Searching for the perfect notes app

For the last 6 months or so I have been using Roam Research as my notes app. The daily note turned into my home from home allowing me to capture things throughout the day. Thoughts, feelings, meeting notes, tasks, articles I read, videos I watched, everything got noted down in the daily note. Using the service has encouraged me to read more wisely, making notes from articles that are useful and capturing highlights and thoughts as I read books.

Over the last month or so, I’ve noticed my usage start to drop off. Some of it is related to me having days off from work, so I’m not in front of my Mac all day, but that’s not the sole reason. I’m writing this on my iPad which has become my main personal computer. Mac for work, iPad for me. I started to realise that this is part of the reason I’ve been using Roam less even though I still wanted to capture notes and thoughts. I don’t find the experience of Roam on the iPad to be that pleasant. There are too many little quirks and bits that don’t quite work properly that mar the experience enough to to make me want to stop using it.

So in the last week I started to draw up a shortlist of apps to try in an attempt to replace Roam. In order to really understand if something can grow in to a replacement I need to understand how I’ve been using Roam and what I have come to find really useful about it.

What are the key features I’m after?

Daily Notes

I’ve come to realise the joy and freedom in having a Daily Note open on my screen all day. It has become my main place to capture anything and everything. Articles I read, what’s on my mind, notes from meetings I’m in, tasks that come in. Each new item gets a time stamp and then I write down what I need.

References to blocks and pages

This is new functionality to me but one that I’ve quickly understood the value of. Being able to reference something with a back link is really powerful. If I’m in my Daily Note and jot something down about a project, being able to quickly link to that project page and have what I wrote appear there is invaluable. It frees up thoughts for thinking instead of focusing on putting it in the right place in my system.

Embedding blocks

These are even more powerful and I think have become really important for me. On a Sunday as I watch church on YouTube (who knew that would be a thing?) I make notes on the sermon. I’ve taken to adding the bible passage broken down verse by verse in a separate note, then when I need to make a note about a verse I embed the block and write a note under it. Having the text visible is really useful and having the bible passages automatically reference all the notes I make over time will be really insightful.

Capturing tasks

This is a simple one, but a quick way to capture tasks in a meeting without having to change app focus is great. Even better is the ability to send those tasks to my dedicated task manager where I can organise them after the meeting.

Journal

This final one is a little up in the air at the moment. I used the Daily Note of Roam to help me start journaling again and since beginning this quest to find a more native experience I’ve dusted off Day One and started to use that instead. As I reflected on how I had been Journaling in Roam, I realised that I didn’t intentionally use any of the connected thought features for it. Questioning why that was, I realised it’s because what I’ve been journaling about isn’t necessarily related to what I’ve been thinking about or working on, instead it’s more about processing how I feel and am handling situations. So for now I’m going to use Day One for this part of my writing, although it lacks the convenience of having one place to write I think the trade off is better for me.

Phil Bowell

Phil Bowell

Cheltenham, UK