On note-taking, the meaning of notes, and what I use

Context

(FYI, this is the sort of thing that’s re-hashed over and over again …)

Some words mean many things — and while not quite as versatile as God or Fuck, Note is surely high on the list.

There are many takes on this, many apps, many opinions on what you should use, how you should use it, and so forth.

Noise

Some random articles. More random articles. Yet more random articles. We can go on. And on. And on.

I’ve found notes serve many different uses: notes can be tasks; notes can be memos; notes can be reminders; notes can be snippets of code; notes can be documents; notes can be links; notes can be transcripts; notes can be summaries; notes can extracts; notes can be snapshots.

You get the point, I hope: there will never be a final answer here; there are as many uses are there are people, maybe more. So all I’m going to do here is briefly mention what I either am using, or have used, or might use.

As it turns out, I have (1) tried out a lot of apps (occasionally falling into the “trap of the perfect” in the past too), but also (2) only use a small number of apps day-to-day.

What I no longer use

  • Evernote
  • OneNote
  • Wunderlist
  • Trello
  • Asana
  • Notion1
  • Bear
  • (lots more that I don’t remember)

What I use

DevonThink: the one indispensable tool for me, for the past several years … this is where pretty much everything is indexed for me.

Omnifocus: This is where al my tasks live, also where all Reminders flow into. With folders, projects, tags, and more, it has all the customizability I’ll ever need.

Tinderbox: Currently my go-to place to diagram, contextualize, link together stuff. Minimalist, spare, yet fully-programmable, with a uniform structure, and open storage format, I think of it as “the Emacs of note-taking software”2

What I might use3

Curio: The most feature-fun of the lot! But I don’t really have a use for it right now.

TheBrain: AFAICT this is a visually appealing, cross-platform, opinionated mashup of Tinderbox, Devonthink and Roam (at the cost of being proprietary).

RoamResearch: Used it a year and half ago, I see the appeal, but (at least right now) I don’t want to use a cloud-only product.

Notion: widely used tool now, but I’m conservative with the number of apps I use, so I’ll need to see where it fits in for me.

Looking forward

If I remember, I’ll do this again in a year, and … it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed by then. I’m quite sure DevonThink and OmniFocus will continue to be the bedrock for me, but the rest is … up for debate 🙂


  1. I still have a bunch of notes for this one, and of this list, the one I liked the most … except, I felt it didn’t do anything I can’t already do with what I have ↩︎
  2. Here’s a brief overview; five years old but still accurate ↩︎
  3. FYI, if I don’t use something, it’s not because I don’t like it, but usually because … I’m already using something else, and am no longer wiling to do any unnecessary migrations ↩︎

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