My note-taking journey

My note-taking journey

I shared earlier this week that I was going to be using Craft for the next year as my primary note-taking and research app. I am going to be sharing some ways that I am using Craft to journal, take meeting notes, collect articles, track videos, and even write my next novel in the coming days. But before I talk about the future and how I plan on using Craft to maximize my thinking, I thought it would be good to go back in time and take a trip down memory lane to highlight some of the pivotal moments in my digital note strategy.

Evernote – the early years

I started using Evernote in 2009. I was in college and saw some people on Twitter talking about the new app that was taking the internet by storm. I have great memories of using Evernote to take notes in class on my… Blackberry phone. Yes, years before I even had an iPhone or iPad, Evernote was a crucial part of my digital workflow. I used Evernote almost every day to keep track of class notes, store files, and manage reading notes and kindle highlights. It was so fast and easy to use. The system of notes, folders, and tags was easy to use and easy to expand. I used Evernote as my main note system for years and years.

Sometimes I miss those days. I could take notes on my BlackBerry without looking down thanks to the physical keyboard and keep track of all my information between my phone and computer. Back in 2009 that was much harder than it is now. Dropbox was brand new and iCloud did not exist. Evernote made my note management easy. Over the years, Evernote has grown and morphed several times. At some point, the speed (or lack of speed), feature lag, and confusion about the direction of the company pushed me other other places.

One Note

So, for several years after Evernote, I put all my notes inside of One Note. I have been a die-hard Mac user for my entire computer existence so it felt crazy to use a Microsoft app for note taking. But One Note was (and probably still is) a great app. It was easy to start a note, and I loved the notebook style. I gave me enough structure to get things going but enough freedom that the page did not get in my way. It was also really useful with the Apple Pencil and it was easy to transition from type to tapping with my Pencil.

Apple Notes

After trying various new apps and getting bogged down with features, I made the switch around iOS12 to Apple Notes. Notes is simple. It’s quick to sync and worked well across all my devices. It’s easy to start taking notes and that ease drew me to switch to Notes. I grew tired of tagging and doing the work to keep up with my system and I just wanted a place to put information. Notes has only gotten better over the last few years, and honestly for most people it is a great option.

Notion

I created a Notion account as soon as I heard about the service. It seemed like the magical unicorn that would solve all my note-related problems. I started up the app and was immediately confused and unsure of how to even create anything beyond a page. I went back to Apple Notes and started watching YouTube videos about  Notion. After hours and hours of videos, I finally started to understand how I might be able to use Notion for notes, tasks, and keeping track of almost anything. I created relational databases and started linking different things together. Honestly, I was happy with how my Notion system was working. It was robust enough to cover what I needed, but easy enough to navigate to get where I needed to go.

Why did I move away from Notion? Well, there are two main reasons. Their iPad app and offline access. I use my iPad Pro on a daily basis. I love doing my “thinking” work on my iPad. There is something about the simplicity of the device and the look of the iPad in the Magic Keyboard Case that just makes me want to type and get work accomplished. Notion’s app is not at home on the iPad. It has gotten much better over the last year, but for a long time the app did not even take advantage of the 11’ screen on the iPad. It was slow to load and there is not really a good way to copy text. I found myself sending screenshots of notes to people because I could not just copy multiple blocks at once.

Notion also does not support offline mode. If you sit at a desk and use a laptop or desktop, you are probably fine. But there have been several times in the last few months where I wanted to work in Notion and did not have solid internet access. It just drove me crazy that I could not use Notion offline. That reality paired with the more-frequent-than-a-like hiccups in service led me to several days of frustration with Notion. I started looking for other options a few months ago after a solid year with Notion.

Craft to the rescue

I want to love Obsidian. It’s a great app and I will probably use it to keep my old note from Notion, One Note, Notes, etc in a vault for future search and archive needs. But much like Notion, Obsidian requires you to build your own sandbox. I watched videos of people use Obsidian and rave about how the app works. I get it. But I found myself worrying that I would take too much time work on my work and not just doing the work.

Craft walks a tightrope for me that no other app has been able to do since those early days of Evernote. There is so much flexibility with how I organize and manage my notes but there are also a host of tools that are built into Craft that gives me a working pallet for quick content creation. I can quickly start a note or take a snippet of text and put it in the inbox for sorting later. I can turn any block into a page or a card instantly. I can link to other notes or blocks with ease. Craft has a style, but it does not push features on me like other apps do. I have options with Craft but at the end of the day it’s really just a nice looking markdown editor. I can easily export notes and even turn notes into webpages that I can share publicly.

This is what gives me hope for this season with Craft. I am going to continue to dig in and use Craft as much as I can, but I love that at any point I can just export my info to markdown or text bundles and walk away. It has the best mixture of features that I want (offline mode, iOS-first, fast, great style) and it does not get in my way of actually capturing thoughts and taking action on those ideas.