Mark Koester

Personal Blog. A Data-Driven Life. Minding the Interstitial Spaces since 2007.

Quantified Self and Self-Tracking Mind Map: Conceptualizing Tracking and Other Data-Driven Tech

With so many quantified self tools and ways to track a life, it can be a bit confusing. A mind map can help.

A mind map is a graphical, visualization technique that is intended to help with structuring, organizing and understanding information as well as facilitate creative thinking. It’s is also one of the best ways to synthesize and understand information in general.

Here’s my mind map of the quantified self and self-tracking space. The intention is to help you conceptualize the overall tracking technologies space as well as hopefully enable you to better track different aspects of your own life and, in turn, engage with your personal data accordingly.

In the rest of this post, I want to explain the motivation behind the project and briefly walk through why I’ve categorized things accordingly.

One of the principal points I want to make is the division I make between tracking or data collection AND data engagement or being data-driven. While we might obsess about how to track an area, we often fail to take the time to engage with the data we are collecting. For me, one of the key motivations for self-tracking is not data collection but using data to provide a feedback loop towards what I’m trying to understand or a goal I’m trying to reach. This is really only possible if you engage with whatever you are tracking.

Goal Tracker for AirTable: A Flexible Tool for Goal Pursuit Tracking and Management

Having a goal is easy and exciting. But goals only get accomplished when you pursue them, not because you simply make them. So, if you want to improve your goal attainment, arguably one of the most important goal action steps you can do is to convert your goal intentions into goal pursuits.

What is a goal pursuit and how to track it?

I define a goal pursuit like this: Goal Pursuit = Goal + Time Period + Specifics

Obviously, there is more to this formula and to pursuing goals, but this gets us to a few of the essentials when it comes to both the science of goals and how to think about organizing and managing your goals over time. It also gets to a framework that allows for tracking your goal pursuits too.

Let’s break this down a bit:

  • A goal or goal intention is the thing want. It might be quite specific (“Run a marathon under 4 hours”), or it might be quite abstract (“Become a recognized expert in XYZ domain”). But generally a goal is an object of desire that lacks the defined steps on how you will get there. It’s the fantasy target.
  • By contrast, a goal pursuit represents a state change. It’s no longer just an idea or object of desire; it is a thing you are working on.
  • The time period just means we’ve stated an expansive of time when we will pursue that goal. Even better is if you state a habitual time and place.
  • The specifics of your goals means you’ve stated exactly what you plan to do to move towards that goal and ideally made it something you can measure. Being more specific when you set a goal is one of the key activities to improving the success and performance of your goals

Practically-speaking a goal pursuit takes form once you take your abstract goal and get specific about how you’ll get there. Scientists call this the “goal decision” or “goal striving.” Intuitively there is something different between wanting something abstractly and actually doing it. This is the difference between a goal fantasy and goal pursuit.

The science of goals pushes us both to think about goals and goal pursuits as multiple step endevours and to apply science-backed strategies at key junction in our striving. According to the Goal Setting Theory, the best technique in a goal pursuit is get specific and set an exact, targetted, measurable and difficult initiative to work on. According to the well-research technique of implementation intentions or if-then plans, one effective goal practice is to set the how, the when, and the where so you figure out a cue or trigger, like a place or time and then mentally link it to the goal behavior you want to induce.

How might we go about organizing, managing, and even tracking our goals and goal pursuits?

As a long-time self-tracker and proponent of the data-driven life, goals have proven a rather elusive area to track. While it’s relatively easy to track many aspects of our lives from books read and tasks completed to miles run and time on devices, tracking goals proves difficult for two reasons:

First, we often think of goals as just a list of things we want, so it feels like there isn’t much to track. Just make a list and check them off when you complete them.

