Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 14: Migrating Notes from Evernote to Obsidian

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Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

When I started this series, I talked about how I was looking to see how Obsidian would work as an alternative to Evernote as the place where I “remember everything.” I’ve spent quite a bit of time describing how I’ve been using Obsidian’s functions and features to works toward this goal, but so far I haven’t really touched on how I have been migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian. That’s what I’ll talk about today. It might be useful for folks to review Episode 3, where I talked about how I emulate some of Evernote’s features in Obsidian.

Slow but steady wins the race

First off, for those thinking I have some magic solution to export all of my notes from Evernote and seamlessly import them into Obsidian, I have some bad news for you: I don’t. But I wouldn’t want this either. Part of my reason for doing this is that I don’t need to be 100% paperless. That was a big lesson I learned from my years going paperless with Evernote. It was, for me, impractical. There was a lot of noise cluttering the notes and that made it more difficult to find what I was looking for. Then, too, when I was putting every piece of paper into Evernote and then not using those notes ever, I was wasting a lot of time.

My goal in migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian is to curate the notes–pick and choose the ones that I really need, and leave everything else behind. This is a slower process than a one-shot migration, but there is a lot of value in that curation step. The way I do this curation is through a hierarchy of needs, or an order of operations.

Order of operations

Here is order in which I am migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian:

  1. Migrate the notes I use frequently in Evernote.
  2. Migrate notes that I know I want to keep in digital form.
  3. Migrate other notes only when I happen to need them in the context of some event in my life.

Migrating notes that I use frequently in Evernote

There exists a fairly small (50 or fewer) set of notes that I frequently access in Evernote. These are things like official documents (birth certificates, car information, etc.). These are things that I frequently access when filling out forms, for instance. Fortunately, I have a note in Evernote that collects all of these together making this initial migration pretty easy. That note links to many other documents so it provided a quick guide for documents I wanted to move right away. I also took the opportunity to reformat the note from how I had it in Evernote to make it a little easier for me to use. Here is what it looks like:

There is a section for each person in the family. Each section has a “Basic Information” section which has things like birthdates, SSNs, phone numbers, driver license numbers (with a link to the scanned drivers license document). You can see that in the Documents section, there are important documents related to the person. This provided a guide for which notes for me to migrate right away.

There is also a “Family information” section which has information that applies to the whole family. Finally there is a “Vehicle information” section listing our cars and the frequently accessed information (license plate, VIN, title, registration) with links to those documents. The cars also link to a note I have for each car which acts as a kind of service history for that vehicle.

I have also starred this “Form Data” note so that I can find it quickly when I need it. It seriously speeds up the process of filling out forms, which anyone with kids in school knows is an almost constant activity.

Migrating notes that I know I want to keep in digital form

There were also notes that I knew I wanted to keep in digital format. Fortunately, I had tagged these notes in Evernote in such a way as to make them easy to find. For instance, I had a tag for “scrapbook” for notes that had things like my art and writing when I was a kid, as well as my kids’ art and school work. I had a tag for “contracts” for story and article contracts that I wanted to keep for my records. I used these tags to begin the process of moving notes over from Evernote that I wanted to keep in digital form, even if I didn’t access them frequently. I’ve got much of the scrapbook migrated at this point, but I’m still working on the contracts because I don’t access those nearly as much as I used to.

Migrating other notes only when I need them

The first two groupings above accounted for maybe a few hundred notes at the most (out of more than 12,000 notes I have in Evernote). For everything else, I haven’t been migrating until I need it. That is, until it comes up in context. A few months back, for instance, Kelly needed a copy of our older daughter’s report card from 4th grade. I went to Evernote to get it for her, and when I did that, I migrated it to Obsidian since it was probably something that was useful to have. But I didn’t go back and migrate all the other kids’ reports cards yet because so far, I haven’t needed them.

Tax season is coming up and when it is time to gather all of the (digital) paperwork for our taxes, I will take that opportunity to migrate all of the tax information I have in Evernote into Obsidian. In a case like this, I don’t just migrate the notes but I look for ways to improve how they are formatted in Obsidian to make them more useful.

Over time, I suspect I will be going to Evernote less and less because more and more of what I need and use will have already been migrated to Obsidian. But I still plan on keeping Evernote around for the foreseeable future, in case there is something there that I need that hasn’t yet been migrated.

Migrating a note

So how do I got about migrating a note from Evernote to Obsidian. Typically, my process works something like this:

  1. Copy the text out of the note in Evernote and paste it into a new note in Obsidian. I talked about creating notes back in Episode 4. If I have a template for the note, I will use that template. This is also where I will potentially review the format and organization of the information of the note to see if I can improve upon it. I will also adjust the Zettelkasten ID in the note title to match a date that appears on the note, if such a date exists.
  2. If the note contains a document like an image or PDF, I move the attachment into my attachment folder and then create a “document note” as I described in Episode 1.
  3. I’ll tag the note with a tag that makes sense based on my current note taxonomy.
  4. Finally, I tag the note in Evernote with a “MIGRATED” tag so that I know what I have migrated to Obsidian.

As I said, this is a slow process. But by prioritizing how I move the notes from Evernote into Obsidian, I’m getting what I use most frequently right away without migrating in a bunch of noise. I am also using the opportunity to clean up and clarify the notes so that they are more useful to me when I do need them. This is working pretty well for me. I suspect that by the end of 2022, at the rate that I’m going, I will have migrated 99.9% of what I really need. The rest is just noise that I’ve never looked at and will likely never need again. Migrating what is useful and not everything is what I think of as the practical part of going practically paperless.

Prev: Episode 13: My Daily Process for Staying Practically Paperless
Next: Episode 15: Daily Notes as an Index to My Life

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  1. Great series. I can’t wait to read all of it. I recently moved my entire 10 year old Evernote library to Obsidian using a program called Yarle. My hat’s off to whomever made that. Now I’m going through each note, renaming them with the created date (Yarle conveniently includes that info + last modified, tags, notebook name, images, etc) and discarding things that are no longer useful.

  2. Just sharing a method for exporting notebooks from Evernote and then converting them to markdown files.

    It’s a two step process according to a user on the old Zettlr forum:
    1. Export the notes from Evernote using this metho:
    2. Use a script from github to convert them to Markdown:

    Then you can open them up as a new vault in Obsidian or copy the files into an existing vault.

  3. It looks like you switched theme around this episode. What is the new theme you are using here?


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