10 Tips to Get the Most out of Apple Notes on OS X

Akshata Shanbhag 31-03-2016

Apple’s Notes app finally has enough power to compete with note-taking giants like Evernote and OneNote.


If you have switched over to Notes Should You Be Using Apple's Notes for iOS and OS X? For the first time since its release, Apple Notes for both OS X and iOS may be worth considering. Read More and use it on a regular basis, you’re sure to have figured out the basics, but we thought you might appreciate a few tips on improving your workflow. So here they are!

Import Your Notes

If you want to bring your notes from Evernote into the Notes app, you’re in luck. You have a hassle-free solution in the form of Larry Salibra’s script (download). It comes with simple instructions.

If you’re using a different note-taking app, you don’t have a straightforward way to import your data into Apple Notes. But don’t worry! You’ll get one soon, because an “import notes” option is coming to Notes in the OS X 10.11.4 update, which is in beta at the time of writing.

Use Checkboxes for Your To-do Lists

Wrapping up a task is that much more satisfying when you can cross it or check it off your to-do list. That’s why we recommend adding checkboxes to your tasks in the Notes app. It’s easy to do.


Place the cursor on any line that makes up a task and click on the Make a checklist icon in the toolbar at the top. This prefixes the task with a blank circle, one that you can mark as checked. Completed tasks are highlighted in orange and with a tick mark.


Love keyboard shortcuts Switching from Windows? Essential Keyboard Tips for Mac Newbies Moving from a Windows PC to a Mac can be a shock in many ways for new users, so here's a quick start guide to adjusting to a Mac keyboard layout. Read More ? Use shift+cmd+l to add a checklist and shift+cmd+u to mark a checklist item as complete.

Add URLs to Notes

The Notes app allows you to store web page links in your notes — quite a convenient option when you don’t want to clutter up your bookmarks Creative Ways You Need to Try to Organize Your Bookmarks But, what really is the best way to save and organize bookmarks? Here are a few creative ways to do so, depending on your style and browser use. Read More . You can simply copy-paste a URL to a note. Then hit the spacebar or the Enter key to make the URL clickable.


If you stumble across a link while browsing and would like to save it to one of your notes, you can use the OS X Share feature to send the URL directly to the right note in the Notes app.

When you’re on any web page that you want to save, click on the Share icon in Safari’s toolbar and select Notes from the menu that appears. You’ll then get a dialog box where you can select a note and save the link to it.


Use Makeshift Tags

There’s one thing that Apple hasn’t introduced to notes — tags. If these are a regular part of your workflow, you’ll have to make do with a hack. Go ahead and use hashtags in your notes and then search for them using the search box in Notes or using Spotlight Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More , to filter notes based on hashtags.



Get Expressive with Emojis

It’s the era of emojis What Does This Emoji Mean? Emoji Face Meanings Explained Confused by the emojis in that text message you just got? Here are the commonly accepted meanings of popular emojis. Read More . If you want to add an emoji to a note, here’s the quickest way to do that: hit cmd+ctrl+space to bring up the emoji keyboard and click on any emoji of your choice. This shortcut is not limited to the Notes app. It’s works in various text fields across OS X.


Look at Notes without Squinting

The default font size in Notes on OS X is ridiculously small. Unfortunately that’s how it’s going to stay till Apple adds a setting to increase font size across the app.


For now you’ll have to content yourself with increasing font size on a note-by-note basis. To do this, select any note text and click on Format > Font > Bigger. You can also scale text up and down faster with two shortcuts: cmd+plus (for scaling up) and cmd+minus (for scaling down).

Speed up Formatting with Keyboard Shortcuts

The usual shortcuts for emphasizing (cmd+b), italicizing (cmd+i), and underlining (cmd+u) text work in the Notes app, so you can continue using them to keep your workflow fast and smooth. In addition to these shortcuts, you might want to start using the following to make text formatting easier:

  • shift+cmd+t to use the Title style
  • shift+cmd+h to use the Headline style
  • shift+cmd+b to use the Body style

Every note begins with a standard font style, which you get to pick via Format > New Note Starts With. Your options are Title, Headline, and Body.

Make Your Notes Portable

Your notes don’t need to stay stuck within the Notes app. You can export them as PDFs using the File > Export as PDF… option in Notes, or as a bunch of plain text files using Notes Exporter.


