How I fell in love with Evernote

I love Evernote. It’s changed my life. Here’s my story:

I created my first Evernote note on October 28, 2008.

From 2008-2010, I only used it to take snapshots of business cards, wine labels and handwritten notes (to take advantage of its awesome text recognition powers).

I used to be a notoriously poor note-taker. I’d go notebook-less to lectures, wing meetings, and write illegible to-do’s on my hand.

It wasn’t until we started Hyperink in early 2011 that I realized: by being so casual with note-taking, and subsequently forgetting details, follow-up items, and general “stuff”, I was impressing no one, and screwing myself instead.

I decided to become a better note-taker. I chose Evernote because I wanted something lightweight (eliminating MS Word) with built-in organization features (eliminating most text editors).

The chart below says it all:

…and this month isn’t over yet! If the Y-axis were # of edits (instead of # of new notes), the growth would be even more substantial. Outside of Chrome, Evernote is my most heavily-used app.

It all started with a desire to take better notes. But like any great relationship (half-kidding), it’s become much, much more than that. Here’s how I use it today:

1. Spark file for random ideas, thoughts, inspirations. Review every 2 weeks to file, annotate, act upon, delegate, etc.

2. Monthly goals (business and personal). Refer to these goal notes everyday. For simple items (eg, “schedule a meeting to discuss latest revenue figures”), I’ll annotate and add follow-up items inline. For complicated items (eg, “research great audiobooks to download”), I create a separate note which I then link back (I’m not sure when I became so anal, but Evernote has certainly played a part!)

3. Storing anything that needs to be recalled later. As I get older, I’m increasingly disappointed by how little I remember

Example: before, when a friend mentioned a great movie and I thought “Wow, I really want to see that!”, I’d file it in my brain and there it would disappear. Now, I’ve created an “Interesting Media” note and when someone mentions a great book, movie, or TV show, I’ll immediately add to it. No more aimless Netflix searching to decide what to watch on a slow Friday night

4. Projects that require constant tracking and editing. For Jony Ive and the iPhone 6 team, Evernote might be underpowered. But for most Hyperink projects that need daily progress tracking and note taking, Evernote is awesome.

Example: I’m writing a small book called “How To Live Forever” while dogfooding Hyperink’s software. Evernote helps track book drafts, manage to-do’s (eg, update the cover image), and follow-up with people I’d like to interview

5. Anything Craigslist. When I was searching for apartments, I’d clip interesting listings to Evernote. The clipped note would have the image, apartment details, and links. No more repeated clicks on the same listings; within the notes I monitor who I contacted, who responded, etc

Examples of notes I’ve created or added to in the past week:

1. Luggage warranty note (recently bought a garment bag; if it breaks in the next 2 years, I can search Evernote to pull up the warranty # and contact info)

2. Groceries list (hate coming back from Trader Joe’s and forgetting that I wanted to get some Chimay)

3. Images of cool business cards (currently creating a personal business card)

4. 2012 taxes (overpaid some estimated taxes and want to make sure IRS credits me when I file next year)

5. Alcohol I like (Tammy intro-ed me to chartreuse while we were in Austin and I loved it)

Random hacks and optimizations

1. Download Evernote Web Clipper to clip articles, which are stored offline (offline storage is a premium feature). This has been a great way for me to finally read that long New Yorker article while traveling. Instapaper can do the same, but I like having everything in one place, plus I can use Evernote to highlight/bold sections and take notes while reading

2. Create shortcuts to frequently-used notes for quick access (now a big Evernote 5 feature, nicely done!)

3. Embed PDFs and enable “view inline” for easy within-Evernote reading (and note-taking)

4. Learn keyboard shortcuts to save time. Some that I find useful:
Command+N – new note
Shift+Command+H – horizontal rule (to separate sections within a note)
Ctrl+Command+F – a custom shortcut I setup to search ‘All Notes’ <-- I don't use tags, only search 5. Manually backup all notes from time-to-time. I backup my notes once a month to Dropbox. File>Export (while selecting all notes)

6. Forward email threads to Evernote for safe-keeping/annotating. For example, when planning my Japan trip, people would share their own recs and itineraries. I’d forward these email threads to my “Japan” notebook for easy reference and add my own research/notes on top

7. Set Passcode Lock for added security (iPhone app). After losing my iPhone in Vegas, I realized I kept a lot of personal info within Evernote. A little extra hassle < peace of mind 8. Skitch is pretty useful and lets you create sweet images like I did in my Techcrunch article

9. Version History. When you make mistakes and want to roll-back to an older version of a given note, click the “i” at top-right, then click “View History” at bottom (another premium feature)

Ways Evernote could be improved. Mostly nits:

1. More text formatting options! It’d be nice to customize text background color (for highlighting passages in articles, further organizing task lists, etc). Text indenting was big on my list but they’ve added it to Evernote 5