Second, when we do attempt to track our goals, we often limit our thinking about tracking goals to something measureable. We come up with some related output of our goals, like miles run, time, habits, etc. A tool like BeeMinder is a good example of a tool that tracks an underlying output metric and helps us view our goal progress accordingly. While this can be a good technique for some goals, it actually isn’t tracking goals as a process or cycle of action steps. What we want is a goal tracker that tracks much more than a single metric.

Goals are more than just a list of wishes we hope to get and more than a single definable metric. Goals exist the nexus of our goal intentions and specific goal pursuits over time. Goals often go through a cycle of setting, pursuing and reviewing. There are steps forward and steps back and a lot of figuring stuff out. What we want to track and manage is this long-term cycle of goal pursuits over time. And, as far as I know, there isn’t a complete tool available today that lets us manage and track our goals as multi-stage pursuits.

So in order to solve this problem and apply techniques from the science of goals, I’m excited to share a tool I’ve built to help you better track and manage goals.

Using Airtable, which is a mix of a spreadsheet application and a database, I’ve created a goal tracker that allows me to keep an on-going list of my goals and dreams and to convert those into periodic goal pursuits that I further track, manage, and optimize. Additionally, the flexiblity of AirTable allows you to apply some of the most actionable and effective techniques from the science of goals. This means we are not only tracking what’s happening but we are applying powerful strategies to get better at reaching our goals.

In short, Goal Tracker for AirTable is a free tool that helps you organize, manage and track both your goals list and your goal pursuits.

Goal Tracker provides a simple way to record all of your current, past and future goals. You then use these goals to formulate goal pursuits. You can think of goal pursuits as a short-term goal, initiative or project. Goal pursuits link those goals to a time period and allow you to get specific about what you’ll do. For example, if your goal is “run a marathon,” then your goal pursuit might be “May 2018 (Run Marathon): Complete 10 training runs, run 100km, and complete a half marathon.”

Using the tool, you now have a list of goal pursuits so you can better organize and visualize over time. Goals are a struggle and will fail, but having a tool to organize and track allows you better stay on top of the process. You are not only pursuing a goal but also optimizng the meta-skill of managing goals. By consistently linking goals with a specific initiative in a certain time frame, you have effectively applied several key techniques from the science of goals too.

Get Goal Tracker for AirTable Now

Goal Tracker is a free tool you can download for AirTable. I have no affiliation with AirTable. I just think it’s a cool tool that works well for flexible information management and for prototyping goal and project management tools like these. Feel free to customize, add or tweak and, of course, send me your thoughts, feedback and areas to improve! Additionally, if you prefer another tool, I think you can accomplish the same style of goal tracking using just simple files or another spreadsheet app.

In the rest of post, we are going look at the core features and usage of Goal Tracker for Airtable. We will first briefly look at AirTable, what it is and how it works. After that, our main objective is to get you up and running with using the tool to track and manage our goals. Along the way, I’ve included a few examples of customizations and deeper concepts related to how AirTable works and how it relates to both the science of goals and productivity principles for good goal management. Finally, I’ll conclude by sharing my own motivation for building this tool and tips for the overly ambitious goal pursuer been using it.

Note: The psychology of goals lies at the heart of why I’ve been building and using this tool. I’ve purposefully left out too many academic references here to focus on the tool and usage itself. If you are interesting in exploring the underlying science, check out my on-going blog series on the Science of Goals.

Science of Goals: Goals as a Multi-Stage Pursuit

When it comes to goals, we commonly conflate several different actions and phenomonon under this singular term of “goal.” But this one term hides an important range of dimensions and actions we undertake when we think about and endevour to reach our goals. One of the most crucial differences is between a goal as an intention and a goal as a pursuit.

German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin was one of the earliest to make the distinction between what he called goal setting and goal striving (Lewin, 1926). His point being that we have a period where we deliberate, ponder and possibly select our goals; and a period where we actually strive towards realizing those goals.

