I have never been obsessed with note taking apps in my life, to be honest. It doesn’t seem fun to constantly try different platforms to find the best taking app, considering the fact that the market is full of them. But it is what I started doing a few months ago, because of the scary observation I’ve made.
When I started my product management job 2 years ago, I noticed that I can’t properly handle all the information that I get from different sources. It may sound silly, but it was true.
Imagine: you have to connect the dots between multiple projects and various type of updates you get from multiple people. Daily. Besides that, you need to be able to find the tactical and strategic ways to achieve your goals. Again, all at the same time.
That’s why – in the early days of my career as a Product manager – I started searching for a perfect system of note taking that fits my needs. I tested different platforms and wanted to share my personal observations and opinions on what’s the best note taking app.
My experience with Trello as a note taking app
Trello is one of the first apps that I’ve used for organizing myself. I used Trello notes it in different roles and different periods of my career:
- As a marketer (for my personal knowledge organization)
- As a marketer (to keep and share knowledge for the team of 4)
- As a product manager (as some kind of a ‘Second Brain’)
- As a freelance marketer for my clients
A quick UI makes Trello amazing note taking app
I liked Trello for note taking because it’s quick and simple. Back in the past, you just had a default Kanban board with the cards you mark, drag & drop, tag with labels and arrange in a way that you want.
The interface is simple, even if you haven’t had an experience to deal with taking notes online. You create a card, call it in a clear & understandable way, tag it with colorful tags. Inside this card, you have a way to leave comments.
Trello is a multiplatform app, meaning that you can have it work smoothly in every device that you use. It is stable, quick and reliable.
More than just a note taking app
Besides description and comments in the card, you can also have extra fields. They include:
- Start and due dates
- Media file preview
- Attachment preview
- Power Ups
- and other options
This means that you can also follow a more complex route and use Trello note just as a note taking app, but also as a todo list for your next tasks.
Actually, that’s how I used it in my days of working as a marketer: we had a team of 4 which was synced via Trello Kanban board. Each “step” of this board was a “status” we have, so we put a “task” (which is a card) in each of these statuses, when we had to update it. It worked really well.
I was also familiar with a way to use Trello as a SOP document. Basically, an agency provided a pre-made Trello workflow for a client, and it was fully automated to being executed by VAs/the team.
Taking notes in Trello in just One click
I liked Trello also because of a cool integration with my workflow in general: I found an extension “One Click Trello” that allowed me to create a Trello note automatically in just one click (out of any text that I copied).
” that allowed me to create a Trello note automatically in just one click (out of any text that I copied).
It helped me when I had some comment from my manager, or a quick random idea that I just wanted to store somewhere. In this scenario, it was very really easy to make this note, have it “out there” and then get back to it when I had to refine my backlog of Trello notes.
Book notes with Trello (via Android app)
At some point I was taking notes in my Trello when I was reading some book or watching a course in Analytics. What helped me a lot was having an ability to work offline in the Trello Android app.
Things were smooth: even if you don’t have an online connection, you can create a ticket and add comments there. The app will be synced whenever you get back online.
Beyond the Kanban view
When I checked Trello last time a few weeks ago, I noticed they’ve added new views (just like Notion or ClickUp had at that time). It means, that besides the classical Kanban, they offered Calendar view, List view and others – offering you a way more multi-dimensional tool for your needs.
However, these views were available only via Premium (paid) plan. Besides that, when I tested it with a higher number of notes that I had – it worked pretty slow for me. In the end, I didn’t stick with it for my workflow, but I’m sure it might be useful for others.
Why I stopped using Trello for note taking
I kept my notes in Trello for the first days of my work as a product manager, but in the end I gave up. The reason for that was that I realized that the backlog of things I planned working on was pretty big.
At some point, I had to scroll through Kanban to view the ones in the bottom of the column. I realized that the app is perfect for a lower number of tickets, and I need something more complex for my goals.
I could use filtering as an option, but I preferred seeing my notes connected to the daily schedule. Calendar view (available in the paid version) wasn’t looking as nice to me, and having 10-15 notes in one day looked bad (IMHO).
That’s how I continued my search for the best note taking app for my workflow as a PM.
How to use Trello as note taking app?
In my personal opinion, Trello is one of the most user-friendly tools if you want to get started with note taking. It doesn’t need any extra actions when it comes to the setup. You just create a Board in the Workspace and use it in the Kanban view by default.
All the tasks that you have are distributed among the statuses (lists). You can have multiple lists, but it’s way easier to navigate when you have 4-5 of them (to make sure they fit your screen).
The card itself is simple enough as well – it has Title and Description fields, the ones I used in most cases. Sometimes you can also leave a comment for yourself or for someone else in your team, to add extra ideas.
One thing I didn’t mention is the ability to format your text. It’s pretty nice and convenient, when you want to have headlines, highlight some specific parts of the text, have a visual separation between your paragraphs, and so on.
Conclusion about Trello as a note taking app
If you are looking to start taking notes, maybe potentially to organize some todos out of them, or make some ‘library’ of knowledge – Trello might be a good choice for you. It has various ways to customize your workflow and fit your goals.
