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Unstructured data: ordering the chaos

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One of the problems of both Evernote and Notion is that the data is essential unstructured. Unstructured data is not very useful but that is the way we discover information. One of the reasons for a note taking app is to create structure in that chaos. 

Evernote and Notion do not provide or suggest structures and workflows. It requires us to think out our own. This makes Evernote and Notion very flexible but requires the user in awe before a mountain of data. Many people need help make headway and Evernote and Notion do not provide that help. 

Reading more widely requires only searching for workflows and frameworks. It takes a bit of time to do and the options are many. Some are widely used (Agile) and some less so (Getting Things Done). It is unlikely that anyone framework will cover all your needs but rather multiple are required. For example, I currently use the Getting Things Done model (now, next, soon, later, someday, waiting) to prioritise far too many tasks, pull these tasks through a Kanban Board (to do, doing, done) to get them done. With the right sort and the next task is always at the top of the list. 

Adding structure to the unstructured is tedious. Anything that takes the load from our shoulders is welcome. Shooting down the work is hard enough. An example of a helpful assistant is Filterize.

Example of tag hierarchies

As Evernote provides little help out of the box how to use it productively. How to start? It has all be done before by somebody else and tell us how. One of the great things about Filterize is that it identifies common workflows and describes how to use them. This example of tag hierarchies in Evernote illustrates what can be done.

Many recognise that the potential of tags in Evernote is great. As Filterize puts it:

"Evernote allows you to add tags to all of your notes. You can use tags to assign project information, note types, or mark related persons. Every user can create up to 100,000 tags in their Evernote account, while every note can have up to 100 assigned tags. So there is huge potential to organize your notes." 

A hierarchy can be useful but the Evernote requires the user to work out the best approach. Should we wish to do things efficiently then research, analysis, problem solving, and thought are required, weighing up options and disadvantages. Filterize has done this already.

"The main drawback with hierarchical notes in Evernote is that hierarchies don’t influence the search. So if you search for the projects tag, only notes having this tag will be found.

There are three common ways to handle this:

  1. Create a saved search with all project related tags, like any: tag:home tag:renovation tag:garden tag:work tag:vacation. Problem: You have to change it every time you create a new tag.
  2. Use a specific prefix for all hierarchical tags, like pr-home, pr-home-garden, pr-home-renovation, pr-work, and pr-vacation. Now you can find all your projects with the search tag:pr-* and all your home-projects with tag:pr-home-*. Problem: You have annoying long tags, and when you search for your notes related to the garden, you have to search for tag:pr-home-garden
  3. Add all tags in the hierarchy. For example, tag your garden notes with project, home, and garden. Problem: If you forget a parent tag, your search is broken."

Found lacking

The profound lack of functionality of most note taking apps represents a hurdle to get things done. Providing a digital bucket is of limited value. Information is of little value unless we do something with it. We have something in mind even before we start. The note taking app should try to help us get there with workflow options. 

Filterize is an example where a third party provides a service to provide suggestions and supports the implementation. Filterize offers much but is only a small sample of what could be done. It demonstrates the things that Evernote and Notion are lacking. 

Roam cult

Roam is a remedy. Roam demonstrates that once workflows fall outside of the concept that they are neglected. For organising your thoughts, Roam is great but do not have the expectation to:

  • send somebody an email, 
  • format a text so that it could be sent to a client or posted on a website, or even this forum, spell and grammar checking, and print something, should one be so old fashioned, 

Roam provides no help at all for these things. Even web clipping requires a third party browser add on which is crippled for lack of a Roam API. Getting things in and out of Roam is hard. 

Note taking apps are letting us done. We look for one and pay the mortgage for all eternity (SaaS) because we want to escape the monotony of mundane work. Unfortunately, the note taking apps fall short of our needs. A generic bucket does not get things done. Filterize is great idea but really and shows what is lacking in Evernote. 

Read more here.


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2 hours ago, Tamagotchi said:

the data is essential unstructured. Unstructured data is not very useful but that is the way we discover information ...It requires us to think out our own.

I'm not seeing the problem since Evernote provides the tools to structure our data (Notebook and Tag Hierarchy)   
Text search is also useful


Filterize is a great automation tool     
Personally, I use Applescript on a Mac

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27 minutes ago, CalS said:



or tldr, TL;DR, tl;dr



too long; didn’t read: used in response to an online post, text message, article, etc., that is thought to be too lengthy, and usually taken as a rude comment, or used by the writer before a summary of lengthy text.
No it is not really, but just not targeted at you. 🙂 
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1 hour ago, Tamagotchi said:

One of the problems of both Evernote and Notion is that the data is essential unstructured.

Hi.  Another scholarly analysis,  but while data starts out as unstructured,  if it is still in that state in your noteboook,  you're doing it wrong.

I'm always impressed that folks seem to think that just by recording something,  they're making it useful - but I've run databases for insurance companies with hundreds of thousands of customers and millions of claims,  and just "having" data isn't enough.  It's necessary to analyse it, sort it and spend lots and lots of time managing and massaging it so that it becomes a useful resource. 

There are no pre-engineered systems for that,  because every use case is different.

Like you I use Filterize heavily - it tags notes,  moves them around, and populates my 'to-do' lists.  I use dates and tags and keywords to categorise my notes into different classes and priorities,  and I have three main levels: Now / soon / and maybe,  someday...

I prefer to spend the maximum amount of time actually doing stuff rather than agonise about needing better tools for the job.  But I have to say that before Evernote threw out the bathwater and the bath recently,  Evernote - along with Workflowy, Filterize and Postach.io was doing a pretty good job for me...

Hopefully they (and I) will be back on track pretty soon.


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Use case thing.  but I made a call early on to limit myself to the minimum number of tools re my "data".  Per @gazumped. more interested in getting stuff accomplished than perfection.  I was willing to accommodate some trade offs. 

After 10 years I have a very efficient system that works well for me.  I have a second brain and a GTD system using tags and reminders and saved searches based on EN with the help of AHK for the repetitive tasks.  Most of what enters EN for me is either via email or a download or a template.  Some project/task stuff which starts with a blank note, not much.  The hotkeys via AHK to send/auto tag emails are second nature now.  The AHK hotkeys for reminder maintenance and searches are also second nature.  A search for a like document before I add a document automatically adds the tags to the new document.  So reasonably painless organization.

After 10 years 6 notebooks of record, 51,000 notes, and 425 tags.  My use case for sure, paperless and TSW.  I have no paper files.  All in one app. 

Which is why I am so off EN at the moment based upon their weak V10 rollout and what it has done to my workflow.  YMMV.

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3 hours ago, Tamagotchi said:

I currently use the Getting Things Done model (now, next, soon, later, someday, waiting)

For my Task management, I rely on Due Date and Completion Date/Status; stored using the Reminder feature 

For example, a Current Task List generated by saved search      
    reminderOrder:* -reminderTime:day+1 -reminderDoneTime:*       
(all reminders     exclude future dated  exclude completed)

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