Archive for category productivity

Exploring Evernote alternatives – 3

OK, what’s the next alternative on the list after SimpleNote?

Google Keep? No thanks. Next!

If your main problem with Evernote is that it doesn’t efficiently allow you to share notes with your team members then you should try out Notejoy.

Top 15 Best Evernote Alternatives You Can Use – July 2020

Well, that’s NOT my main problem with it. I don’t have a team and am not into sharing. Next!

calling DEVONthink a note-taking app will be undermining its full potential as it’s not only a note-taking app, it’s also a full-blown document management system that can handle PDFs, links, and more. The app even has a built-in browser which lets you open the links inside the app itself.

Top 15 Best Evernote Alternatives You Can Use – July 2020

This sounds like overkill for my needs, but as my first choice Simplenote doesn’t seem to handle attachments well, I might check it out. I hope it offers a free trial. Scratch that: only available in Mac/iOS (and no free trial for the iOS version). Exploration will have to wait till I’ve weaned myself off Windoze. Coupla vids I checked out to learn a bit more about it


(The above video alerted me to the existence of an app called Obsidian, and I was interested enough in it to check it out. Obsidian will import Markdown notes. To get Evernotes into Markdown, I followed the “Bear” method below.)

If you are a Mac user, Keep It can serve as a good Evernote Alternative option for you.

I’m not, so… Next!

Zoho Notebook

Inside, you can create text-notes, voice-notes, add pictures, and more.

OK, interesting and free, but… not available for Windows, so pass for the time being. Next!

CintaNotes is a very good Evernote alternative for Windows users. It is a lightweight, fast, and simple note-taking software

OK, looks interesting. I downloaded it. Problem: how to get my existing 10,000+ Evernotes into CintaNotes? It won’t import an Evernote enex file. I need to convert it to an xml file first. I asked the Evernote community how to do that and was told there are over 16,000 results to a Google search on that subject. After carefully going thru all 16,000… well, actually just the first 20… 19 of them deal with converting to or from PDF or some other irrelevant format. The one page that told me how to convert enex to xml sent me to Github… Uh-oh. “Here’s the code. Go nuts!” Yeah, thanks but that’s above my pay-grade. Even this to-pay-for product won’t do it. There’s a package to convert to Markdown, which might come in handy (if I can figure out how to use it; there is a Windows version; I just tried it and my Windows 8.1 won’t let me open it for some obscure security reason. Oh, well). But for the moment, CintaNotes sits empty and unused on my desktop. Next!

Roam Research. Have heard about this, mainly from serious tech-lovers, so I’m doubtful. I created an account and discovered it will import json or markdown files only. So, not immediately useful. I’m on the 30-day trial which gives me a few weeks to figure out how to turn my Evernotes into either Markdown or json (whatever that is; oh! Github has code for that, which I can’t make head or tail of, but thanks). Next!

Milanote is kind of an endless whiteboard…

Yawn. Next!

If you want a simple note-taking app without the bells and whistles that come with an app like Evernote, Bear is the right app for you.

That’s me! … oh, wait…

One thing to mind here is that Bear is only available for Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, and Mac).

OK, I downloaded it onto my iPad. Now, how to import my Evernotes… That should be straightforward, yeah?

Well, this looks a little hopeful:

There are several ways to migrate off of Evernote and onto another tool. One of the easiest note-taking tools to import into is Bear, a Mac/iOS markdown notes app

Post-Evernote: How to Migrate Your Evernote Notes, Images and Tags Into Plain Text Markdown – Dec. 2018

And this helpful page also makes the process sound as if might be even within my own limited abilities.

Update: My imported Evernotes appear well in Bear. This looks like a winner. All that remains is for me to export the rest of my 10,000 Evernotes… What fun!

Exploring Evernote alternatives – 2

OK, what’s the next alternative on the list after OneNote?



  • Free
  • Windows version
  • syncs across devices


  • the browser app won’t let me import my exported .enex Evernote file. I need the desktop app, which does let me import .enex files.
  • imported notes lose attachments, so no PDFs or images. Bother. What about encrypted notes? Does Simplenote allow for private (unsynced) notes, like Evernote used to do until the latest version (one reason I decided to look into alternatives)?
  • Can I attach images or pdfs or video or audio to Simplenotes? Don’t know yet.

Exploring Evernote alternatives

Since Evernote’s latest update (version 10), I’ve been seriously considering alternative note-taking apps. In fact, I cancelled my annual Premium renewal yesterday, even tho I’m not yet ready with a working alternative.

I started here:

My first exploration was of Microsoft’s OneNote, because

  • I already tried Notion and found it too much work,
  • it seemed to be easy to import my Evernotes into OneNote
  • I already have OneNote.

Actually, that last item was false: although I have Office for Home & Business installed, I didn’t seem to have OneNote.