In our own lives we all typically have a huge list of things we want to accomplish in both the short-term and long-term. For example, write a novel, learn French, take a trip to Australia, buy a house, read Homo Sapiens, etc. The items that we expect to take a considerable amount of time or effort we often call “dreams” or “long-term goals,” while the shorter term stuff that take a few days or weeks we might refer to as projects, initiatives or short-term goals. Usage of the term “goal” here proves slippery. Is it a term for our hopes, dreams and aspirations or is it a word to convey something we are actually pursuing? What’s going on when we talk about goals?

In the last couple decades, a considerable amount of research by psychologists has gone into understanding goals, what they are and the different actions we must take to attain them. There are also increasingly a number of powerful strategies that can leverage to improve our goals too.

While much of the early focus in the research on goals was placed on goal setting and the “content” of our goals (a topic we explored in goal setting for improving task performance), acheiving our goals goes beyond just setting a goal. Acheiving a goal isn’t easy. A significant part of the challenge comes from what psychology calls “self-regulation,” by which I mean individuals must manage an ambiguous process, make decisions and take actions regarding allocation of resources and effort across time and varying situations.

You don’t just set a goal, and the magic of reaching that goal happens. Things need to be figured out. Much like Joseph Cambell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, we embark on a journey with obstacles and challeges at different points in order to reach our objective. In short, goals exist as a multistage pursuit.

Psychologists now recognize this much more complex and nuanced nature of our goal pursuit, in particular this aspect of self-regulation and different stages. According to the Model of Action Stages, which we will explore in depth below, psychologists have identified four action phases involved when we strive towards a goal, namely: deliberation, planning, action and evalution.

Researchers have shown that there also exists a critical transition between the predecision phase of goal deliberation (e.g. what goals should I pursue and why?) and our post-decision when have commited to a goal (e.g. how can I achieve this goal and what do I need to do?). Metaphorically, they call this “crossing the Rubicon” in reference to Julius Cesaer’s overthrowing of Rome, and it refers to a recognizable shift in our mindset or psychological orientation. Pre-decision or pre-goal commitment, we deliberate and consider. Post-decision, we plan and take actions.

We see this in our own lives. We often have a big list of dreams and fantasies, but a much shorter list of active pursuits. In-between our goals typically have specific phases and cycles they go through, including planning, execution and evalution.

Goal are a multiple stage pursuit. I believe the science of goals can help us improve how we understand and how we reach our goals. Using the Rubicon Model of Action Stages, we get a “big picture” idea of typical goal pursuits and can start to recognize where we are at. By knowing the stage we are at with a certain goal, we can realize the key tasks and challenges we face. We then can apply the right mindset to deal them. Finally, by learning and deploying the right approaches and optimal strategies, we can get better both at abtaining our goals and at perceiving when to let certain goals fail.

Let’s get started looking at the science goals and the stages involved in a goal pursuit!

NOTE 1: This post is part of a series on the science of goals. Also check out Goal Setting as a Key Influence on Performance.

Tracking Your Writings and Note-Taking

How to Track, Analyze and Understand A Life in Writing

“For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me. A pencil that is alright some days is no good another day.”

John Steinbeck, “Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters”

Can we track what we write? If so, how? And what can we use our writing tracking for?

As a self-tracker and an enthusiast of the data-driven life, I track a lot of my life, but as a writer, I find the tracking options rather limited. There are tools to log my writing time and how words I typed, but there is nothing that allows me to keep a complete history and data on all of my notes, drafts and final creations. I wanted a way to track what I write, not just my time or word count.

Fortunately, since I migrated off Evernote, I now write in plain text files. Plaintext files are a file format that is future-proof, flexible and portable. They are also trackable, and I am able to track my life in writing.

Using git, a popular way to manage software development, I have assembled a self-tracking method for keeping a complete history of my files, including each and every change I make, and for logging daily statistics on words added, files changed, and more. In short, with plain text files, git and a few automation scripts, we have a comprehensive and robust method of tracking our writings and notes.

