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. 🤡

61 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.

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  1. If you want to continue note taking on paper then you could try Kluz to address the screenshots/photos case. It’s a note taking app (of sorts) a friend and I made to just handle pictures and nothing else, this way you won’t have to choose between using and app or a notebook, the use case is always clear.

    https://kluz.dux.works

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  2. […] 我对记笔记的应用程序感到厌倦。 这不是因为选择有限。但这是另一回事。您可以尝试使用许多笔记应用程序,但最终却一无所获。至少那是我的故事。这是选择悖论的完美例子。 我曾经想知道为什么在市场上已经挤满了选择的情况下,人们为什么继续构建这么多的“记笔记”应用程序。然后我找出了几个原因。 市场规模:到2026年,全球笔记管理软件市场估计将达到13.5亿美元,从2019年到2026年的复合年增长率为5.32%,更大的创新范围:例如,它是创建任务清单,路线图还是设计存储库,Notion可以满足您的所有需求:人们注意到人们总是使用笔记应用程序的组合,并且长时间不坚持使用 尽管竞争如此激烈,但Notion,Google Keep,OneNote,Evernote等应用程序还是成功赢得了名额。人们将这些应用用于 生态系统。例如Google Keep,Microsoft OneNote整洁的用户体验。熊等创造纪律严明的笔记方式。例如,概念,漫游研究 我都尝试过了但是这些应用程序都没有使我成为“重复用户”。 经过与这么多应用程序的争夺之后,我因没有始终如一地使用它们的纪律而感到内gui,我终于诉诸最个人和最简单的方法⁠–写下来。 我从小就熟悉用笔记本写东西。这对我来说并不陌生,绝对不需要任何学习过程。 我觉得写下来有用的原因 绝对的专注和思考要点的能力使我有机会记住我在写的东西,而没有办法照搬原样,这意味着我以易于理解的方式做笔记,例如在格式之间进行切换,流程图,思维导图,维恩图等帮助我与笔迹保持联系 当然,一切都有缺点,在这里写下来也不例外。例如,我将无法 添加屏幕截图/图片,链接等,轻松地搜索内容,因为没有“搜索栏” 也许还有更多我要说的不是。 我可以肯定地说的是,根据我的使用习惯,我可以错过这些功能。我总是可以保存指向Pocket的链接以供将来参考,并可以将笔记的照片拍照以与朋友共享。 因此,如果您问我是否要尝试一款美观,创新的笔记记录应用程序,该应用程序比迄今为止使用的应用程序要好得多,我的回答是:“为什么不!我一定会试一试。” 但我最大的担心是,如果我继续使用它。 注意:如果我对笔记应用的看法随着时间而改变,我很乐意用“而英雄终于来了!”来更新这篇文章。前往谈论有助于改变主意的应用程序。 🤡 Read More […]

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    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)?

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  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

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  7. 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

  8. 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!

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

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  11. 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!

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  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. Well, you could make your journal entries searchable, if in a 2nd step, you transfer written notes to digital text. During this step, you can do the first edit, also, if you like at this point. Or you could sort of automate this by either scanning and OCRing your notes or by having someone else type your journal for you.

    Lydia Davies, the author, does it like that and she is writing all her stuff by pen and then transfers it to digital. Edna O’Brien, a british author, writes on paper, too, and has someone coming in every week, typing her script into a PC.

    I write daily notes into Devon Think, using a structure called Zettelkasten (which originated on paper, too), but if I write short stories or work on a novel-like text, I prefer to write with a pen, because I find that to be much, much easier for whatever reason.

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  17. If you can afford it, iPad Pro with the Pencil is a great addition to handwritten notes. You can even use PDF as the file format and store the notes where ever you like. No vendor lock-ins, no need to vorry if the app dies and you’d need to move your notes to some other service.

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  18. What I’d like to suggest is to avoid analog note-taking. I found problem with huge stacks of paper with unsearachable informations.
    Of course, when you are in a hurry and pen and paper is everything you have – just write a note.
    Next, move this note to your digital system and tag it.
    What works best for me is to keep things as simple as possible. This way I found that using Markdown format is all I needed.
    I don’t need another fancy applications to edit and manage my notes.
    I can use simple code editor – which actually I use for everyday work. Moreover I’d suggest to take a look at Zettelkasten method – and to be honest it works pretty well in Markdown documents. It’s even better when you adjust tagging to meet your requirements.
    Additionally you can store and synchronize documents for example in Dropbox.

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  19. use vim to edit, git to version, any cloud git solution if you wish to have it anywhere.

    this way you don’t have any dependencies or have to rely on a service, that may go offline eventually.

    find things is easy, just grep it.
    no weird layouts, interfaces, gimmicks or distractions, just good, old and reliable text.

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  20. Sounds like the searching is still going? I have to recommend my attempt to solve the choice overload (and at the sometime contributing to the problem?🤦‍♂️) It’s an app called ZenJournal. It’s the closest to pen and paper because it’s probably the fastest to write and search: https://thezenjournal.com

    Good luck looking or sticking to pen and paper…

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