Note taking without note taking app

Why I do not use a note app

Evernote, Quiver, Simplenote, …, They are all good and I have used them a lot. But now I uninstalled them all. Why?

Some main reasons:

  • I prefer to see the note files saved individually in a well used, open, and transparent format, rather than mysterious or private formats defined by the apps themselves.
  • I prefer to use my favourite editor rather than the integrated editor reinvented by the apps.

In a word, IMHO, current note taking apps do too much for a note taking job. But could we manage to take notes without the apps and lose no convenience?

Note format

I decide to use multimarkdown because it supports metadata included as part of the document and meanwhile not part of the real contents.

The metadata is a kind of front matter like in Jekyll post, which describes any infomation you want to add to the document.

Considering a note, the following four variables seems necessary:

title: A Note
date: 2016-10-17
category: Cool
tags: workflow, app, mac

I restrict the category to be only one string, as it is equal to the subfolder name.

And more variables I’d like to add:

  • last: last modification date
  • comments: true or false
  • summary: a brief summary of the note
  • published: if published to Jekyll blog

Manage notes

Finder + Dropbox.

Simply use Finder for note browsing, and Dropbox for syncing to the cloud.

Set a root folder in Dropbox for all notes, e.g. "Dropbox/Notes". Let’s call it notesdir. Drag it to stay at the side column for quick access.

Then add subfolders as categories. Add a uncategorized subfolder for uncategorized notes.

Tips: in finder, use list (Cmd+2) or column (Cmd+3) view to browse note files is (maybe) sufficiently convenient. I prefer the column view, but remember to use the this trick: Option+drag to resize the column width to show a lentgh file name, and to let Finder remember the size. Unfortunately the width of all columns must be the same, which is a little ugly, and, this width setting is globally on the mac.

Edit note

Set in Finder to open and edit the note with your favourite Markdown editor. (I use MacDown and Typora.)

Create note

I write a simple shell script to do this. It make a new note file and fill it with initial front matter.

The script is here. Save it as and move it to a bash recognized path.

Usage: title category
  • title is required. Remember to quote it if spaces exist.
  • If category is empty, it will be ‘uncategorized`.

The note file notesdir/category/ will be created (if it does not exist) and opened for edit.

Publish note as Jekyll post

Here I need another script to do the job:

  • Copy the note to Jekyll project’s _posts folder.
  • Rename note file to Jekyll required format:
  • Modify the front matter accordingly, e.g.
    • modify/add layout variable
    • modify/add last variable
  • Sync with blog server
  • Add and set published variable to true for the original note (to add later)

Do we need a new kind of note taking app, again?

How about writing a new kind of app which implements the above workflow with a minimal UI, and enhance the user experience much?

  • Concentrated and user-friendly note browser
  • Click buttons or press shortcuts to add, edit, delete, publish, …

Essentially, the app should be a better replacement of Finder for note browsing, integrated with some common note operations. I think maybe it is worthwhile to implement such an UI. Consider doing it later 🙂

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