How to choose the best note taking app: the essential guide

Why you should use a note taking app: the benefits of building a note taking habit

You might have come across this guide to the best note taking apps because you’re well-versed in the benefits and advantages of personal knowledge management already. (In that case, you’ll probably want to skip on down this page to the note taking apps for advanced power users.) But if you’re new to the world of note taking and personal knowledge management— welcome! Delighted that you’ve found your way here.

📝 Not sure about the difference between personal knowledge management and note taking? Check out my guide to personal knowledge management to learn more.

If you’re a student or academic, you’re probably already well-aware of the benefits of note taking for learning, teaching, and studying. But if you’re done with school, you might be wondering if you really need to build a note taking habit as a professional adult. Is note taking just for students and learners?

Note taking can benefit you at any stage of life

Choosing one main note taking app cuts through the overwhelm and helps you stop losing ideas amidst the chaos. When you have a single, dedicated note taking app where you can store your ideas, drafts, and plans, work feels more effortless and has less friction. Building a note taking habit can make you more productive (even on days where you’re exhausted and struggling to get work done).

Building a note taking habit will help you:

😴 Feel like you're too tired to invest the time in building a note taking habit? Discover how note taking and personal knowledge management can help you stay productive even when you're beyond exhausted.

What features should you consider when choosing a note taking app?

Choosing the right note taking app is a highly personal journey— and finding the “perfect” note taking app won’t be the magic bullet to finally feeling organized (it’s about system, not software). But you want to find a note taking app that you feel comfortable with, that meets your current goals, and helps you be more productive with your work.

🧠 Are you a curious learner and systems thinker? Discover why focusing on the structure of your note taking system (instead of app choice) will ultimately help you build a more sustainable note taking habit.

Here are a few features to consider as you browse through these note taking software options:

Platform

You need to be able to use your notes where you do your work. Consider your work computer, home computer, and mobile access.

Speed

Opening up a note taking app should be as quick and effortless as grabbing a blank piece of paper. Your note taking app should move at the speed of thought.

Reliability

Your note taking app needs to be safe, reliable spot to stash ideas and plans. If you can’t trust your note taking app to reliably save your notes and ideas, you won’t feel comfortable building a note taking habit (and will keep on storing ideas in your head instead of your personal knowledge management system).

Aesthetics

You should enjoy spending time in your note taking app. Aesthetics are a highly personal choice (for example, witness the many diverse, beautiful themes available for Obsidian Notes). The important thing is that you find your workspace a pleasant spot to spend time.

📓 Check out this post on the essential elements of a sustainable note taking system based on the Calmer Notes framework to learn more.

The #1 note taking apps by platform, feature, or use case

Choosing the right note taking app is a hugely personal process. That’s why I have an entire module devoted to the process of mindfully, strategically choosing the best note taking app for your own individual use case in my Calmer Notes: Mindful Personal Knowledge Management for Curious Thinkers course. However, we all need somewhere to start— and I don’t want you to fall victim to analysis paralysis! All of the note taking apps below are high quality options to get you started— you can always refine your note taking workflow and system setup as you go forwards.

The best free note taking app

Notion

Website: http://www.notion.so

📝 Want to explore other note taking apps similar to Notion? Check out this roundup of Notion alternatives for note taking.

The best note taking app for Windows & PC

One Note from Microsoft

Website:  http://www.onenote.com

💻 Want more options for note taking apps on Windows, PC, and Surface? Check out my blog post on the best note taking apps for Windows and PC.

The best note taking app for Mac

Bear Notes

Website: https://bear.app/

🍎 Want a deeper dive? Check out this blog post on the best note taking apps for Mac.

The best note taking app for iPad & iPhone

Ulysses

Website: https://ulysses.app/

📱 Looking for more note taking options for iOS? Check out my roundup of the best note taking apps for iPad.

The best note taking app for Android (aka Google Keep alternative)

Joplin

Website: https://joplinapp.org/

🤖 Looking for more options for note taking in Android? Check out this blog post roundup of the best note taking apps for Android.

The best cross-platform note taking app

iA Writer

Website: https://ia.net/writer

The best Evernote alternative note taking app

Nimbus Note

Website: https://nimbusweb.me/

🐘 Looking for other apps similar to Evernote? Check out this roundup of Evernote alternatives from Lifehacker.

The best note taking app for advanced, power-user note takers

Obsidian MD

Website: https://obsidian.md/

💎 Want to learn more about Obsidian? Check out my step-by-step guide on how to use Obsidian Notes.

The best note taking app for collaboration

Notion

Website: http://www.notion.so

Which note taking software should you choose?

Choosing a new note taking app can feel both exciting and overwhelming. You want to pick the right software, but you don’t have hours and hours to spend going down the rabbit hole of research.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck in analysis paralysis, I recommend you take a step back and try to get a broader picture of your reasons for searching for the best note taking app in the first place. Getting clear on your own goals and pain points is the missing key to finding the right note taking app (for you).

💡 Here's an article to get you started on how to identify your own unique goals and purpose for building a note taking system.
💻 Feeling overwhelmed by choice? The Calmer Notes course comes with a curated Notion database of note taking apps you can filter by feature and platform to find your perfect fit.
Wishing you all the best on your note taking and personal knowledge management journey!

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