Going paperless has reduced the clutter significantly, but the path to keeping digital notes and records isn’t always straight.
A few years ago, I decided to go paperless. With so many pages of records and other information taking up space, and so much of my current data delivered electronically, it was a sensible step.
I ended up shredding several boxes’ worth of paper — which was itself satisfying — and today I scan bills, documents, checks, receipts and other essentials that I can store digitally without retaining a printed copy.
But, although the clutter has reduced, the amount of digital information has increased and become more complicated. The advantage of going paperless is to be able to quickly search that data and find what I need. When it’s all on a hard drive as bits, retrieving records is simple.
But what about all of the other data that’s arriving or being created digitally? Plenty of apps and solutions help organize information. Although I don’t yet have a system I like, I’ve realized it’s time to start bringing order to it all as my needs have changed for how I deal with it.
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Notes and Evernote. I’ve used Evernote (evernote.com) to keep track of snippets of information for a while. It runs on my Mac and iOS devices, and is a catchall for all sorts of data: scanned documents, notes I create digitally for myself, recipes, Web links, receipts, articles and so much more.
Lately, though, I’m looking to switch to a different tool and not because of a technology bug or failure. Instead, it’s two things: Evernote’s general approach and the trust required for cloud services.
I’ve used Evernote Basic, the free version of the service, because it does everything I need: storing snippets and occasional images, and making them available on any device I own.
For $25 per year, I can get other features, such as saving emails and locking Evernote with a pass code lock on mobile devices; $50 per year adds still more options, including annotating PDFs and searching through Microsoft Office documents.
I understand companies need to make money, but none of those features is compelling enough for me to upgrade. And a while ago Evernote started getting pushy about upgrading, sending reminders and prompts and asking if I really wanted to stick to the Basic plan. It became a nag.
Honestly, it made me trust Evernote less. The message to me was that I’m a cash source, not a customer. Yes, those two things are tied together, but something about the approach was oft-putting. I didn’t feel comfortable putting lots of my private information into their hands.
So far, my leading alternative is an unexpected choice: Apple’s Notes app. Under OS X now, it’s possible to export data out of Evernote and then import it into Notes. So far, it’s worked well. The Notes app syncs on all my devices, so my primary need — to have all my data wherever I need to access it — is still met.
More important, I trust Apple with my data more than Evernote. Apple is going to extreme lengths to provide security for its customers, and is backing that up with action (such as fighting the FBI over access to encrypted iPhone data). The latest version of Notes under iOS 9.3 and OS X El Capitan includes the ability to secure notes with a passphrase.
Granted, iCloud has its bright spots and its bewildering abysses. I’ve synced my calendars for years with barely any trouble, and my experience with Apple Music so far has been good (though I could be an outlier there, since reactions from users seem to vary wildly).
But my contacts continue to bedevil me with duplicates that appear for no reason. I need to wipe them clean and reinstall them at some point, but the time and effort seems daunting.
Notes syncing, however, has been solid for me, and I expect I’ll eventually migrate all of my Evernote data into Notes.
Of course, just as I’d made that decision, a friend pointed me to his favorite note-taker, an app on the iPad, iPhone and Mac called Notability (gingerlabs.com). He likes it mainly because he can handwrite notes and make drawings on his iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil. Notability costs $5.99 each for the iOS and OS X versions of the app.
Even though I’ve switched to digital for more (most of) my important information, finding the best way to create, store and access it is still a challenge. And there’s more of it every day.