Trello is a relatively established product in the market, so you can find different chrome extensions that will improve your flow even further. I’ve mentioned the ‘One-click save to Trello’ already as an example, but it can also be the ‘Custom Trello card colors’, which allows changing notes color based on their title.
This platform is definitely something you should try at least once, and then see if you like it and if you stick with it. I also enjoy reading their email newsletter, to be honest. That “Taco from Trello” idea is simply amazing.
My experience with ClickUp as a note taking app
I got familiar with ClickUp in 2020. It was a clunky tool that tries to do everything (but not being perfect in any of these), based on my first exception. It was promoted as something that gives you an extra day per week (which is obviously a smart marketing trick).
Although at our team we keep using it more as a project management tool, I tried using ClickUp as a sort of note taking app which supports todos. So to say, a mix between ‘knowledge system’ and the ‘todo app’.
Spoiler alert: I keep using it for project management (and honestly find it amazing these days), but I didn’t manage to keep using it for my notes. But let me share more about my experience with it & how it might be helpful for you.
What makes ClickUp so universal
First point that should be mentioned about the ClickUp platform is its universal nature. It is being marketed as a solution for:
- Personal productivity
- Team management
- Workflow analytics
- ToDo system for teams of various sizes
- Knowledge system
- and much more
Needless to say, supporting all of these various workflows, tons of features and possibilities in this app comes with a price tag, which is Learning curve. It’s definitely not the most user-friendly system you can imagine. Especially for tacking notes with Clickup.
What I tried doing with it was having my notes organized on the Task level. Which means, I had my workspace with a ‘Notes’ list with the Tasks inside. These Tasks I could label with the required category (eg, what type of project it relates to, what person is involved, etc).
ClickUp is amazing for its views. I would say, this is truly the most ‘universal’ part about it. All the tasks (notes in my case) that are stored in the “List” view – can be also seen in the “Calendar” view, or the “Board” (Kanban) view. Based on my experience, Calendar is exactly the view that I wanted to try and use.
However, there are much more views available for making this app fit your needs (although it’s a separate topic, not limited to note taking only)
The Docs and the Tasks separation in ClickUp
Speaking of ClickUp as a note taking app, it’s worth mentioning that the platform has both Docs and Tasks functionality. So, you can have your whole internal knowledge base inside of it – which is pretty cool.
The bad thing about it is that it’s not so much for notes – but rather for some more ‘static’ things. Having processes documented inside your team might be a good example of how Docs might be helpful.
Again, I must admit – I used it “the wrong” way. I created Tasks, set start dates and due dates for it, so I could see them tied to a specific day in the Calendar view. It helped me understand, how many days do I have before some “todo”, and how many days have passed since my recent note “XYZ” (and what should I do about it).
Why ClickUp is the best tool for project management
The whole ClickUp platform is full of many different features the average team in different industries might need. It has flexibility of statuses, custom fields, ‘client-related’ features (like Dashboards, Time tracking, Watching, etc). It is a big box of tools designed specifically for various workflows.
The ‘limited’ approach I was trying to use for (clickup as a note taking tool) wasn’t justified, given the platform’s functionality range. That’s why, in the end, I had to stop using it in my notes workflow. I realized that the UI of the app wasn’t fit enough.
For example, the “Calendar” view required my notes to have Start/End dates. If the end date passed (so, imagine the note to be placed on “yesterday”) – it got flagged with a red annoying label, indicating that the due date was missed. It wasn’t something I liked in my notes system.
How to use ClickUp as note taking app
Although I didn’t stick to this, as I mentioned – let me show you how I used ClickUp for taking notes. It might be helpful in case you decide to try it too.
ClickUp structure is highly flexible due to multiple levels of hierarchy. To not complicate it, I’ll tell you that we also have a Workspace, then we have a List and it is full of Tasks. A Task = Note in my setup.
First steps may be confusive, but it’s all good – you already can create different tasks by just typing the task name (which is equal to note name in our example).
As I’ve mentioned, I used the ‘Task’ entity as a note itself. Task has Title and Description fields. Besides that, ClickUp allows you having custom fields for each card that helps you organize it better among other cards.
To experiment with ClickUp views, you should have some cards already. Besides that, if you want to play with Calendar-based on Timeline-based view, you should make sure that you have Start and Due dates set correctly in the card. Otherwise, they won’t be displayed there.
For example, if we take Kanban view – it doesn’t require any extra settings, but it is not the best view for taking notes. In the end, it’s limited to just the statuses (which are columns) in our case.
If you have too many cards in one status – you can experience the same problem I had in Trello (when you need to scroll way too long to see all the cards, or to pick the one from the bottom).
Conclusions for note taking with ClickUp
ClickUp is an amazing tool. I keep using it daily with a team of 7 people. However, it’s not the best solution as a standalone note taking app, based on my experience.
It has much more flexibility for other areas, though – such as project management, team management, along with the knowledge system features.
It can be used for storing notes or todos as part of the whole scope, but I doubt you’ll enjoy using it as a note taking app only.
My experience with Notion as a note taking app
To me, before I started using Notion actively on a daily basis, it was associated with some complex productivity system, something like a ‘Second Brain’.
