Everyone likes the idea that when you put your data into an app, you’ll be able to get it out again easily. Unfortunately, the reality is that many apps’ import and export functions fall way short of what you’d hope for, leaving you with a ton of manual work to do if you’re determined to switch apps. So today, you get a gnarled tale of me trying to move my archive of journal entries from Notion to Standard Notes.
A bit of background first. I’ve journalled off and on since high school (separate from blogging, which I’ve also done off and on since high school), using an array of different apps. The earliest ones are private posts in an old Dreamwidth account I have. A chunk of uni-era entries are in 750 words. The archive I’m referring to in this post only goes back to 2017. Of that, the first year or so of entries were originally written in RedNotebook, the next 18 months’ worth were written in Journey, and I’ve only actually been journalling with Notion for six months. So you could say I’m familiar with this “but how do I move all my entries?” conundrum.
Your next question might be, “But why do you want to move all your entries?” and this is a good question. The truth is that none of these platforms have been exactly what I wanted from a journalling platform. RedNotebook is close, but it has no iOS app, and while it saves your entries in plain text, it uses some idiosyncratic formatting called txt2tags instead of something more standard like Markdown, so yup, you guessed it, importing those entries anywhere else takes a looooot of manual clean-up. Journey wasn’t too bad, but for me it was expensive and the developers had a kinda snotty attitude towards supporting Linux, like they did but they really resented it. Notion was at least free, but it offered no easy way to go back and browse old entries – the interface got slower and slower the further I scrolled down my list of posts. Standard Notes isn’t optimised for journal-keeping either, but it is faster and does offer full-text search of old entries (or notes), so it’s an improvement.
All that preamble and now I can finally get to the main point of this post (I hope). Basically, today I set myself the goal of exporting all my entries from Notion and importing them into Standard Notes. Notion offers a Markdown export and Standard Notes lets you write entries in Markdown, so it should be easy, right?
First, I had problems actually exporting my journal entries from Notion in the first place, because apparently there being 424 of them made the exporter choke. I succeeded the second time, though.
The next problem I had was how to actually import them into Standard Notes. The help section has a page on how to import notes from a bunch of text files, which consists of a brusque one-line answer telling you to use their plaintext import tool. So okay, fine, I can do that.
Then I thought I’d better open up the resulting file to see what it looked like. And I found that… every single entry had been given a creation date of today. Which was a problem, because I knew Standard Notes didn’t let you change creation dates manually once they were already in the app. I was going to have to edit all 424 entries’ creation dates in the import file. Yaaaaay.
So it took me an hour and a half, but I did that. Then, finally, I imported my old entries! And fast encountered one big problem: all the creation dates on all my entries were wrong. It took me scrolling through a few of them before I deduced why they were wrong: the app interpreted all 424 of the creation dates I’d manually set as UTC, then added 11 hours to all of them to display because my actual timezone is UTC+11. Just wonderful. So, I had to use the batch delete tool to remove all my newly imported entries, and go back and change all the dates again.
It was faster this time, because this time I only had to change the hour (subtract 11 for what I wrote during DST, subtract 10 for what I wrote not during DST, subtract 2 for what I wrote in South Africa, and add 8 for that one post I wrote in Los Angeles). Anything posted in the first week of April or October required me to take a detour to the internet to check what date the clocks went back or forward that year. But otherwise, this was maybe only a half-hour job.
Then I could import my entries. I still need to do a lot of clean-up, because the titles all contain garbled UUID strings and I need to tag everything. Some of the timestamps are still a bit off, especially on the entries I wrote while overseas, but that’s not really fixable so eh. Close enough. Once I’ve done the clean-up though (and I do think it’ll take a while…), I should then have everything nicely organised for future use.
Now having read all that, you might wonder: why even use Standard Notes for journalling? Why not a purpose-built journal app? The major reason is that when I say “journalling”, I mean most of my entries are not really the traditional “this is how work was, this is a conversation I had, this is what I had to eat” kind of diary entries. A lot of them are about interesting apps I’ve found, or notes on writing projects, or that kind of thing. The kind of thing that I don’t always post as a journal entry – sometimes I make blog posts out of those thoughts, or type up writing notes actually with my writing project, or whatever. By moving to a more traditional “notes” app, I’m hoping to find it easier to organise and refer to all my notes, whether they begin life as blog posts or journal entries or what. Eliminate that frustration of, “Now, where did I actually put that?” Plus, Standard Notes is more secure than Notion (being end-to-end encrypted), has offline support, and (seemingly at least) an app that’s faster to navigate and more performant.
Of course, I’m now hoping I want to keep them there going forward, so I don’t have to go through the hassle of exporting and importing all my notes again. I do wish there would be more standardisation of import/export files so it would be easier for users to pack up their data and move to what serves them best.