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Ask HN: How do you take idea notes / voice memos / reminders to yourself?
43 points by patrics123 on Oct 29, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments
Do you use just paper, Email drafts or any special apps? And how do you remember where you have noted down some specific thought or idea?

I've tried several apps like Evernote, Trello, Asana or voice Memo apps ... Also I am maintaining like 2-3 ToDo lists on paper troughout my home. But in the end I often loose tasks, or interesting ideas come up again like 2 months later and I cant remember where I already wrote about it.

What Tools do you use?

Emacs org-mode.

If someone sends me an e-mail about something that needs doing for work, I hit a keybinding, and a buffer pops up with a TODO item, by default scheduled for today, with a link back to that e-mail (and any selected text added as well). I write a quick headline, then C-c C-c and it's filed under "Misc" in my work org file. Sometimes I hit C-c C-w to immediately file it under some project heading instead (not much harder because of auto-completion). Since it's scheduled in my work org file, it shows up in my work agenda, which I open every morning and whenever I need a task to do. When I'm working on the task, I might write further notes for that task under that heading. It's all plain text, easily greppable, versioned in git.

I have a non-work org file and capture template too. I go through the non-work agenda a bit more rarely than the work one (spending less time on work is on my non-work TODO), but it's a nice way of sending messages to yourself in the future ("* TODO renew passport SCHEDULED: <2027-01-30 +10y>"). And I feel pretty confident in the system, since I've been using it for over ten years …

If I'm not at my computer and I get an idea or something, I'll typically just send myself a very short message over IRC. I find phone-typing a pain, and rarely have the need to look at my agenda on the phone (though I know there are org-mode phone apps should the need arise).

Wow,thanks! Sounds quite established! And I really like the "send stuff to your future self" ;-) Currently I use calendar entries for such things but thats not quite ideal.

Best of vim and emacs with org-mode http://spacemacs.org

Trello for todo/project items, simplenote/nvalt & pinboard for other notes.

Part of the trick is reviewing & refactoring the trello lists on occasion to make sure the 1-3 boards you look at the most don’t feel unwieldy. Example: I recently threw several lists of wacky ideas and things into an unsorted “someday hell” board.

Ha! I might need to introduce the "someday hell" board... ;-)

Pen and paper. I carry a notebook with me and rewrite the todo list (to a new page) every couple of days.

This makes it very clear what is and what is not a priority. If I rewrite the same thing for tenth time, maybe it's not important after all.

Pretty primitive but I write the notes on my refrigerator with a dry erase marker. Every morning when I make breakfast I read the notes, check off what I've done, prioritize what I haven't and add new to-dos. If I have to travel that day I take a picture of the notes on my phone and save the pic to my gallery.

I find it more satisfying to physically draw a line through the tasks that I finished, rather than check them off a list on my phone. If a task stays on the fridge for more than a week I regretfully discard it as something that didn't need doing.

As a bonus my kids add notes to my list and draw silly pictures beneath some of them.

I Like the "kids add stuff too" - as long as they dont mess with it ;-)

How do you add tasks/ideas/notes on the go?

I keep plain text files in Dropbox. It isn't a perfect solution, but its cross-platform, more flexible, and less annoying than anything else I've tried so far.

I use google Keep to log new notes. Then every morning I move all new notes to a google spreadsheet. The key to a well organized spreadsheet is at least 3 columns. 1 with the date, a second with any meta, and the third with the actual note.

I may have to look into emacs org mode but the above system scales well to potentially hundreds of notes. And if somehow it didn't, I would just add another column.

Ok thanks! So if I understand it right you have a daily routine to "sort-and-review" any recent notes and all of them live in a single spreadsheet to be searchable, etc. I like the simplicity!

I maintain my TODO list in Pocket Informant[1], TODOs are synchronized with toodledo[2] and calendar is synchronized with Google Calendar. I am a strong proponent of moving TODOs to calendar to block out time and understand what I am doing next.

For notes, I am using Notebooks App for iOS[3]. The biggest selling point is being able to synchronize with the directory hierarchy of markdown files via WebDAVS. On the desktop, the same directory can be accessed via applications like Simplenote[7] or nvALT[6]. I use my own web app and even a bunch of shell and Python scripts working with this directory as I like to experiment with information organization features specific to me.

