How to Use Google Keep for Frustration-Free Note-Taking

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One of the biggest obstacles to keeping digital notes and to-do lists (beyond getting used to not using pen and paper), is finding an app you like. Google Keep is free, lightweight, easy-to-use, and might just be the notes app you’ve been seeking.

Google Keep has been around for over a year. You might have heard about it, but it usually gets drowned out by more popular note apps like Evernote. Plus, it seems like Google has so many products nowadays, it’s easy to lose track. But, Evernote can be a bit daunting with its massive feature set, and if you use an Android phone, or just a Google account, then a big part of using Keep is already taken care of.

In this article, we’re going to talk about Keep’s various features and how to use it for a clean, seamless, note-taking experience on your computer, tablet, or phone.

Remember When Taking Digital Notes Was a Total Pain?

Note-taking and list-making have always been a cornerstone of effective organizational habits. For the majority of us, we need some tangible reminder of what we need to do. Remembering everything may work for your run-of-the-mill savant, but having a list or notebook in our pocket means we always have a back-up for our brains.

Taking notes and keeping lists has come a long way since the humble Palm Pilot days. Anyone who tried using one of those for everyday notes and lists will recall how much time they simply had to devote to learning Graffiti.

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Today, it’s dead simple to take notes because all of our palm-sized devices, i.e. phones and tablets, have good old QWERTY screens with swipe capabilities. That means text-entry, while maybe not as fast as a full-size keyboard or pen and paper, is still a lot easier than having to learn an arcane, proprietary writing style.

Google Keep Makes it Easy

Perhaps the best thing about Google Keep is that it ties right into your Google Account, which means that you can make your to-do list while sitting at your computer and then pick up your phone and walk out the door and get your stuff done.

Let’s start with looking at Keep on Chrome, and then move on to the mobile app. While logged into your Google account, go to keep.google.com and you’ll see an interface similar to the following screenshot. Of course, your Keep will look different. If you’ve never used it before, it will have helpful suggestions and some starter content to introduce you to its basics.

Obviously, in our example, these are our notes, but it gives you a great idea of what’s involved. There’s the usual Google navigation element at the top, where you can search Keep and access other important Google account-specific options.

Below this is a Keep navigation element. Moving around in Keep is accomplished by clicking the upper-left corner where it says “Notes.” From here, a menu will drop down to reveal quick access to your notes and reminders, as well as archived and deleted items.

On the right side, you see the ability to change your Keep view from three columns to one.

To make a quick note, you simply type your thoughts into the “Add Note” box. If you want to just simply jot something down, then you can click “Done” and your note will be instantly added to Keep. Have a good look at the options that appear below your note. With these options you can (left to right) set a reminder, change your note color, convert your note to a list, and add an image.

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We see below what our new note looks like once added to Keep. If you hover your mouse pointer over it, you see more options. Again, you can add a reminder, change the color, and more.

Click on the note and we see these options in full. We can click “Show checkboxes,” which basically converts the note to a list, but you can also archive the item, make a copy, or delete it.

So, that’s basically Keep. If you go to another computer and log in with your Google account, everything will be there just as you left it on the other. That’s great, but what’s even better is when you use the Keep app on your mobile device.

Using the Google Keep App

You can use Keep on your browser, any browser, and whatever you add to it will be available wherever you log into your account. Unfortunately, the days of sitting at a computer all day for everything is an outdated and somewhat quaint concept. Mobility is where it’s at and if you really want to enjoy the true convenience and power of Google Keep, then you definitely need to use the app.

Keep is available in the Google Play Store for free and once installed, can be instantly associated with a Google account on your device.

When you open the app on your phone or tablet, you’ll see your stuff exactly as you left it. From the get-go you can begin adding notes and lists. Best of all, whatever changes you make, will be instantly saved to the cloud and synced with all your other devices.

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Click the “Notes” area in the upper-left corner and you’re shown the same options as within the browser app, except here you can also change Google accounts on the fly.

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To add a note, simply tap “add quick note” and you’ll be able to use your touch keyboard to tap or swipe your new note or list into Keep.