  • Step 1: download OneNote.
  • Step 1 problem: having downloaded a suitable file from Microsoft, the installation process told me it would involve removing certain MS products because of incompatibility. Continue/cancel? I cancelled.
  • Step 1 problem 2: MS Word and Excel have been erased from my pc!
  • Step 1 problem 2 solution: repair MS Office – repair finishes but MS Word and Excel still absent.
    • solution 2: reinstall MS Home & Business. Word/Excel restored. Now what?
  • Return to Step 1 and try again. This time, I’m smart: I don’t click “cancel” but “install anyway”. Ha! Fool me once… Wait… What? There’s a problem with the installation? Required removal of previous installation unable to be properly completed?
  • Sigh and call MS tech support. Choice: follow magic footprints online or pay $12 for a telephone-guided support through the process. Cheapskate, I choose the free online instructions. What could go wrong?
  • To cut a long story short… 5 calls to tech support later, I’m back where I started: Office (2013) installed but without OneNote.
  • Conclusion: OK, what’s the next alternative on the list after OneNote?

Simplify, simplify

I just discovered on this blog that I have 1,300+ tags! I deleted 1,000 of them before I reached any that were linked to more than 1 post. I could probably get rid of a couple of hundred more, but I think that’s about enough fun for one day, don’t you?

Teachers scrambling to put their classes online

As schools close or prolong their spring vacations, they are also gearing up for online classes and requiring their teachers to get up to speed on online teaching which means learning various “platforms” and software programs in a hurry.

I work at three different institutions of higher learning, and they each use different platforms for delivering digital content and managing learners. Great!

Although my main employer finally (i.e. April 10th) got around to giving teachers an orientation into how to use the Moodle-based system (all in Japanese, of course), I had to find my own English resources to fill in the gaps. This tutorial was the best, I found: Moodle 3.8 Complete Tutorial for Teachers and Creating Online Courses

Russell Stannerd is an excellent and prolific resource for just every educational platform and software under the sun. I found his YT vid on Zoom security settings particularly helpful.

Much has been said and written and blogged about Zoom’s “security issues”, but this video by Keep Productive and this article about Oxford  Professor Dutton, who is also a fellow of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC) of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, suggest there is no big problem: the “problems” happened because people were setting up Zoom meetings without properly educating themselves about the various security settings.

But, many of the issues are actually related to the users moderating the conference, rather than the software, says Professor Dutton. … He maintains, there are numerous ways in which meetings and events can be safeguarded from malicious intent. He says: ‘There has been exaggerated coverage of the problems. It’s not usually a problem with the software. Many of these issues can be addressed by the moderator.’ … Professor Dutton maintains: ‘Part of the problem is that Covid-19 moved so many people online so quickly. Teachers and people with no background are using [this technology] because it is so simple. But it made them vulnerable to malicious intent [because they did not take the security measures that were available].’

FBI follows Oxford academic’s guide to beat the Zoom-bombers

Here’s Prof. Dutton’s original blog post: Zoom-bombing the future of education

However! This article suggests there are other, more serious issues: ZOOM’S ENCRYPTION IS “NOT SUITED FOR SECRETS” AND HAS SURPRISING LINKS TO CHINA, RESEARCHERS DISCOVER Is there truth in this, or is this part of a broader China-bashing fashion? You be the judge.

According to the above Intercept article, Zoom’s user-base has increased 20x (including the US and UK governments) since the corona virus started causing many people to work from home: “Since the coronavirus outbreak started, Zoom’s customer base has surged from 10 million users to 200 million, including “over 90,000 schools across 20 countries,” according to a blog post by Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.”

There are a number of free courses teaching people how to teach online and many more have sprung up in the last few weeks, for obvious reasons. Here’s one I joined: Take Your Teaching Online run by NILE (no idea what that stands for and they’re not telling you! I think the N stands for Norwich in the UK, but not sure). Russell Stannerd is one of the instructors.

This LinkedIn Learning course on using Camtasia is also very good. And it’s free (for a while): How to Create Instructional Videos in Camtasia by Corbin Anderson.


My notes on “The PARA Method”

The PARA Method is “a universal system for organizing digital information”. As such it forms part of Tiago Forte’s online course, Building a Second Brain (sign up for the course here, watch a short introductory video here, read an overview here).

The links above give information by the creator of Building a Second Brain (BASB) himself, so I won’t summarize it here. I’ll just briefly point out a key element of the PARA system as I understand it just from reading some articles and watching a few videos. I’ve been putting it into practice and finding it very useful.

P.A.R.A. stands for Projects — Areas — Resources — Archives

Archive is self-explanatory, as should be resources, though in PARA it seems to be more encompassing than “project support materials”.

It’s the distinction between Project and Areas of Responsibility that I found most enlightening and useful.

