How the CEO of Evernote Organizes

I never feel like I have a great answer on how to organize anything, so this response on Quora by Phil Libin is really interesting to me.

The main points are that he:

  • Changes it up pretty often.
  • Has about forty-five total notebooks.
  • Has one primary notebook that most things go into.
  • Most of his other (at least thirty) notebooks are shared.
  • Doesn’t use very many tags.
  • Uses one notebook for each “major” conference he goes to.

I’ve also found most of my stuff going into one notebook (I call it “Filing Cabinet”). The most effective way for me to find anything is to search, so it would probably be useful for me to pare down some of the other notebooks I have and use a few strategic tags in their place.

The Kindle Is Flawed But Worth It

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Kindle Paperwhite. I like it a lot. The backlight isn’t so intense I can’t read in bed without keeping myself up all night, it doesn’t get uncomfortable to hold, and it doesn’t give me the option to get distracted and open Twitter.

The typography does indeed suck. None of the typefaces look all great at the size I want to read them at. I keep flipping between Baskerville and Caecilia. I’m gravitating more towards Caecilia because it looks decent at smaller sizes on the lower resolution screen (probably Amazon chose it originally). Anyway, it’s not that bad — I can live with it.

GoodReads integration is cool, although I have no idea why it’s so manual. The Kindle shows me what percentage of the book I’ve read on every page, but for some reason, even after adding the book to GoodReads from the Kindle (why can’t it have an option to sync my books automatically?), I have to go to the GoodReads website to update how far into the book I am there (which I won’t ever do).

This is actually not the first Kindle I’ve owned. I had a second generation Kindle in 2009 (which I stopped using at some point). It’s quite an upgrade in a bunch of ways, although you can tell that the main focus has been making the Kindle cheaper and that making the reading experience better was secondary. The screen is better, but not iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4 better. Not refreshing between every page flip is nice, although I don’t remember that bothering me too much.

One thing that really stinks and hasn’t changed at all is that reading books which aren’t just prose is awful. I’m currently reading The Practice of Programming, and just finished a book called The Next America. The Practice of Programming has lots of code samples, which get formatted badly between pages. The Next America also had a lot of problems. There were a lot of charts in it which rendered at a size I think would be illegible for a lot of people. Still, I’m sick of having to move books around from place to place and the space they take up, so it’s worth it. It’s just surprising that in 5 years they couldn’t make this better.

I guess what I really think is that the Kindle is flawed in a lot of ways, but that it’s the positives — e-ink screen, having every book with me always, not having to own and move a bunch of large heavy books — are so appealing that for less than $200, it’s worth it to own one.

My Analog Writing Tools

As much as I love computers and technology, I use paper a lot. I’ve used it for writing song lyrics most days since I was fifteen, blog ideas, sketching and a lot of other things. Systems and special ways to get things done are great, but not sustainable. The tools I’ve stuck with a long time are simple, and some haven’t changed since I was a freshmen in high school (I hope what I make with them has improved).

When I was a kid, I carried around a notebook from the drugstore I’d write lyrics for my band in. When I filled it up, I moved onto another one. When I felt I had reason to (sharing with others), I’d type them into the computer as a text file. It stayed that way for the next several years. Today is the same, except I might replace a text file with Evernote for some things, and I’m consistent about getting things into my Mac where they’re backed up.


What notebook or pen you use isn’t important if you like using them. I like a notebook with thick paper so that ink won’t bleed through, and impressions won’t show on the next page. Moleskine notebooks have thin paper, and they’re expensive, so I don’t use them.

There’s two notebooks that I use for capturing whatever I need to. A big one for when I’m sitting some place like my desk or a table at a coffee shop, and a small one that I carry in my back pocket.

Since I don’t have it with me all the time, the big one gets less use. What goes in it ends up being stuff like lyrics or sketches where the extra space is helpful. I carry a bright orange Rhodia notebook that I like a lot because it was affordable, the paper is nice, and it looks kind of cool. Expensive notebooks made me anxious to write in them, so I don’t buy them.

My small notebook gets all kinds of stuff put into it. Ideas for blog posts, grocery lists, sketches of app ideas. Most of it’s temporary, but some things like app sketches I might take a picture of and add to Evernote. When I fill one of these, I throw it into a drawer and start a new one. I’ve carried Field Notes for years. They’re kind of expensive, but not crazy, and they’re the perfect size to fit in my back pocket.


I carry a Fisher Space Pen clipped inside my front pocket when I’m out doing things. It’s wet where I live a lot of the year, I end up writing into my small notebook outside a lot, and the ink doesn’t bleed when wet. It goes great with the cool waterproof Field Notes I got last year. When I run out of those books I may need to find a replacement brand with the same paper I can use.

