Tired of note-taking apps

I’m tired of note-taking apps.

It’s not because of limited choices. But it’s the other way around. There are so many note-taking apps you could try but end up sticking to none. At least, that’s my story. It’s a perfect example of the paradox of choice.

I used to wonder why people keep building so many ‘note-taking’ apps when the market is already crowded with choices. Then I figured a few reasons why.

  • the market size: the global note-taking management software market is estimated to reach $1.35 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 5.32% from 2019 to 2026
  • greater scope for innovation: eg., be it creating a task list, a roadmap, or a design repository, Notion can handle it all
  • lack of satisfaction: it’s noted that people always use a combination of note-taking apps and hardly stick to one for a long time

Despite such heavy competition, apps like Notion, Google Keep, OneNote, Evernote, etc. have managed to earn a place. People use these apps for

  • the ecosystem. eg., Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote
  • the neat user experience., eg. Bear etc.
  • creating a disciplined way of taking notes. eg., Notion, Roam Research

I’ve tried them all. But none of these apps have turned me into a ‘repeat user.’

After battling with so many apps only to feel guilty for not having the discipline to consistently use them, I’ve finally resorted to the most personal and easy alternative ⁠— writing things down.

I’m familiar with writing in a notebook since my childhood. It’s not new to me, and it absolutely doesn’t require any learning curve.

The reasons why I find writing things down useful

  • absolute focus and the ability to think through the points I’m writing
  • gives a chance to remember what I’m writing
  • no way to copy-paste stuff as it is, and that means taking notes in a way I understand
  • easy to switch between formats eg., flowchart, mind map, Venn diagram, etc
  • helps me stay in touch with my handwriting

Of course, everything has its downsides, and writing things down is no exception here.
For example, I will not be able to

  • add screenshots/images, links, etc
  • easily search for content as there’s no ‘search bar’

And maybe there’s more to the list I’m not talking about.

All I can say for sure is, based on my usage behavior, I’m okay missing out on these features. I can always save links to Pocket for future reference, and take pictures of my notes to share with friends.

So if you ask me if I’d try a beautiful, innovative note-taking app that’s much better than the apps I’ve used so far, my answer is, Why not! I’d definitely give it a shot.”

But my greatest worry is if I’d continue using it.

Note: If my opinion on note-taking apps changes over time, I’d be happy to update this post with a “And the hero finally arrived!” heading to talk about the app that helped change my mind. 🤡

48 thoughts on “Tired of note-taking apps”

      1. I’m totally with you about handwritten notes. Also, when I’m in a meeting, i just hate it when everyone hides behind their notebook screen like they’re playing massively multiplayer Battleship.

        So, I’ve switched to a tablet and OneNote with a pen in meetings

        I still get all the benefits of typing, screen clipping, copying URLs, but i can also do my diagrams and scribbles, and i don’t put up a barrier between me and my colleagues

        At my desk, i use my primary monitor as a normal computer, but i keep my tablet laying flat to always take handwritten notes.

        Also, as an added bonus, the handwritten notes are searchable with a very cool fuzzy search that searches by word shapes i.e. searching for “cook” matches my handwritten “look”, “cook” and “cool”.

        It’s really amazing because I hardly ever write full letters instead I kind of scribble approximately words.

        Like

    1. I was unable to sign up to Module. The reset password link does not seems to work as well. Any way to contact you for assistance (there are no contacts on the site)?

      Like

  1. Physically writing things down is great if for memorization and retaining new information; transcribing those notes into a good note-app allows you an easy way to organize and make the information searchable.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I wanted all of my thinking for a context to be in one place. Whether it’s a draft, a blog post or research, it wasn’t enough to have just a writing tool. A program that I built to help with that was amna (https://getamna.com/). Amna has different tools to get work done – including an editor. It’s awesome because you won’t really spend too much time thinking of the document itself – you’ll use your writing to accomplish your bigger picture task.

    (the blog has a cool article on some user research)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You can also go really minimal and use Sublime Text 3. I use it for work and personal projects. Becomes really useful after installing notes package. Sync all the notes through Dropbox or any other cloud storage and they are easily accessible. If you are on a device that doesn’t have that specific application, the notes are essentially a .txt file

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Akkshaya, I like to look at notes-taking as a broader way of capturing information you have seen. The value of keeping notes is to eventually make use of them. The tool should focus on serving this core workflow, not creating overhead.
    We created a tool that tries to minimize the cognitive load for capturing things. We were inspired by messaging system and email to yourself, and build a tool for capturing infos on the go for ourselves. We’re testing it with a small group. If you are interested and willing to write us feedback, drop me a line and I will invite you to the beta community.

    abtin.setyani@gmail.com

    Like

  5. My search was similar to yours — tried nearly everything, couldn’t make anything stick. The revelation for me was to really think about what I loved in my dysfunctional baseline system (dozens of Notepad files with cryptic names like “Last Tuesday’s bullshit notes”) and what needed to be fixed.