In general, to discover new tools, I like to read UsesThis[4] interviews. It has very good Signal to Noise ratio once you start reading the interviews but quickly levels off as people tend to use mostly the same well-established tools. ProductHunt[5] is low signal-to-noise ratio, with lots of new unproven but interesting tools.

[1] https://www.pocketinformant.com/ [2] https://www.toodledo.com/ [3] https://www.notebooksapp.com/ [4] https://usesthis.com/ [5] https://www.producthunt.com/ [6] http://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/ [7] https://simplenote.com/

Thanks for the links, I didn't know simplenote yet.

I scream them into the endless void.

Used to use a mix of google drive, keep and quiver notebook [1] but it was a pain to manage. Drive and Keep are slow to boot, the search sucks and there's no support for tags. Quiver was nice for programming notes and markdown editing but the mobile client doesn't support editing.

I recently switched to Bear [2] and ditched all of the other apps.

If I have some important tasks and TODOs I try to put them in my google calendar with a specific date and an allotted time. That way I know when it will get done and can make sure that I don't waste too much time on it.

[1] http://happenapps.com/ [2] http://www.bear-writer.com/

How do you like the tagging system of Bear?


Tiddlywiki, because it lives locally, is insanely fast and there's nothing I think easier/faster than it for making notes and todo's are more or less just notes.

I keep all notes and to-do lists in a single system of record. These days it's Asana, but in the past I've used pen and paper, Apple Notes, and other tools.

I use GTD to keep on top of stuff. Once a day I go through everything that's been added to the system but not yet categorized. I move it to the appropriate to-do list or reference document where I'll know to find it later.

I have lists for things like "gift ideas for family", "potential software experiments", "active work projects", "books to read", or "to consider next year". I also have a primary list for things that actively need doing.

Remember, it's not the tool that matters. It's the process and the system.

“Hey Siri, remind me to check if anyone relied to my pull request tomorrow at 9:30am”

Then I rely on he fact that pending iOS reminders sit on my phone lock screen until I mark them as completed. I also use the “remind me again in an hour / tomorrow” options a lot.

When voice commands on phones came out I laughed at this terrible gimmick. I knew this would certainly be in the grave beside 3D TVs.

Now I use voice commands to set reminders every day. With each year, voice tech gets better and I'm proven more wrong. I don't even feel weird using them in public anymore.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go turn on some music with my Echo, and tell my Pixel to record reminders for the week.

Olympus WS-600 dictation device. It's a slim thing about the size of a cigarette lighter, but it has actual physical buttons, and a built-in USB connector to dump it to my laptop. I review it every morning, and depending on the nature of the note, it goes into (a) Google Calendar, (b) a hand-written notebook, (c) an Emacs Org Wiki which I sync between my devices with Syncthing, or (d) the Notes folder for any of my specific projects.

It's the same thing Newt is speaking into in the movie Pacific Rim. I was tickled when I saw that. They're hard to get nowadays; the later 700 and 800 models are bigger, clunkier, and cheaper-feeling.

Have you had any reliability issues? My wife does transcription work and has had multiple models of the Sony and Olympus recorders fail on her. She has her client use his laptop and Audacity right now because of the persistent threat of data loss.

This is what I've been doing for a while, with good results. Step one: get it out of my head. Short reminder sentence in e-mail to myself, or google keep, napkin whatever. Step two: get it out of my head. Periodically (same day, same week) I triage these notes into a single continuously growing brain dump google doc, or a dedicated google doc per subject in a folder if its warranted.

Before I often stressed when I couldn't recall something I knew was important or had been a cool idea. Now I still don't have time to explore 90% of the things I think about, but I don't stress about it.

Great advice! I think thats the main reason I want to use a reliable tool in my process: to be able to get it out of my head without thinking: this is going to be lost ;)

Bullet Journaling with a notebook, Google Voice number with transcripts sent to a specific email alias for ingesting into my gmail inbox with a Notes label (and a contact in my iPhone: "Siri, call My Notes").

I replaced my wallet with this:


It has 3x5 cards and a pen. This is basically my real-world inbox. I jot down notes, recommendations, ideas. The important next step is to regularly empty the inbox, so that useful jottings end up turned into something that gets handled. E.g., times and dates go into my calendar, tasks go into my kanban board, books I might want to read go in my Amazon wishlist, etc.

A diary in Workflowy, per project. The diary is distinct from to-do list (for that I have a separate section in Workflowy, called Projects, and a smartphone to-do app for next actions).

