Leaving Evernote

I've been an Evernote user since around 2009. When I first started using it, Evernote was cutting edge in a lot of ways:

  • Evernote supported many types of notes: typed notes, pictures, audio notes, and more
  • Evernote was rock solid reliable
  • files did not have to be structured
  • tags were still new-ish as a concept

Evernote's logo is an elephant, with the idea being that an elephant never forgets.

I have since added thousands of notes to Evernote and I've been a paid user since close to the beginning. I've read blog posts and even books on how to use Evernote more effectively. As some example use cases:

  • key documents, such as tax receipts
  • notes to myself for how to do things, e.g. "pre-/post- vacation checklist"
  • photos of where I parked at the airport, so I don't forget
  • pictures from games
  • receipts
  • share notes with other family members also using Evernote

I have been really entangled in Evernote. To some extent it became a junk drawer for me—or maybe a creepy attic? I had a ton of content in there that I didn't want to face.

All that said, over the last few years, Evernote has gotten less reliable for me:

  • Android Evernote app has lost pictures that I have taken with it: I click the widget to take pictures, then take pictures, then click save, and then nothing happens
  • I try to send files to Evernote via the macOS app and/or the Android app and Evernote doesn't seem to import them
  • the "new" Evernote client constantly wants to update, like every time you open it it wants to update
  • this client does not allow you to export more than 50 notes at a time

In my case, I have also been looking at all the proprietary systems I use to ensure I am comfortable with where my data is. See also my "life archive" system.

All this boiled over last week, when I lost 50+ pictures I was trying to send to Evernote. This should have been a simple use case: I click on Evernote to take pictures; I take the pictures; the pictures go into a note. But it wasn't: I got a spinny icon for each picture and then eventually a message that the note was too big.

I've had this issue in the past, e.g. a while ago I took a picture of a document and then destroyed it but it turns out Evernote hadn't actually saved the image. I decided I needed to confront Evernote (finally).

How I switched

First, I identified a replacement tool: Notion. The key things that I liked about Notion were:

  • ability to collaborate with other Notion users
  • ability to export usable content
  • ability to synchronize
  • features that I had never been able to consider with Evernote, such as arbitrary levels of nesting
  • seemed to be some traction/other users

Since using it, I've already learned about other features such as the ability to create "databases" e.g. of places I want to hike.

Here's how I switched.

Create Notion account/workspace

I created an account/workspace and played around with it a bit.

Export Evernote notebooks

I had to do this using the Evernote Legacy client, so that I could export more than 50 notes at a time.

  1. Select all notes and export all to a file in enex format, e.g. "Evernote backup.enex". This is for emergency use and is not needed for conversion.
  2. Create a folder on my computer called "Evernote notebooks."
  3. Go through each Evernote notebook, one at a time, select all notes, and export those into the "Evernote notebooks" folder as enex files.

Convert notebooks using enex2notion

Notion's built-in Evernote importer did not work for me.

Fortunately, I found enex2notion. This is a great Python-based conversion tool! For setup:

mkvirtualenv enex2notion
pip install enex2notion

(This is predicated on you having virtualenv-wrapper.)

Then get your notion token.

Now go into the "Evernote folders" notebook and run this script:

set -e
mkdir -p moved


for i in *.enex
    enex2notion --token $TOKEN --add-meta --mode PAGE \
                --condense-lines --done-file done-tracking "$i"
    mv -i "$i" moved/

Please note: set -e makes the script stop on error, which is very important!

This script runs enex2notion on each enex file and then moves it into the "moved" folder. Here's what the enex2notion options do:

--token specifies your notion token
--add-meta adds a metadata block to each note
--mode PAGE or DB. I like the page layout more for imports
--condense-lines Reduces the number of "blocks" per note
--done-file This helps with resuming if the script cancels

This script works very well! It's not 100%, and I recommend you keep Evernote around until you can verify that the import worked to your liking. But it worked really effectively for me.

Take a backup

I highly recommend using Notion's export when you're done, so you have a backup before you start messing with stuff.

Lessons learned

I'm in a very different place with respect to information management vs. where I was in 2009 when I was starting to use Evernote. As I've gone through all my imported Evernote notes in Notion, I handle them differently based on the type of content:

Contact data
these can go into Google contacts, or they can go into a Notion "contacts" database I created.
Life archive related
for example, family history information. These go into my life archive instead.
these go into pinboard (the web site) instead
these can often be destroyed.
these go into Paprika (the app) instead

Within Notion, I have several top-level pages:

just like for Evernote, this is where new content goes when I'm not sure where to put it yet. (Or, maybe it can be deleted after I act on it!)
active task reference
content related to current active tasks, e.g. information about an appointment I need to schedule.
ideas about stuff.
information I may need to reference, e.g. facts about cars.
historic content that still needs to be in Notion vs. another system, e.g. a copy of my Hallmark movie reviews.

It can also be helpful to have a page keep until 2025, keep until 2026 etc where you put notes that you might want to keep for a while but then will destroy. That way you don't have to go through all your content looking for old stuff.