If you’re a GTD-er, you’ll be familiar with Areas of Responsibility – the 20,000 ft level or horizon, just above “current projects” – which forms part of the Horizons of Focus: ” The GTD Horizons of Focus is a framework for how to align your daily actions with your visions, goals, and life-purpose. Done right, it will place you in the captain’s seat for controlling the most important aspects of your life.

Forte’s Areas of Responsibility seems to me the same as the GTD one.

A project is “a series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline. An area of responsibility is “a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.” even the smallest confusion between these two categories is a deeply rooted cause of many personal productivity problems.

A project has a goal to be achieved… by a specific moment in time. It has a deadline or timeframe. …

An area of responsibility, by contrast, has a standard to be maintained. And there is no end date or final outcome. Your performance in this area may wax and wane over time, but the standard continues indefinitely and requires a certain level of attention at all times.

The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information

People often mistake their areas of responsibility for projects. They’re not. Projects have defined deadlines; areas continue indefinitely and require attention and adherence to standards.

There are three absolutely critical things you cannot do unless you break out your areas of responsibility into clearly articulated projects. The first is that you can’t truly know the extent of your commitments.

Second, you can’t connect your current efforts to your long-term goals

Third, you can’t know if you’re making progress toward your goals.

The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information

The other useful tip I learned from this article was, once you’ve setup PARA in your note-taking application or your To-Do app, recreate that same setup across all your relevant digital programs. This takes time, but I’ve made a start syncing my YT playlists with my bookmarks and my Evernote notebooks. It makes so much sense and saves time in the long run.

“The exact same project list is replicated across every program”.

Here’s why this is important: you will always need to use multiple programs to complete projects… but technology is advancing too quickly on too many fronts for any one company to do every single function best.

Instead of … looking for “one platform to rule them all,” formulate your Project List and then replicate that list across every single tool you use, now and in the future… down to the exact same spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, so that your transitions between programs are as seamless as possible.

…people tend to use different organizational schemes in every program they use… forcing their brains to “load up” and remember a different one every time they switch programs.

The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information

The article ends with a simple exercise that helps to understand the importance of clearly distinguishing projects from areas:

There is a very illuminating exercise you can perform once you’ve taken the time to formulate a clear Project List. Put it side by side with your Goal List, and draw lines matching each project with its corresponding goal.

The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information

Tags: ,

Smart notes

P.A.R.A. is Tiago Forte’s “system for organizing digital information” (read more on Forte’s blog “Praxis” – The PARA Method”). Here’s how a Master GTD trainer uses PARA. (See also my notes on Forte’s PARA method.)

This video is a screencast by a highly competent user of the GTD system. He uses Evernote and PARA.

How to Take Smart Notes: a summary of what Forte learned about note-taking from reading a book called How to Take Smart Notes (affiliate link), which is itself based on a system familiar to many as zettelkasten using index cards. (I actually used this system myself for many years – very analog it is, that was part of the attraction.)

Photo by plindberg  via Sean Lawson | Zettelkasten Method for Researchers & Academics

Instead of notes becoming a “graveyard for thoughts,” they can become a life-long pool of rich and interconnected ideas we can draw on no matter where our interests lead us.

How To Take Smart Notes: 10 Principles to Revolutionize Your Note-Taking and Writing

Well, that’s nice, but my index cards did become and remain a “graveyard for thoughts”, and the same thing has happened with my Evernotes, tho to a slightly lesser degree. Which is why I’m interested in both Building a Second Brain and the app Notion.

How many brilliant ideas have you had and forgotten? How many insights have you failed to take action on? How much useful advice have you slowly forgotten as the years have passed?

We feel a constant pressure to be learning, improving ourselves, and making progress. We spend countless hours every year reading, listening, and watching informational content. And yet, where has all that valuable knowledge gone? Where is it when we need it? Our brain can only store a few thoughts at any one time. Our brain is for having ideas, not storing them…

Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience…

This methodology is not only for preserving those ideas, but turning them into reality.

trying to remember all of it is overwhelming and impractical. By consolidating ideas from these sources, you’ll… have an ongoing record of personal discoveries, lessons learned, and actionable insights for any situation.

Building a Second Brain

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve been keeping track of “lessons learned”, but those lessons and their associated action plans are scattered in different places, both digital and analog, and I want to develop a way to keep them if not in one place (although Notion seems to make that feasible) at least more easily and quickly accessible.

Building a Second Brain offers a system for note-taking and for storing information (PARA) in a way that stacks the odds in favour of notes re-surfacing when needed instead of staying “out of sight, out of mind”, and Notion offers an interface that allows many different elements to be easily visible and accessible.

The “master GTD Trainer” uses a great many tags, something I wonder if Forte would approve of, given his opinion that “tagging is broken”!