2. Better mobile syncing. I got Evernote Premium for the offline sync feature. But on my iPhone 4S, some notes (especially clipped articles) don’t sync properly and when I’m sans internet, those are precisely the ones I want to read

3. Remove the 50mb attachment limit. I’m guessing there are legit reasons for this limit (piracy prevention? server bandwidth issues?) but I own some PDFs which are 50+mb that can’t be stored in Evernote (sad face)

4. Enable importing of social media data (eg, Facebook, Twitter). Evernote has turned into my augmented brain. Having all of my social media content archived in Evernote would make it even more central to how I found, organize, and annotate info. I’ve heard I can do this with IFTTT but I haven’t looked into it…

5. Ability to encrypt non-text media, notes and notebooks (as opposed to just a selection of text within a note). Right now, I can’t encrypt specific images or attachments, entire individual notes, or entire notebooks

That’s just the start! There’s a badass Evernote Trunk that I plan to explore more.

*Update: great article from Jamie Rubin on how he takes advantage of Evernote’s time logging and automation via IFTT to build a timeline of life events!

How do you use Evernote? What tips/hacks have increased your effectiveness? Any cool Evernote apps I should try?

Want to live forever? Check out my landing page of curated free resources!

Living forever (and everything associated with life extension, immortality, aging, etc) is a personal interest of mine. I published a beginner’s book on the topic through Hyperink, and wanted to share some of the best websites, blog posts, Quora Q&A, etc that I’ve found while doing research. I’ll be adding to the list over time, and hope to get your contributions too!

More here.

What I Use: Apps, Hardware, iPhone, and Blogs

I obsess over my productivity. Everyone who knows me knows how much I value time (perhaps too much).

Below, I’ll begin to list all of the tools that I use to get shit done throughout the day. Over time, I’ll add processes (like how I manage inbound emails) and hacks. While these things work well for me, and I’m continually experimenting, maximizing productivity depends a LOT on the person, the project, even the time of day.

For those interested in learning more, pmarca’s guide to personal productivity is one of the best productivity posts I’ve read.

…to see the full list (which I plan to update every 1-2 months), click here.

56 random things I learned about Tokyo

I recently spent ~2 weeks in Tokyo and, as my friends are probably tired of hearing, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I plan to be back soon. Here are some things I learned. These are purely personal observations, I grossly overgeneralize where I can, and no fact-checking was involved. That said!:


1. Renting a cellphone at Narita costs ~$3/day, and ~$1/minute for domestic calls. Incoming calls are free. You can also rent a wifi card – with unlimited data, emails, etc – for $12/day. I may try the latter option next time so I can check emails more frequently (surprisingly I found free Tokyo wifi harder to find than expected)

2. Singapore Airlines is the best. First time flying it in Economy (I was lucky enough to fly business a few times at McK). Huge (free) movie selection, great food…plus the attendants are easy on the eyes ;)

Matt sleeping
And now Matt awake and happy with the awesome food!

…yes, the lady in the middle is pretty entertaining

3. If you can, fly into Haneda Airport since it’s much closer to Tokyo. From Narita, your cheapest option is the bus. The train is faster but more expensive

4. Getting yen at Narita is the best option. If you’re exchanging a lot of cash, traveler’s checks (which are free for Amex cardholders) are a better option since they provide an ~3% better exchange rate

5. Taxis in Tokyo are fairly expensive. Expect to spend at least $15-20 to get anywhere. Subway is VERY reliable, clean, fast, and convenient (although can be tough to navigate and if you go during business hours expect negative personal space!!)

6. If you plan to use the subway more than a few times, get a Suica/Pasmo card. It costs 500 yen (~$7) and you can return the card and get that money back at the end of your trip. Saves you hassle of buying a ticket for each trip, and you can use it for vending machine and convenience store purchases too

7. The Japan railway system makes it very easy to travel around the country. From Tokyo, you can reach the north and south within a day’s trip. Wish the U.S. had something like this (eg, LA-SF, Miami-Orlando, etc)

Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns)

8. Try a traditional Japanese ryokan, they usually come with an “onsen” (hot bath). Hakone is well-known for this and very easy to reach from Tokyo (30 minutes or so by bullet train)

9. Ryokans typically serve a kaiseki meal (an elaborate multi-course meal). The kaiseki food was average compared to the rest of my Japanese food experience but each dish looks like a work of art – attach pictures

Just one of the probably 5 or 6 courses we had
oh, and breakfast!

10. Fun fact: the ryokan started as a way for royals to rest & relax while visiting other parts of Japan. Ballers!

Random cultural stuff

11. Harajuku was total sensory overload. First got there around 10pm on a Thursday night. There were hundreds of teenage girls all wearing matching costumes, outfits, in every imaginable shade of pink & red. Wish I had pics – next time!

