Mark Hoppus noticed John Lally and I talking a little about note apps on Twitter and asked:
@jonathanlally @jason_tate hi guys thanks for taking my call. long time listener here. yeah, my question is how does it compare to evernote?
I responded in a few tweets about the differences, but because I’m me (and probably more accurate: because I’m my mother’s son) — I’ve actually thought a lot about my workflow when it comes to these things. Current circumstances1 allow me to expand a little bit on this topic here. To answer Mark’s question: The biggest difference between Evernote and Vesper is that Vesper currently doesn’t have a desktop application. It’s only available for the iPhone. From what I’ve read, the developers are currently working on a Mac App, and when that is released it will probably change how I currently handle notes and allow me to stop using Evernote completely.2 The way I currently look at it, I have five main types of text I need to store, access, recall, and manipulate on a daily basis:
- Reminders & Calendar Events
- Long Blog Posts
- To-Do Like Checklists
- Quick notes, ideas, and bits of information worth saving.
- Longer notes of text — usually long lists and audits of things I need to fix on the website or Microsoft Word like documents.
By separating out these five distinct cases, I can allow myself to better organize where information is stored. This means it’s all intuitive to me where something needs to go and where I can find it quickly.
Reminders & Calendar Events
I view reminders as date or time based nuggets of information that I need to … uh … remember. These are all stored in Fantastical and synced to all my devices. Things I need know on a specific day are added as events (e.g. Go to the DMV at 4pm; Phone call with Tom at 2:40pm; Post Gaslight Anthem podcast on Tuesday; Jennifer’s birthday is June 16th), whereas things I need to remember to do, and can be checked off once done, are added as reminders. These can be items with a specific time and due date, or more open ended ‘need to get done’ things (e.g. Call about getting the oven fixed; remember to get groceries today; Remember to pick of bread from bakery tomorrow at 3pm). I differentiate between events and reminders by thinking if it’s something that I will check off as being “done” or not: My sister’s birthday party on Saturday is an event, reminding myself to wrap her present Friday night is a reminder. If an event or reminder has a specific time that needs to be done, I have a default alert set to pop-up so I don’t forget.
Long Blog Posts
Blog posts, like this one, are written in Byword and synched to all my devices using Dropbox. This way I have flat text-files of all my longer blog posts in an archivable (and searchable) format. It also allows me to write a draft on my desktop computer and edit it later on my iPhone or iPad. Writing in Byword also allows me to customize the writing environment to be best suited for blog posts (big mono-spaced writing font, no distracting application chrome, etc.). Blog posts, reviews, long posts on AP.net, these are different than virtually anything else I write and it helps me to go into a “writing environment” when I want to focus completely on the words in front of me and nothing else.
To-Do Like Checklists
When I go on vacation I need to remember to pack the same things almost every trip. When I am heading to the grocery store I need a list of things to buy that I can cross off. When I am sitting at my computer I need a quick place to jot down quick to-dos while in the middle of the day (e.g. Email Yellowcard’s manager; this Brand New post should be a featured spot later today; research the phrase “strategy tax”). For these specific things it doesn’t make sense to use a general note taking app because you have to delete items line by line, fuddling with text insertion, highlighting, deleting, and all that nonsense. And it really doesn’t work well for a packing list because when I return home I want to uncheck the packed items so it’s reproducible and ready for my next trip. So, for this I use Clear on all my devices. This allows me to have a few standard lists that I use frequently (remember to pack, groceries), as well as a general “today” list that I add stuff to and cross off during each day. This app is kept open at all times and pinned to my secondary monitor next to my Twitter client. I use one list for things I need to do today but that aren’t part of my calendar system. Sometimes I’ll be reading a thread and see someone mention something I want to look up or respond to later, so I’ll make a quick item about it. Sometimes I’ll be grabbing lunch and remember that I need to email the staff about a particular project when I get home, so I’ll toss that in there. While the daily list is an invaluable way to make sure I don’t forget little things during the day, it’s the more permanent lists that really save my ass. I used to always forget one thing when I’d go on a trip — maybe it was my sunglasses, or phone charger … or that one time I packed and forgot to bring any boxer shorts (I don’t quite know how I did this), but after creating a list in Clear that I can check off before each trip, and then reset when I get home, I’ve basically solved that problem. Never again will I have to buy underwear that doesn’t fit from a rural Walmart. Never again. Swipe right on an item after you’ve packed it (and swipe anything you don’t need for that trip), and then when you get home, re-swipe all the items to reset your packing list.
