What’s the best notes app? (Second brain?)

December 12, 2021

People often ask me what’s the best notes app, or which notes app I use, or what features a good notes app should have.

For most people, it doesn’t matter much. Sure, there are some basics. You want to use a notes app that:

  • Is available on all of your key devices
  • Allows for some organization, for example with tags or folders
  • Has a good search function

But pretty much all notes app meet these criteria. Beyond this, it comes down to what you need your notes app for. What problems do you need it solve?

This is a good opportunity for me to emphasize the need to ask why you’re doing something (e.g. looking for a new notes app) and to remind you not to go looking for problems to solvewhen no problems exist.

Sure, if you’re an academic researcher and you read three papers a day, take copious notes, refer back to those notes for your own research, and then cite a huge list of literature in your own journal submission—you need a heavy-duty note-taking app. You might use Mendeley or even go with DEVONthink.

In that case, there’s a good reason for selecting the right notes app:

  • You want to keep track of what you read and what you thought of it
  • So that you can produce better research
  • So that you can get more papers published
  • So that you elevate your profile as an expert in your area
  • And so you can make a bigger impact with your research

That’s a nice “chain of why” right there.

Most of us don’t need to take such elaborate notes, though. It’s fashionable to talk about having a “second brain”, but do you really need one? I find my first brain quite capable at making connections, having ideas, and being creative.

Sure, it helps to write down information I might only need to access a few times a year, to write down the agenda for the meeting I’m about to have, or to keep a list of furniture I might want to buy for the new apartment I’ll be moving into in a few weeks. But I don’t need an extreme level of organization for that.

Unless you have a special use case, the best notes app is the one you like to look at and the one that’s easy to use. It’s that simple.

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