12. Izakayas are AWESOME. Cheap, delicious food & beer, fun environment, great way to start (or end) a night out. There are tons in Shibuya. Ordering beer in Japan is like ordering a soda in the U.S. – in fact, many fast food combos (local foods, not McDonald’s) come with beer (!)

13. Traffic red lights frequently come with a countdown meter (i.e. 5 seconds until it turns green). Smart

14. Tattoos are a big cultural faux pas in Tokyo. I’m sure there are many reasons why – correlation with yakuza is one example. Some public baths won’t allow people w/ tattoos

15. Of all the countries I’ve traveled to, never seen such a widespread and detail-oriented approach to food and fashion

16. Like Shanghai, there’s a foreigner-heavy neighborhood. In Japan, that’s Roppongi. In Shanghai, it’s Xintiandi. And like Shanghai, you’ll find more locals who speak English and want to socialize with foreigners

17. Went into a dressing room (you take off your shoes before entering) and when I came out, an employee had replaced my shoes with a single clown-sized shoe. Everyone laughed. Him: “Japanese joke” :)

ICHIRAN RAMEN. and other food

ICHIRAN. I can’t say enough good things about this place

18. You’re seated at a bar where there’s a collapsible screen between you and your left & right neighbors. Why? By blocking distractions, you can focus on the ramen eating experience

19. Food is served from a small window so you only see the server’s torso and arms. Again, the purpose is to eliminate distractions from the ramen

20. You’re presented a sheet to customize EVERYTHING to your heart’s desire, such as (full form below):
–> Richness (amount of oil)
–> Green onions (without, thin, or thick)
–> Noodle firmness (my personal favorite because I like extra firm…there is probably a joke here but let’s move on)

Matt filling out the form. Look at those veins – he works out.
And my preferences (I don’t know why I’m sharing)

21. The focus is eating, not talking. So if you’d like additional noodles (“kaedama”), you place a small tray on a pressure plate in front of you. A little ditty is played, and the server slides your extra noodles through the window. Pretty unique, right :)

Other food notes (I am missing a lot; even if I spent 10 years in Japan I’d probably discover something new every week)

22. Afuri Ramen is apparently a new hotspot. Think there are a few locations in Tokyo. Compared to Ichiran, the broth is subtler. Seating is more traditional (open, u-shaped bar around the food prep area)

23. Many restaurants have vending machines to order food. You insert cash, select your choice, receive a ticket, and hand it to the waitstaff/chef

Matt carefully researching to make sure he gets the “optimal” selection

24. Many restaurants provide a water pitcher for your table (pour your own water). Love this

25. Okonomiyaki (Japanese “pizza”) was DELICIOUS. There are many regional styles. Thanks to Taro, Naoki, and Kevin for hosting and cooking!

26. Tokyo Subway Station (this stop) has “ramen street” with many small, respected ramen joints. We had amazing tsukemen at [name of place]. Next time, I’m checking out all the other places

27. McDonalds has burgers w/ eggs (imagine the egg from a McMuffin inside a Big Mac). I love eggs!

28. Also love how McDonald’s serves regional menu items (I first noticed this in Waikiki, where they had sausage and rice on their breakfast menu). In Japan they have fried chicken pieces sorta like karaage

29. Like in Taipei, I love the frequency and selection of convenience stores. You can get lots of great food, drinks, etc for cheap and they’re open late

30. Tsukiji Fish Market is an interesting place to visit, although I personally felt it was overhyped. Maybe that’s because I prefer ramen>raw fish :)

31. At Tsukiji, there are side stalls serving many types of Japanese comfort food/street food. I might have liked this even better than the sushi :P

32. Thanks to Drew, we went to an izakaya that is actually the owner’s house. He’s very…entertaining. I’ll leave it at that. If you’re visiting Japan with a group of foreigners and want a good laugh, it’s worth checking out (just email me)

Random alley at Tsukiji

More random cultural stuff

33. The emphasis placed on cooperation and harmony influences all ages. I’ve noticed that even kids are better behaved…and better dressed! (yes there are exceptions and yes this is just my impression)

34. Shopping in Japan? One word: Curation. Stores have a smaller selection, but each item is thoughtfully chosen and presented. This even permeates to the sizes – there are generally just one (or maybe 2) items in each size, leading to a sparse, clean feel in most stores (boutiques and department stores). I really liked United Arrows/Beauty & Youth (there are several but the location I liked was right outside Shinjuku station).

Not a discount or sale price, but a “Happy price”!

35. “Kawaii” (cute) is highly valued. Affects everything from advertising to fashion/make-up to personality development. U.S. seems more focused on sex. Not sure I can draw similar conclusions for other countries (China might be more about expressing wealth?)

