23 votes

Note-taking, bookmarks, reminders and todos: What do you use to organize your life?

I find myself on a bit of an unending quest to organize my own thoughts, especially since my work evolved into multiple streams on different projects.

I have been looking for a tool to help me organize myself and focus on the things I want to do. More specifically, I keep wanting to improve my ability to remember things: Be able to remember faster, longer, recall more reliably, categorize, filter and export those things, etc.
Links, reading material, "watch later" material, todo lists, contacts, phone numbers/emails, identities, what I know about people, reminders, highlights, emails to respond to, work logging, etc. The more I think about it, the more I have this need for a tool that essentially acts as a permanent second brain.

I feel like I've tried everything. Note-taking apps like Keep, orgmode, wikis, journals, disorganized text files, issue trackers, Pocket, gmail itself, calendar reminders, even Magic. Nothing quite works. The issues I most consistently hit are:

  • The method is not good enough at ingesting abstract data. Examples: Anything calendar-bound is not good at storing anything that isn't related to a point in time. Pocket cannot store things that aren't links to web pages.
  • The method is far too cumbersome to be able to braindump into it or too impractical to retrieve data from. Examples: Wikis, Keep and other object-based note-taking systems are unfilterable unless you take a ton of time to attach a lot of metadata to each note. Magic is too asynchronous as you sometimes wait several minutes for responses (and it also gets far too expensive to use at the level I'd like).

Despite trying everything, I don't know if I want to build that tool myself, because I think it probably already exists somewhere (and it might be down to me not knowing how to use the things that are already out there). Although if someone does feel inspired to build that, hit me up. :)

My current flow looks like a frankenstein mix of Keep/Gmail/Calendar, which at least integrate with one another, and a ton of proprietary or dissociated methods (including Pocket, Discord, Spreadsheets/Drive, Magic, Kayak, 1Password and a ton of duplicate files and documents). Then it just becomes a matter of remembering what type of information is where, and how to best find it.

So Tildes, what do you use?

30 comments

  1. [5]
    Akir
    Link
    Your brain is complicated, and therefore you will never find a simple tool to completely remember every aspect of your life. So here's a quick rundown of how to stay organized: The first thing you...

    Your brain is complicated, and therefore you will never find a simple tool to completely remember every aspect of your life. So here's a quick rundown of how to stay organized:

    The first thing you will need to do is to change your habits to get everything done as soon as possible. This will save you a tremendous amount of time and stress. You'll save a slightly non-trivial amount of time you would otherwise spend organizing, editing, and consulting organizational materials.

    For when you have complex jobs or jobs that need to be done on a future date, use a todo list. It can be a paper list, but there are also a number of todo apps you can use that offer features like prioritization, scheduling, cloud sync, and alerts. Right now I like using Microsoft's online todo app, but there are many alternatives you can use.

    For you in particular, OP, since you are also looking into notes, I'm going to tell you what you don't want to hear. The reason why you are finding that every notebook is inadequate is because you, yourself, are not organized enough. Being able to find information later is completely dependent on you putting it in the right place. When you write notes, you need to file them in a proper category that makes sense to you. That way, when you are looking to retrieve it, you should be able to figure it out by category.

    7 votes
    1. [4]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      Being organized has never really been a problem for me; this is one of those things which I can do if I need to (and I do so professionally when I think it's necessary). The problem is that it's...

      Being organized has never really been a problem for me; this is one of those things which I can do if I need to (and I do so professionally when I think it's necessary). The problem is that it's cumbersome, and doing it for everything is just not scalable. It also tends to break down over time as the author/organizer of the notes finds improvements to the system and doesn't backfill everything to the new method.

      I'm scoping out the field for solutions I might have overlooked. Some great suggestions already :)

      1 vote
      1. [3]
        Akir
        Link Parent
        Well, yeah, you have to stick to a system once you start or else everything falls apart. It sounds like you are just overworked right now. Instead of looking for ways to improve your organization,...

