When I decided last year that I wanted to start up a blog again  one of first tasks I set myself was to work out how I was going to keep track of my workflow; my notes, ideas and research. As I shared in my Do I Even Want Anybody To Read This post, this lead me off track for a while and I fell into the rabbit hole of “personal knowledge management.”
I spent a long time researching my options for note taking apps.
My criteria for a notes app
- I needed all my notes to sync and be accessible from my work PC (Windows), my personal PC (Windows), my phone (Android) and my iPad (Apple). I need to be able to get to my notes when inspiration struck, with minimal hassle, whenever I find the time!
- Ideally free – or very low cost – because just with hosting my website this hobby is expensive already (and I’ve flaked out on it before)!
There are so many note apps out there, you will not believe how many! You’d think they’d all be much of a muchness but it turns out that note taking is a really personal and specific thing, and it takes some trail and error to find the right fit. For that reason alone I recommend “shopping around” with either free options or free trials before you commit.
The First Three Apps
I went through three different apps before I found my One.
I started off using OneNote which I found was surprisingly good and I did like that it worked really well with my Apple pencil, but after awhile it started to get really laggy, especially it seemed if I dumped PDFs in there and had added any handwriting to notes.
I also struggled to organise my notes in there in way that felt like it was going to work for me longer term and to be able to pull creative ideas from different areas. The main issue that pushed me away was definitely the lag though!
After that I briefly tried going back to EverNote, which is what I had used about a decade ago, but the free plan limits devices to two which is not enough for me. I was thinking about upgrading to the paid Personal plan as there was a reasonable 40% off for new customers but after a year it would be quite pricey (£80 a year).
I also was finding lag an issue with EverNote as well, and I wasn’t convinced it was the right fit for me. The vibe wasn’t there.
I also gave Notion ago for a couple of days but its so complicated, I really did not get on with it. It seems very popular with the younger more “aesthetics” focused notetakers and content creators.
It might just be me, but I found the UI really confusing, and felt like I was going to get lost down yet another rabbit hole trying to figure it out. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out new software, so I don’t know what the problem was there!
And then, Obsidian.md
Then I came across this YouTube video by Tiago Forte  where he talks about different types of note takers and different apps available. I don’t know if I agree with this idea of archetypes, but it did introduce me to Roam Research and Obsidian.md which are engineered to encourage you to create links between notes rather than making you use a hierarchical structure.
That approach set off lightbulbs. This is what I needed.
When I looked into those I found that Obsidian.md had a number of things going for it, not least that it is free and Roam is PRICEY ($180, almost £150 a year!).
Obsidian.md selling points
- The application itself is FREE, and it works for your “vault” of local files on your device which means no lag! And you keep hold of your data.
- The file format it uses is Markdown (the .md). I hadn’t heard of this before (I am not a techy!) but it is easy to learn, and its a basic text format readable by human eyes, so if Obsidian went away you can still use your notes as just plain text files opened in notepad (or one of the many other markdown editors out here). No proprietary formats!
- It works on all my devices.
- You can pay to sync between devices, or you could work out your own way to sync and back-up your folder of notes for free using things like Google Drive or iCloud. As I mentioned up top I have a Windows PC, an Android phone and an iPad.. I love my iPad but I sometimes curse it that Apple doesn’t play nice with any other devices! I just decided to pay Obsidian for sync and it works perfectly. It’s $96 (£75ish) a year but its worth it in my opinion, and I think its a great app that I don’t mind supporting.
- It offers so much potential for customisation with so many community made plugins (and a great community of users). You can use it to design your own little database of markdown files.
- You can so easily create links between all your notes to connect ideas. You can use folder structures too, if you want too. (I do both)
- There is a cool graph view where you can visualise all the connections between your data. You probably won’t really use that long term, but its fun to play with!
My Vault needs a Spring Clean
My problem is that life has got busy, my routines have changed (now I no longer live alone) and I’ve not yet worked back in making time for a lot of the “thinking” projects I planned to use it for.
When I first started it using it about a year ago now, like most people, I just went wild with all the potential and tried to track my entire life in there. Now my Vault is really neglected and full of not-even-started or forgotten about projects.
What I need to do is go in an give it a good edit. Just clear out all the old crap I don’t use, and restructure it into something much more simple that helps me meet my goals.
My PKM Goals
- A repository for thoughts and ideas, so I don’t lose them!
- Make connections and boost my creativity.
- Make my blog content workflow smoother (save me time).
- Help find important/useful life information (be better organised).
I’m going to keep these goals in mind and I’ll share again soon on how my ‘spring cleaning’ goes, and what I have going on in my Vault these days.
 I used to have a blog around 10 years ago where I mostly wrote about TV shows, I used to do a recaps of Game of Thrones and Made in Chelsea that I did get some views on haha [back]