Optimal Notes Strategy For Productivity Freaks

I’ve got lots of stuff to remember so I use notes and I needed a system that was better than any existing tool that I knew of, so I spent a some time thinking about it and now I have a system and it is BOSS.

Use-cases are:

  1. Find a note by name (like ‘git’ or ‘deploy_process’ or ‘electricity bill’)
  2. Find a note by content
  3. Edit, save, sync note to cloud
  4. Access anywhere, anytime, any device
  5. Port all my notes somewhere else in 2 years

The requirements (must be…):

  1. Super-fast to find a note by searching for name.
  2. Super-fast to find a note content.
  3. Super-fast and easy to edit a note and sync to cloud, all without using mouse.
  4. Available online via web, all platforms
  5. Easily exportable (No lock-in)
  6. Complete revision history

Failed attempts: Evernote and GoogleDocs. Both are too heavy, cumbersome, and slow. GoogleDocs is bottlenecked by the network and is in-browser, which is crowded enough. Evernote has a lock-in, no revision history, and is basically über cumbersome. They might work for you if you’re infinitely patient but I am kind of the opposite.

Best solution:

  1. Open a folder in your Dropbox folder. Call it ‘notes’.
  2. Use your favorite text editor (which should be Sublime Text) to find, add, and edit simple text notes.

Shazam, you’re done. Let’s examine how this answers the requirements and use-cases.

  1. Find a note by name: ST’s fuzzy-search for file names is famously boss.
  2. Find a note by content: Ditto, ST’s search-function is famously sweet.
  3. Editing notes: By definition, it’s already your favorite text editor. Saving syncs it automatically to the cloud (dropbox).
  4. Access anywhere, anyhow: Dropbox.com, and you’re golden.
  5. Exportable: it’s just a folder of text files! Evernote, Dropbox, and Google[Docs] may come and go (not to mention other app solutions like SimpleNote, etc.), but text files will be here for a long time. Whenever you want you can copy the whole folder off to your Box.com folder, or your SugarSync magic briefcase, and edit the files with vim instead of Sublime. No lock-in, ever.
  6. Dropbox saves all your revision history.

As you can see, these cover the requirements perfectly. To me, this clearly outclasses using GoogleDocs or Evernote for any personal use. I’ve been riding this for about 4 months at time of writing, and it’s been a dream. Anything I need to remember can easily be jotted down to the relevant note and retrieved at the speed of light (well, at the speed of Sublime Text, but it’s pretty damn close). Zero upkeep. Totally free. And I know that when I grow tired of Sublime (and/or switch computer, OS, polar meltdown, etc.) my notes will be there for me. This very post’s draft was written in my ‘blog’ note, where I keep a list of topics and first drafts of posts.

Basically this is has just been riding on the awesomeness of Sublime Text and Dropbox. You lose tiny things like clickable links and rich-text formatting, but those are for girls anyway.

Extra points for using ST+Dropbox for notes::

  • Use a specific Sublime theme for your ‘notes’ folder, so you can easily tell the ‘notes’ Sublime instance from code instances. I use Solarized (Light) because I like the light/dark contrast with code’s Monokai.
  • Set a syntax highlighting that complements free-text notes. I use AppleScript for no reason at all.
  • Organize your files into folders, if you feel like it, but with Sublime’s great search capabilities – it doesn’t really matter. I’ve got 150+ notes by now on everything from Apple to ZenDesk and don’t need the folders.

So: never remember anything again. You’ve got your computer to remember, now that you’ve got your llama-whooping notes mechanism set to retrieve and update notes at whiplash speed.

Now, go forth and multiply. Or at least use efficient notes.