In this post, I want to share how to track your writings. By using plaintext files, git and a few scripts, I’ll show what it takes to record a complete history of your notes into git and also collect some high-level statistics of daily changes. Since it is important to know what data we are getting and the potential insights we can get from the data, I’ve also provided a starting point for some data analysis on that tracking data.

Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll have mastered the basics of managing and tracking your writings with plaintext files and git and equiped yourself with a way to comprehensive way to track your writings and notes in the future!

NOTE 1: You can find the code for this post at Writing Tracker.

NOTE 2: For a more in-depth dive into writing and note-taking check out The Plaintext Life: Note Taking, Writing and Life Organization Using Plain Text Files, and for a step-by-step tutorial on migrating off of Evernote to plaintext files, see Post-Evernote.

The Plain Text Life: Note Taking, Writing and Life Organization Using Plain Text Files

“The power of the unaided mind is highly overrated. Without external aids, deep, sustained reasoning is difficult.”

Don Norman, professor and author of The Design of Everyday Things

External aids, especially writing, are the key to sustained learning and a creative life. The goal of your productivity, writing or note-taking systems should be to enable you to think clearly, stay organized, learn, and create. They should augment your ability to reason, to develop connections across knowledge, and produce a targeted output.

There are a lot of tools that can help you in this pursuit. We live in a world of nearly endless options for productivity and writing software. Personally, I’ve tried many. But sometimes the best solution is one of the simplest and oldest. For me, that solution was “downgrading” to plain text files as my primary means for note-taking, writing, knowledge management and life organization.

Rather than a fully featured notes or writing tool, I now have a bunch of plain text files and a lot of them. The files themselves are simple, can be edited on any system, and are future-proof. I write in markdown. I use plain text files not only for my writings, study notes and note-taking but also for my goals, organizational, project notes.

I call this method and approach a plain text life, by which I mean a note-taking, organizational, and writing system based on plain text files.

The files and notes themselves have been intentionally designed to be “organized” as network of information. Practically-speaking this translates into notes stored in a few directories, tagged, and connected together using a links. The end result is a loosely-coupled web of notes. It’s evolving, has emergent properties and is trackable too.

This setup helps me focus on what matters: writing and keeping my projects, ideas and thinking organized and interconnected.

In this post, I want to share my take on the “plain text life” and how using plain text files and combination of tools, best practices, and organizational principles can unlock a powerful and efficient framework for writing, thinking, note-taking, project management, goal tracking, or whatever you are working on.

This post is divided into four sections with four questions:

  • Why plain text files and what are the current limitations?
  • What tools can I use for writing and managing plain text files?
  • How to stay organized?
  • What are my notes for and how to organize towards my creative, learning or organizational goals?

At its core the plain text life is just a just a bunch of text files, but hopefully you too can assemble a powerful framework for staying organized, writing, learning and creating.

Let’s get started exploring a plain text life!

NOTE: For a how-to post on migrating off of Evernote, check out Post-Evernote: How to Migrate Your Notes, Images and Tag into Plain Text Markdown.

A Year in Data: 2018

What can one learn from a year in data? What lessons and observations can be drawn from tracking a life?

Before jumping into the analysis, here are three “teaser” data visualizations and questions that data helped me notice and answer from the last year:

The majority of my manually logged time went to personal projects in 2018, which is great. I still maintained decent client, freelance income, but my focus remains on own stuff and businesses. . If these are your goals, this is where your time should go. But happened in June and August? Both months saw a decent time log drop. Both months had me speaking and attending more conferences as well as more travel, including a week long trip with friends to Tibet and aroudn Sichuan. My sleep tells another story though too

I slept on average 7.23 hr per night in 2018, but what happened starting in mid-June? Why did my sleep average drop? World Cup! Like many I stayed up later and drank a bit beer more as I enjoyed an epic month of football action. Ironically other areas also dropped too. I wrote less and had less workouts. See below for the specific charts.

