Fixing My Productivity Mess: Part 2 – Note Taking Apps

In part 1, I described what I did to clean up my email inboxes. Today I will describe my current situation with my note-taking apps.

Swimming in “productivity” apps

Over the years, I have collected several note taking apps. I have been trying to find the magic bullet. The one to rule them all. There are currently, for the time being, about fifteen different note-taking and outliningapps on my phone and iPad. The ones I have used the most are:

  • Apple Notes
  • Drafts app
  • Evernote
  • Workflowy
  • Simplenote
  • Google Keep

Each app has lots of chunks of text in them. Some large, some short. There are notes with just a phone number, an address, or a garage door code, with no way to know what, where or who they were for. 

There are old blog post for websites that don’t exist anymore. There are outlines for entire podcast series I thought I might do. There are hundreds of quotes, some on individual notes, and some listed on long notes. There are itineraries for trips I’ve taken, and notes and letters I’ve written. There are even a couple of outlines for books I thought I wanted to write.

The issue is that they are scattered among all these different apps, with no rhyme or reason, and of course, the apps don’t share common file types, so quick exporting and importing isn’t an option. 

As I’ve been sorting out the mess I’ve created in these apps I realized something. Most, if not all of my most used, and useful stuff was written in either Drafts or Apple Notes. Sometimes there are similar versions of the same note or documents in both apps. 

It turns out that most of the notes for my job estimates were done in Notes. All of the “oh, I need to remember that!” text was in Apple Notes. My shopping lists, my idea lists. Almost everything I found useful was there. 

Then I began to notice that anytime I want to write something, Notes is the icon I click, almost unconsciously. I pay for Drafts app specifically for that purpose, but for some reason, it’s Notes that gets used. 

With that in mind, I decided to concentrate on Apple Notes first.

Cleaning up Apple Notes

Since I have come to the conclusion that Apple Notes is the app that I instinctively use, I need to get it cleaned up, organized, and functional first. 

I had nearly one thousand notes in the app, and most weren’t filed in folders, or tagged in any way. I had some folders, but they weren’t really adequate fo my system moving forward. 

The first thing I did was to delete all folders and make sure that all notes were in the “Notes” folder. This is the default top level folder. I treat it like the inbox folder. 

The next thing I did was create an Archive folder. This is where I will put any notes that I no longer need, but I don’t want to delete. 

I decided that for every note, I would take one of four actions.

  1. Delete it
  2. Archive it, with or without tags
  3. The majority I would move out of Apple Notes
  4. Leave it in the Inbox (Notes) Folder to tag and file later. 

In order to move some most of the notes out of Apple Notes I had to figure out where to put them. Because I haven’t set up the system that I will use going forward, I’m not exactly sure what apps I’m going to keep and get rid of. 

I considered sending them to Drafts app, but it is also a big mess, and I want to clean it up next. Also, some of my Apple notes have rich or HTML formatting, and Drafts only accepts plain text. Additionally, filling it temporarily with notes that will eventually end up somewhere else seemed like a waste of time because I would lose all of of the benefits of this clean up. 

But First, An Evernote Detour

I have an Evernote account, also filled with stuff in a haphazard manner, most of which I hadn’t looked at in several years. Since sharing to Evernote is relatively quick and easy I decided to put all of the notes in Apple Notes that I I want to keep but I’m not sure where they will en up and I’m also not sure what I’m going to eventually do with them.

Bonus! When I opened Evernote fo the first time, the first paid tier was on sale for $40.00. That’s 50% off for the first year. I reluctantly bought it, because I knew it was going to make heavy use of it for the next few weeks. I doubt I will renew next year though because I really don’t like what they’ve done to the app. It’s very cluttered, it syncs slow, and the app isn’t easy to navigate around. 

I spent an evening going through all of my old notes. I deleted most of them since they were web clippings from ten plus years ago, or were related to topics of research I’m no longer interested in. I deleted all of the folders and created an Archive folder. Any notes left that I wanted to address at some point I left in the Inbox and the notes I wanted to keep but didn’t need any organization in the form of folders or tags I put in the Archive folder. 

Back To Apple Notes

Now that I had a cleaned up place to dump notes, I started in on Apple Notes. I looked at every single note deciding weather to delete it, archive it, send to Evernote, or leave it in the inbox. A couple of hours later, I had a nice orderly Apple Notes. I had an inbox with about thirty notes, and an Archive folder with almost seventy notes in it. There were only two folders, Notes (my inbox, it can’t be renamed) and an Archive folder. 

I added folders named Pojects, Work, Personal, Things, and Media. Then I added some sub folders in some of them for some organization. All of the notes in the Inbox got filed into one of these folders. The only thing left in the main Notes folder were three pinned notes: Shopping List, Ideas, an a note called Todays Notes. 

Now, Apple Notes is clean and simple. It’s a place I can easily capture everything throughout my day, mostly from my phone. 

I only keep one shopping list, rather than making a new one every time I’m headed to the store. It’s pinned so it’s always easy to find. It’s actually six lists on one note: Grocery, Costco, Amazon, Home Depot/Lowes, Sherwin Williams, and Other. These cover 95% of all of my shopping.

I keep a note called Ideas. It’s just a simple running bulleted list. I capture any thoughts or ideas I have throughout the day. They can range from blog post ideas, podcast topics, gift ideas, any idea that i want to quickly capture so i don’t forget it. 

The last pinned note is a “quick note” called Daily Note. It’s titled “Day – – Date” or “Thursday 12/29/22. It’s basically a scratch pad. This is the place I put notes from phone calls, or details about an estimate coming up, a paint color I need to remember. It’s essentially the replacement for carrying a scratch pad around with me. 

Pro Tip:

I have two notes app widgets on my Home Screen. One for the Ideas note, and one for the Daily note. This allows for fast access to these notes without having to open the app, and then open the correct note.






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