Workflowy seems nice and easy to use. Will check it out!

Evernote. But don't get obsessed by technical details of what tool is best: Evernote, Onenote, Tiddlywiki, etc... Just make sure you have all work/private/short term/long term notes in one place. Preferably accessible via multiple devices so that you can always access them.

And depending on the note type go through them every day/week/month to see if they are still relevant. Some people like to go the whole GTD way but I like to pick just the parts that work for me.

I use mnemonics like memory pegs when I need reminders. I like to be freeform so I also have several small paper notebooks going at once. Daily journal entries and longer stuff goes in markdown files in folders on Dropbox. I like Regexxer or Grep or ag for searching those. Google Keep for longer notes if on my phone. Hi-Q MP3 Recorder for Android if I need to do voice recordings. I don't like transcribing those voice notes later but the recorder software is really nice.

Yep, transcribing voice notes yourself sucks. Did that a few times - however I like recording voice notes so gotta find a solution here too.

I use pen-and-paper for my normal notes about things I want to do.

Until recently I had a section in my notebook devoted to project ideas, but it got a bit unwieldy, and I've switched to keeping those in Markdown: https://gitlab.com/lyndsysimon/ideas

I use Bear alongside my Apple Watch and dictate ideas that I process later under a GTD-like tagging system depending on the type of note.

I usually brainstorm / take notes with OneNote, which lets me type, record voice notes, attach files, and draw when I need to draw (even on my laptop thanks to touchscreens). Once finished I'll go through those notes and turn them into categorized to-dos in the Microsoft To-Do app, adding due dates, reminders and little notes where necessary.

I've been using OneNote too but its grown into a godawful mess.

I dont think I could recover from the mess now.. i just live with it :-(

2do (https://www.2doapp.com) on iOS/Android/Mac, synced to self-hosted CalDav or popular cloud services. Supports audio memos, can parse email to generate todo items, reliable with thousands of tasks, expressive filter queries, regularly updated to use new OS features.


I either use an "ideas" tag in Standard Notes, or have 1 pinned note called "Ideas" or "Journal" that I constantly make updates to.

This is an app I've been building for over a year now. Benefits are encryption + cross-platform sync.

Looks interesting, but I have some off-topic feedback. I really like that sort of website style, but after 5 minutes looking around I found your site quite confusing.

It wasn't initially apparent that there seems to be both a free and (subscription?) paid version, which had me very confused while reading the 'longevity' page as to how a SaaS is going to last forever. The 'Always Free' box isn't very clear that it describes a different product version (no download button, not clearly a standalone feature list) and the text on the far left is basically background noise.

Hmm, I see. Not sure if I'm completely following your understanding though. There is only 1 product version. The paid add-on is a sort of app store that allows you to install extensions on top of the core experience. If you get a chance, please email me at mo@standardnotes.org to explain a bit more. Would be super helpful.

Got it, my 2nd read was that 'Always Free' and 'Extended' were 2 product versions. The only super clear call to action I saw was 'subscribe', the only mention of it being free is buried in a paragraph that's well below the fold. The only mention of it being open source is in the footer.

The download buttons somewhat imply it being free, but it's relatively common for crippled/time-limited versions to be offered like that.

Basically - I think you could benefit from making it more obvious that it's free (and open source), with optional extra paid stuff. Probably a clearer link to the online version as well.

I use standard notes, but I'll be honest, I'm not chuffed about the whole "hosted" plugins system.

Maybe I'm completely off-base, but while SN only ever see the encrypted blobs, editors often (almost always) require me to send over my plain-text to a server which then sends it back to me. That's not really end-to-end... what's the motivation behind the hosted plugins, and not downloading signed binaries/code that operate through a permissions-based API?

An important goal we have is to make sure that the web app and desktop app are 1:1, so that any way you depend on using the app can be accessed any time using a browser. This requires a different, hosted architecture. I don't think this will be its final form however.

In the future, I could imagine for example a desktop app that runs all of the extensions locally (but would mean no web access). But the hosted architecture is not bad. The only remote connection made is when the script is first downloaded. After that, the note editing all happens locally in-frame, and the end-to-end architecture remains intact. The question really becomes, can you trust the script that's initially loaded? This will be up to the user. The editor feature is a layer of convenience that comes at a minor cost of potential privacy, but is no more untrustworthy than the SN web app you load in your browser (assuming the editor is coming from our servers and not some random link).

