I recently wrote about how I live in and through words and wanted to next share how I approached finding a good system that would allow me to do so most efficiently and enjoyably. In essence, this was a quest for a system to manage my notes, research, creations, and random thoughts in a way that I could review and use to live a better intellectual life.
I have tested and experimented my way through multiple options, including plain text files (synced via Dropbox, edited by various editors), Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, and TheBrain.
Plain text files are what I’ve used most often over the years, as it allows for the greatest flexibility and reliability, and is the easiest to backup and move between systems. I am also a big fan of using markdown to format my notes as opposed to rich text, as it is quicker, more versitile, and vastly more expandable. On Mac, my favorite editor was nvALT, which offered quick creation, editing, searching, and even some basic wiki linking. But since I don’t have a Mac anymore (unfortunately), I had to find an app for Windows that would work similarly. Thankfully, I found ResophNotes, which filled much the same needs and niche. This is the setup I’d been using leading up to my recent search.
Prior to that I had been using OneNote as my go-to knowledgebase system. It allows for rich editing, easy capture of ideas, screenshots, and web pages, and has great options for organizing your notes (including inter-page links). I also appreciated its ability to sync sticky notes between PC and iOS. But it became a little burdensome over time, having to constantly decide which notebook and/or tab something should go in, etc. Plus the iOS app was kind of clunky, taking a while to load and not always wrapping text as it should to fit the smaller screen.
Before OneNote, I had used plain text files (on Mac), and before that, Evernote. It is another wonderful app that allows for easy capture of pretty much anything, robust organization, and even some handwriting recognition. Like plain text, it is an approach I’ve tried multiple times over the years, but always left something to be desired. Similarly to OneNote, the interface and options for organization can get overwhelming, increasing friction, leaving you using it less, which in turn leads you to not trusting it to record your notes in the first place.
As for TheBrain… well, I’ll cover that next time, when I share the results of my search!