        Well, yeah, you have to stick to a system once you start or else everything falls apart.

        It sounds like you are just overworked right now. Instead of looking for ways to improve your organization, you might be better off asking the people around you to take some things off of your plate so you can work more efficiently.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Adys
          Link Parent
          I appreciate the concern :) I'm definitely not overworked (I'm working less than I usually do in fact), I just have my hands in a lot of different pots and pans at the same time, instead of one...

          I appreciate the concern :) I'm definitely not overworked (I'm working less than I usually do in fact), I just have my hands in a lot of different pots and pans at the same time, instead of one single project; so the lack of high quality note categorization is more visible than usual.

          Dynalist, linked in another reply, is looking really fantastic. Did you check it out?

          1 vote
          1. Akir
            Link Parent
            I did after your comment. I wasn't particularly impressed with it, but not because it was unimpressive; it's just a little bit overcomplicated for me. Using it to take notes seems great - it...

            I did after your comment. I wasn't particularly impressed with it, but not because it was unimpressive; it's just a little bit overcomplicated for me. Using it to take notes seems great - it actually uses a format very similar to how I write my notes. But it looks like it is trying to organize everything for you, and I don't see it working very well. For an example, you can put dates on todo lists, but there isn't an easy way to find items due today unless you integrate with google calendar, in which case you need to pay for the pro version. And even then, it's still a separate product. Beyond that, the only real problem I had was that it was very slow when dealing with large documents.

            Although I won't use it personally (I've already got my system tacked down), don't let that stop you from giving it a try. But just remember, the most important part of staying organized is sticking to your system. Once you commit, you will find things become much easier.

            1 vote
  2. apoctr
    Link
    I'm generally pretty disorganised. But if I need to remember something, addingecho \033]1;31m DO THE THING, DO IT NOW to my zshrc or even prompt does wonders :P

    I'm generally pretty disorganised. But if I need to remember something, addingecho \033]1;31m DO THE THING, DO IT NOW to my zshrc or even prompt does wonders :P

    7 votes
  3. unknown user
    Link
    I use a combination of tools. First and foremost, I use a Bullet Journal to organize myself. It's not actually a Bullet Journal but it is inspired by it. Using it, I organize my time into days,...

    I use a combination of tools. First and foremost, I use a Bullet Journal to organize myself. It's not actually a Bullet Journal but it is inspired by it. Using it, I organize my time into days, weeks, months, and the year. I used to use the org mode agenda, but dealing with the agenda itself took more time than actually using it so I switched to using an actual notebook for my agenda. I still use the org mode agenda as an issue tracker for my code, but apart from that I stopped using it as a tool for self-organization.

    I do use org mode for note taking though. Generally the first medium I use for my notes is pen and paper because nothing can match the velocity and ease with which one can combine text and figures using them. After taking them on paper I scan my notes and put them in a certain directory, to be transcribed later. I have org mode file for reading notes, all sorts of them from online articles to papers to books. I have another one called notes for all sorts of notes and another one called zibaldone four more creative sorts of notes. And lastly I have one called lists that includes all sorts of lists from list of books to be bought to lists of movies to be seen. I prefer it over other note taking apps because it's extensible, is part of Emacs, offline, and is FOSS software.

    I use Google Keep only for shopping lists on my phone.

    I've recently started using Zotero for organizing my reading material. It is a really useful tool if you have a collection of papers and theses etc. I organise stuff by research project in it.

    The other tool is Firefox. It holds my archive of thousands of bookmarks, and using Sync I move tabs and bookmarks around. I don't actually like it though, to be honest. It is not good at ensuring integrity of user profile data, I've lost my opeb tabs on many occasions, and once lost all my bookmarks (luckily had a backup). I'm in the market for a better browser. Qute was nice, but slow and leaky with many tabs. Chrome or Chromium are not options because they are spyware. I'd try Ungoogled Chromium, but my laptop can't build it. I keep an eye on Next Browse and miss Xombrero.

