Best Digital Note Solutions

Over a course of around 4 years, I have jumped from platform to platform, deperately in search of an elegant and effective digital note taking solution for my personal and professional needs. I needed to find something that would allow me to make messy notes and to-do lists for school while at the same time having a structured, organized system for various professional and personal development projects. Below is a synopsis of my journey in searching for this holy grail as well as my current solution that I have found to work the best. If you are more interested in a list of these to browse for yourself, simply scroll to the bottom of the post.

TL; DR: I looked for a really long time to find good digital notebooks and here is what I found.

My Exploration and Current Setup

Initially, I did things the old fashioned way and simply added my thoughts and ideas to a paper notebook. However, me being a perfectionist, there were several flaws to this approach. One major gripe for me was the inability to erase mistakes or reorganize parts of my notes without having to physically alter the page and leave a less-than-ideal aesthetic in my once decent looking notes. Another problem was the disconnect between my workflow and the notes themselves. Having to go from computer to notebook and being limited to my shitty writing speed broke any kind of flow that I had sustained.

After some light research, I found Google Keep to be a nice solution to my situation. It was simple, colorful, easy to use, and good looking, something that is very important to me as a cluttered or ugly looking workspace can easily kill my productivity. I was able to color-code my notes based on whatever category I wanted to place them into and I could archive old ones that I didn’t necessarily want to delete but still could hold on to for the future. Nevertheless, as I matured and realized the evil non-private nature of the system due to Google’s ability to scrape my notes’ information, I looked for better solutions.

At this point of realisation, I already had some experience with self-hosted services, such as NextCloud, Minecraft Servers, and some simple web apps. Therefore, having my own self-hosted note solution was the next step in expanding my service catalogue. I looked for quite a long time, trying to find something that would be effectively the same as Google Keep while allowing me to host my own instance. However, the only thing I found that was somewhat similar was Turtl, which I tried and did not like due to its clunky nature.

Trilium Notes would eventually come out on top for being the closest to what I wanted after I changed my expectations for what I wanted in a notes app. It had a wonderful hierarchial-based notes system with the ability to make neverending trees of notes. You could also embed media and make rich text changes, all within a globally accessible web interface that could be accessed from any one of my computers, phones, or workstations. However, this solution did have one caveat, which was that it was… ugly :disappointed:. This is a subjective opinion, but all I will say is that the interface of this application certainly didn’t lend any help to my workflow.

After using Trilium for around 3 to 4 months, I had grown to like the idea of a tree of notes. This concept allowed me to dramatically increase the ammount of organization I was able to do with my notes. However, Trilium began to annoy me for several reasons, the most important of which include having no practically usable mobile interface, being ugly (again, subjective but I believe true), and being a bit too complicated for my needs. I searched again for a suitable solution and after some demoing I settled for… markdown files. Yes! I had been looking for web apps and self-hosted soltuons this whole time when what I really needed was the most simple system of them all: folders and files on my computer. I now use Typora to edit these files but if I wanted to I could use any text editor or markdown editor on any computer that I have my Notes folder syncronized to. This also has the advantage of being accessible on mobile and the editing experience I have on there, while not the best, is far better than what Trilium provided (Google Keep had the best though, with a web clipper that made my life so much easier).

For the future, I hope for some of Typora’s flaws to be resolved (minor gripes) and I also forsee myself using some other peice of software for project management, as while Typora has been nice so far for this, I like the idea of using Notion or Wekan as a proper project tracking platform that is more than just a simple collection of .md files.

List of Solutions (Unranked)

Local Solutions

Cloud Solutions

PS: Never rule out the posibility of using a physical notebook! These are tried and testes and can be perfect for the right situation such as a class or a large project.