I talk in episode 43 of The Crazy One podcast about one of the ways I do to keep myself out of creative slumps is to constantly look for new tools to help my creative process. This means that I am downloading, trying and then deleting about 98% of what I try out. Over the past few years Evernote has remained my go-to Swiss Army knife for my creative process but over the past year I’ve found myself falling out of love with it but I wasn’t sure why. In the last month, I’ve finally found a new tool that solved my frustration and re-energized my process. It just took a little digging and self-reflection for me to finally see why Evernote wasn’t working for me.
EVERNOTE: Some new but too much old
I love Evernote because it lets me capture inspirations, insights, and ideas anywhere on any device which is perfect because you never know when inspiration will strike. And I’ve come to realize that is where Evernote really shines – in that initial moment when you just need to capture something simple and small. But over time I came to realize that I found it difficult to then work up those ideas because as its core the application is nothing more than a word processor. Yes, you can have multiple “documents” all available within the app, and, yes, they added the ability to draw in the all, but if you have ever used it you know it isn’t very good.
This revelation sent me back to the drawing board and back to the process that works best for me – Post-it notes. For me, concepting is at its best when it is free, fluid, and dynamic where I can draw on written and visual inspiration to work up my ideas. The Evernote word processor interaction construct wasn’t letting this flow happen, and it is what was frustrating me. I just hadn’t taken the time to look at why it wasn’t working but this old interaction model wrapped in a cloud that made it feel like something it wasn’t. If you’re the sort of person that likes to let ideas flow and you need more of an open canvas to work with when it comes to writing, you may be a pen and paper sort of person. If so, I would recommend that you make scanned copies of whatever you create just to protect it and for posterity’s sake. It’s easier than you think – using replacement software for my HP scanner, I’ve been able to compile all my paper documents into one file with ease.
MILANOTE: POST-ITS 2.0
About a month ago my search for an Evernote replacement took a new turn thanks to a tweet from Mihajlo Vucetic who turned me on to a new app called Milanote which bills itself as “the notes app for creative work”. It comes as either a web version or Mac desktop app and it struck me a little strange that ther ewas no iOS but we will get to that later in the article.
I downloaded the desktop app to try it out and my initial response was a little like the first time I downloaded Sketch. You get a large blank canvas where you can add four different elements (notes, images, lines and links) that can then be grouped in columns and all your content can be housed in boards that create as many unique work space as you want. It seemed too simple on the surface with only 6 things to choose from but when you start to dig in and use it you see that the simplicity is deceptive.
You can use the links and image to create a mood board that is visual and combine it with other boards to add depth to areas of your concept. You can use the notes like Post-It notes that you can jot down ideas, group them together, find themes and then work up those themes into more refined ideas. For my podcast I set up a whole new workflow where I create multiple columns including ‘raw’ that are for show ideas that are not much more than a show title concept, ‘rough’ where I have started to block out the show, ‘needs polish’ where I like the structure but I just need to polish the flow, ‘ready to record’ for shows that I need to record and ‘done’ where I can archive the shows after they are done. Each show is then its own board that I can click into and get the entire working flow. I use columns for the sections of the show and then fill each column with the notes that are the points I want to talk about. You can see how other creatives from Uber, InVision, Chanel, Frog, Intercom and more here to see the flexibility in action.
It’s that flexibility that I came to realize makes all the difference for me. When I was freed from that tired word processing interaction model by the open interface where I can put images or notes into one object that I can then work with like a new age Post-It note feels new but so familiar as I’ve done it for years with actual Post-It notes. I’ve found that I have created 2 or 3 times more shows working this way than I did in the past and it was been incredibly energizing.
NOT THE COMPLETE PACKAGE… YET
It isn’t all sunshine and roses as the application is still in its infancy. The biggest problem for me is what I mentioned in the intro that there is no iOS app and the web version does not work on Safari for iOS. For someone who lives and does 90% of his concepting on his iPad Pro this is a HUGE problem. As you work with it more you also start to see other little things that would be good for the app and some of the things I’ve submitted include copying columns between boards, a color picker to select specifics colors for boards and columns, select multiple notes or columns and then have the app distribute/space them evenly, zoom in and out of boards and more.
They are very open about what is on their roadmap and give users the ability to help shape what they should work on through voting on upcoming features (iOS app is #1). I increasingly find that I will only take a chance on apps that are this transparent with their roadmap and I will give them credit because there is a help chat window built right into the app and every time I wrote them with a question or comment about what I thought the app should do they got back to me with the next 6 hours every time and were always open to my thoughts.
BUT even in spite of these big hurdles to the way I have done things I thought there was more than enough to get me to believe in their vision and subscribe to a year of Milanote. You can sign up for Milanote for free and try it out with 100 notes to get you started to see if you like it.
I love what they are trying to do. It isn’t perfect but as an industry, we all need to step up to embrace and financially support the people who are willing to take these risks. Our tool sets have to evolve off of these old constructs and too often we sit back, judge, pointing out what is wrong, complaining when something is a 99 cent app store download and get off the sidelines to stop this. I look forward to seeing what is to come from Milanote as I think they have an amazing start and have made a huge difference in my work.
Disclaimer: You may be tempted to think this is an advertisement parading as an article but I can assure that nothing I write is ever influenced by any of the parties involved, I haven’t been paid by any of them and I pay for all the applications and services myself.