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How & Why I Use 5 Digital Notebooks to Stay Productive

Bakari Chavanu 09-01-2014

I use five different notebooks. Why? Because each has a distinct purpose or feature that helps me stay productive.


Before arriving at this method I used to dump all kinds of stuff into Evernote or Springpad, but a lack of order meant I would forget what I filed away in those applications. This made me dread opening Evernote because it was so bloated with documents and notes.

After experimenting with many different notebook-keeping strategies I have decided that to be useful, a notebook needs to a have practical purpose, and it needs to be used on a regular basis. I no longer solely rely on Evernote, and find my current solution of five notebooks to be far more productive.

Evernote For Projects

It’s easy to dump nearly everything in Evernote How to Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual Learning how to use Evernote on your own takes a long time. This is why we've put together this guide to show you how to take full advantage of the most important Evernote features. Read More , from grocery lists and web clippings, to huge PDFs. But Evernote can become bloated with too many documents, making it overwhelming to browse and find stuff — even using the search and tagging features.


A few months ago, I started deleting and archiving (explained below) unused notebooks or ones that only had a few notes added to them in the last year or more. That helped me better figure out my primary use for Evernote, instead of using it for everything, as the company recommends.


Because of Evernote’s Reminders and annotation features, I now try to use Evernote for collecting research for major writing projects, event and workshop planning, materials for conferences I attend, book reading notes, job related resources, and important receipts.

The Reminders feature is what makes Evernote more practical to use. For example, when I’m planning a workshop, I can assign reminder alarms to to-do lists and documents that show up on all my Mac and iOS devices. No longer do I have a need for separate calendar alarms or a to-do list application to manage my projects, Reminder alarms in Evernote get linked to relevant documents and notes.

Evernote reminders

To archive a notebook, right-click on it and select Export Notes… in the drop-down menu. Save the resulting .enex file (which can be imported back into Evernote) to your computer’s Finder or external drive.


Evernote archive

NotesTab Pro For Lists

I recently started using NotesTab Pro ( $4.99 Mac version) for a single purpose: to access notes from the Mac menu bar. I use NotesTab solely for creating and reviewing lists of ideas and items that I need to reference while working, or that I compile over time (articles ideas, book lists, useful words and phrases, jazz albums.).

My NotesTab will never become cluttered with notes like the other notebooks I use, and I will always know exactly what is there. If I end up not referencing a note page for on a regular basis, I will either delete it or move it to Evernote.

NotePad app


I also chose NotesTab Pro because it’s multi-platform, allowing me to sync and review content with its iOS version ($0.99).

Snipe For Scratch Notes

I reviewed Snipe Capture Your Quick Notes, Ideas, and Photos With Snipe for iOS & OS X Shortly after I started using Snipe, it got moved to my iPhone and iPad home pages, and to the dock on both of my Macs. Let me show you why. Read More back in October. It is another cross-platform iOS and OS X application [No Longer Available] I use like I would a paper notebook for quickly jotting notes (phone numbers, quotes, ideas) that don’t particularly need to go into Evernote.

Sometimes I remember things better by just writing them down, and Snipe serves that purpose very well. I don’t really need to mange Snipe content that much, but I do tag some items for reviewing them later.

Snipe mac


Diigo: Reading and Annotation Notebook

Instead of bookmarking articles in Evernote that I want to read later (that are not tied directly tied to a writing project) I mainly use the annotation service Diigo Use Diigo To Help Write Your Next College Essay or Term Paper Read More and the read-later bookmarking service Pocket Pocket - The Ultimate Digital Bookmarking Service As Bakari previously reported, the well loved Read It Later - which enabled users to save articles to read later from a bookmarklet or various apps it was integrated with - was discontinued and replaced... Read More  for reading on my iPad.

Gunlawslist 1

Because I can’t share articles from my favorite news reader, Zite directly to Diigo, I use an IFTTT The Ultimate IFTTT Guide: Use the Web's Most Powerful Tool Like a Pro If This Then That, also known as IFTTT is a free web-based service to get your apps and devices working together. Not sure how to build your applet? Follow along with this guide. Read More recipe that automatically sends articles bookmarked in Pocket to my Diigo account, where I can read, highlight, and annotate them later.

