Look at the Engine, not the Color of the Car

How I realized it isn’t the app, but the system

I wanted to write to you about note taking apps, I had a whole plan to go over the different apps and what issues I had with them. I thought is was going to be a great post to share with you all. By the time I got it halfway written though I realized that the common denominator wasn’t a missing feature lack of Markdown support or the inability to export notes properly. No, the problem with me not finding a good note taking app was me.

Maybe this has happened to you too. You search for a great note taking app–or task manager, etc.–where there’s so much saturation in the app market that you basically have infinite choices. So, you start downloading the usual suspects. For notes it’s usually Bear, Evernote, Apple Notes, OneNote, Agenda, GoodNotes, Notability, and I am sure there are some that I missed but that’s my whole point. You download a boat load of apps in the hopes that you find one that instantly “clicks” with you.

As someone that has used all of the apps listed above, I still went ahead and downloaded them all again to try them out in hopes that I will magically love an app I previously didn’t.

I went ahead and fired them all up and within the first few minutes using them I remembered why these apps “weren’t a good fit for me.” It was like I was looking for a used car, nit-picking every small ding and scratch having higher expectations than what reality can afford me. One by one I gave it a thumbs down a la Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator.

I was left without a note taking app once again. Naturally, I was frustrated that there wasn’t an app developer that thought just like me about notes. That was when I realized that I truly didn’t know what I wanted in regards to note taking. I don’t have a trusted system in place to save my notes, I don’t have a strong philosophy about what is or isn’t good note taking hygiene. Frankly, I only thought about the note taking app and not the system. To continue the used car metaphor, I only cared about the color of the car, not the engine.

The best advice I have gotten regarding how to find a trusted system is to start with as minimal as you can until you start hitting walls. Once that happens start looking for more robust soltuons. With that in mind, I will be using the Apple Notes app for now in hopes that it will give me an idea of how I want my note taking system to be, and if I decide to go elsewhere I can do so without much friction. Bear, Evernote, and a slew of other apps that are candidates for me have tools to import Apple Notes in without issue.

I don’t have a timeline set for myself for when I will have my system in place, but I hope with this approach whatever I decide will stick more than what I have been doing previously.

If you are in the same boat as I was, searching for the perfect app that meets your needs, maybe stop looking at the color of the car and start looking at the engine. Lift up the hood and really figure out is it is the app that is the problem or your system.


One thing I didn’t mention in this article was email apps, and for good reason. Shawn Blanc and The Sweet Setup have created an awesome course on handling your inboxes. It’s called Calm Inbox.

Email is a primary example in the course but I took what was taught in that course and have been using it for all of my inboxes. Things like email, RSS feeds, News, and more have all been maintained since I got an early preview of the course. If you are interested, I highly recommend checking out Calm Inbox and see if it is a match for you.