I was once an Evernote user since its early days and a premium subscriber for many years. I have used many notetaking apps and bought enough of them – iA Writer, ByWord, Bear, SimpleNote, nvAlt fork of Notational Velocity, etc.
I have moved to a simpler notetaking and writing habit for my notes. I have chosen a simple plain-text life. The idea is to approach contents as data-first with tools on the top. I have grown to like the simple methods I use and the philosophies of managing the files and the directories/folders.
Every device, including ones long gone, and ones not invented yet, can read and edit plain text. - Derek Sivers
My default is to start with Apple’s Notes to add quicknotes, share common family notes, and as a scratch pad for everything. If needed, I transfer and add them to the correct folder along with all of my notes in my Notebook. Right now, I use Obsidian1 to manage my notes. The beauty of this setup is that I can change tools anytime, while my notes remain free of any dependency.
For team writing, I’d be happy to use whatever helps the team write better and easier for everyone.
Plain text is a powerful universal tool that is almost zero cost, work across platforms, are light enough to work remotely over poor connections, doesn’t go out of date, and is quick to learn.
Plain text is software and operating system agnostic. It’s searchable, portable, lightweight, and easily manipulated. It’s unstructured. It works when web servers are down, or the Internet is not working. There’s no exporting and importing, no databases or tags or flags or stars or prioritizing or any other proprietary induced rules on what you can and can’t do with it.
The only additional formatting I’m comfortable adding is Markdown2. It is designed to be human readable. It’s not obfuscated by encoding; you can directly edit the source files with most editors, or edit them automatically with scripts. My own limitation is to stay within the confines of human readability – the Markdown text files should still be readable by someone who has no clue about Markdown.
Of course, Plain Text has its limitations and disadvantages. The User Experience is not that good. It is entirely dependent on the tools that can support it. It has no rules and makes it harder to be disciplined in maintaining them.
You are only truly be digitally free when your notes can stand alone, independent of any one app.
“Our tools and techniques are only as valuable as the workflow.”
Here are a few set of tools, articles, and references that will get you started, stay productive, and lead a simpler, plain-text lifestyle. Read a lot, admire other people’s work, and then form your style, methods, and workflows.
- Articles (Documentation, Methodologies, & Philosophies)
- A Plain Text Personal Organizer
- A template to organise life in plain text
- Achieve a text-only work-flow
- I Still Use Plain Text for Everything, and I Love it
- My productivity app for the past 12 years has been a single .txt file
- Note Taking, Writing and Life Organization Using Plain Text Files
- Plain Text Journaling System
- Plain Text Project
- PlainText Productivity
- The Plain Text Life: Note Taking, Writing and Life Organization Using Plain Text Files
- Todo.txt is a plain text todo workflow, where one can get things done with few keystrokes and taps possible.
- Writing Plain Text by Derek Sivers
- Zettelkasten is a personal tool for thinking and writing. It has hypertextual features to make a web of thought possible. The difference to other systems is that you create a web of thoughts instead of notes of arbitrary size and form, and emphasize connection, not a collection.
- Tools (Apps, Utilities)
- Dendron is a local-first, markdown based, hierarchical note-taking application built on top of VSCode.
- Foam is a personal knowledge management and sharing system inspired by Roam Research, built on Visual Studio Code and GitHub.
- Logseg is another open source knowledge base that works on top of local plain-text Markdown and Org-mode files. Use it to write, organize and share your thoughts, keep your to-do list, and build your own digital garden. It is hugely inspired by Roam Research, Org Mode, Tiddlywiki and Workflowy.
- nb is a command line and local web note‑taking, bookmarking, archiving, and knowledge base application.
Obsidian is a powerful knowledge base on top of a local folder of plain text Markdown files. With Obsidian, your data sits in a local folder. Obsidian works completely offline, internet or service issues will never be your problem. ↩
Markdown is a lightweight markup language for creating formatted text using a plain-text editor. John Gruber and Aaron Swartz created Markdown in 2004 as a markup language that is appealing to human readers in its source code form. It is well established, open, and easy to jump in. ↩