Migrating Evernote Notebooks to Bear

Since Evernote’s decision to totally disregard user privacy and sentiment late last year (after years of being a loyal user and being rewarded with “improvements” like Work Chat), I’ve been desperately casting about for an alternative. I found Bear pretty quickly, but found myself crossing my fingers for some updates to Bear’s Mac app (where I spend 90% of my note-taking):

After 7+ (!) years of using Evernote, I’ve built up five or so solidly populated notebooks that I like to keep separated. But Bear’s organization is based on arbitrary-tags-as-organization, which is clever and modern and flexible until all you want to do is copy over a bunch of notes into a specific tag. In December, Bear’s solution was apparently to require me to add #default to every note in my Default notebook in order to group them together, without a way to preserve the original modification date.

… I really like seeing these glorious metadata telling me which thoughts were apparently worth jotting down in 2010 (and never touching again).

So. After much angsting (and a satisfactory-but-not-delightful fling with Apple Notes) the ability to batch-add tags by dragging notes onto an existing tag was was added in Bear 1.1. It’s still a bit involved to import separate notebooks, keep them separated via corresponding Bear tags, and maintain modification dates, but it’s possible. Without further ado, a workflow to check all of these boxes:

  • Start with your various .enex files, one per notebook. We’ll call your notebooks Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.
  • Delete the placeholder Bear notes.
  • Import the first notebook, Alpha. (It was important for me to check the “Exclude unintentional tags” checkbox—turns out I’ve got various unintended #’s hanging out in my notes from over the years.)
  • Create a new note and name it something like “tagdump”. Type #_alpha (this will be your top-level tag for everything in the Alpha notebook).
  • Drag all notes (since you’ve only imported content from your Alpha notebook) onto the #_alpha tag in the tag bar (magically populated based on its existence in your “tagdump” note.)
  • Import the second notebook, Beta.
  • Open up your “tagdump” note and add #_beta (which will be, as you might guess, your top-level tag for everything coming from the Beta notebook).
  • Click on “Notes” and search for “-#_alpha”. This’ll turn up all notes that didn’t come from the Alpha notebook.
  • Drag all of those onto the new #_beta tag in the tag bar.
  • Rinse and repeat, each time adding other known notebook names to the exclusion search query (“-#_alpha -#_beta”).
  • Delete your “tagdump” file (should be easily findable by searching for#_alpha #_beta”, as no other files should be tagged with both).

It’s a little janky, a little manual, and will be a hell of a lot more annoying if you have 50 notebooks instead of five, but it works! (Performance-wise, I generally selected batches of ~100 notes at a time to drag onto a tag; otherwise the app seemed to lock up for a long enough period of time I got nervous it’d frozen.)

In any case, thanks to the folks behind Bear! I know it’s hard to think of new goals after being dubbed Mac App of the Year and getting a buttload of Evernote refugees as users, but here’s to another (hopefully) 7+ years of happy notetaking with your very private, very industrious bears!

Let me know what you think on Twitter.