A few weeks ago I was browsing the app store on my phone for another notes app. As I was thinking about all the options, I asked myself, “How many note-taking apps am I using now?” When I counted the total, I nearly fell over. I was using 5 different apps! My note-taking process was broken, and I didn’t even know it until that moment.
So how did I get to this dark and confusing place? In the summer of 2020, I decided that I was no longer going to use Workflowy. I made this decision a few days after an older note-taking app I used was hacked into. I was concerned about the security of my Workflowy account.
I also take a lot of notes on my phone, and the slow start-up time of the Workflowy app at the time was hurting my writing flow. So I exported all of my notes and moved to another note-taking tool. However, I didn’t delete my account. I recognized that Workflowy had a positive impact on my note-taking, and I wasn’t ready to burn bridges. Fast-forward to this year. My notes are divided between 5 different apps. I realized that I absolutely had to go back to what was working for me.
So, here I am using Workflowy again, and honestly, I’m giddy about it. The updates over the past year have addressed all of my concerns, so I’m super happy about that. And now I’m back to using one note-taking app. In my note-taking misadventures, I learned some important things. One of the things I learned is how to tell when a notes app is working for me and when it’s not.
So here are four signs to look for if you’re wondering if the current note-taking app you’re using is a good fit.
1. You don’t start collecting a bunch of other note apps
If your notes app is working for you, you will have no reason to collect a bunch of others. You may have two apps at the most. But once you start hitting three, four, or five…something is wrong! The apps are not fitting the way you work.
In hindsight, I realize that my collecting of notes apps was an attempt to make up for what was missing. I had one notes app on my computer that had every feature you could think of, but I had a hard time remembering what notes were stored there. Also on my computer – I used another note-taking app that was minimalist and simple, so I knew all the notes I had saved there, but it felt inflexible. I don’t expect perfection from any notes app. However, nothing felt right enough, and that was problematic.
2. Organizing your stuff feels intuitive
If organizing your notes is confusing, then your note-taking app is not a good match for you. The complex note-taking app I had on my computer is a good example of this. I had all the organizing mechanisms I could want, from nested tags to visualizing connections between notes. Yet, I struggled with making it work for me. I had too many tags and folders, and I was creating back-links that didn’t make sense contextually. It was a mess.
When I used Workflowy, it wasn’t unusual for me to have a relaxing afternoon organizing my notes. And now that I’ve started using Workflowy again, I’m back to having enjoyable evenings of deleting stuff and moving things around. It’s easy for me to organize my notes in meaningful ways. I can create a private digital mind garden from the information I collect and curate.
3. You can generally remember what notes you have taken
Curating your notes is important because that’s when your notes start to work for you. If you’re having issues remembering what topics you have collected notes on, you can’t edit your notes effectively. As I’m slowly transferring my notes from The Five Apps to Workflowy, I’ve been noticing some undesirable things. I have different notes on the same topic flung and here and there. Some notes I didn’t remember taking! The good thing is that I was always able to find the notes I needed. But there still was a bunch of clutter that only added to the confusion. Although I have a lot of stuff in my Workflowy, I know what I have because it’s easy for me to organize notes in meaningful ways.
4. You feel happy when you use it
If using your notes app regularly makes you feel overwhelmed, confused, lost, or frustrated, that app doesn’t fit you. Signing back into my Workflowy account after being gone for a year felt like coming back to a place that I enjoy being. Another small piece of advice: if you are using a notes app that truly fits you, don’t rush to leave it. You may end up using five different notes apps, and that’s just a waste of time! If your notes app isn’t perfect, see if you can find simple workarounds. For example, I could have come up with a more complex password if I wanted more security, or jot down my lightning-fast ideas in a notebook to add to Workflowy later. Stay with the app the keeps you organized, productive, and happy.
I found myself in a similar situation, trying and using almost every notes’ application I could find. I was always on the hunt for an app that might enable me to devote more time to note-taking and less time manipulating software to organize my notes. This was one of the primary reasons I returned to Workflowy. My plan is to stay with Workflowy, as it provides enough balance, structure, and functionailty to suite my needs. My time using the other apps was not all lost, as I viewed those experiences as creations in progress. Armed with my note-taking experiences, I believe I now have an organization in Workflowy much more amenable to my needs.
I really appreciate you bringing that out. Thinking back on my experience, I learned quite a bit from trying other things. I guess for me personally the sensation of wasting time came primarily from feeling lost and confused every time I looked at my notes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I lack only the ability to save data offline…
I don’t need offline access much now, but I did a few years ago, so I understand the struggle.
I figured out that I needed offline access for active notes, such as project related stuff. So I ended up using Standard Notes for my active notes, and then used Workflowy as an archive.
Whenever a note reached mostly “read-only” status, I would copy it into Workflowy. Standard Notes is a plain text app so copying stuff into Workflowy was easy.
So basically, I used an offline friendly option for working on notes and growing them. Then I used Workflowy as a library.