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Exploring Notion as an Evernote alternative

I found myself exploring Notion as an Evernote alernative again, yesterday. I looked at it briefly about a year ago, and it didn’t seem like something that was worth switching to at the time. After all, I’ve been using Evernote for years, and given how much I was using Evernote, I wasn’t sure that investing in a new service was worth it.

My prompt to explore Notion originated in my thoughts about my Dungeons and Dragons adventure notes, and my curiosity about it as a possible replacement for my handwritten notes (handwritten notes leave me feeling a little twitchy because there aren’t any backups).

An example of my adventure notes

I found a couple great discussions online about the tools that other DMs use for their adventures. Popular options include OneNote, Evernote, a number of services designed for role-playing games, and Google Drive.

I found a couple discussions about Notion as an option, too. One reddit user posted an intriguing Notion page template that they use for their adventure notes.

What I like about Notion

There’s a lot to like about Notion. It uses blocks, much like the WordPress Editor, to insert different types of content into your pages. Evernote supports some options, but my inability to add media from other sources (or even, in some cases, directly), feels somewhat limiting when I want to create richer notes.

For example, my options for adding content in the Evernote Web editor (probably on the leading edge of where the editor is going) look like this:

By contrast, I can embed a YouTube video in Notion much like I can do this in WordPress:

I keep mentioning the WordPress editor. The reason for the comparisons is that I really like using the block editor to add different types of content to my posts and pages. It’s a remarkably flexible editor that gives anyone the ability to create some really interesting, and complex layouts, pretty easily.

Some of the other Notion features that I enjoy, and that I’d love to see in Evernote (or any similar service I use) include –

  • Support for Markdown;
  • The ability to link to individual blocks on a page;
  • The option to create a wide variety of page types, including simpler databases that I could refer back to later in other pages; and
  • Frankly, Notion is cheaper than Evernote (almost $20 a year cheaper relative to the Evernote Premium plan that I’m on).

I also like how easy it is to import my notebooks from Evernote into Notion. I ran a test import of my DnD notebook, and it generated a really handy index page with links to the individual “notes” (or sub-pages):

Room for improvement

All that said, moving to Notion isn’t an easy decision. For one thing, Notion lacks the powerful search features that Evernote has. Evernote will not only search your notes’ text, it also does OCR-based searches on your note attachments.

This is an extremely useful feature because it means that all of those PDFs, and images containing some sort of text, become searchable. This isn’t the case with Notion, currently. They are working on improving search, but OCR is probably a way off:

https://twitter.com/NotionHQ/status/1245123301694779393?s=20

I also use the Evernote add-on for Gmail to quickly archive emails that I want to refer to down the line. I don’t see a similar option for Notion, or even an email address that I can forward emails to.

A small issue that I noticed is that I also can’t change the storage location for Notion on my Android device. I made the mistake of buying a phone with 32GB of storage, so space on the device is at a premium.

Not being able to move the app’s storage to the SD card on the phone is a challenge.

Can Notion replace Evernote (for me)?

Currently, I’m not sure. I still want to spend more time experimenting with Notion, and may use it to create my next DnD adventure as a sort of “real life” test.

The search feature limitation is, well, a limitation. I add PDFs to my notes because I want to reference them later. Many of them are already searchable, so not being able to tap into the text that’s there already isn’t ideal.

For now, though, I like what I see, and it’s certainly worth exploring further. If the search feature is updated to at least include PDFs with searchable text, Notion starts to become a pretty compelling alternative to Evernote.

My Evernote Premium subscription is up for renewal in June, so I have a little time to decide whether to continue.

If anything, the (sneaky) credit that Notion gives users switching from Evernote makes a Personal plan that much more affordable, so switching is pretty easy, once I make the decision (on a related note, here’s a helpful perspective: Switching From Evernote To Notion – Alex Svanevik – Medium).

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Applications Business and work Mindsets Useful stuff

A vague Notion of a more productive system

I spent a little time in my Pocket recommendations, and found this great post by Marie Poulin titled “One Tool To Rule Them All” and her, and her partner’s search for a more effective, more complete productivity solution. Along the way, she considered Bullet Journals.

I wanted to get on the bullet journal bandwagon, but the sheer inefficiency of hand-drawing the same lines, shapes, numbers, and tasks week after week, and month after month made me twitchy.

Looking at some of those bullet journal masterpieces made me wonder, how much of bullet journaling is just…productivity porn? Are people creating entirely separate accounts for their bullet journaling as a creative outlet, or to distract themselves from actually getting shit done?

Marie Poulin

I’ve been curious about bullet journals, too, but I found myself having similar doubts about how effective the method would be for me. I much prefer digital productivity tools, largely because I’m really apprehensive about having a productivity solution without a backup and sync option.

Also, I really have to watch out for my tendency to go down a complete “productivity tool testing” rabbit hole, and literally lose days testing solutions without actually getting anything done.

Poulin and her partner settled on tool called Notion, that looks pretty promising. I like how flexible the service seems to be. I like how Evernote uses a notebook metaphor with fairly free form notes as a way to capture information. That said, I don’t seem to use Evernote all that much lately (for a couple reasons).

If you do think that Bullet Journal is the option for you, definitely read Jamie Rubin’s post titled “Bullet Journal: One Book to Rule Them All“:

I recently began using a Bullet Journal. Longtime readers who recall my going paperless days might find this odd. My going paperless experiment was just that–an experiment to see how far I could go without paper. Eventually, I decided that there were good reasons (for me) to continue to use paper. I’ve been carrying around Field Notes notebooks for years. I use notebooks for work, and large Moleskine notebooks for my journal/commonplace book. So why a Bullet Journal, and why now…?

Jamie Rubin

For the time being, I’m clinging to a semblance of productivity with Remember the Milk as my main task list. Now and then, I’ll use Evernote to add a task to RTM by syncing between the two services.

The benefit of this approach is that it enables me to associate a task with a note containing relevant materials. Like most things in my life, it’s very much a work in progress that’s hampered by my erratic discipline.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Matt Ragland