The big wide world of note apps

workflow

#1

Hey everyone,

I’m fully expecting the answers here to be a touch one sided (given where we are!), but I thought I’d ask for your opinions anyway.

I’ve spent the last few years really trying to use 1 or 2 apps to “run my life” so to speak.

Now, I have a very uncomplicated life. My shared calendar with my wife houses the bulk of my organisation, and I’ve tried a variety of note taking/task management apps to see if I can get into the habit of sorting things out.

To date, I’ve used (note, I’m solely Mac/iOS).

• 2Do (it was cheap, seemed to have a lot of solid functionality, and worked on Mac/iOS).

• Asana (so I could try and encourage my wife to share tasks - I’ve now resigned myself to that never happening :joy:)

• Bear (I instantly liked the feel of it and bought the annual subscription a year ago. Tried to get used to it, but hated the fact it was difficult to quickly jot a note down as it always defaulted to the title. Abandoned it quite quickly).

• Apple Notes (This is the one I always come back to, because the sync is good and you can quickly jot down little bits of information like a phone number of email address without any fuss).

• Things 3 (I absolutely love Things 3 - The design is gorgeous, and it was enough for me to drop the £’s on all 3 versions (iPhone, iPad and Mac). Because of the money I’ve spent on it, I try and force myself to use it as much as I can - However, the reality is I have little need for a solid task manager, and it’s now resigned to a few repeating tasks each week (like what colour bin day it is, or to flea the dog etc). As I’m sure you lot know, it’s not a good note replacement app).

However, as I’ve already spent the money, it’s sticking around and I’ll use it a little each week, although I’m really not getting my money’s worth there!

• Ulysses (I bought this for some longer form writing for online reviews and blogs - Currently on the subscription (on the upgrade price of £26.99 per year). Again, I just don’t use it enough, and it doesn’t feel particularly friendly for short little notes.

Tl:dr - I’m pretty much using Apple Notes because it’s easy to jot simple things down and a shared calendar with my wife so we know what’s going on.

I’m now giving Agenda a go for a few reasons.

• I’ve watched how it was made, read the forum and can clearly see the love that has been put into it from the creators.

• I love the look of it and the sync between devices is instant.

• I like the fact that the date doesn’t update when you edit a note - So you can always see when it was first created (unlike Apple Notes and Bear).

• The general “folder” type structure is better for me than tags, which I’ve never really got used to.

The few downsides I’ve experienced in my very short time using Agenda…

• No obvious/quick way to add a new note - For example, if I’m on a call and I need to jot down a phone number, there are a number of clicks I need to do before I can do that - I’ve then got to give the note a title (whilst this was one of my bug bears with Bear, I should probably get used to using titles on notes).

• When looking through lots of long notes, the condensed view is OK, but it still feels a bit of a faff to get there, and there is no “summary” of the note - The first 2 lines would be great.

• I’m struggling to make use of the “On the Agenda” or “Today” view - This feels very “GTD” and is similar to Things in a way - How do others make use of this?

I’m sure a few more pros and cons will come up as I go along, but I wondered if you good folk of the community could wade in on any thoughts you had from all of that.

If you have come this far and have actually read it all… Well… Gold star to you! :star:


#2

That’s a brilliant overview, and thanks for sharing your views and opinions. Regarding your wishes for Agenda, I think you’ll be happy to hear that many of those are on our roadmap (see also The features we are working on right now…) and throughout the coming year I think we can definitely check some of those off!


#3

Thanks @mekentosj, I watched your presentation about Agenda and was super impressed.

I always have these internal debates about what to use (drives my wife mad), especially because I end up doing hours of research, only to not really get anywhere.

I feel like if I’m going to invest so much time and energy into a system, it should be a system that can stand the test of time.

Notion is an app that keeps popping up, but I don’t love the UI, and feels very overkill for what I want/need (I’d rather use Agenda and Things 3 for example).

I think part of my problem is I just don’t have enough to note down, or I’m simply not in the habit of noting things down that others might, so pretty much everything feels overkill!