    The last one is my desk. It has my agenda, my unscanned notes, my current books that I'm reading and the material for my current translation project on it. I lightly rely on its organisation to quickly find what I need for my work.

    I could also count a nice backpack I know my way around, minimising friction when finding and picking different tools is important to me. Also, using versatile multi tools help reduce the cognitive load of having many tools, hardware or software, and the mental burden of having to know and remember how to use them all.

    5 votes
  4. [5]
    cfabbro
    (edited )
    Link
    I notice that you didn't mention Evernote. Have you tried it? It's an incredibly powerful note taking suite that allows for importing tons of different types of data, be it snippings from websites...

    I notice that you didn't mention Evernote. Have you tried it? It's an incredibly powerful note taking suite that allows for importing tons of different types of data, be it snippings from websites (with the formatting still intact), website links, handwritten notes, audio/video clips, uploaded files, emails, etc. and IMO it has by far the best and most powerful search features of all the note taking suites I have tried. It's even capable searching through the text in images inside the notes.

    4 votes
    1. [4]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      I've looked at it, it seemed really good at taking notes but finding knowledge seems as hard as ever. Am I incorrect? I'm also worried about using a cloud-hosted product from a company headed to...

      I've looked at it, it seemed really good at taking notes but finding knowledge seems as hard as ever. Am I incorrect?

      I'm also worried about using a cloud-hosted product from a company headed to bankruptcy, to be honest :/

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        cfabbro
        Link Parent
        I honestly don't even know what you mean by that. But if you're worried about Evernote going bankrupt there is always Microsoft Onenote, which isn't quite as good in terms of searchability of your...

        but finding knowledge seems as hard as ever. Am I incorrect?

        I honestly don't even know what you mean by that. But if you're worried about Evernote going bankrupt there is always Microsoft Onenote, which isn't quite as good in terms of searchability of your notes but has almost the same functionality in terms of note taking. MS is pretty unlikely to disappear any time soon though.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Adys
          Link Parent
          By "finding" knowledge I mean being able to efficiently find things you've recorded, without having to spend a ton of time tagging and categorizing everything.

          By "finding" knowledge I mean being able to efficiently find things you've recorded, without having to spend a ton of time tagging and categorizing everything.

          2 votes
          1. cfabbro
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Ah well in that case, no, finding knowledge is not hard. IMO Evernote has a pretty solid search feature that doesn't really require a ton of manually inputted metadata. You can add metadata in the...

            Ah well in that case, no, finding knowledge is not hard. IMO Evernote has a pretty solid search feature that doesn't really require a ton of manually inputted metadata. You can add metadata in the form of tags just to make notes even easier to locate and searches more accurate but it's not required. It has a pretty robust advanced search syntax so it's pretty easy to locate stuff once you get a handle on that:
            https://help.evernote.com/hc/en-us/articles/208313828-How-to-use-Evernote-s-advanced-search-syntax

            1 vote
  5. [5]
    mocahante
    Link
    I have a similar frustration as you, and haven't found anything really suitable. But I've recently discovered Dynalist and am quite a fan. Cool features include: Unlimited nesting of lists Ability...

    I have a similar frustration as you, and haven't found anything really suitable. But I've recently discovered Dynalist and am quite a fan. Cool features include:

    • Unlimited nesting of lists
    • Ability to sync to Dropbox/Google Drive via plain text (or OPML). Free version is manual backup only, but premium has automatic sync
    • Generally really nice clean design imo
    • Very responsive, active, user-focused development team
    4 votes
    1. [4]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      Wow, I tried their live demo, that looks really good. Gonna give it a shot! Do you know if there's some way to link items/bullet points in time? eg. set a reminder on/from a note, or link...

      Wow, I tried their live demo, that looks really good. Gonna give it a shot!

      Do you know if there's some way to link items/bullet points in time? eg. set a reminder on/from a note, or link something with a google calendar item.

