Not all notes are created equal: What are the jobs of our note-taking apps?

The quest for the perfect note-taking application: A never-ending saga full of excitement over the new shiny app followed by disappointment when the new-found love fails to meet a need I just realized I have to solve. I really tried them all. But they all ended up sucking in one way or the other. But as I putting down some of my thoughts around jobs-to-be-done, I realized that note taking is in fact a solution to a multitude of problems. There are many cases when taking some notes is the the answer, but understanding the question can help one in choosing between one approach and the other. 

That led me to thinking about my own set of jobs for note-taking. This is not meant to be a guide on note taking, but as a personal example on how a simple tool (in this case notes) can serve a lot of jobs. Here we go: 

Notes for Learning

I take a lot of notes to remember the things I learn. I wrote about my approach in the previous posts and my tool of choice in this case is OneNote. When I am taking notes from books or articles I need to be able to define a hierarchy & I need a blank canvas that I can fill with info the way I want it. OneNote gets the job done for most part. The software is not perfect for me mainly because Microsoft is pushing the software as a general note-taking tool rather than one focused on education.


I am also journaling every day. It helps me put my thought on paper and it is one proven practice to improve one’s mood. In this case a calendar-based approach and ease of use is what I need and trying to use OneNote would be overkill. For these types of notes I am using Day One. Most of the time on mobile. 


I am not a terribly good writer but my job forces me to write a lot. I write long emails, announcements and blog posts. With writing I need a distraction free space, workflow tools, basic organization and stats around the words I am putting down. I tried a lot of approached before settling for Ulysses


A lot of what I do is problem solving. It’s what a product manager does after all. And that usually involves a lot scribbling. In my case nothing beats a white sheet of paper and an old fashioned fountain pen. 

Capturing Ideas

Communication ideas is another core activity for me. As I work with people from all over the globe, making myself understood is is a core concern. And pictures beat words almost all the time. For this task I am a heavy user of Paper. I use it on my iPad to illustrate what I am thinking about. I use some of my drawings as illustrations for my blog posts. 

Shopping list

When I go shopping I want to access the list quickly and make edits with a few gestures. I tried using the basic Note app from Apple but there is too much typing involved. For this purpose alone I am using Clear. Some may look at it as a todo-list. For me this is the shopping list :)

Note-taking is an activity that can help you in many ways. Focusing on the tool and missing the job the tool does for you can lead to frustrating experiences. This post is meant to be an illustration of a concept. Not a recommendation of tools and processes.