Nothing assists with project work more than having a good grip on your note-taking, and the discipline to create and manage them. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with working memory and forgetfulness, so having a good note-taking solution is critical to my getting to the end of any complex task, be it a project build or just family shopping.
The Evernote Bait-and-Switch
Evernote is a good platform, with desktop and mobile clients and cloud-based synchronisation between them. Note pages can be organised into hierarchical categories, with TODO lists, due dates, and several useful value-adds making for quite a comprehensive experience. The unique ‘web clipper’ feature, which grabs a snapshot of a webpage into an editable note is also helpful. Not that I used it all that much, to be quite honest.
I have used a few cloud-based note-taking platforms over the years, with Evernote being a long-term solution for work and home projects. But, as with a lot of these tools, the free offering is great for a while, until the user base is large, dependant, and committed, then the goal-posts move, and the usefulness of the free tier is reduced below my level of tolerance. Now, I could subscribe to a paid tier, but I just don’t need to for many tools, as I personally feel they just don’t provide the level of service I’d expect for the price. Bait-and-switch is not a good marketing plan in my eyes. What killed Evernote for me was the reduction in the number of devices that could sync the database being so low that it wasn’t practical unless I paid up. So, I exported my data and logged out.
These platform switches are a good opportunity to delete irrelevant notes, and have a good old declutter, so good things come out of the process.
Pitched as a multi-user, multi-team collaborative management tool, Trello is very useful. A Trello board consists of vertical lists of multiple cards. Each card can have embedded graphics, links, and a commentary stream. Cards can be dragged from list to list or sent to other boards. This all happens in a real-time collaborative environment. Users can subscribe to be notified of actions performed on cards. This is great for managing tasks within teams.
I’ve been a long-time user of Trello across multiple organisations, Makerspaces, and open-source collaborative teams, but I did personally withdraw from a lot of these collaborative projects. For my personal usage, I found organising my scattered hair-brained ideas into cards a little tedious and not very effective. I dropped Trello as a daily tool a few years ago. I don’t miss it, but I will drop back into it if the need arises in the future.
To Cloud or Not To Cloud?
Cloud-based tools solve the multi-device, multi-user syncronisation problem, but they have a lot of disadvantages. Your data is not under your control, but at the mercy of an organisation. if you’re on a free tier, and you need support getting access, you may be out of luck. Privacy is a major concern for some, and for those people, a cloud-based offering is not acceptable. Let’s look at a few other things I’ve tried.
This is an odd one. I discovered TreeSheets when writing a blog post about it for Hackaday, having been surprised that it hadn’t been covered previously. To put it in a nutshell, the tool is essentially a hierarchical spreadsheet, where you can point your mouse, and scrolly-wheel-zoom into details of an area of interest. I’m told it’s a very good solution for building dynamic bill-of-materials, with a quick learning curve and lightweight desktop client. For multi-device note-taking, this is not for you.
After writing that TreeSheets article, as always, the dear commentators had a fair bit to say about it. One user mentioned LogSeq, and again, I discovered a tool I had never heard of. And it is wonderful. This is my daily driver for note management whilst on a computer. It fits my unstructured way of thinking by not having any structure. You create the structure you want, using a simple markup language as you enter thoughts into your daily journal page, tagging people and concepts, projects, or whatever as you go along. This is a powerful tool and has a considerable learning curve, but you don’t need much to get started.
The critical problem of multi-device sync for me is solved by using Google Drive as a data store. That means all desktop and laptop LogSeq clients run off the same database. Accessing whilst mobile (using the LogSeq Android app) is a little more trouble, but the sync process is handled by another Android app Autosync for Google Drive which takes care of keeping the local Android data store in sync with the version held on Google Drive. It’s pretty lightweight and fast and just works. For details of this check out this handy guide on the LogSeq community hub.
I don’t need to bestow its virtues here, as the LogSeq project page does it far better than I could. Go check it out!
These are just a few tools I’ve used extensively, daily for real-world tasks. There are many others, each with its own unique features, and quirks at any price from free to “corporate buyers only.” The only way to find what works for you is to dive in and try them. However, let’s not forget my opening, my memory problems. Sometimes accessing one of these tools might not be possible, and a simple pocket notebook is a good solution. Personally, I carry a small A6 (or so) sized moleskin flip book with a tiny pen attached. I can scribble quick notes anywhere, anytime. That way, I don’t forget my latest hair-brained idea and can update my LogSeq graph later at my leisure.