      If there isn't, what's your strategy when you have a list you want to be reminded of at a certain point in time?

      Edit: Oh my god! The ! shortcut is great. I'm a fan!

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        bbvnvlt
        Link Parent
        Saw this too late to reply in the correct place (sorry), but this looks similar to Workflowy. I like the simplicity/generality of Workflowy. It let's you decide yourself how you want to use it....

        Saw this too late to reply in the correct place (sorry), but this looks similar to Workflowy. I like the simplicity/generality of Workflowy. It let's you decide yourself how you want to use it.

        (but no dates/reminders, although you might be able to use the tags to hack a system...)

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          mocahante
          Link Parent
          I think it would be fair to call Dynalist a superset of Workflowy; the former does everything the latter can do, and more. Dynalist was built because its creators were Workflowy users who were...

          I think it would be fair to call Dynalist a superset of Workflowy; the former does everything the latter can do, and more. Dynalist was built because its creators were Workflowy users who were unhappy with its stagnant development.

          1. bbvnvlt
            Link Parent
            Hmm, thanks for the reply. When you close the sidebar it's almost as clean as workflowy and it does seem to offer a number of nice features. Will have another look.

            Hmm, thanks for the reply. When you close the sidebar it's almost as clean as workflowy and it does seem to offer a number of nice features. Will have another look.

            1 vote
  6. anowlcalledjosh
    Link
    I've recently started using a Bullet Journal to organise my day-to-day tasks – I'll write down things I need to do as I think of them, which helps me avoid forgetting about them. If something...

    I've recently started using a Bullet Journal to organise my day-to-day tasks – I'll write down things I need to do as I think of them, which helps me avoid forgetting about them. If something needs to be done at some point in the future, I'll save a reminder in Google Inbox and snooze it until that date, then add it to my notebook when it comes back up. I also have a whiteboard I keep on my desk, which I use to keep track of long-term things I need to keep thinking about (e.g. assignments to do and books to read).

    I use Google Calendar for scheduled events; it's useful to be able to share events with other people and reschedule them without messing up a piece of paper, plus I haven't found a good way of handling future events with Bullet Journal yet (Calendex seems reasonably close to what I want, but it doesn't really work with the notebook I'm using at the moment).

    Refind is my tool of choice for saving links because they're interesting or because I'd like to look at them later, but to be honest it's more to satisfy my need to keep information somewhere rather than to actually keep organised – I don't remember the last time I've ever actually looked at my backlog. If something is actually important, I'll save it in Inbox or write it down. I used to use Google Keep for a similar purpose; now I use it for a shopping list and for random fragments of information I might need in the future (phone numbers, addresses, serial numbers, and so on).

    2 votes
  7. eladnarra
    Link
    I use a combo. In my work Gmail account I label things obsessively, use filters when I can, and star emails I need to somehow respond to. (Don't ask about my personal email, though. That is a...

    I use a combo. In my work Gmail account I label things obsessively, use filters when I can, and star emails I need to somehow respond to. (Don't ask about my personal email, though. That is a clusterfuck.)

    I have a work calendar as well as a family calendar where we all put our events and appointments— the family calendar is relatively new, and I love how much easier it's made coordinating things.

    For tasks I've found Asana works quite well, and they don't have to have a specific due date. For example, I have an "Embroidery" project with each embroidery idea as a task, and I can include comments and links to things like patterns within each of those tasks. I also used it for planning my first cosplay, creating a project with tasks and nesting subtasks to keep track of how things were progressing.

    2 votes
  8. mrbig
    Link
    Org Mode for everything.

    Org Mode for everything.

    2 votes
  9. deing
    (edited )
    Link
    I face similar problems as you, and devised, over the last 6-7 months, solutions — for me these work the best: ToDos: A simple list, on paper. (PDF for reference) I write down everything that I...

