My tips when migrating from Evernote to Obsidian
28 Dec 2023 - Frans Vanhaelewijck
Hi, I recently decided to switch from Evernote and I tried many alternatives. I found Obsidian to be the best alternative. There are 3 reasons:
- The idea behind the product,
- The product itself, and
- The product vision, which aligns well with my needs for note-taking and organization.
One nice thing about Obsidian is that it’s free, unless you want to use their sync feature. More about that in a minute.
A little bit of history
I have around 7,000 notes organized across roughly ten folders. That means that some of these folders are quite big – 1,200 notes in one notebook and 1,500 in another.
Back in the day, when I first started using Evernote, I made the error of creating too many notebooks. Only to backtrack later and consolidate those into a few large archive notebooks. These archives represent the different areas of my work and my personal interests.
To effectively manage my notes, I realized I needed to set up and maintain a good and robust tagging system. I’ve been quite meticulous about keeping it up to date. For example, here are my rules for every tag representing a real person:
- always have the correct spelling of the name, and
- begin with an ampersand sign, and
- follow the format @firstname-lastname.
Regular maintenance of these tags is a key part of my routine. I make sure to merge any duplicates and remove tags that no longer have notes associated with them.
Currently, I have ended up with 1,100 tags.
When converting from Evernote to Obsidian, I learned several important lessons and identified some key areas to be cautious about. These are:
- importing tags
- importing ENEX files
- working with PDFs
- import html emails
- how to set up a workflow
We handle these below in more detail.
1. Tagging challenges and solutions
One of the main challenges I encountered was with the text of my tags. In my Evernote system, I relied heavily on tags, often more than notebooks, to organize my information. However, when importing these into Obsidian, I ran into some issues.
Tags containing special characters were not recognized as valid in Obsidian. These would appear in red within a note, indicating a problem. The problematic characters (that I found) included:
- Ampersands (&)
- Parentheses ( ( ) )
- Dots (.)
- Plus signs (+)
Also, any tag with a slash (/) was interpreted by Obsidian as a parent and child tag combination, which wasn’t my original intent in Evernote.
To resolve this, I wrote a simple Ruby script. This script looped through all folders and markdown files, converting these special symbols in the tags into dashes (-). Since the notes in Obsidian are just files on the local disk, looping over them and modifying the tags was straightforward.
After replacing these special characters, the tags functioned correctly in Obsidian, and no data was lost in the transition.
2. Importing ENEX Files: better not all at once
I used the Import add-in provided by Obsidian to import my notes. When you export your folders from Evernote, these are saved as individual ENEX files, one for each folder. Initially, I attempted to import all these ENEX files simultaneously using the add-in’s ‘Import folder’ button.
However, importing all folers at once turned out to be a mistake. A few days later, I realized that some notes had been misplaced into the wrong folders. Fortunately, no notes were lost in the process. I had counted them before starting and after the import, and the numbers matched up.
To fix the folder misplacement issue, I had to restart the entire import process and import the ENEX files from Evernote one at a time. This approach proved to be more effective. Since I only had about ten folders, it was relatively quick.
Another hiccup during the import process was encountering seven error messages. These were due to the presence of special characters in the titles of some Evernote notes, which aren’t allowed in file names in Obsidian. Characters like semicolons caused these errors, and I had to address these individually.
3. Managing attached PDF files
Another key area to discuss is how I’ve been using PDF files. Over the past 11 years, Evernote has served as a sort of archive for me, especially for managing the administration of three separate companies, each with its own archive notebook.
These archive contain numerous PDFs - invoices, orders, contracts, and more. While handling accounting tasks, I often needed to search for specific invoice amounts mentioned in bank statements. Evernote’s ability to search within PDFs was incredibly handy for finding those exact figures.
However, I’ve discovered that this PDF search functionality doesn’t seem to be available in Obsidian (at least, I haven’t found it yet). While I don’t foresee this being a major issue in my use of Obsidian, the capability to search within PDFs would definitely be a valuable addition. There are community plugins to do that, but I am cautious not to do too much at once.
4. Handling HTML emails
I’ve extensively used Evernote for company administration tasks, which often involved managing invoices and bills received as HTML format emails. A convenient feature of Evernote is its ability to create a unique email address for you. When I forwarded HTML emails to this Evernote address, they were seamlessly converted and stored in my Evernote database. Additionally, any PDF attachments would automatically become attachments in the respective note.
However, this process changes when moving to Obsidian. HTML emails, when imported into Obsidian, are converted into Markdown. This conversion doesn’t quite capture the original formatting effectively, leading to a loss of clarity and recognizability in some documents, such as invoices.
To work around this issue in the future, I plan to first print these mails as PDF documents, and then attach these PDFs to notes in Obsidian. This method should help preserve the original format and content of the documents.
5. Note-taking workflow
In Evernote, my system included a “todo” folder, which functioned as a sort of inbox. Into this folder, I would place various items:
- Emails I sent to myself,
- Web clips I saved,
- Quick notes I jotted down.
Everything accumulated in this todo inbox. About once a week, I would sift through these items, usually finding between five to fifteen notes awaiting organization – which involved attaching tags and moving them to the correct folder.
However, managing notes in Obsidian presented a unique challenge, especially when it came to notes with attachments. In Obsidian, attachments are stored as files on your local disk, typically in a subfolder. When you move a note, the attached files aren’t automatically relocated with it. This means that while the note may move to a new folder, its attachments might remain in the original location. The links still work, but it can be disorienting to find the attachments in a different folder from the note.
As of now, I haven’t discovered a way to move notes in Obsidian along with all their attachments seamlessly. If anyone has tips or solutions for this, I’d greatly appreciate your input!
I eventually decided to use the sync features that Obsidian offers as a paid service, and I must say, it’s been a wonderful experience. This feature provides encrypted syncing, which allows me to seamlessly and safely sync my notes between my laptop and phone. It does cost a bit - I believe around $8 per month - but it’s been absolutely worth it.
The reliability of Obsidian’s sync feature really stands out. I’ve used it to sync all my 7,000 notes, and even after deleting and re-importing them, the sync process kept everything perfectly synchronized. No issues with duplicate or lost notes, which were problems I occasionally faced with Evernote.
In short, this sync feature in Obsidian has proven to be worth every dollar. It’s robust, reliable, and enhances the overall efficiency of managing my notes.
So, that’s my switch from Evernote to Obsidian in a nutshell. Honestly, it went pretty smoothly, way better than I expected and way better than all the other tools I tried migrating to in the past. Sure, there was that moment with the tagging system, but even that wasn’t too much of a hassle, especially with a little help from ChatGPT for the ruby script.
If you’re considering making the move to Obsidian, these are the key things you might bump into. It’s more about being prepared than anything else. If you come across any neat tricks during your transition, I’d love to hear about them!