Tags: , , ,

What I learned from Notion Office Hours: Tiago Forte

These are notes I made on watching this 1 hour 14 min. YT video of Marie Poulin interviewing Tiago Forte on how he uses Notion.

See my notes on my Notion page. The link should let you view the page whether you have a Notion account or not.


Time management

In addition to Notion-specific information, Tiago answered questions about his workflow, his weekly review, and how he manages his time. His answer to this last question was very interesting:

  • Q: How do you manage your time between management /admin stuff and creative work?
  • A: Anything that is a time-specific obligation, I do on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m very religious about this. Tue and Thurs are my “starving Parisian artist” days when I often sleep in. I can’t be creative in a 45-minute (pre-defined) time-slot. Weekly Reviews are done on M, W, F. NEVER on a creative day (Tue, Thur). I don’t even look at email on those days!

About Notion

and learning it, starting out, he said,

I advocate a just-in-time approach where you only add as much structure as is needed to solve the problem at hand.You’re creating structure on demand in response to a real need.”

(Marie): Notion seems very complex, but it’s so easy to move data in Notion, so you can move things around and change things, so you don’t have to get it perfect right off the bat. You can adapt on the fly. Be a little messy as you go.

(Tiago): The question is, What is the correct amount of structure for the task at hand?

YouTube – Notion Office Hours: Tiago Forte

Saving time with text expanders

He uses TextExpander A LOT (a Mac/iOS app. For Windows, there is PhraseExpress). See my Notion page for screenshots.

On GTD’s Weekly Review and Next Actions

Discussing his weekly review he revealed a relaxed attitude. In particular, I remembered, he does not review all his Next Actions: “that would take hours! Put on this list what you’re already going to do anyway!” and ” Only sort things, NOT do things. Clear email inbox does NOT mean responding to email. If you start doing that, you’re lost!”

Book recommendations

  1. Book #1 mentioned is “Work the System : The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less” (affiliate link) by Sam Carpenter  (2014) (Kindle Edition)
  2. Book #2 mentioned is The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Like. Have the Life You Want (affiliate link) by Elaine Pofeldt (Kindle Edition)
  3. Book #3 mentioned is  Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business (affiliate link) by Paul Jarvis   (Kindle Edition) 

See more on my “What I Learned…” Notion page.


Tagging is Broken – Tiago Forte on Evernote

This article is one of a series about Tiago Forte’s ideas on productivity and creative work for knowledge workers, including his system called “Building A Second Brain”. The next online course will take place in April and I already signed up here. (For context, I teach Academic Writing to EFL college students in Japan and am learning as much as I can about this and Notion before the next academic year starts in April.) My particular interests in this topic are:

  • how to make notes that I am more likely to use in future, note that don’t just accumulate then stagnate in Evernote-limbo
  • how to improve the quality and quantity of my writing
  • how to create notes that I can easily find again, saving me time and stress searching or trying to remember.


My earlier articles on Tiago Forte’s work are –

  1. Learning Notion (it was in some Notion YouTube videos that P.A.R.A and Building a Second Brain first came on my radar)
  2. More on PARA and Building a Second Brain
  3. Conversation with Tiago Forte, my notes on the first half of his first filmed interview, in which he discusses his 10 principles of Building a Second Brain
  4. A Manifesto for Human-Centred Work, my notes on the 2nd half of that interview.

This post is about a couple of articles by Forte on using Evernote productively and why tagging is broken. It’s my take on those two articles, not an accurate summary. As Forte wrote,

Have you ever read a book in which someone else has taken notes? The margin notes either don’t make sense, or their conclusions are totally obvious.

“How to Use Evernote for your Creative Workflow” – Tiago Forte, Forte Labs.

You’ve been warned.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

Back to the Opera (browser)

UPDATE: Another reason I like Opera is that it has a WhatsApp plugin that lets you read and reply to WhatsApp messages. How cool is that?!?

After playing around with Google Chrome for a while, I re-installed Opera on my desktop pc’s. Why? Because Chrome was so slow. And, I had to login to Google each time if I wanted my extensions to load. What the …? Extensions, of course, include my password manager, so that meant I had to type in my super-secret long-assed Google password BY HAND before I could load and use my password manager. I mean, really!

I blogged recently about Tiago Forte’s suggestions for streamlining one’s email procedures using keyboard shortcuts, which, however, I could not implement as my Google account did not allow me to access that function.  But Opera does have some shortcuts of its own: mouse shortcuts. AND keyboard shortcuts. Coolio.

I still keep Chrome on my USB, tho, because Opera does not have a portable version. Strike that. It does! Just installed it.

Update: 1 downside to Opera is that there is no Grammarly extension for this browser, so I’m keeping Chrome on hand, but Opera is my default browser.