I think I’m going to give Agenda a good 12 months and see if I can get stuck in.

Premium of course - Dark mode for the win… :grin:


#4

Some ideas on how to use Agenda:

Create three projects under category “dashboard”: daily (only today notes), monthly (only next month notes) and future (only notes for after next month). On the daily project, pin a note for “next up” activities. Mark it as shown on the agenda. Also, divide your daily notes in phases of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night and sleep (in case you’re awake with thoughts).

You have plenty of conversations with some one, add a project for that person’s name. Summarise each conversation with a new and dated note.

Sequence, date and link notes after each meeting.

Research notes get sequenced, dated and linked. One project per source, or per question, etc.

Create a journal (personal, business, research, dreams).

If you are a caretaker or a nurse, add date, time, dosage and type of medicine you administered.

You’re reading complicated fiction: take notes about your comprehension.

If your a boss, log instructions, delegate name, date decided, date given, date fulfilled.

If you are in logistics, log your decisions.

Summarise your parish’s sermons before leaving mass.

Plenty more examples abound.


#5

Is there a link to this anywhere?


#6

Here you go!


#7

I’m exactly the same way, spending much time researching apps! :smile: , investment (purchase), and then the time working with them - trying to figure out the best ways to bend and shape them to fit what I’m seeking to accomplish.

I’ve worked w/Evernote, Trello, Asana, Apple Notes, Things, Omnifocus, (Apple) Reminders, and/or combinations of them, plus a few others.

While each of them are good products, with each I’ve tended to experience the “Goldilocks syndrome”: either ‘too complicated’ or ‘not enough’, but none of them ‘just right’.

In my (humble) opinion, I don’t really believe there is a “one size fits all” productivity/time-management system, but up to this point I hadn’t found something that was ‘flexible’ enough to ‘create’ the one I wanted - until Agenda.

Here’s what I really like about Agenda (which I’ve been using both OS, iOS versions for about 9 months +/- and am also a beta tester). These are larger picture vs. more granular things …

1.) It is very flexible and not so ’structured/rigid’.
At first, it may seem like it is too ‘unstructured’ so you’re not quite sure what to do with it (especially if you’ve been used to using more structured ones (e.g. Omnifocus)… until you start working with it. If what you initially set up isn’t quite working for you, it’s not that difficult at all to change it around until you find what works best for you.

2.) Beautiful (simple/not distracting) UI!

3.) Really responsive developers!! Most important, developers who really care about their work!

— The developers have had a very clear intent/purpose for the development/design of Agenda from the very beginning and have stuck to that purpose. They are very transparent about what this purpose is and why.

However, they are always open to suggestions/requests but also communicate clearly why some would/should be taken under serious consideration vs. others that would not because they would stray too far away from Agenda’s original intent/purpose (or in some cases, may just be a ‘technical’ nightmare to achieve).

When there are any issues (‘bugs’, glitches), they are always very responsive to solving them and owning responsibility for them as well, when applicable.

4.) A very good and transparent pricing model … !!

5.) Last but certainly not least — a really great community of people who are generous with their knowledge, experience, and very helpful!

And yes, Agenda still has some things that we (the users) would really love (or need) to have and have requested (+1, +1, …. ) We know which of these things are in the works, the priorities, and can either check the roadmap post or just ask. It is good they are meticuous developers … vs rolling out things too quickly thus creating pesky bugs/issues and frustrated users!

I hope this info has been useful for you :sunny:
Karen


#8

Thanks Karen!

Sounds like we’ve taken similar paths!

Do you use the “On the Agenda” and “Today” views much?

Also, other than having a project called “Inbox” or something similar, do you have a system for dumping random quick notes that might not belong in a project?


#9

Just to add my two pence to this discussion… I’ve been through very similar journeys, looking for the right tool to complement my workflows.

I write fantasy fiction, and doing so requires a lot of planning. I use a whole combination of apps to support me with all of this, and “note taking” apps have always been a constant bugbear when it comes to what I need (and what I would like).