I had a relatively consistent year of running in 2018, until the last quarter of the year? What happened? Suddenly my run training load dipped signficantly. This was due to a series of minor to a bit more major injuries, and I couldn’t train. What was the cause? Below I examine a series of other tracked data points and currently my working hypothesis is one contributing factor was a decrease in both mobility/stretching and strength training.

These are three data visualizations I created using simple but regular self-tracking and data collection data visualization using QS Ledger. If you are interested in creating similar charts or becoming more data-driven in the year ahead, signup for my newsletter to receive early access to my course, Google Data Studio for Quantified Self and the Data-Driven Life in early 2019.

Now on with the show!

My Data-Driven Annual Review

Annual reviews are a staple of goal-directed people, and it’s something I like to do myself. But in view of my central thesis that data can be used to improve human lives, I like to go a bit beyond just nostagic reflection or hopeful and strategic aspiration. I like to fuel my year in review with data.

Let me tease out my core belief briefl here, We have now enough cheap technology, sensors, small computers (i.e. phones and wearables) and cloud storage to enable both tracking a lot of areas and storing a huge amount of data on a life. This activity is often grouped under monikers like quantified self, self-tracking, personal infomatics, or the data-driven life.

Basically, it’s people collecting data on a life and trying to use it. Quite simply, I can and should use data and self-tracking so our lives can be better understood and improved. This is data-driven personal development 101.

So, it’s with those goals and hopes in mind, I’m happy to share the latest edition of my year in data!

This year’s report includes a look at how I wrote, my computer usage time and project time, my trends in tasks completed, books and articles read, my fitness efforts, and a bit of my photos taken on my phone. For health, I place an emphasis on running but also have some general health and wellness data on sleep and HRV too. Obviously there is a ton of data one might use to slice and dice and tell your year in review story. I choose these since they matter to me and are relatively accessilble to anyone to track.

One bonus this year is that, unlike last year’s year in data, I’m also open sourcing and sharing all of the code I used to create these graphics. So for anyone with a few technical skills and some time, you too can build your own data-driven year in review. Morever with a few tweaks you can change the look and feel or make additional observations and analysis too. You can find the code at QS Ledger, and I’ve shared a few of the specifics on how to do this at the end of the post.

Hopefully by the end of the next year, I’ll have a web or mobile app to make it even easier for anyone to do and even create a full-on book about your year… using data.

Let’s take a look at the story of my year in data!

(NOTE: While outside of the scope here, I have also done some work on a deeper statistical analysis and machine learning approach to using this data. For now I’ll have to leave that topic for a future write-up. )

What Should You Be Tracking in 2019?

Measuring a Life, Understanding Progress, and Checking Your Status Towards a Goal

Tracking and personal data can and should be part of how you pursue goals, develop better self-understanding and optimize self-improvement.

As a new year arrives, many of us often set new goals and resolutions. During time-triggering events like a birthday or a new month or year, we declare what we want to change and attempt to build a new habit or reach a long-desired goal. A lot of those will fail. By some estimates over 90% of new years resolutions fail.

We think a lot about what we want to achieve. But how often do we think about the process underlying how we achieve or even how to measure our progress towards those goals?

While a lot of jargon terms get thrown around, at its essence self-tracking, quantified self, personal informatics, or whatever you call it can be defined as the activity of measuring or documenting something about your self. In turn, I find it’s best to frame this tracking towards either better self-understanding or optimzed self-improvement. So, when it comes to goals, tracking data can serve as a feedback mechanism for understanding a specific area like health or productivity or as a gauge to measure your progress towards an objective goal.

In this post, I want to share what I’ll be tracking in the year ahead, but I also want to argue why I think tracking is a useful and meaningful activity today.

In the first part, I’ll share a few reasons why many people track and why personal data collection is such a valuable pursuit today. To cut to the chase, the main reason I find tracking beneficial is that it is an enabler for better self-understanding and empowered self-improvement. But the only way tracking can be an enabler is if we go beyond just tracking and data collection and start to engage with our data. That’s why I believe data engagement is so important. You don’t need to be data scientist to put your data to use.

