Do you even need a note-taking app?

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Note-taking has come a long way since the loose sheets of my school notebooks were covered in swirling doodles and repeated attempts at a cool signature. Today, every thought can be quickly recorded and collated into elaborate color-coded databases, just as our brains might if they weren’t busy trying to remember actors’ names.

Note-taking apps have made the practice of taking notes instead of doing anything smarter. They can combine different types of content like handwritten notes and audio recordings into a single page, let you search for key phrases in your notes, and can be synced across devices.

But unless you’re doing a mission control check before takeoff, are all these features necessary or just a distraction from doing things?

Applications as elaborate as your thoughts

When you come across the Notion project and note management app, you feel like you need another note-taking app just to figure out how to use it. But it’s not that difficult. It allows users to combine dozens of block types in its text editor, so your notes can take the form of text, images, web pages, tables, and anything else you want to put into them. God help anyone who really needs to take these kinds of notes.

The notes can be shared with friends if you’re covering someone skipping a big company job presentation, and you can even post them online, in case you’re really proud of your President Millard Fillmore notes and that you would need the world to see them. Do not hesitate to use Notion if you have never had a notion. I had quirks and schemes and some vague ideas, but no notions.

Evernote has been around for a while and allows users to turn their thoughts into multimedia presentations for themselves, filled with scans and audio and web pages, all stored in color-coded pages that can be bookmarked and highlighted and assigned. due dates. Still with me?

This can be particularly useful for managing large amounts of text, such as if you are a student doing your master’s thesis on Michel Foucault, or the last human being on earth who needs to explain what the humanity to visiting aliens.

Nebo is one of the best handwriting recognition apps if you’re tired of “Call Susan after lunch” turning into “Craft Rufus a hutch” or something, and the more technical Obsidian comes along. as a “second brain”, in case your current one is at full capacity. Features abound.

Better note-taking apps won’t help you take better notes

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Many of these apps are obviously well-designed, but they’re not necessarily an improvement over Apple Notes or Notepad or any other simple built-in you already have. What many of them are doing is turning note taking into an active hobby.

They let you take such elaborate and cool notes that sometimes you don’t feel the need to do anything else and just want everyone to see your awesome notes. All the extra features, while nice, can add an unnecessary level of bureaucracy to just putting a thought in writing. While scrolling, it may end up looking like Jennifer Lopez is walking through The cell (or a more modern and relevant reference).

It might just be me (and it probably is), but I’ve always had a tendency to take long notes and make to-do lists during times in life when I wasn’t doing anything. . That doesn’t mean they’re useless. It’s just that our brains often don’t need tons of bells and whistles to write down a thought or plan.

These advanced note-taking apps are probably best for those with specific careers. Obsidian could be useful for anyone with a background in coding, and Notion for graduate students, recipe writers, and those who regularly give elaborate presentations.

The biggest advantage over pen on paper

Perhaps the biggest advantage of note-taking apps over pen-on-paper is the search function. When I think of all the probably amazing ideas I couldn’t find or read in endless pages of handwritten notes, I start to get into Rutger Hauer’s monologue at the end of blade runner.

In OneNote, for example, the search function lets you search for text, images, audio and video recordings, PDFs, and handwritten notes, among other formats.

Of course, the problem with being able to access every hastily discarded thought is that before searching, we may have over-romanticized ideas lost in the ether as if it were an unrealized Sistine Chapel. But now we can quickly pick them up and realize that most were actually terrible.

“Robot vacuum slippers”? Nobody is going to buy this.

Don’t let your note-taking app become the talk

If you’re religious about taking notes in an organized way, by all means go wild with these apps. Over time, it may become clear that you really don’t need anything fancy, you just need that pesky discipline, and no app will help you with that. Believe me, I looked.

Yet notes in any form can often help you produce better work. You can probably say, for example, that I didn’t take any notes before writing this article.

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