How-To Geek

What You Said: How Do You Keep Notes?

Note: This article is part of our archive and is likely out of date.
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Earlier this week we asked you to share your note-taking tips, tricks, and methods. Now we’re back to highlight the comments and trends that emerged.

Dedicated Note-Taking Applications Rule the Roost

Note taking applications have grown increasingly sophisticated. Historically, when people took notes on a computer they simply used the word processor or text editor installed on it and left it at that—mostly because there were few widely available alternatives. While many people still use simple txt files for their note taking needs an entire ecosystem of note taking apps exists now—thanks, in large part, to the rise of widespread internet access and easy synchronization. Several note taking apps appeared again and again in the user comments.

Evernote was popular for a variety of reasons including, as Jay highlights, deep storage and organization of notes:

Evernote for things I’ll need to either remember for a long time, or for very important things that I might not want to forget. Sometimes I write, draw, or write songs, so I’ll use Evernote for ideas. I also use it to clip web pages for places to go, like a regional or national park, or a cool program for my daughter.

Other readers used it for projects and over all note organization like SuAlfons:

Evernote for HowTos, Project Ideas, Instruction Manuals and (bigger) private project handling
Sticky Notes (physical) for things not to forget, Sticky Notes (the included Mac Application) if at the computer

Springpad, a competitor in the cloud-based note market has some strong supporters. Derek writes:

Springpad – For pretty much EVERYTHING except tasks. That includes internet bookmarks, little text notes, huge document-like notes, some lists, product information, organizing projects, and more. Absolutely love the chrome and firefox extensions! Automatically syncs (if desired) between the website, my android phone, and my iPad. The chrome web-app even works offline.

Juri also appreciated the cross-platform support and consistent design:

Nobody mentioned Springpad. I nearly prefer it over other solutions like Evernote, already for its consistent user experience as chrome extension, android mobile as well as android honeycomb tablet version.

Catch is a new kid on the cloud-based note taking block but more than a few readers sang praises for the encrypted note taking service with browser extension support and cross-platform applications. Mary writes:

Catchnotes accessible on the net and on my phone…Since it’s an android phone I can speak the notes if I want. I can accompany the notes with a picture. I can paste or type long messages (like road directions) on the computer – sync with my phone- and copy and paste to a text message. It’s my most used app on my droid phone.

Cloud-based note taking has definitely taken off; it’s hard to beat the convenience of having the same set of notes and notebooks synced across all your devices and web-accessible.

Paper and Pens Forever


Although cloud-based and synchronized note taking were frequent entries in the reader comments good old pen and paper notes are in no danger of extinction. Despite the advances in mobile note taking the majority of readers included some sort of addendum to their comments. While they might start out saying “I use Evernote” or “I use Springpad…” many of the comments wrapped up with a note about how handy pen and paper still remained.

Kirk’s detailed comment really drives home this note-taking as buffet of tools approach. He writes:

For me, technology will never replace the need for pen & paper but it’s making inroads in all the right places. Here’s what I do, from Evernote down to the “sticky” Sticky note:

1. Evernote now sits at the center of my note-taking world. LOVE it… best thing for me ever. The fact that it syncs with so many devices is very nice. It’s now been drafted to serve as a recipe database in our home too.

2. When I’m consulting with a customer, I still use a nice big pad of paper. Less distracting and I don’t have batteries to worry about. And, I scan the important notes as images and import them into Evernote. Call it poor-man’s Visioneer maybe? It works for me quite well and I have paper copy for the important stuff.

3. I move around during the day so carry the Olympus WS-6005 Digital recorder to capture thoughts as fast as they get beamed in to me. The mp3′s then easily transfer to my PC via the switch-blade-like USB that pops out (like a Flip camera).

4. And, I still carry a personal notebook (smaller one) for those times that you really want to write something down. Gotta have it. Sure, tablet users will say that there are apps for writing on the screen, my friend does this, but he’ll be crying the blues when the somebody accidently sets off a magnetic pulse bomb and the digital world sends us all back to the 1800′s in about 1 second. I’ll still have my notes.

5. Little yellow sticky notes all over my office…. love’em. Unless those turn into thought-sticky-holograms, they hopefully will be used in 2111.

Although not many readers had as many layers to their note taking as Kirk, his comment reflects a common trend: stacking note taking technologies for maximum flexibility and speed.

Hit up the comments on the original post to see all the various tools your fellow readers employ to meet their note-taking needs. Have a particularly clever way to take, sync, or manage your notes? It’s not too late to share!


Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/3/11

Comments (27)

  1. Nadeem

    I love my system. Simplenote on my iphone/ipad and mobile devices, and for windows7, stick the portable version of Resoph Notes into dropbox, pin it to taskbar. And you’ve got an amazing cross platform, instantly syncing super fast and simple note system.

  2. amit

    I still feel pen and paper are the best option..can`t deny the comfort-ability factor using them…

  3. clb92

    OneNote synced in Dropbox. Like all of my other school-stuff I always have them available on any pc, not just my own.

  4. Ben

    Wow, nobody likes OneNote? Microsoft has had this out for years now….

  5. gyffes

    I need to consolidate: I have notes scattered ‘tween Google Docs (available on any machine I’m in front of), OneNote (the ONLY good product to come out of Redmond — did they buy it from someone? — it even has a really nice iPhone/iPodTouch app), Evernote (nice iPhone/iPT app but not as good as OneNote’s).. even some notes at Zoho (which includes an excellent OneNote-alike app in its suite).