> Benefits are encryption + cross-platform sync.

Great features but I find the pricing a bit too high (for a consumer product).

Does it have vim bindings?

Yes, you can check out the Vim editor: https://standardnotes.org/extensions/vim-editor

I use Omnifocus because it's very customizable to whatever workflow I want.

But I think the tool is basically unimportant, compared to actually in practice using it daily. Pen/paper, huge file, Evernote, they're all useless if you're not actually doing the work or actually consulting them regularly.

Yep, good point with the regularity! Still, depending on how the tool is able to match my workflow is quite critical I think. And lots of tools trying to enforce their workflow on me ;-)

Going to check out Omnifocus btw..

org-mode. More concretely, using org-capture and org-protocol.

I use a Bullet Journal for all my stuff. Its style of organizing allows to collect all sorts of things.

I tried a lot of TODO and note taking apps and none of it worked for me. Once written down, I remember most of it without looking at my journal.

I write markdown files with Typora, backed up and synced with Resilio sync. I still use Evernote for clipping web sites. I'm working on a web clipper that saves directly to markdown so I can finally ditch Evernote.

Are you building a browser extension for this or how can I imagine using your tool?

Definitely a browser extension for clipping highlighted portions of websites and convenient browser integrations. I don't want to do the conversion to markdown in the extension itself because I also want to do some minimal processing, like download images so the resulting markdown file can be viewed offline. That requires either a desktop application or a service. I've been toying with the idea of integrating with dropbox, google drive, etc so you can choose which folder the markdown file and all supporting material will be saved to. Then you can read and edit the markdown with whatever editor you want. The clipping experience would appear to be entirely in the browser extension, just like with the evernote clipper.

As a UX guy, how would you approach this?

Evernote - I haven't found any other program with such a good capture tool. I also regularly use Google Keep to capture small notes. But all these plaintexts ultimately go to an Emacs org file.

I use a big ass text file and when it grows to about 10,000 lines long I archive it and start again.

I have a history of all of those huge text files which give me great insight into what I have been up to over the years.

http://forwardapp.co/ - we bought the app 'Jot', rebranded it and brought it back for this purpose

Interesting, going to check it out - iOS only so far?

* Ad-hoc tasks likely without immediate dates: Any.do

* Long term notes without tasks or deliverable dates: OneNote

* Short term notes pending a permanent home: Apple's IOS Notes

* Dated tasks: Google Calendar

Nice, did you have a chance to try the "assistant" mode of Any.do?

The "assistant" has made an appearance on really strange tasks that were in my Someday bucket. Like trying to help me by a brassiere, which is something I'd like to take care of myself.

I don't understand how to tap into the assistant from the phone app. If the assistant is evaluating my list without my request, the assistant can't make heads or tails of my tasks and so does not make an appearance.

All in all, not really all that helpful.

Reminders are a combination of calendar, alarm clock, or task items in my mobile and tasks in either Thunderbird for my private life or Outlook at work.

DropVox, and then configure Evernote desktop to auto-import and remove/cleanup the audio file/s at the same time.

Do you get transcripts from dropvox / are they searchable?! (Looking for something like this..)

I use the Clear app on iOS. Simple, means I will use it a lot, and I do.

If I need to voice memo, then I just use the stock voice memos app.

Workflowy! The nested bullet structure is so simple and quick but powerful. If ur a vim head there is also vimflowy.

For things to be done today I email myself.

Anything needing organisation goes into Trello.

Trello. It's the best. Also Google keep is pretty good for one offs.

Google Keep still does not support markdown does it?

Not that I know of. I think its more for less techy types.

It's just quick and easy note app and syncs with cloud with no fuss.

On desktop:

- Resophnotes (using Simple notes backend)


On mobile:

- Google keep (Writing nonote s- Notational Acceleration (Reading notes)

Evernote, moving to notion if it gets android client!

nvALT on the desktop with its text files being in a synced Dropbox folder (so you can access them on mobile through another client).

I use Google Keep.

Wunderlist for tasks... Onenote for notes.

iCloud Notes on the phone, which is convenient from lock screen in iOS 11.

Mix use of iCloud Notes and Sublime Text on the laptop

Google keep, simple and effective.

How do you send a reminder to yourself in the far future? How do you verify your own assumptions if they are not validated with future data?

I bacially want this guy, as a Service.


Google Keep

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