In the second and longest part, I’ll layout what I’ll be tracking in 2019, including the specific area and technologies I use. I’ll also share three ways I engage with my trackind data through a weekly review, personal data dashboard and goal check-in’s.

In conclusion, I’ll briefly share four areas I think everyone should track and how tracking and personal data can align with your goals.

Let’s get started looking at what you could be tracking in the year ahead!

My Year in Book Reading: 2018

I’m striving to be more conscious about what I read, how I learn from books and articles, and how I apply those lessons to my life, my work and my projects. So, in the spirit of that, I’m continuing a tradition I started in 2017 by offering up my year in reading for 2018.

Unlike my 2017 edition, I’m also including my article reading soo, which I track using Pocket at the start of the year and Instapaper since August. As an added bonus, I’m also sharing a few ways to do your own data-driven year in reading using some open source code I’ve created or you can sign up at XXXXXX to use the online tool once it is available.

Topline Numbers

2018 was good year for me and reading.

Book Reading Numbers: I read 16,749 pages across 60 books. My average rating on books I rated was 3.86. Compared to 2017, I read fewer novels and more non-fiction. My non-fiction reading tended a bit more towards science and academic research than previous too. My biggest month of book reading was May in which I finished 8 books and over 2,000 pages.

As a Kindle reader, I’m fortunate to have a whole log of my highlights too. In 2018, I collected XX highlights from books I read.

Article Reading Numbers: By my account, I read 1785 articles. While I tend to bias my reading towards long-form books, I also did my fair share of article reading. Since I track my article readings with Pocket and Instapaper, I more or less know how many articles I read (or at least the articles I read and tracked via one of these apps).

Below is my data visualization of my year in reading book, the top books I read and my key takeways, my year in article reading and a few favorites. Finally, I conclude with a couple of thoughts on my reading habits and goals for the year to come.

Learning to Learn: On the Science of Memory and Effective Learning

One of the most useful and interesting things I learned in the last year was not so much a specific subject or skill but a meta-skill. I learned how to learn.

Learning is a critical skill for everyone. Whether you are a full time student, working full-time or retired, learning is an important aspect for people living in a constantly changing and complex world today. If your full-time job is studying or just spend a few hours a week learning new things like I do, certain study skills and learning techques can help you to learn more effectively. Additionally possessing an understanding of what is learning and how our memory works will help you understand why certain learning techniques work and how to adapt your lifestyle and health towards improved learning, thinking and creativity.

As a life-long and constant learner, I’m always learning new things. I have a love for foreign languages, technology and the social sciences, like philosophy, psychology and sociology. As my blog writings document, I’m often writing about the things I’m learning too. Ironically I’ve come to realize that this act of blogging what I learn (or giving or teaching, for that matter) is one of the better ways to learn. Elucidation forces you to engage with a topic, figure out gaps in your knowledge, connect it to what you know, and put it into a meaningful ordr or story. Unfortunately some of the other ways I like to use when learning like highlights and summarizing are not great learning methods and even promote something called the illusion of competence.

To the cut to chase, the best course I took recently was Learning How to Learn, a free course available on Coursera. I highly recommend it to everyone. The course is taught by Professors Barb Oakley and Terry Sejnowski. Oakley focuses more on the practical aspects of memory and thinking, while Sejnowski digs more into the neurology and brain science behind what happens in memory and learning.

Along with a lot of great material, links and resources, the course offers an example of “practice what you preach,” meaning the course provides great analogies, metaphors and visualizations of the more complex concepts. These funny examples and metaphors provide a way to “hook” new concepts into your memory and make remembering key concepts easier. Additionally, in view of how research reveals the importance of testing, intermingling, and elaboration to learning, it’s no surprise you get several ways to engage with the learning in the course by taking quizzes, doing homework, and connecting concepts together. My big takeway is I know that I can get better at learning and now know many ways how to do it.