    Oh, yeah, and on my iPT I like AwesomeNote, which syncs with either/both gDocs and Evernote.

    Hell, Dropbox works so well on my iPT, I sometimes toss notes in there, too.

    And what’re all these random numbers on these stickies?

    I need to consolidate.

  6. Gloorian


    I use the note feature built in Opera. It’s simple but really useful ^^

  7. jennifer

    I was also surprised no one liked One Note.

  8. Rick Metta

    I use Windows Notepad, filing these in Documents…and of course backing up to an external hard-drive.

  9. G

    I just email myself. :D

  10. Shea

    I try to keep it simple. Pad and pen in a meeting and then transfer it to Google Docs accessible from any computer or from my android phone.

  11. gergn

    Treepad is my favourite. It has a freeware version, but I prefer the not-too-expensive TreePad Business. It runs on Windows and Ubuntu/Wine. My Treepad files are synchronised via DropBox.
    I also make simple websites with it.

  12. Kathleen

    It’s OneNote for me.
    The 2010 version lets me file as I go or deal with the notes later. The audio recording function lets me quickly add a voice note and the search lets me hunt for things either by type or audio without any problems. I can put anything on a page and love that it keeps the web url as a live link back to where I got the information from. I sync specific notebooks between the two computers I use at home and to Windows SkyDrive for the ones I use for work. It’s the best productivity product I’ve ever used.

  13. soozenmagoozen

    Why wasn’t OneNote mentioned in your final article when just as many, if not more, people said that they use it? Me included.

  14. Tom M

    Thanks a lot for mentioning springpad. I just installed as a chrome extension and already love it.

  15. Cosmin Tataru

    I use EssentialPIM for notes (a lot of features present in the free version, but I bought the PRO one as it allows for Desktop notes too, I keep the database synced via Dropbox), also using OneNote for documenting articles and keeping some work notes here too. Also a classic paper pad on my desk most of the time, also yellow physical stickies sometimes.
    Add a large pinboard above my monitor where I pin cheatsheets and many useful printed things.

  16. craig

    I use stickynotes. I have a wall full of them, anything from regular sized ones to notepad sized. Just lots and lots of sticky notes.

  17. Paul

    SpringPad doesn’t support multi level lists! A big negative for a note taking tool.

  18. J.Schrauth

    If you prefer the pen/paper feel and want to move into the 21st Century..LiveScribe SmartPens are awesome. You can write in the notebook and then transfer what you write on to your computer. If you purchase the MyScript add-on’ you can transform your handwriting into editable text. It also records audio and you can export your notes to other apps such as Evernote. Although then pens and notebooks are a little pricey, the function they provide make them worth every penny.

  19. Steve

    I saw this article and didn’t comment, but I (and my colleagues) thrive on OneNote. The notebook sharing features are awesome, the text recognition, conversion of written text. It’s outstanding.

    AND I combine it with a deal called a Digimemo Notepad, which is a $90 Pen and paper notepad that has a USB cable and inputs pages directly into OneNote in OneNote format. That way I don’t need to always have my TabletPC or laptop around for note taking.

    I love OneNote. Tried Evernote a time or two but never saw anything to motivate me to switch. Been using ON since I got my first tablet back around 2003 maybe?

  20. Ivydapple

    I love and use StickyNotes. It was the first feature I ever used on my brand new computer. Ah, happy memories. <3 Still, I have some physical sticky notes next to me, but I tend to use them more as little props than notes. :D

  21. Greg

    As a college student, I find it much easier to hand-write my notes because it takes too long to type up a complex equation, when taking Calculus II notes, versus writing it in my notebook. Besides, not all teachers allow students to have their laptops open during lectures because many of my peers go on Facebook, play online games, and other various non-academic websites. OneNote is a useful application, but it isn’t worth the extra effort, such as organizing notes into sections, pages, and sub-pages. in many cases. I have a notebook for each of my classes every semester color coordinated with a binder and/or folder, if necessary.

  22. Diana

    Note Everything on Android – easy to use, easy to find notes and that’s about all I need from it.

    Internote on Firefox – safe, lightweight extension, easily manageable notes and very nice interface.

  23. One World

    Just curious:
    Am I the only one who feels that there is a substantial difference cerebrally between handwriting notes and typing into an application?

    In meetings, classes, etc I always use handwritten notes in the relevant notebook.

    Only occasionally, I will use a NOTES application on my smartphone. For example, during my morning commute on the subway….and idea suddenly comes to me….tap it out on the cellphone is more convenient and immediate than trying to pull out a notebook and pen.

  24. Bink

    Well I’m a convert. Evernote took me by storm…

  25. Peter Retief

    I still like to write certain things that help me understand an issue, like little diagrams with notes
    (I wouldn’t mind an easy diagram to note chrome app, Evernote??)
    Also used Tomboy Notes, nice for searchable and or throwaway notes, i often hide passwords, IP addresses MAC addresses etc etc in with the random once-of notes – doesn’t force any way of storing or retrieving info, auomatically links files and related notes AKA a wiki
    Also synchs with other PCs

  26. AW

    Another vote for EPIM. Evernote before that…

  27. Morpheus

    Real yellow sticky notes w/ real pen.
    Nothing can substitute them for me.

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