This is where I use Vesper.3 I use this app in the same way I would if I carried around a small pen and notebook in my pocket at all times. I view it as my way of making notes to myself that don’t fit into one of the above categories. They’re not full length blogs, so they don’t get in Byword, but I have a note for “blog ideas” where I jot down thoughts and ideas of things I’d like to write about some day. They’re not reminders but maybe I’ll toss down a topic I’d like to discuss on a future podcast into my ‘Podcast Ideas’ note. They’re not to-do lists but I’ll write more long-term thoughts and goals in there. I keep a note for “where I parked” to quickly jot down cross streets when I drive. I keep a note for movies to check out so I can quickly add to it if a friend recommends something.4 I write down words I hear (or read) that I need to look up in a dictionary. I write down little thoughts about things I’m feeling, or want to remember to tell my girlfriend, or just random asides and musings. Vesper is extremely fast to open, extremely fast to add a note, and it is very clear about what it is and what it does — that’s what I love most about it. It’s just stupid simple and easy to use. I don’t have to think how to use it, it just gets out of the way (just like a pocket sized notebook). I find the tagging/navigation/search/design far better than the default Notes app and the feel of the app is what won me over. It’s now a home screen staple.
Longer Notes of Text
This is where for years I’ve used Evernote. I liked that everything stayed synched between my computer and phone, and that I could do things like create a large numbered list of what needed to be fixed on AP.net and I could just go in and delete them item by item no matter where I was when I finished one. However, over the years the program has gotten more and more bloated. I turn as many options as I can off, try and hide toolbars and other cruft, but the app still feels heavy when I use it. Currently I use it because I’m waiting for the Mac version of Vesper. I’m hoping that once a Mac client is released it will solve this problem for me once and for all and I’ll be able to transfer over all of my longer text notes from Evernote to Vesper. For some, Evernote is probably the right solution; however, it really doesn’t feel right for me anymore. The minimalist in me finds the navigation weird, the extra options and formatting bars in the way, and I find myself trying to use and manipulate the app more than working on what’s inside of it. Once I can add these longer items into a desktop Vesper I have faith these hang-ups will be fixed.
I currently also have a few things in Google Docs. This includes a shared document for all our podcast notes with show topic ideas, follow-up quotes, show-notes, and more. It’s platform agnostic which means I trust that it’ll work for the other hosts without me having to worry about it. I also have a variety of spreadsheets that I use for the business in here as well.
What I’ve found works for me is to use the best app for the job. Trying to force a workflow into an app that it’s not designed for causes too many headaches. I tried to keep grocery lists in Vesper and found that trying to delete the items while pushing a shopping cart is a pain in the first-world-problems-ass. I tried keeping daily reminders in Clear and found myself confused about when to put something in my calendar instead. Where I get the best milage is when I understand where each piece of information goes and how I can quickly retrieve it. From virtually anywhere I have access to my blog posts, saved documents, calendar, reminders, lists, and notes — and because I’ve created a mindspace for where everything “fits” — I can access all of this information extremely quickly. I would recommend trying a bunch of things and seeing what works for you. We’re all different and different systems work for different people — experiment — test — find out what workflows give you the most efficiency and productivity. I also recommend playing around with what needs push notifications based on your own personality. For example, I set notifications for specific “timed” events or reminders in my calendar (if something is at 3pm, I have an alert pop-up on my computer and phone), but I don’t have alerts for all-day events or to-do lists. Instead I have formed a habit of checking my calendar in the morning to look at what my agenda looks like and I keep my today list open on a secondary monitor throughout the day. This system works for me and keeps me organized. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits all approach, but maybe you’ll be able to take something from what works for me and apply it to your life.
Best of luck!
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have, or reach out on Twitter.
- I haven’t taken any kind of “away from it all” vacation in quite a long time; however, since my girlfriend is heading off to NYC to do some research for her doctoral dissertation, I figured this would be a good time to try and take a few days truly off from the website. So, I’m going to head to the coast with some friends for the weekend and keep my phone mostly unplugged. I’ve been getting prepared for the time away by cleaning out my inbox and editing a podcast episode to post before I cut the cord.
- For as much as I have used it over the years, Evernote really has become a bloated app on my computer and iOS devices. It’s slow, has way too many features I don’t use, and is kind of ugly.
- The other app worth looking at is SimpleNote.
- Exceptions: Books to check out are currently noted in GoodReads, and I am using BrewBarrel to keep track of beers I like (but I’m not 100% sold on the app).