With loads of note-taking apps available it can be very confusing hopefully this video saves you a tonne of time when it comes to selecting a note-taking app.
Why Use A Note Taking App At All?
If you want to stay productive you need to be capturing information and storing it in a logical way. We've all been in that annoying situation where you've read or researched something, haven't saved it and then had to go through the whole process again whether it's searching for flights, studying for an exam or publishing to socials.
Over the last 15 years I’ve used everything from physical diaries and bits of paper to word and pretty much every note taking app you can think of to store and organize information which I can then come back to and use.
For me, personally, I simply want a system that allows me to capture and organise information which I can then come back to whether that is active recall questions to revise for an exam, storing key learning points from a business book I’m reading or mapping out a to-do list. There are really three levels to what I want to achieve. These are capturing information, storing information and organizing information all so I can come back and quickly use this information for a particular project at a later date.
Note taking apps have become more complex with collaboration features and AI organisation as they try to stand out and make our lives easier but this can lead to over-complication and a paradox of choice.
In short: when using these apps I’ve focused on how they can save time and maximize results simultaneously.
I want you to keep that in the back of your mind as we go through the note-taking applications and which ones are best suited to accomplishing that goal. For me there are really three reasons to use a notetaking app: life management, productivity management and personal knowledge management.
The 3 Goals of Note-Taking Apps
Life Management is sort of a macro view on note taking, where you want the app to help you schedule your day, take notes of ideas and inspirations, or, let’s say, plan a vacation across Europe.
Next, we have Productivity Management. This is mostly collaboration-focused, and it’s ideal for running a business, managing your team, or working on a school project with a group of other people.
Third, we have studying, or what I like to call “Personal Knowledge Management.” This is how you master new topics and subjects throughout your life.
One key thing I want to point out here is that the end goal is to have a system that makes executing as easy as possible. For example if you're planning a vacation you want to store ideas as you research trip ideas but then when you come back later you want what you've stored to make booking travel and accommodation easy. It's not just about passively taking notes it's about creating a process that makes your life easier.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at how well each app fulfills these needs.
Is There One “Perfect” App?
So is there a single perfect notetaking app?
Well I’ll be focusing on the “big two” note-taking apps, Evernote and Notion first. However, I also want to talk about some of the up-and-coming apps and features that are driving change within the industry.
First things first, you need to understand that what might be the perfect note-taking application for me might not be the perfect app for you. Everyone learns differently, and every app is built around a specific set of tools that may or may not fit the way you retain knowledge.
To that point, let’s start by talking about EverNote.
If I could sum up this app in one phrase, I would call it “your own personal digital library.” The way it functions is with each individual item acting as a page in a book. You can not only assign specific pages to these books but categorize them to make them easier to find later on, just like the Dewey Decimal system in a library.
I have my Evernote set up with Notebooks related to different projects and a personal notebook for personal development. I'll use the Evernote webclipper on my mac and on my phone to quickly store web pages or pdfs into individual notes which I can then come back to. I'll also use the tag categorization system and pin key notes I use frequently to the top. I've also used the collaboration features. For example when I was running a micro-VC firm investing in health tech with my friend James we collaborated on key notes and meeting agendas and then when I helped him set up a health-tech PR firm we collaborated on things like pricing and brainstorming ideas pulling in real-world images.
There’s a lot to love about EverNote. For instance, it easily connects with Apple services as well as Google Docs, Calendar, and Drive. You can also organize your notes in all sorts of different ways, adding shortcuts and even connecting them via hashtags for easy search. There’s also a sketching mode for those of you who like to insert visual components during note-taking.
One of the coolest features is the ability to cut and paste any web data into your app. Suppose you’re doing research for an article, for instance. In that case, you could paste an entire medical study into EverNote, then use simplification tools to instantly remove extraneous items like graphs or references. EverNote also allows you to create and assign tasks along specific due dates.
My favourite feature is the OCR technology that allows me to use my camera phone to select a piece of text from a book or physical product and then save it as editable text in a note. I've used this extensively when reading physical books, saving lecture notes or even grabbing text from a slide presentation.
EverNote is super helpful in terms of Life Management and Productivity Management. However, there isn’t much by way of Personal Knowledge Management. If you want to use spacing or turn notes into active recall questions you'll need to use a third party app like Shiken or Quizlet. On top of that, as you add more to your “library,” you could start to see some significant slowdown and some of the older notes get lost as you add new notes.
One of the best things about EverNote is that it’s very cost-effective. You can get most multi-device functionality via the free version, with the personal and professional versions costing $7.99 and $9.99, respectively. There’s also EverNote teams, which is $14.99 per user per month. It’s important to note that this is the only way to get a collaboration function out of the app.
Obsidian, RemNote, and More
Before we move on to Notion, I want to talk about some up-and-coming applications, particularly Obsidian and RemNote. While these aren’t as popular or widely used, they do have some features that Notion and EverNote might consider. I'll be looking at each in a top 10 note-taking app video too so do hit that subscribe button if you want a deeper more comparative look at these apps and let's take a quick look at each.
