Similar tools for various purposes - how many note-taking apps can you have?

In my previous blog post, I described new workflows for my morning and evening routine, as well as some other ways for automating productive habits. After it came out, some people asked me how it is possible that a productivity guy like me uses several different apps for taking notes. Where is the effectiveness and simplification in all that? Where did the idea of using several apps that basically do the same thing come from?

One app for everything?

I understand the hesitation. Until now, I believed that one app for taking notes is enough, and for many years, I used Evernote for this purpose.

Evernote is a robust, all-in-one app for storing documents, photos, and notes. It also does a great job at keeping everything in sync in the cloud. I’ve been using it since its first release. Actually, it was Evernote that encouraged me to go #iPadOnly back in 2012 and start using the tablet as my main computer for work. Also, thanks to Evernote, I was able to ditch paper in favor of keeping all of my information and documents in their digital version, always at hand, and without having to worry about their “physical” copies.

I use Evernote to this day, keeping more than 10 thousand notes there. Consequently, it is quite a big part of my life, so I pay for a premium subscription of this app.

However, 2012 was quite a while ago. When I went #iPadOnly, the iPad 3 with Retina display was available. Now, it’s 2018, and I’m working (and writing these words) on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro with iOS11. Apple’s app ecosystem is richer than ever. The way I use the iPad and computers in general has changed too…

iCloud – my basic cloud

Finally, we’ve reached a time when iCloud on Apple just works, keeping apps and documents on iOS and Mac in sync. An additional advantage of iCloud is the fact that it’s the basic, native system for storing information on the iPad and iPhone, so it also works offline and when you have a slower internet connection. As a result, it often works better than Dropbox.

Why do I need more than one app for making notes?

Going back to the main topic – taking notes and apps for note-taking.

Although there are plenty of note-taking apps for the iPad, each one has different abilities. That’s why, depending on the task at hand, I use various apps for making notes. Here they are:

Apple Notes – for doodling and various kinds of notes

Apple Notes is a native iOS app. I use it for “loose notes” – whenever I need to memorize or describe something.

It’s fast, synchronizes via iCloud and is also visually appealing.

I often use this app for ”doodling” as it offers great, native support for the Apple Pencil.

Linea – for drawing notes

Whenever I want to write a longer note with the Apple Pencil, I use Linea. It has more features and offers better convenience for drawing. Actually, it works so well that it replaced Paper by 53 – once my main tool for drawing.

Scanbot – for documents

Scanbot is my new app for scanning documents. I’ve been recently testing it as a replacement for Evernote. Whenever I need to scan something, I simply use Scanbot. It offers lightning-fast text recognition in graphic files (OCR) – and, needless to say, it syncs with iCloud.

The way it works is amazing as each text is stored directly as a PDF file, which means I can access it from any app that supports PDFs.

Ulysses – for writing

This app is absolutely perfect for writing longer texts on the iPad, iPhone and Mac. Each of my longer texts starts here – this one included. I have special folders for varius publications I contribute to, in which I write all of my articles. My entire text archive is stored there, so I never have problems with finding any of my older texts.

I love to write in Markdown, and Ulysses is excellent for this purpose. It also offers basic features for exporting texts to PDF or Pages.

I also use Ulysses for writing my journal. In my previous article, I described how I create entries using Workflow and later export them to Ulysses.

My entire text archive in Ulysses is synced with iCloud, which means I have access to all of my texts on each device.

Bear – for everyday notes

Radek, with whom I record The Podcast, came up with the idea to use Bear only for one purpose, namely keeping notes for tracking daily progress at work. The whole process is as follows: each day, Workflow creates a new note for me. During the day, when I feel like adding or recording something down in that note, I just launch Bear and write down whatever I need.

Again, Bear syncs with iCloud, meaning I have access to my notes across all of my devices. :-)

Although Bear’s creators probably aren’t overjoyed that I’m using their app only in such a limited scope, I don’t need it for any other purpose. By keeping it this way, I don’t need to clutter Ulysses with everyday notes.

MindNode – for thinking

As part of my personal brainstorms during which I analyze and work on new ideas, I use mind-mapping. Until now, I’ve been doing it on a piece of paper or in iThoughts. Recently, I switched to MindNode, and I’m absolutely delighted with this app. Currently, all of my longer texts or important concepts start out here as mind maps and later develop into what they’re eventually supposed to become.

I was never a fan of “outline” apps, such as OmniOutliner, etc. They’re too “linear,” whereas I need something that’s more “spatial,” and this app fulfills its purpose very well.

This text was also initially created as a mind map in MindNode. Later, it was exported as a Markdown-formatted document into Ulysses, and right now I’m filling it with content and editing it.

Habit List – for habit-tracking

There’s one more app I’d like to mention. Although it’s not a tool for taking notes, it shows my tendency to move away from monolithic apps. As you may already know, I keep all of my stuff (i.e., projects, tasks, to-do lists) in Nozbe. The only thing I don’t keep there are tasks related to my habits, such as regular exercises.

Instead, I keep them in a dedicated app called Habit List, which allows me to track progress in developing habits, my regularity in practicing a particular habit, etc.

Is it really worth having so many apps?

For me, the answer is yes, and I can name several reasons why this new model is working for me:

First of all, comparing Evernote’s pricing to the costs of these apps and price of an iCloud account, you won’t need to break the bank to get them. Though they’re not exactly cheap, they work so well that I’m happy to be a paying customer. Considering the price of the iPad Pro, the cost of software isn’t that high.

Secondly, each of these apps is really well-made and has a few amazing, unique features that make it stand out from other tools.

  • Apple Notes is a versatile app offering support for multiple note formats.
  • Linea is amazing for sketching on multiple layers.
  • Scanbot is great for scanning and OCR.
  • Ulysses works well with Markdown for writing longer texts.
  • Bear has a super-cool API and offers support for checkboxes.
  • MindNode is a beautiful app for mind mapping.

Thirdly, all of these apps work really well with each other, often thanks to data export. Saved as “Markdown” files, my mind maps go to Ulysses to be published after that.

Fourthly, thanks to the fact that each of these apps fulfills a specific function in my life, I’m automatically more focused while using them. I know that when I want to add a general note, I launch Apple Notes; whenever I need to write a longer text, I use Ulysses; and when I want to work on a note for a particular day, I use Bear.

Fifthly and finally, each of these apps syncs with the cloud and Spotlight (the Apple devices search tool), meaning I can easily find what I need. All of my data are available on demand, whenever I need them (if only Siri worked better…).

How do you handle your notes?

This is my new approach – a series of dedicated apps instead of a single one that rules all things. What are your favorite apps for taking notes? Do you keep several types of notes? Where do you store them? Let me know in the comments below!

Michael
Nozbe founder and CEO. He records a weekly podcast, writes on this blog, and publishes books to help modern knowledge workers get more done and have a more organized (and passionate) life.