Note taking hell

May 20, 2022

Note taking hell

Update(Feb 7, 2023): I've written down how I'm currently using Obsidian

I have a hard time sticking with a note taking system. I think at this point I've tested all the major note taking tools:

  • Evernote
  • OneNote
  • Simple note
  • Turtl
  • Google keep
  • Standard Notes
  • Workflowy
  • Bear
  • todo.txt
  • plain text markdown files
  • Omni notes
  • Apple Notes
  • Obsidian
  • Notion
  • Roam Research
  • Athens Resarch
  • Coda
  • (currently trying out)

I've also built and sold a now defunct note taking app called Collate Notes as well as a VS Code plugin called VSNotes.

I can't settle on anything! My notes, tasks, etc are scattered across various services and no one service seems to be able to keep my attention for long. I keep looking for that note taking panacea that will organize my life and help me become more productive, however everything I try always seems to come up short in some way, shape or form.

Notion is a favorite of mine, it had really great flexibility... but too much flexibility. It functioned great for writing nice looking documents, but failed at jotting down small tidbits quickly. I felt like I spent too much time making documents look nice instead of actually using the tool.

Roam Research was really nice. It introduced me to Zettelkasten which is a neat concept. However I dropped it because Roam was expensive and lacked polish. In it's stead I tried Athens Research and Obsidian, both were pretty meh.

Plain text note taking is all the rage with minimalists. I'm a big fan of markdown for documentation (this blog is written in markdown). For notes, it was okay. Interoperability between services usually sucks. Pasting raw markdown into a Google doc will just result in a bunch of markdown formatting in a google doc, so that doesn't work. Syncing data is also a bigger pain with plain text. Do you use Git? A service like dropbox? Then on mobile your tool needs to work with these services.

It's a nightmare!

I have no idea what I want

Do I want a writing tool? Do I want a way to manage tasks? Do I want a way to be reminded of things? Do I want a way to manage a knowledge base? Do I need a bookmarking tool? Will I ever look at these notes ever again? How do I reconcile the Google Docs heavy world that my work org operates in? Do I want a dashboard that I can keep up all day to jot down notes, see my meetings, etc?

I would love having all these things in a single tool, but that's not feasible. Its basically an operating system at that point. The services that try end up sucking. The services that don't end up lacking. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I'm so lazy

I would love to be able to just automate stuff too. Click a button in slack and a todo item pops up in my tool or bookmark this link and it shows up in my notes. Integrations are great, interoperability between services means that I can pipe data from this service into my online brain. However very rarely does it do what you actually want. APIs don't play nice, data isn't available, hell a lot of these services don't even have APIs. What is one to do?

The promise of a 2nd brain, in the cloud, ready to be queried that offloads the work of thinking. Isn't that the dream? To be able to think a thought and have it appear in a personal knowledge base to be ingested and understood by a machine? Then spat back out to you at the appropriate time and place? Barring having a hyper intelligent machine, what is one to do?

I think I need to designate scopes

I need to pick several tools and keep them in their lanes:

  1. Calendar: Google Calendar
  2. Reminders: Apple Reminders
  3. Jotting down ideas: Whatever is nearby?
  4. Writing: Google Docs / Markdown (depends on context)
  5. Bookmarking:

I think leveraging a tool like will help me keep all these various notes organized in a central location... at least until I get bored of maintaining it...

Update(Feb 7, 2023): I've written down how I'm currently using Obsidian