Take Obsidian, for starters. It’s received a lot of flak for its simple, plain text design. It’s essentially like opening up a notepad document, and you can’t collapse points or clear up your workspace. However, its Personal Knowledge Management tools are quite impressive.
For instance, it allows you to link up pages so you can jump back and forth between subjects. You can also pull old notes into current documents and edit them simultaneously. Lastly, it has a 3D graph view that allows you to visually navigate your knowledge base, which I think is a very cool touch.
RemNote has also started to capture some of the Personal Knowledge Management Market. This has a lot to do with its use of spaced repetition. For example, you can actually convert your notes into flashcards for studying, which perfectly facilitates the active recall learning method I encourage. Like Obsidian, it also has link features where you can edit two docs simultaneously. But while it’s fully customizable, it doesn’t have a mobile app or collaboration tools, which makes it useless in terms of project management.
Mem sets up your notetaking workspace a bit like an email client and organises notes by date, encouraging you to work through your inbox. Mem uses workflows that allow you to quickly capture and organise information for example their twitter bot allows you to save twitter threads and you can schedule regular mems to start each day. The main feature of mem is that is self-organizes your information under the inbox layout and connects similar notes automatically which gets around the problem of losing older notes as you add new notes.
The problem with lots of these note taking apps, Evernote included, is that while they are great for capturing and organizing knowledge they lack the ability to create systems and processes that help automate using this knowledge and this typically needed the notes to be connected to a productivity system like Asana, Trello, Click-Up, Airtable or Excel if you wanted to create a system or process that helped convert your stored information into a project you might be working on. And that's where Notion comes in.
Notion is the other industry leader and it was recently valued at $10bn but did you know that in 2015, two years after launching Notion nearly died? It was the introduction of databases to their note-taking system that really skyrocketed them to success.
If you ask me, this is the application with the best combination of Life Management, Productivity Management., and Personal Knowledge Management functions.
Notion works using blocks and databases which allows for greater levels of organization and customization of your information. Databases allow for notes to be linked together and organized in tables, lists and templates.
I've been using Notion for planning out YouTube and video content, creating wikis for my various companies and organizing social and marketing content. For each of these I first create a note template that fits into an organized table-structure and this then allows me to quickly add information to templates. I'll grab ideas for YouTube videos or social posts using the save to notion Chrome extension and store these. The system then allows me to organize this content by date I'll be publishing it which other note-taking apps struggle with.
Notion has a mobile app so you can access notes on the go and built-in collaboration features so that multiple users can edit the same doc. It also allows you to split each item into personal and shared, so you have private docs and public ones. If you want to streamline your workflow, you can download free templates. This can get you started with the app much faster than learning it the hard way.
Now let’s talk about Personal Knowledge Management, which you’ll remember is what I said EverNote was largely missing. Well, with Notion, you get a ton of active recall functions just like the ones built into Obsidian and RemNote.
For instance, you can toggle bullets, which means you can “hide” the answers from yourself to further facilitate learning. No matter the type of content you’re covering, you can easily turn each note into an active recall session at the touch of button.
You can also link and import data from a long list of sources, including Docs, Dropbox, and Word. It has a task prioritization and schedule function for Life Management and Productivity as well as shared team calendar.
Lastly, Notion is cheap. The free version has almost everything you need. But if you choose to upgrade, you’re looking at $4 a month for personal use and just $8 per month per member for teams. Notion also has a huge range of templates created by other users. Some of these are premium templates but there are lots of great free ones too.
Notion is an “all-round” design that seeks to satisfy as many users as possible. That means it doesn’t specialize in any one area. Normally, applications like this can be lackluster, and it’s true that there are some things Notion could do better.
Due to the database functionality and block design it has an added layer of complexity with a community of how-to guides popping up to help navigate you through so there is a learning curve to really master it.
Customer support for the app isn’t great either, which could rub some users the wrong way. The mobile app is a bit clunky too and there have been times where I've defaulted to Apple Notes or Evernote simply because it's quicker and simpler to jump into capturing information if you're writing a note on the go.
It's also worth mentioning that if you are running a large team, for example I have a company with 50 people, there are more robust productivity apps out there like Click-Up, Jira or Asana which bring in more team and tracking features and while Noion can work really nicely as a team Wiki you'll probably want one of these more enterprise productivity apps to get the most out of your team.
There’s room for improvement, but I see it as a far more powerful note-taking system and active learning tool than the competition. So, whether you’re studying for exams, working on a team project, or simply trying to manage your daily life, Notion seems to be in the best position to help when it comes to turning your knowledge into actionable outputs. It's really helped me to create systems like posting to socials or writing blog posts that make those processes as easy as possible so I can jump into Notion and get them done.
But remember the best note-taking app is the one that works best for you and your own preferences.