My requirements include Mac + iOS support, iCloud-based realtime synchronisation, folders, rich text support (preferably Markdown), import/export functionality, image (or general file) attachments, manual ordering, split-screen (iPad) or multiple windows (Mac)…

You’ll probably notice that Agenda does most of this, hence why it is currently my note taking app of choice. Evernote was close, but its preparatory sync and odd bugs on iOS put me off. Apple Notes was also a great choice, but getting information out of Notes proved difficult (there is no proper export, PDF does not count, and all notes are stored in custom HTML-based formats).

Of course, all of this is mostly against what the intentions of Agenda were initially. I have zero interest in the agenda functions of the app, so, to answer @nickh – no, I do not make use of the calendar-based features at all. Ironically, I use Things 3 (on all three platforms, as well) to do just that! Agenda doesn’t “feel” like an app where I could type a note with three words in it (there is so much more to Agenda then that), so the task management stuff falls by the wayside for me.

However, I did consider using date-based notes in a project for planning a story outline, however, it proved cumbersome to move lots of notes to different dates around a timeline. Instead, I use MindNode or Cloud Outliner Pro to do this task.

Agenda does offer you a kind of “blank slate”, and allows you to define how you want to use it. Categories are top-level folders, projects are sub-folders, and the rest is just documents. This is what appeals to me, without having to do file management myself.

For the “quick notes” dump, I just have a “Notes” category, with a “General” project.

Hope that was interesting in someway…


#10

That’s a really good insight.

Whilst I don’t do anything nearly as exciting as fantasy novels, it was good to get an idea of the steps you went through.

The draw to Agenda is the UI and developers to be honest. I’m conscious of how long ideas can take to manifest and then get developed to the point of release, so it’s hard to pick an application in the hope a feature will come down the line.

You almost have to chose the one that is best suited to your needs now, and anything else That comes along is a bonus.

The “quick note capture” is the biggest drawback for me right now - As frustrating as it is, using something like Apple notes is still the gold standard here (but we cant ignore that UI or general feel).

Having a project to dump all of those quick notes into in Agenda is the next best thing - Once I get the premium sub I’ll end up pinning it to the top.

This may have been answered elsewhere, but can you move the projects around (re-order them?), or are they fixed?


#11

You spent quite some money on note taking apps (like me, haha). One suggestion about quickly writing down a phone number etc. I use Alfred app, which is a GREAT time saver in many ways. What I did, is creating a “custom web search” with the keyword “log” and this action:
agenda://x-callback-url/create-note?project-title=%E2%91%A0%20Daily%20log&title={query}&text=

The effect is: When I want to write something down quickly in Agenda, I hit cmd-space, enter “log some short text” and hit enter. The short text is then automatically created as a new note in my daily log notebook.

Your shortcut could be:
agenda://x-callback-url/create-note?project-title=Inbox&title={query}&text=

You might want to checkout the other callback features as well :wink:


#12

That’s great to know!

I’ll defintely check this out tomorrow.


#13

OK, if anyone else stumbles upon this, I’ll explain what I’ve found.

Now, i had no idea what callbacks were, or url linking or whatever! It’s all a bit foreign to me, despite being relatively tech savvy.

I knew what iOS 12 shortcuts were, but I’ve never found a decent use for one… until now!

One of my biggest gripes with Agenda was not being able to add a quick and simple note. Usually a piece of information like a phone number or email address, without having to load up Agenda, go to a relevant project and add a new note - This seemed overkill for something so trivial.

So, I made a project called Inbox, and added a new note (also called inbox).

This will be used for all of those random bits of info that don’t need a specific home, and likely can be deleted after a while - Anything I put in here that does need to stay around will end up being moved to a new dedicated note.

Loading up the shortcuts app, I can now add a new shortcut which will open up my Inbox note straight away, and allow me to quickly type something.

It was already preset, so no messing around for me!

I’ve added it as a widget, so I can now simply swipe across to my widgets, hit the “show inbox” Agenda button, and up pops my “inbox” note ready for me to type.