Indeed, just like Trello or ClickUp mentioned above, Notion is way beyond note taking only. It has tons of features around automation, sync with other tools, multiple views, many advanced features (like formula calculations) and so much more.
The ecosystem around Notion platform grew so big, that it even has its own website builders with thousands of paying customers!
It’s all about customization
Before I go deeper into the way I take notes with Notion, I should leave a quick disclaimer here.
I’ve seen the opinions that Notion workflows may be too complex for some people. That the tool has a relatively long learning curve and that it requires you to build skills around it. It’s both true and false.
The truth is that Notion can be complex, you can build a ton of stuff around it, both for your internal processes inside a team or a company, and for external public (eg, to build a website with it).
But you can also make it simple and clear. You decide how your Notion workflow looks like. Let me show you mine.
How I tried different Notion views for Note taking
In my first experience with this app, I’ve used its ‘Board’ view to just store notes on a daily basis. It wasn’t so good, because I had to create ‘categories’ for every new day. It was simply a bad logic to organize tickets.
My biggest mistake was that I tagged cards with the “date” as a category – which is fairly stupid. After that you don’t have an ability to sort them in any way.
No wonder that after taking my notes in this way for a ~month, I realized that it doesn’t work well and moved on.
My second attempt to use Notion as a note taking tool was more successful. I’ve found a Calendar view and had a clear way to attach notes (as tasks) to specific dates.
It didn’t show me red, big ‘missed due dates’ alert (like ClickUp did). I could easily tag, categorize my tickets and select the options I want to see with them.
What I found the most valuable about Notion notes
This Calendar view is the thing that I find to be the most exciting about Notion. It fits my workflow perfectly, and I keep using it even today.
I can drag & drop tasks if I understand that I want to use them as my ToDos. I can simply store them there if I want to use them as a ‘Library’. I can easily recognize my statuses visually thanks to clean titles and emojis usage.
Basically, I use the platform as a single place to cross-check my priorities, things I’ve forgotten, or to find things I need to pull from history.
Important to note – a free version of the platform satisfies my needs fully. Besides, it is available in all the major platforms, including the ones I use: MacOS and Android.
How I keep using Notion for note taking
My working approach looks fairly simple, to be honest. I bring notes after every meeting that I have. If this note has an important “todo” task in it – I add red emoji into its title, to see it clearly and complete it whenever I have time. Orange emoji is used for less important task. Green checkboxes are used to mark something as ‘Done’.
I connect cards with the people I work with – in such a way it helps me restore the connection between the idea we discussed and the person who is waiting for it faster. It’s a real blessing to have, considering the high frequency of context switches in my current workflow.
Every week I go over the red/orange tickets from the last week. If I see that I still haven’t done some tickets, and I need them – I put those notes for the next week. Otherwise, I mark it as “Done” and leave them there.
The note itself is simple inside: I use bullet points usually. They allow you to describe any idea simply enough, with a clear separation between the points. If I share multiple ideas in one note, I try to separate it with lines or with subheadings.
Important note: I use Notion for long-term notes. All the “quick” notes that I get during the day are kept in my Apple Note. It’s working offline and loads much faster on my laptop. At the end of each day, I put them from Apple Notes to Notion to organize them in a better way.
Sometimes I go over some tickets and merge them, or divide into more – depending on the idea inside the note.
How to take notes in Notion
I’ve shared what I know about Notion and the way it can be used as a note taking application. Now let me show you the simplest way to get started with it, in case you want to try it yourself.
You first obvious steps will be signing up – I use a Google sign in, which is a quicker and simpler route. Next you should create a page in the Workspace that you start.
Once you have a page – you can go inside and setup the proper View that you want. I recommend you trying multiple different ones, so that you can compare, which one fits better and how they align with your Notion notes expected configuration.
Please, pay attention that some views take all the page, while others can be occupying only a part of it. It’s called “Inline/Full page” appropriately.
The View you select (eg, in my case I used “Calendar”) is where you will be storing your Notes. I prefer using the ‘Full page’ one, so that my Page was a place where I store and manage my tasks/notes. You can have Subpages to this current Page, meaning each one of them can be on a different ‘logical level’.
I’ll mention this one more time, but I recommend you trying different views, in order to see which one will better fit your needs.
Conclusions for note taking with Notion
If you ask my personal opinion, Notion is the best note taking app so far. It’s free, it’s easily customizable, it has a nice UI and simple layout – IMHO. However, I don’t encourage you to believe me and blindly follow this workflow.
Instead, I suggest you try multiple note taking apps yourself. Start with the simplest one – and see what is missing for you. Set an experiment for a limited timeframe (eg, a week) and use this system. Draw your conclusions at the end of this period and stay or move on to another tool.
It took me somewhere like 4-5 todo/note taking apps to find the mixed workflow I use now. You may also need to check multiple, until you find the one that fits your needs. Most likely, you’ll need to do some adjustments to the tool defaults, to your workflow, or to both.
I started this blog as an attempt to improve my writing skills and to establish a proper writing routine. I share notes and tips about productivity, products and routines. I believe that this blog will keep me accountable and (hopefully) will help someone else too.