already-successful process. My mistake was thinking that technology could fix what has been (for me) an unsuccessful process. I’m very good at organising things (and enjoy doing so) — in fact, the one thing I did in Evernote was carefully organise the notes that I never bothered rereading.

      • To be honest, no. In the past I’d write copious notes and then leave them disorganized all over the place. I now have a strict policy to not keep paper copies of anything. It all gets digitized, usually into Evernote. It’s not that I go back and review them all but it’s there if I need to refer to them. The one thing I don’t use it for is to-do list items or tasks. They’ll get lost. Better to use GTD type software (I use Things for Mac and iOS).

        For instance, I use Evernote to document every meeting I’m in. If there is a task to be done out of that it goes into Things but I can at least refer back to my notes when the subject of the meeting comes up or the next meeting occurs.

        Essentially Evernote does what their elephant icon suggests. It simply helps me to remember.

    • CS Wong says:

      My main problem using Evernote or any of its ilk is that it’s impossible for me to type my notes on a mobile device fast enough to keep up with the meeting. Scribbling on a piece of paper is still more a second nature to me in that I can write and listen at the same time. Do you have that problem and how do you overcome it?

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