Why I use 4 different Note Taking Apps

Have I really thought this through?

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Following The digital tools that run my life post, I have had a lot of questions about why I use several apps that could all do similar things.

I am referring to my usage of Capacities, Notion, Twos and Apple Notes.

I understand the question (particularly as I work for Capacities) but my answer is this:

Just because these apps can do similar things, doesn’t mean they should, and in my system, they don’t.

Each app has its strengths and weaknesses, and I take all of this into consideration for how my brain works what my goals are with these digital tools.

I then assign an app to a given context because I really like segmenting my use-cases. This means crossover isn’t a really concern because each app has its own job description.

So here’s how I ended up with all four apps in my current app stack….

My whole PKM/digital life management journey began in early 2020 after an Ali Abdaal video about Notion. I’ve pretty much been using it ever since.

Now, it’s the core of my digital system. It’s where I run most of my life, home and business in all its imperfection. I want it to externalise the mess of my brain but harness it somewhat with databases, relations, formulas in order to do what I want to do, and think about what I need to think about.

I wrote some more about this here:

But there are two long-standing issues with Notion

It’s slow

It has improved over time for sure, but I have always hated it for quick capture, so I was always looking elsewhere for my capture needs (even in 2020).

It’s not a networked note-taking app

Of course not everything needs to be a networked note-taking app, but I started to use Roam Research a couple of months after Notion and that convinced me that my knowledge work simply had to live in one, and therefore not in Notion.

Consequently, apart from 2/3 months in 2020, I have nearly always had Notion and something else for my knowledge work and something else for quick capture.

I guess I’ve always known that I’d rather have 3 apps do things really well than have everything searchable in one app, and that is the mindset everything has developed from.

My PKM app of choice has varied throughout the years, but since November 2022 it’s been Capacities. It solved a lot of friction for me and it brings me such joy and happiness to use that I can’t imagine me not using it long term. It’s my perfect PKM app and I have lots of content about why that is.

But I had identified the need for quick notes long before I’d heard of Capacities, and I believe the obvious choice for quick notes as an iPhone user is Apple Notes.

It is omnipresent, fast and easy to use, so this is what I used alongside Notion and Roam, Notion and Logseq, and all other previous permutations of my systems.

The issue was, I ended up with so many notes, both quick notes, lists, recipes and more, that I couldn’t tell what I wanted to keep and what I needed to process and delete.

So I pinned all the lists I wanted to keep…. but at one time there were over 70, and scrolling through them just seemed really inefficient, I couldn’t find what I wanted very quickly (this was before I got into the habit of using the search bar, so that’s on me, at least). I felt overwhelmed with them and this was sad because lists are actually a massive part of my digital life.

I don’t mean shopping lists, I mean really random things like my favourite song bridges, or my list of pet peeves. It’s lots of parts of my human experience that I want to capture and keep in list form.

So I tried moving my lists to my PKM app of the time, but this meant I never looked at them. This helped me realise that actually most of the time, I want to read my lists whilst on buses and trains, therefore on my phone, and often without internet connection. No other app in my system bar Apple Notes would fit this.

In April of this year, I tested out Twos, and I finally found the fit I needed. Lists are a built in structure to the app and I love how each thing you enter is timestamped, that is perfect for the essence loving side of my brain.

That was the final piece in this puzzle, and that’s how I ended up with Notion for Life, Capacities for Knowledge, Apple Notes for Quick Notes and Twos for lists.

Now at their core, all of these apps deal with text, and you will find people using each for their entire second brains.

But I am not looking for all my digital activities to live in one app. It is actually the polar opposite of what I want.

I simply don’t want my in depth history notes alongside my list of pet peeves, and I don’t want to see long term information alongside quick notes that need to be processed and deleted.

Each type of note feels like it works with different sides of my brain (I’m sure that’s not actually true, but this is just how I feel) and I’d actively like to separate them.

Because I like categorisation, I think about what text I want to create (e.g. blog post, random thought, something to add to a list, note on a famous person) and that tells me which app to open. It feels incredibly natural to me now so there’s barely any thinking at all. In fact, sometimes I search Raycast for ‘lists’ to open Twos, because they’re one and the same.

I liken this to how Microsoft Word and Powerpoint both work with text and can have images, formatting and more, but they’re more powerful for certain types of activities, and therefore you choose the tool that works best for the context.

You absolutely can try to harness all the power of an individual app, but there’s no rule saying that’s the only way. Just take what you need!

If I was trying to do everything in all 4 apps, it would go against my goal of working with the noise of my brain and not against it, and it would obviously be super inefficient. I’d have no idea what was going on at a given point.

But equally, if I tried to do the vast amount of activities I do digitally in one app, I would feel so overwhelmed and never open the app and I would feel lost and unsupported again. I find even the idea of this really quite stressful.

Because my system has emerged over a very long time to meet my needs, I feel like I’m dealing with my brain in an empowering way, and that’s great.

So that’s how I ended up using 4 different note-taking apps.

I will never say that readers should copy my systems or that I’m correct, that’s an impossible statement to make. I am confident this set up is right for me right now, and I will let you know when things change, because they absolutely will.

What I will say though, is that since embracing this approach, I have become even more against the implicit standard of the all-in-one note app. I just don’t believe this should be the case.

The standard needs to be “do what works, change it when it doesn’t”. That means that an all-in-one app works great for those who want it, and it means those that don’t aren’t beholden to this standard.

Just have fun with your systems and craft them to do what you need, it feels amazing when you have a set up that works!

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