In this post, I want to share some of the lessons I picked up from learning how to learn, both from this course and from additional research. In the first section, I’ll argue for why everyone should learn how to learn and some of the benefits to understanding your learning apparatus. After that, I’ll share a few resources I use to learn more about learning. As a technologist, I’ll also share some of the tools I use to learn languages, new theories and coding. Finally, in the longest section, I’ll offer a summary account of what is learning and how memory works as well as a few things we can do in our lives to optimize both.

Hopefully by the end I’ll have convinced you to improve your learning and your understanding of learning as such.

Let’s get started looking at one of the most important meta-skills we all can improve: our ability to LEARN!

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

14,147. That’s the number of notes I had in Evernote.

A few weeks later, only a few thousands notes remained in Evernote. In their place, I now have 11,278 plaintext files and a completely new way to write, learn and organize my work.

Over the years, my personal usage of Evernote had grown to cover more than just note-taking and journaling. I had come to depend on Evernote as the “Swiss Army knife” of my productivity tool kit. For example, I had used Evernote as my task manager, Evernote as a read-it later app like Pocket or Instapaper, and even Evernote as a sales and networking CRM. Evernote’s mission to “capture everything” had largely became how I used the tool.

Unfortunately, a few cracks started to appear with Evernote and my usage. First, my Evernote notes had become a bit of a monster, both conceptually and organizationally and in terms of the total number of notes. I felt a desire to to refine my note taking process and to slim down the number of notes I had. Second, Evernote as a product and company had seen better days.

The problems with Evernote as a company and as a product are not really the point of this post. But a quick summary of Evernote problems will often include: pricing changes, feature bloat, privacy around your notes, significant corporate changes, lack of product additions, and poor product performance (at least for me on Desktop).

Personally I rarely had much of an issue with the product or paying for a great product, like Evernote. But these concerns had built up over time and formed into on-going questions like: What’s going on with Evernote? Is it time to leave? How can I migrate? What should I migrate to?

A couple of months ago I finally decided to explore some Evernote alternatives and how I might migrate my notes. There are some solid Evernote replacements but I elected to switch to my notes to plain text files. Though Evernote’s corporate and product issues played a part in my decision too, my shift to plaintext files was less a rejection of Evernote, and more of a push to change up my way of organizing and working. To be clear: My goal was not to replace Evernote but to evolve my systems.

Migration is not an insignificant undertaking. Evernote makes your life easy for collecting, jotting ideas and then finding your old notes and documents later. If you have been a heavy user of Evernote, you likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of notes. Migrating to a new system is a time-consuming effort, and you still need to consider and adjust to your new way of working too.

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. Lifehacker has a decent, though somewhat dated, post sharing several approaches for migrating to Microsoft’s OneNote, Apple Notes, or Simple Notes. Unfotunately none of these approaches work for migrating off of Evernote and onto plain text files. Even the best script, Ever2Simple, won’t keep your images, tags and meta-data when migrating to txt files. Losing so much information from my notes was a non-starter for me and forced me to find a new approach.

Fortunately, as I’ll show in this write-up, with a couple of steps and a combination of tools and scripts, you can effectively export your entire collection of notes out of Evernote and into markdown plaintext files. Most importantly, you can also still preserve the essentials of your old notes like images, tags, and even metadata like date created. Yoou can also maintain your legacy Evernote links between notes.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to migrate your notes out of Evernote and convert them into a collection of plaintext files in markdown. I’ll provide be providing a step-by-step guide to exporting out of Evernote and and processing into a format that you can open on any markdown editor. Additionally we will be sure to keep the images, links and meta for your original notes. Along the way, I’ll share some tips and my way of doing it too. At the end, I’ll conclude by briefly sharing a bit more about why I left Evernote and a few aspects of my new plain text life.

Let’s get started migrating our Evernote Notes!