    I face similar problems as you, and devised, over the last 6-7 months, solutions — for me these work the best:

    ToDos: A simple list, on paper. (PDF for reference) I write down everything that I don't do within the hour. A list lasts about 7-10 days, and has a "serial number" simply counting up from 001. Homework is in a dedicated planner issued by my school.
    The benefit of this list is that I can instantly, in the most literal sense, look up any incomplete tasks. Digital solutions usually don't bring that much of a benefit — I don't need search in the contents of an A4 page — for a high cost: My PC/Smartphone needs to be on and unlocked, which takes time; synchronization can be messy; and distraction from the task at hand is easy.

    My calendar is solely on my smartphone, though I have bi-daily backups of it in case of handset failure. I use Simple Calendar by SimpleMobileTools, also available on Google Play under that name. Having a digital calendar has the benefit that I get automatically reminded, obviously. Time-consuming as creating an entry is, I don't need to do that as frequently as I have tasks to write down.

    Contacts are primarly either in my smartphone, for phone numbers, or on my desktop, for e-mail adresses. Synchronization to my phone for e-mail adresses is done manually with my mail client (K-9) when I receive mail from someone who's not had their address added to my mobile adress list.

    General notes go in a simple black A5 hardcover notebook I carry with me. Folded inside resides my current ToDo list. It's the penultimate free-form notetaking system, second only to the brain. I can write, sketch, draw diagrams, and so on. I spent about 5 minutes numbering each page, and so I can cross-reference them with my ToDos and calendar.

    For cooperative work, I've not yet developed a solution. I am considering matrix/Riot.im as a chat system with less of an annoying delay than Signal though. Files being worked on are either hosted on my own website or on my schools' iServ web-accessible file management system.

    2 votes
  10. bbvnvlt
    (edited )
    Link
    Workflowy hasn't been mentioned yet. It's an 'outliner' or bullet-list editor. Surprisingly powerful and useful for organising to-do lists or outlining lectures, project structures, or a piece of...

    Workflowy hasn't been mentioned yet.

    It's an 'outliner' or bullet-list editor. Surprisingly powerful and useful for organising to-do lists or outlining lectures, project structures, or a piece of writing (or even jotting down something in pseudocode).

    Every once in a while, I try to set up a tree in Workflowy as a general note or reference collection, but those always descend into disarray and disuse rather quickly.

    But for a quick braindump and subsequent organising of thoughts (plus shopping lists, do-not-forget lists, etcetera), it's my go-to tool.

    EDIT: Just read through the thread a little better and Workflowy is in the same category as Dynalist mentioned by mocahante. But Workflowy's interface is MUCH cleaner. Which I value. I've also found the sharing functions work great, both casually with non-tech-savvy people, and intensively with a project partner.

    2 votes
  11. StellarTabi
    Link
    I like Keep by Google and would love something similar with markdown support.

    I like Keep by Google and would love something similar with markdown support.

    1 vote
  12. joelthelion
    Link
    I use simplenote quite a lot. I love the design, I love that you can share notes with other people, but I hate the fact that it's not open-source and that you can't download your notes in an...

    I use simplenote quite a lot. I love the design, I love that you can share notes with other people, but I hate the fact that it's not open-source and that you can't download your notes in an easy-to-use format.

    1 vote
  13. rickdg
    Link
    For me, it's not about taking notes, the crucial thing is to set and get reminders within their proper context. The basic level of what I need is mostly how Slack works: anything can be a reminder...

    For me, it's not about taking notes, the crucial thing is to set and get reminders within their proper context. The basic level of what I need is mostly how Slack works: anything can be a reminder including the reminder itself which can be snoozed indefinitely as things have to slide into their proper priority. I don't want to write anything really, I want to transform your e-mail, chat message, phone call, scheduled event, etc. into a reminder. I also wish I was able to define not just a time but also/instead a place, so that certain reminders only trigger when I'm able to do the thing right there.