    Turns out the only thing really missing was the ability to link concepts across notes. I spun up a localhost version of Wiki.js and haven’t looked back.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Akkshaya, thanks for writing this post. I’m working on building a note-taking app, and I found your comments very insightful. Why do you think all the note-taking apps that you’ve tried have failed to stick? It appears that apps somehow require more “discipline” than using a physical notebook, and I wonder if you have any hypotheses as to why that might be the case. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Steve, sure, I’ll share my two cents based on my experience.

      Sticking to a note-taking app definitely requires infinite discipline. It’s like your personal knowledge base. And this means the app should not only facilitate note-taking as a feature but somehow drive a user to come back to the app and learn from the notes. I’m able to do this with my physical notebook because I’m writing them with my own handwriting, in a way I understand. This is just my perspective, and is not something I’d say is a problem for all. 🙂

      And the sheer number of note-taking apps in the market is very distracting. I instantly get the urge to try and see if the new app fits my needs. So I end up having notes saved in different apps. This, again, is a personal problem. Happy to know your thoughts on this!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Akkshaya, thanks for your reply and perspective. I think one of the reasons why there are so many note-taking apps out there is because people have so many different approaches and goals. Some people are trying to build a knowledge-base. Others are trying to memorize information for school or because they think memorization is important. Others want a repository of ideas and information “just in case” for future use. I don’t think there is a single “correct” answer – if it works for you, then it’s correct! I personally have tried a lot of note-taking apps and also haven’t found one I like, which is why I’m building my own. For me, I’d like to have a note-taking app that is integrated with a task/project management features because the primary reason I take notes is to support the projects I’m working on. I’ve found that most note-taking apps don’t have great task/project features (yes I’ve tried Notion… it’s ok, but I don’t like it), and task/project apps don’t have robust note-taking features. But that’s my personal use case. Thanks again for writing this post and sharing your thoughts!

        Like

  7. Thank you for this post! I can totally relate! Just yesterday I signed up for one more, haha: Remnote. It looks promising as a note-taking and spaced repetition solution in one.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great assessment of the current note-taking landscape. There seems to be always the next greatest thing. It used to be OneNote and Evernote. Then Notion popped up, then RoamResearch followed by RemNote and Obsidian and Zettlr. Personally it takes a conscious effort to stay away from these shiny new tools since they are admittedly very enticing with their polished UIs and stick with a tried and true tool such as Emacs and org-mode which allows to keep my data as I deem fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Haha I’ve had the same drama! I’ve ended up with One Note for work (Office 365 makes that easy), Joplin for home, geekery and study. Pen and paper for anything under 10 lines per note or requiring creativity!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Like you, I tried out a ton of note-taking apps before finally settling on two apps: Notion and Bear. I use Notion for everything, from budgeting to content planning to writing blog posts.

    For more random notes from the top of my head, I use Bear. Mainly because it’s pretty easy to use and unlike Notion, Bear has amazing apps on my Mac and iPhone. Random thoughts are easy to jot down on a phone because I’m carrying that with me all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am the same as you. desperate note taking app finder. I settled on one file
    where I insert long gaps between notes. sometimes I insert tags and search
    through the internal search engine vim. It seems to me that this is the problem
    with all note-taking programs because they do not have a good search engine
    (regular expressions). the ability to simply create a custom structure or without structural and custom user interface. somewhere close to my ideal it turned out to be vim+fzf.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I used to also bounce around from note taking app to note taking app, jumping at the chance for a new app to make my notes more valuable to me. The thing that really changed how I view things is learning about a note taking system called Zettelkasten.

    Once I had a note taking system that I wanted to implement, it was less about the new shiny features in the latest note taking app, but an evaluation process of determining which note taking app best accommodates my note taking method.

    You mentioned you use your writing to help you think, so I think you’d really like Zettelkasten. I recently wrote a blog post about why I found it to be a superior note-taking system than more traditional hierarchical systems: https://www.bryanlee.net/blog/the-life-changing-magic-of-zettelkasten

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on note taking!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi, check out OrgPad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv5am2q6m4A. Our goal is to create a platform in which most of the work can be done in one place and related tasks can occur next to each other. We use it for most of stuff happening at OrgPad and hopefully more will be possible in the future. In OrgPad, you can start with taking notes, but then you can track your ideas as you work on their realization, and in the end you can build a presentation out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s