Sync Notes with Your Email Account

Because Notes is a part of the Apple ecosystem, your notes are pushed to your iCloud account. It doesn’t hurt to check that everything is configured properly on your Mac. To do that, go to System Preferences > iCloud and ensure that the checkbox next to Notes appears selected.


You don’t have to keep your notes synced with iCloud. You can sync them with your Gmail account by going to System Preferences > Internet Accounts. There, select your Gmail account from the sidebar and in the list of applications on the right, check the box next to Notes. Your notes then appear as emails in Gmail, and are tagged with the label Notes.

You can also back up your notes to any other email account instead of Gmail. All you have to do is check the Notes option for the right email account under System Preferences > Internet Accounts. This feature has been around for quite some time.

Find Notes Faster

You can scan folders or the list of notes in them to find a note, but there are a couple of simpler ways to get the same result:

1. Use the Attachments Browser

Image thumbnails are easier to scan and identify than a bunch of text snippets. If the note that you’re looking for has one or more attachments, you can find the note via any of its attachments. To do so, first open the Attachments Browser by clicking on the grid icon in the toolbar or by pressing the keyboard shortcut cmd+1. Now right-click on the attachment whose note you’d like to open and select Go to Note from its context menu to jump to the note.


2. Use Spotlight

If you love the speed of Spotlight Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More for accessing everything on your Mac, use it to search your notes as well. You don’t need a keyword that’s part of the note’s name to locate the note. Any keyword from the body of the note will also do. Of course, the number of results will vary based on the precision of your keywords.

Do You Use Apple Notes?

Notes does lack a few features that could be super useful. Tags, Markdown support Learning Markdown: Write For The Web, Faster Markdown is the best way to write in plain text but still create complex documents. Unlike HTML or LaTex, for example, Markdown is simple to learn. Read More , and sort options, for example. Despite these missing features, Notes is on the right track to become a primary (and perhaps only?) note-taking app for many people immersed in the Apple ecosystem.

Will you be ditching Evernote? Have you discovered any hidden features or hacks while exploring Apple Notes on OS X?

Related topics: Apple Notes, Note-Taking Apps, OS X El Capitan.

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  1. Marcio Paiva
    June 17, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Akshata,
    If I attach any iWork file to Apple Notes I cannot open and edit this file from Notes without creating a copy. This is not happening when I try to edit a Microsoft Office file attached to a note. It works great. Any clue?

    Thanks and congratulations for your article.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 26, 2019 at 3:14 am

      Hi Marcio,
      I tried to attaching an iWork file to Notes and editing it from the Notes app. It worked as expected for me and did not create a copy as you've described. I'm not sure what the problem could be. Maybe the original iWork file is temporarily locked or read-only or saved in a folder where you have limited privileges or something like that?

  2. Ron
    December 29, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Love everything about Notes but can't live without tags.

  3. lee
    November 17, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I love the simplicity too, however I find the folder view (left hand panel) quickly becomes very cluttered and difficult to work with.

    One work around I've found thats really working for me is to create a makeshift alphabet divider system amongst the folders. By creating one folder for each letter of the alphabet, it turns your folder view from this:


    To this:


    and so on...

    Much better.

    • Akshata
      November 17, 2017 at 8:37 am

      That's a neat idea. I'll give it a shot myself. Missing tag support isn't helping matters any :)

    • Simon Kennedy
      February 18, 2018 at 7:55 am

      Lee that's such a great simple tip. Thanks so much for sharing. Cheers, Simon

  4. larrymcj
    February 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    Nice article! Long ago I ditched the behemoth Evernote for Microsoft OneNote, but when Apple last updated Notes, I just had to make the switch. For the most part, I'm very happy I did, especially for the simplicity of Notes and it's deep integration into the Apple ecosystem.

    As the author pointed out, tags are missing (very big omission I think we'll see remedied soon), as well better text configurability. The biggest problem with Apple Notes (for me, anyway) is still the simplistic sharing method from a website. It pales in comparison to the sharing methods of Evernote or OneNote, but I don't see this changing, so I've just learned to use it to the best of its abilities.

    If you're looking for a note-taking solution that is more simplified than Evernote and OneNote, integrates better with all your Apple devices, then look no further than Apple's own Notes.