The space pen is good because it’s durable and portable, but I like something smoother when sitting at a desk. I started using the Uni-ball Jetstream in November, and I like them. You can get a three pack for $13 on Amazon. I used to use Pilot G2 pens, but these are better.

Tools to Make Software Less Dysfunctionally

Someone on Twitter the other day sent me a message asking me what tools I was using when making apps for things like issue tracking, testing, managing tasks in a project, etc. I don’t know if I’m the best example of anything, but I can tell you what’s worked and not worked for me in the past.

You Need to Write Things Down

The biggest issues I’ve had working with others have come when the team isn’t on the same page about what everyone needs from everyone else. Having a daily check-in where everyone gets together isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not a replacement for having an issue tracking and project management system in place.

If you’re thinking this can all happen in email threads: you’re wrong. An email thread is a terrible place for this sort of discussion to happen. People don’t respond, everyone has different habits when it comes to email, and people inevitably mix up 10 different topics into one thread that goes on for weeks. You need a system that allows you to create a task, assign it to someone, and have running commentary on the same page.

The best place to do that is in a dedicated issue tracker, maybe a project management tool, and a good chat system if you’re working with other people.

Issue Tracking

The issue trackers I’ve used and liked are GitHub Issues and Lighthouse. What I like about both of them is that they’re both extremely simple, reasonably freeform, and let you enter enough detail into your ticket to explain what’s going on. Some people like other tools, and that’s fine too, these are what’s worked for me. As a general rule if something gets very complicated I’ll stop wanting to use it.

Both of these will integrate with your source control repo, let you tag issues with whatever you want, create milestones (v1.0, v1.1, etc), comment on existing issues, and assign them to team members. Speaking of teams — you should be using an issue tracker even if you’re just one person. Apps like OmniFocus are great for runway level tasks, but bugs and enhancements are usually more than just a task, and you want to be able to get an idea of how they connect.

What’s great about GitHub Issues is that it’s free if you’re all ready using GitHub, and it does most of what you want. What’s better about Lighthouse is that it does everything Issues does, but a project in Lighthouse isn’t tied to a specific GitHub repo. You can’t have Issues without a repo, so if you have a project with more than one repo (e.g., web backend and iOS app), there’s no way to track things across the two.

I’d recommend giving GitHub a try until you feel yourself bumping up against the walls, and then try Lighthouse.

Project Management Tools

Project management tool like Basecamp or Asana can work well when you have a team and you need a 10,000 foot view of what you’re working on. For individuals or even small teams, I don’t think you always need one. For one person writing their own apps, I’ve only seen these used for procrastination and the kind of task shuffling that distracts people from actually making their thing.

On the size teams that I usually work with, I’ve rarely felt a dedicated project management helped up get anything done faster. Maybe for non-technical project managers, but those people are usually a net negative as well1. I imagine when a team gets to a certain size you need something like this, I just don’t generally work on teams of that size, so I don’t know.

In my experience a good issue tracker can take the place of a dedicated project management app, but not the other way around. The reason is that project management tools usually have a concept of tasks, but usually don’t have the right fields to put in all of the detail you need when tracking new features and bugs.

Group Chat

If you’re working with a team, you should have a persistent chat system. I’ve used Flowdock, HipChat and Campfire. Hipchat has the best native apps, but I prefer Flowdock because it was the easiest to integrate with other things like GitHub, was the hardest to lose track of things in and has the least ridiculous annoyances and limitations.

  1. Project managers who understand design and development, or at least stay out of everyones butt can be a different story. 

Meslo Is a Better Version of Menlo

Meslo is a tweaked version of Apple’s Menlo font which fixes what I think has always bothered me about it — small vertical line spacing which makes it feel really cramped. Meslo also changes the alignment of the asterisk, which wasn’t bothering me as much, but is fine this way too. It comes in three varieties so you can pick the amount of space you like best. I’m giving 11pt Meslo LG M a try and it’s a nice improvement.

Unsubscribe Rule for Apple Mail

I’ve been making a point lately to take back my inbox and actively unsubscribe from websites which send me unwanted email, and I’ve come up with a great trick to make doing that easier. All I did was create a new Apple Mail rule called “Unsubscribe” which looks at incoming messages for the word “unsubscribe” in the message content, and then set the color of that message to orange. I could probably go crazy and write an AppleScript to automatically create a new action in OmniFocus, but I don’t get so many of these that it feels worth the added effort.

Unsubscribe Rule

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