Even the babies have style

36. Even the homeless in Japan seem to conform more to cultural values. For example I didn’t see any homeless person panhandling

37. Smoking is still popular but less so among the young. Like most EDC, smokers are increasingly segregated into smoking zones and restaurants are increasingly banning smoking

38. Read in a magazine: “Aribi-ya” is a fast-growth industry in Japan which sells alibis – for example, if you need: a fake boss to speak at your wedding, fabricated pay stubs, a pretend girlfriend, etc

39. I love Nakameguro. Here’s a 2009 NYT article about the neighborhood. Here’s a picture during Cherry Blossom season (I’m coming back for sure).

I did not take this, credit goes to Amazingly beautiful

40. Random: a man dropped his packet of gum while waiting at an intersection. Several people saw it happen, but no one tried to alert him. 15 seconds later, the walk light turned green and people continued on their way. I feel like that’d rarely happen in the States (am I being too generous here?)

41. Like Shanghai, there are both locals and foreigners promoting adult services (strip clubs, prostitution joints, etc). Most foreigners who do this (apparently) get their visas through convenience marriages to Japanese women

42. Golden Gai is super cool. Small neighborhood PACKED with even smaller bars. The bars average 5×10 feet including seating and everything. Some are members only. I saw quite a few that were run and served by Japanese women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Add pictures

I drank a massive cup of sake here, by myself…

43. Pachinko is sort of like a vertical pinball machine and is Japan’s version of the U.S. slot machine. It’s big in Japan and is an utter assault on your eyes (bright flashing lights EVERYWHERE) and ears

…image thanks to Vaneea no Sekai!

44. Pachinko is fairly expensive to play (at the place I went to, the minimum was 1000 yen about 15 dollars).

45. I was greeted by this sign at the pachinko parlor I visited. PLEASE FORGET AN UNPLEASANT THING IN DAILY LIFE :)

Don’t worry…be happy

46. Was lucky enough to stay at both the Grand Hyatt (GH) and Park Hyatt (PH) for a few days. Park Hyatt was featured in Lost In Translation, and the pool scene was filmed at the Grand Hyatt

47. PH has a mindblowing view of the city (hotel starts on the 41nd floor of a skyscraper). You must get a drink at the New York Grill (thanks Sae for joining me!). However, the hotel is 15 minutes from the closest subway

Think this was from our room. Probably won’t stay here again but glad we did!

48. GH is much closer to the subway lines and overall action (in Roppongi), has a better gym, and a slightly younger crowd

49. Go to some department stores (well-known ones include Isetan and the mall at Takashima Times Square). Check out the food vendors in their basements. The quality and selection will blow your mind

50. While the partying continues until late – my favorite of the trip was Muse, which didn’t shut down until 5am – the partying in NY and maybe even LA is crazier. My guesses why:
a. Drinks are more expensive here and I don’t see as much binge drinking as I do in America (very few people ordering shots)…probably a good thing :)
b. In Tokyo, there are more non-club & bar options for night fun – including izakayas, karaoking, and adult services (a small section of the city – kabukicho – is dedicated to it)

51. I find it interesting that Japanese people greet and say farewell without handshakes or hugs. I’m sure this is just a prelim observation and there are many reasons why (eg, a local said this is because they don’t like being touched by strangers)

Some more pictures

52. Beer vending machines!!

While I did drink on the streets, I sadly did not order a beer from this machine. Regrets…

53. Oh, and more Ichiran (probably the thing I miss the most haha)

Is it possible to love food more than people??

54. Matt sad that we’re leaving

It’s ok, Matt…

55. Dude passed out on the street. I saw this about as much as I saw, in China, middle-aged men folding their shirts up to expose their bellies. That’s how safe the city felt.

I have a small collection of these photos. Perfect for a tumblr…

56. Subway!! Didn’t get to try…will have to next time!

Shrimp & avocado?? Tandoor chicken?? Must have!!

I’m planning a trip back soon and would love to check out other parts of Japan (eg, Kyoto, Osaka, maybe even Hokkaido).

March 21st: with some hindsight and add’l time spent learning Japanese, a few more thoughts:

57. Japanese culture highly values time – being on-time and being aware of time. I’m listening to Pimsleur’s Japanese podcasts, and they mention that in Japanese, if time is involved, it usually begins the sentence. An example would be, “At 7pm, let’s meet for dinner”. In English, we’d say “Let’s eat dinner at 7pm.”

58. With several months of reflection and several weeks now in Shanghai, one thing that continues to stand out is how comfortable living in Tokyo would be. Japan goes out of its way to make day-to-day living easy. Now, I haven’t setup a bank account or found an apartment in Tokyo, but I imagine it’d be MUCH easier than Shanghai, and if not much easier, at least the people would be much NICER. By taking care of these “infrastructure” things, it leaves you more time to focus on higher value activities. I’m sure there are downsides, too, that I haven’t discovered


I hope you were somewhat entertained and learned a nugget or two of (possibly) true stuff. Your reward?