  5. Ian
    February 4, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    While I've used Evernote for years I haven't enjoyed the experience on Mac or IOS. Today I've completed my transfer to Mac Notes and I'm already enjoying the speed and simplicity.

    I would like to be able to save urls to notes within specific folders as I used a folder structure for most of my notes.

  6. Theo
    August 24, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Just replaced evernote with notes... wow I've been using evernote since 2008!! Started migration yesterday, and cancelled and ended my Evernote Account today.

    I've seen Notes get better and better. I'm sure that apple sees the potential of notes!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      August 31, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Can't wait to see how the Notes app turns out in Sierra! It will finally have a Preferences section.

      • Michael K
        December 24, 2016 at 1:54 am

        Not that great it turns out: If you're using Notes across multiple iOS and OS X devices, you may have experienced that syncing from macOS to iCloud/iOS no longer works, whereas syncing from iOS to iCloud/macOS still works:

        Notes has become useless — and given Apple has restricted internally (putting more resources toward iOS rather than macOS based on current news reports (Bloomberg and Are Techinca), I don't expect things to get better. Very disappointing — I moved back to my old system, abandon Notes altogether, and never to return to it again — Apple just can't be trusted with its core apps. ;)

  7. Brian Topping
    August 8, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Apple unfortunately has a history of core apps like this being "simple". Just as much as one user would like math or legal support, as a programmer, I'd like markdown support, and there's of course a lot of people that would be confused by any of these.

    It would be great if the lowest common denominator did not always win. Support across all devices is great, but it can't come at the cost of functionality required to for domain experts to be productive.

    • Simon Kennedy
      February 18, 2018 at 8:08 am

      Brian I couldn't agree more. Apple just seem lazy to me. Just build in all the features in the first place, make the basic template app classic Apple simplicity; and then let the rest of the users add features from a separate menu?
      Geez that was hard......?

      • Joe
        August 11, 2018 at 9:35 am

        "Brian I couldn't agree more. Apple just seem lazy to me. "

        Not lazy. GREEDY.

        While Tim Cook and the main Apple Board/ institutional stockholders are making a bloody fortune selling crappy game apps to the third world, they have COMPLETELY lost the focus of building and upgrading / or allowing expanded feature sets into applications on the Mac.

        Of course they have no problem throwing millions at far Left SJW and gay BS, and now literally are working with FANG, destroying the digital footprint of people who are too critical (Alex Jones) while leaving up rabid anti semites / America haters like Farrakhan on iTunes.

        Or denying GAB the right to distribute an app, using the excuse that NSFW tags aren't enough, while leaving GRINDR & TUMBLR to promote all the porn and risky sex you can dream of.

        I will NEVER buy a new Apple product till Tim Cook is gone and the company does a 180.

  8. Jonathan
    July 26, 2016 at 12:51 am

    Let's give Apple our requests to make it better (I'm replacing Evernote with it, and wishing for highlight in search, emails into Notes, as others here have also suggested)

    There is no dedicated feedback link for as such, so this should be the relevant link:

    The more people that request these options, the more likely they will be implemented! :-)

  9. Michael K
    July 13, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    One flaw with the export to PDF feature: when you "clip" URLs to your note app, using the browser Share extension, the link works fine from within the Notes app. However, when you export the respective note to PDF, the URL is truncated to the top-level domain only, not the actual article "clipped." ( I tried this with many notes, each with multiple links.)

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Yeah, I noticed that recently, Michael. I thought that was a one-time thing first. If you ever stumble across a workaround for that, do share it with us.

  10. raj
    June 25, 2016 at 12:21 am

    In previous versions of Notes on iPhone and iPad, when searching for a keyword in a note and after your found the note containing it, the program would scroll to the location of that keyword in the note and highlight it, so you could easily find the keyword *inside* the note. This no longer works in the latest version, making the latest version of Notes useless for searching, if your notes are long. Sigh.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 28, 2016 at 7:29 am

      I know...changing that behavior doesn't make sense at all.

  11. Brian
    March 31, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Hi - I'm keeping one-off projects on Evernote but migrated all my other notes to iCloud. I wish it were possible to forward emails to Motes to capture them as in Evernote.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      April 2, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      Notes is getting better, so let's hope that even forwarding emails will be possible soon.