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If you intended to create a list, you can touch the three dots in the upper-right corner, and choose “Show checkboxes” to convert your note.

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One other quick thing you should know about. If you want to deal with Keep items en masse, then press and hold an item until it is selected. Now you can tap all the notes and lists you want to include. Once you’ve made your selections, you can make changes to your group (color, archive, delete, etc.) all at once.

You can see in the following screenshot, we’ve selected four items, denoted by the number in the upper-left corner. Selected items also appear with a blue border and a light blue transparent overlay.

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So far, it seems pretty simple. Let’s move on to the some of the more advanced features.

 Remind Me to …

As much as we’d like to remember everything, we always forget something. With Google Keep, you can set time reminders, which will alert you on a specified day and time, or you can create a location-based reminder.

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Location reminders work by giving you a heads-up when you reach a selected destination. Obviously, in order for this to work, your device needs to know where it is, so you will likely need to have GPS and Wi-Fi enabled for it to to be truly effective.

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Location reminders are a pretty handy feature, such as if you have a long list of errands and you need to remember certain pieces of information when you arrive at a specific location.

A Few Other Features to Note

Like we said, Google Keep on Android works almost exactly like it does on a browser, but it does have a few other features and settings we’d like to point out. First of all, you can add widgets to your home screen. Keep includes two, such as the following simple widget that lets you create quick notes and lists with a simple tap.

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The options here are the same as what you’ll find in the actual app, which may raise the question: what does that microphone icon do? Tapping that will allow you to take voice notes.

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Google’s dictation-taking skills are pretty good, other than punctuation, it got this note exactly right.

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In the following screenshot, we’ve converted our voice note into a list by showing the checkboxes. We can tap “Done” and the list will be saved. Of course, you can also change the color, add a photo or image, or archive the item.

Click the three dots in the upper-right corner to see further options. Notable among these, are the abilities to share and configure your list settings.

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Sharing a note or list works exactly like it does with any other app across the Android ecosystem.

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This is ideal such as if you want to share a list with someone else, say to let them know there’s a few things to pick up at the store on the way home. Simply share the note, such as in an e-mail.

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Or, you could send it as a text message using your favorite texting app, so the next time someone asks you for a list, you don’t need to transcribe it to paper or another medium. Simply share and you’re done.

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The last item in the options list we want to focus on are the list settings. List settings are only available if you’re making a list, and allow you to define how new items are added, and checked ones are handled.

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Click the checkbox at the bottom “Apply to new lists,” and your changes become the new default. Otherwise, they will apply to that list only.

Also, The Keep Chrome App

We’d be remiss if we didn’t pause for just a moment to point out that if you do use Chrome on your desktop or laptop (some of us do use our computers a lot), you can install the Chrome Web Store’s Google Keep app.

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Once installed, it will set itself up with your account, and from there on, you can access it by launching it from Chrome’s “Apps” page.

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Alternatively, you can launch it from the Chrome App Launcher on the Windows taskbar.

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The actual app introduces nothing we haven’t already covered, so all the stuff we’ve learned is applicable here.

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One of the advantages to using the app over Keep’s website is that you can use the app offline. While it’s true you can launch the mobile app and use it without a connection to the Internet, with the Chrome app, you can work on your lists and notes more comfortably, such as on your laptop during a flight or long car ride in the middle of nowhere.

Any new notes you create or old ones you change in the app while offline, will later by synced when you connect again.

Get Organized and Keep it That Way

Note apps are pretty common, and as we mentioned earlier, Evernote usually rises to the top of that conversation time after time. Microsoft also has a their OneNote app, which integrates into their Office productivity suite. So, saying that Google Keep is special or better than others is bound to raise a lot of needless debate.

That said, it’s a good app for what it does because it does it so easily and simply. Those other note apps are fantastic but are usually so bloated with features, that they obscure their own inherent simplicity. We like Google Keep because it’s not trying to be everything to everyone, but will usually meet the needs of anyone who just needs to make simple lists, take down an occasional thought, or create time or location-based reminders.

What do you think? Do you use Google Keep or do you have another preferred note-taking app preference? Join in the conversation and let us know!

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.