Back to School, Back to Note-taking

Simplenote As mentioned in my post about WorkFlowy, Simplenote is my preferred note-taking app. It was one of the first apps I downloaded on my Mac when I bought it back in 2010. It came as a recommendation from my brother as a “must-have” app, esp. for school.

Simplenote is a minimalist web app. It does a really good job at keeping things simple. There’s a limited amount of formatting (bold, italics, strikethrough). This might concern you. I know it drove me a bit crazy at first, but it’s actually something I’ve come to appreciate because it keeps note-taking plain and simple.

Key Features of Simplenote

Tags. Use tags to help organize your notes. You can also tag people to share with them.

Go back in time! Press the ‘clock’ button to access backup versions of your notes.

Share. Press the ‘send’ button to publish a note for others to see. All changes get synchronized. Share a grocery list with your family or housemates.

Pinning. Got a really important note? Press the ‘i’ button to pin it to the top of the list.

Trash. Deleted notes go in the trash. You can restore them if you want, or empty the trash to get rid of them forever.

Search. Search through your notes by title or content.

Secure. All your notes are synchronized securely via encryption; however, they are stored in plaintext so you can search them.


As of now, Simplenote can be downloaded for iOS devices. I believe they are currently developing for Android and maybe even Windows Phone.

However, there is more than one way to take advantage of Simplenote. A variety of other developers have produced apps to take advantage of Simplenote on Mac and Windows computers. Simply vist the Simplenote downloads page to view the comprehensive list.

In the past I’ve used Notational Velocity (Mac) & ResophNotes (Windows). Both are excellent and take advantage of the features of Simplenote. Notational Velocity is especially minimal. It comes with some extra useful features including:

Spell check. And auto-correction.

URLs. NV automatically recognizes URLs and makes them clickable.

Secure note entry and local storage encryption. Alternatively, instead of enabling local storage encryption, you can store notes as individual files so that they are searchable via Spotlight.

Unordered lists. Simplenote will automatically detect unordered lists if you add a symbol (say a dash “-“) to te beginning of at least two lines in a row and indent in at least one tab stop. Hit enter and it will add your symbol.

It might take a while to get used to the limited functionality. Admittedly, sometimes I really want to make a table or insert an image. But 90% of the time, Simplenote is just what I need. Not to mention, I can take notes anywhere and I always have them with me.

Notational Velocity

Looking for a New Note-taking App?

Last year I tried taking notes with Evernote, but it left me wanting. Evernote has some nice functionality, but it just feels….clunky…and bloated. I like that you can add tables and images, but…I don’t know. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. Since then I’ve realized even more the beauty of simple, basic note-taking. Thus, I switched back to my Simplenote/Notational Velocity combo, which I highly recommend. (Look for a post about Simplenote later this week).

Thanks to a my good friend Riley Jenkins, I found out about a new note-taking app on the block with great potential: WorkFlowy. At this point, WorkFlowy is only web based, but the creators have optimized it to work with mobile devices in web browsers. The web app’s key focus is note-taking and lists.

Key Features

Nested lists. Each item in your list can become the parent of a nested list. Simply click through to see the sub-content.

Indent. By indenting items automatically become part of the parent item’s sublist.

Expand/Collapse lists. Double click the title of the current list to expand/collapse all. Double click individual items to expand/collapse child items. Alternatively use the shortcut Ctrl + Down/Up Arrow or click the “+” or “-” sign to the left of the list.

Mark completed. Since WorkFlowy is task/list oriented you can mark items as completed. You can also toggle completed tasks as hidden/visible.

Tags. Use #tags to mark items for #today or as #important. Use @tags to label items for @Susie or @Dev. Clicking tags filters down items with those tags.

Create notes. Think of it as subtitles for each item. I’ve noticed these are useful as a kind of aside, reminder, description, details or for tags.

Share. Create a “secret” shared link and send it to a friend. You can also choose whether or not you want the viewer(s) to be able to edit or just view the content.

Export notes. In formatted or plain text. FTW!

Duplicate notes. ‘Nuff said.

How It Works

WorkFlowy works from a different perspective than most note-taking apps. Instead of having separate documents, all your lists are grouped in one view. The main view is a list of  all your lists, unless of course it is your only list and none of the items in that list have sub-lists. This is very cool because it keeps things simple and minimal. No extra clutter, no sidebars, no other views. However, your out of luck if you were hoping to organize/view things from the typical note-taking paradigms of OneNote, Evernote or Simplenote where you open a notebook or a group of notes or just one list at a time.

You can reorder your lists by dragging and dropping them. You can search through your lists using words, phrases and tags. It’s easy to navigate through your nested lists by clicking the “Home” link at the top or the name of another parent list. It’s nice to have that built in “complete” functionality so that finished items/tasks won’t show up in the list any more should you toggle them not to.

Sadly, WorkFlowy isn’t available outside the web, which is one thing I really like about the third-party apps developed for Simplenote. I can view my notes even when I don’t have an Internet connection. In my opinion, this is the way it should be since text based files take up so little room. Why not store them locally? The only hassle (from a developer standpoint) is making sure they sync appropriately.

In addition to local storage of notes, I think WorkFlowy could use some more shortcuts for adding notes to list items, completing items, toggling visible/hidden, etc. This would make the app experience much more fluid. I’ve found it a bit painful to go back and add notes to various items in a list(s). It just feels slow and tedious.

The app has a lot of potential and is really well designed overall.


WorkFlowy - Sample List

WorkFlowy - List Menu

WorkFlowy - List Tags