    As far as I know, the technology strangely isn't here yet? I mean, google probably has everything to do this if they could just pull together gmail, calendar, keep, maps and messenger app number 38 :)

    1 vote
  14. [2]
    Rocket_Man
    Link
    So I've been thinking about this kind of stuff for quite a while and looked for tools just like you. I've had a couple of thoughts. First of all I think there's two types of problems that can be...

    I keep wanting to improve my ability to remember things: Be able to remember faster, longer, recall more reliably, categorize, filter and export those things, etc.

    So I've been thinking about this kind of stuff for quite a while and looked for tools just like you. I've had a couple of thoughts. First of all I think there's two types of problems that can be addressed and most "note-taking" apps only focus mainly on one of them. The first type of note is a reference note, this is information you'd rather not necessarily keep in your head but want easier access to. Basically you want to be able to easily reference it. The second type of note is the kind you'd actually love to have in your head if it would just stay there. But instead you keep it in an "off-site" source, which is generally clunky and will always require a ton of overhead.

    Interestingly, a lot of people consider organizing their life to be explicitly defining tasks, due dates, and prioritizing them. This can be useful but replicates a lot of what our brains already do, it just helps guard against some level of forgetfulness. I've got an idea of an application/tool that focuses less on explicitly defining tasks but taking known tasks/contexts and allowing some of the "thinking/tracking" to be done by the tools instead of ourselves. Unfortunately this tool doesn't exist and as far as I've been able to find there closest thing is some of the features present in Google's Calendar, unfortunately it's a pretty lazy implementation. OP if you'd like to talk about the potential tools we'd like to build I'd be curious if our ideas/needs are compatible.

    But in general, the best way you can optimize things now with the tools we have is to use 3 tools. A to-do list/calendar for "life-organization", an application like Onenote/evernote for reference notes, and Anki for information you want ready access to at all times.

    1 vote
    1. Adys
      Link Parent
      Yeah I'll be happy to talk! You can find my email here: https://leclan.ch/

      Yeah I'll be happy to talk! You can find my email here: https://leclan.ch/

      1 vote
  15. Happy_Shredder
    (edited )
    Link
    I use a mix of calender, todo, and notes on my phone, all of which sync to my (Nextcloud) server. This is fine for short, textual reminders and that's it. I mostly use physical notepads. These...

    I use a mix of calender, todo, and notes on my phone, all of which sync to my (Nextcloud) server. This is fine for short, textual reminders and that's it.

    I mostly use physical notepads. These give me total flexibility --- I can write, draw, sketch, record equations, do calculations, maps, graphs and so on, all very easily. Trying to reproduce this electronically is cumbersome, except perhaps with a good (i.e. expensive) tablet. Of course, I lack tagging and search in this analog format, but I find keeping different notepads (say, for research, general, and other projects) perhaps with a useful title and date sufficient. I find I rarely look at old notes.

    Edit: I feel I should add, the reason I rarely look at old notes is because they are by design transient. I regularly transform notes into a more permanent format e.g. Jupyter notebook, literature, art, and so on.

    1 vote
  16. ReapersGale
    Link
    I use Keep when it comes to large meal prep shopping lists Outside of that I have a decent sized whiteboard on the back of door, I have to look at it on the way to the bathroom in the morning and...

    I use Keep when it comes to large meal prep shopping lists

    Outside of that I have a decent sized whiteboard on the back of door, I have to look at it on the way to the bathroom in the morning and get a facefull of it when closing it on the way to bed.

    It has a power list for daily goals (exercise, eat well, etc) and a few assorted things that I need to get around to doing (Get blood test done, acquire leatherworking tools, work on project XYZ, etc).

    Everything else is by memory, I know where, when and why I need to be places/do things and putting them into a system is more work than the benefit it provides.

    1 vote
  17. christin
    Link
    I just discovered Notion! I'm going to try to import my many text files on Dropbox (currently managed using Ulysses) and experiment with it.

    I just discovered Notion! I'm going to try to import my many text files on Dropbox (currently managed using Ulysses) and experiment with it.

    1 vote