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4th October 2013

The Evernote Question

Thoughts By 4 years ago

Evernote is one of only two apps I use everyday (the other one is Instapaper). I interact with it on my phone, tablet and desktop. It serves more purposes than I can count. Yet I gain nothing from it. In a way I don’t even use it.

This contradiction can only be understood when you assess what Evernote does and what it requires from you.

In the simplest terms it can be described as a memory bank, a tool to allow you to save anything you feel like, including websites, photos, quotes, check-lists, PDFs, post-it notes, anything that is or can be made digital can be saved to Evernote.

Once saved it is quickly tagged and allocated to specific notebooks, creating a system of easily accessible information at your fingertips, irrespective of device and operating system.

There is a reason people don’t think twice when Evernote absurdly markets itself as your “second brain.”

I myself have now saved thousands of notes. Distinct pieces of information that either carried an immediate significance or a sense that soon I will want to look back at the saved file and go over it. I have created countless checklists, to-dos, shopping lists, goals, plans and ideas. I save everything that can possibly be saved on it.

But there is a problem. Besides looking for and finding a numbers in my notes a couple of times, I don’t think I have ever gone through them and spent a meaningful amount of time processing, appreciating and understanding my notes. I don’t think I have even really looked at them.

Despite this I keep saving more and more notes to Evernote.

It has become a form my memory and it hasn’t helped me remember a thing.

This is not an uncommon situation. You can read numerous accounts of this occurring. I have considered other options and even experimented here and there with just making a giant Google doc, yet I keep going back to Evernote because it does what it does better than anyone else. Saving things.

So how is an app still useful if I am never gaining anything from it?

What purpose does it serve if it doesn’t serve the purpose I really need it for: To remember absolutely everything I want to remember, and thereby counter one our natural weaknesses- forgetting.

Evernote has successfully put in place a system that magnificently covers the first part of memory, which is choosing what to remember, but has so hasn’t succeeded in the second part, which is recalling the memory. Yes you can open the app and find it, but it hasn’t been turned into as seamless a process as collecting and archiving it in the first place has become.

The truth is I ask this question without expecting an answer because in a way the answer is that in order to make the most out of Evernote I need to start making an effort to look at the notes.

The answer in this case isn’t an answer, it is an expectation put upon the user to actually open the app more often and look at the saved notes.

If that is the solution, then there ought to be a more effective system in place to encourage the process. Perhaps a series of emails or reminders, push notifications or digests, just something to kickstart the action and help encourage a habit of regularly reading over the saved notes.

When that happens Evernote will become indispensable. It will do something no other app has been able to do. It will maybe become our second brain.

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