I’m guessing it’s similar on the Mac - I’ll have a look at this tomorrow.


#14

Brilliant, would be great if you could share the shortcuts and some instructions + screenshots in the Shortcuts section of the community!


#15

Couple of quick thoughts in response to a few questions here - long thread so not sure who asked what!

I use Agenda for my notes of work related projects - I’m a freelance consultant, also for planning major DIY projects etc at home.

I use a paper note book to plan my day, inspired by some ideas here https://bestself.co Each day I review what tasks I have coming up and write the 4 - 6 major targets for the day in my paper notebook. I then put the relevant notes On the Agenda so they are ready to work on.

To generate the long list of tasks, I’ve tried various approaches. Agenda doesn’t claim to be a task manager, and I’ve tried pretending it is, without success! So, I do a combination of things:

  • if I’m writing a note, say a meeting note, in Agenda that has an action for me, I tag the note with #due
  • Other tasks that come up, I put straight into Apple Reminders
  • When I’m planning each day I review Apple Reminders, and also my saved search on #due in Agenda

I’m actually trialling GoodTasks at the moment, which adds some useful feaures to Reminders and will probably buy it. Using tags in GoodTasks, I can tag each task with:

  • priority
  • estimated time required
  • energy level required

and then when I plan my day I can review the tasks and tag the targets for the day with #tgt so they show on my Smart List ’Todays Targets’.

I’m really looking forward to a couple of things that I beleive are coming with Agenda:

  • searches showing only the relevant paragraph, not the whole note (this will allow me to tag and find tasks at the paragraph level
  • the option to show the first lines of notes, a kind of semi-collapsed state

I think those features will allow me to replicate something similar to what I’m doing with Reminders/GoodNotes, and bring it all into Agenda. (plus paper notebook)

Incidentally, I find the paper notebook really helpful to force me to look at the bigger picture, and extract what matters, rather than being driven by a long list of tasks being pushed towards me by due dates, etc!


#16

You’re welcome Nick! Over the weekend I’ll post a message here on my setup/details. :smile:


#17

I love Agenda, but the ‘quick note’ feature is one I’d love to see. If Agenda could make it as easy (on desktop and phone) to add a note in the way that, for instance, Fantastical does to add a diary event, I’d be a very happy man!


#18

Have you used Alfred on the Mac, or Shortcuts on the phone?

I’ve been using them, and it works really well for quick notes.


#19

Similar to @trebso, I’ve actually long since given up on fumbling around with my phone or opening a new window on my laptop when I need to make a quick note of something. Get yourself a portable notebook with some nice paper, and nice pen, and carry them around with you wherever you go. Quality notebooks and writing instruments can be found in any size you might need. When something comes to mind, it’s a lot easier to jot it on paper than it is to fumble around with a mobile app. Even automating the process of putting notes where you want them quickly takes time, as you need to script out the actions with yet another app.

Just write stuff in a notebook; problem solved. You can even use something like the rapid logging technique of the Bullet Journal method, or the Dash/Plus System, to quickly and easily organize things. If something is important enough to keep, scan/take a snapshot of it and transcribe it into Agenda later. If you need it tomorrow, transcribe it when you get home. If you just need it for long-term reference, transcribe it during a weekly review of your tasks, projects, and notes. After all, you’d just be doing pretty much the same thing if the app you use let you quickly save notes/tasks to an “Inbox” category. The difference there is that it puts the emphasis on quickly easily organizing your thoughts later, rather than on quickly and easily capturing them now.


#20

I don’t know if this helps at all, but I’ve recently started using Drafts for the whole ‘jotting down quick notes’ thing. When you open the app on your phone/iPad, it drops you straight into a new, empty note. So I can jot down what I’m thinking and decide what to do with it later. Drafts interacts with other apps via Actions that you can create yourself, or download actions that others have already created. So when I review my draft notes when I have time, a couple of taps and a new note is created in Agenda. It took me a while to get my head around how Drafts would fit into my workflow, but now it’s usually the first place I go.