Yesterday, Evernote released a much-anticipated (and much-needed) update to its clunky iOS app. For many users, however, the simplicity (or, perhaps, feature-paucity) of that update, paired with the company's recent substantial price hikes to its premium service, just served to further disappoint. While Evernote was early in pioneering the idea of a searchable digital 'everything box' for ideas and notes, the slow pace of improvement, and lack of simple, user-requested features, has left a bunch of folks looking for alternatives.
I abandoned Evernote a while back, and now depend primarily on a trio of Mac apps (paired with iOS counterparts) to handle my world of text. Along with a browser (and Gmail in it), they cover about 90% of my daily computer use, so I've auditioned a slew of other options, too, and can strongly endorse all three of these:
I started using BBEdit literally 20 years ago. Back when I regularly wrote code, this was where I did so. Now, I use BBEdit primarily to wrangle my productivity, running my life from a folder of about a dozen text files. Goals, projects, today’s to-do list, books and movies I’ve watched/read and want to watch/read, my grocery list, a workout journal, a trumpet practice log, etc. If I took one thing away from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, it was the idea of getting things out of my head and into a trusted system. For me BBEdit is where that happens.
Additionally, BBEdit is exceedingly powerful at manipulating text; you can use GREP in the ‘search and replace’ box, and for those like me whose command line skills are slow and rusty, menu items to find duplicate lines, sort lines, prefix/suffix lines, process lines containing a specified string, etc., come in handy pretty frequently, as I often end up grabbing large lists or pages of text from other sources (the web, digital books, etc.) and need to organize them into some kind of useful form.
This one’s nerd-tastic, I know, but I spend more time in BBedit than anywhere else. You can demo it free, but if it doesn’t seem worth the cost in your life, you can also default to the free, pared-down version, Textwrangler.
On iOS, I use Editorial, which is by far the most powerful mobile text editor I’ve found. And as I use Dropbox to back up my files, I can seamlessly keep the desktop and iPhone versions of my text files in sync between the two apps.
I use this, on both my Mac and iPhone, for pretty much all the longer-form writing that I do. (In fact, I’m typing this post in Ulysses right now.) It’s a minimalist text environment that helps me focus on getting words down on the page, it effectively manages documents inside the app (and automatically syncs things between desktop and mobile), and it can quickly and beautifully export your words into anything from HTML to formatted PDFs, eBooks, or Word Docs. If you’re (god-forbid) still writing things in Word, try this instead, and make your life waaaay better.
Basically, this is for everything that doesn’t go into BBEdit or Ulysses. While I use the former for structured lists and plans, and the latter for any document that might require thought and drafting, NValt is my quick and simple repository for the kinds of odds and ends that pop up throughout my day.
You can pull up NValt with a simple keyboard shortcut, and your cursor is waiting in a search / create bar. As you type, NValt shows you a list of all the notes in your repository that match your search; to create a new note, you just hit ‘return’ at the end of the line, and a new note’s created with that search term as its title. (Try it out; it makes much more intuitive sense than I’m doing justice.)
Pulling the app up right now, the most recent files include a list of links to some fancy quesadilla recipes (last night’s delicious dinner), show dates for a couple of jazz groups I’m hoping to catch in the next month or two, instructions for a pranayama breathing technique, the IP addresses I jotted down while helping to set up my grandmother’s router, and notes I’ve taken while reading Tools of Titans. It all just gets dumped in here, and I can pull it up as needed with a couple of keystrokes.
NValt also syncs with the free Simplenote, so I can search and add new notes from my phone, too.
So, that’s it. BBEdit (with Editorial). Ulysses. And NValt (with Simplenote). If you spend a bunch of your day working with text, too, I strongly recommend giving all three a try.