By using Diigo as a notebook (online and its iPad app [No Longer Available]) I don’t clutter up Evernote or Springpad with a bunch of website articles that I will probably never review more than a few times. Diigo is cross-platform and it reads great on the iPad Air IPad Mini or IPad Air? Why & How I Use Them Both Recently I purchased the new iPad Air with the intention of selling or passing on my iPad mini. After spending time with both devices, I've realized that I use them both for different purposes. Read More .

Follow Springpad Notebooks

Though I find Springpad more visually appealing Springpad vs Evernote: Why Visual Orientation Matters in an Online Notebook It's easy to understand why there are tons of online and software notebooks out there to choose from: mainly because there is so much information to manage, bookmark, and share in our online and mobile... Read More than Evernote, Springpad unfortunately is not as well supported by other apps as Evernote. I still create Springpad notebooks for several different topics and projects, and I also follow the notebooks (and share my own) of other users, similar to how it’s done on Pinterest The Unofficial Pinterest Guide This Pinterest guide will quickly show you how to use Pinterest and all of its features. This guide outlines everything there is to know about Pinterest. Read More .

Springpad notebook

The iOS version of Springpad [No Longer Available] also reads great on the iPad, but adding content to Springpad is more easily done using its web browser clipper.

The Best Notebook?

There’s no single notebook that can do everything. You may not need to use five different notebooks like I do, but if you find using Evernote or another similar notebook not as productive as you would like, think about what features are missing that keep you from using a notebook effectively. You may end up needing to use more than one, like I do.

Let us know about your digital notebook keeping strategies and what features you would like see added in the above notebooks to make them more useful.

Related topics: Evernote, Note-Taking Apps.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Bakari Chavanu
    January 25, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Himagain, sorry I don't know anything about the Linux system. Wish I had time t o learn it. So none of the above apps work on Linux?

  2. himagain
    January 23, 2014 at 4:54 am

    Oh, Bumb!
    I just got excited at the prospect of improving my notes requirements when I realised this stuff is all for Apple!

    Should be a law requiring a 25 pt disclosure notice at the top of all articles written for that Lower other 7%.

    Linux has about 200 variations...... :-)

  3. Robb
    January 12, 2014 at 12:40 am

    This blog is full of ideas that will help me tackle my own note filing nightmare. My platforms are Win7 and Android. I really like my new HTZ phone and I'm getting faster at input using the swipe method. Thanks for the great ideas and comments.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 13, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Robb. Identifying which applications serve what purpose definitely does help.

  4. Bakari Chavanu
    January 11, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Rick, using Pocket is a good idea. I'm so glad I stopped clipping a bunch of articles to Evernote, which I rarely got around to reading again. Pocket is a much better place. Google Keep sounds like a good idea, but for tasks and lists I'm wondering if Wunderlist, as one reader suggested above, might be better for them? I haven't tried GK yet.

    Also, I didn't list it, but I use Cloud Outliner for creating lists with checkboxes, and then I export them to Evernote where needed. Evernote includes checkboxes, but you can't move them around like you can in Cloud Outliner.

  5. Rick S
    January 11, 2014 at 12:54 am

    I too use the multiple notebooks approach. The heart and soul is Evernote for things that I definitely want to keep and refer to again and again, and for important stuff that isn't online anyway. Google Keep (and Tasks) is for things that are probably temporary in nature. Pocket is for tagging and saving articles I think I may need again sometime, but I'm not sure are worth adding to Evernote. Also use Pocket for things that are likely to be outdated within a year or two. And some things just seem to fit better in Google Drive and Docs or Dropbox. I have a Springpad and Diigo account too, but even after messing around with them some, I haven't yet found a worthwhile way to add them to my workflow.

  6. Phil
    January 11, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Oops -- I left one out -- Evernote.

    I use Evernote when in a hurry, capturing info from websites, and links from my iDevices. It is a great tool, but I keep going back to my big 3 which are use DropBox for syncing between devices.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 11, 2014 at 12:37 am

      I've heard about nvALT, but have never tried it. I think Alfred supports it as well.

  7. Phil
    January 11, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Ah, a fellow multi-note-app person. I thought I was the only one. I've used many through the ages (PC and Mac) and my current favorites are:

    DevonThink Pro (heavy lifter for major files and important records)
    MacJournal (quick records of ongoing projects)
    nvALT (for the literally hundreds of quick notes on things I need to remember) - markdown is a plus!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 11, 2014 at 12:15 am

      Awesome. Multiple notebooks especially work better when they have a clearly defined purpose. It means you spend less time looking for stuff, and it's easier to know where to file alway items. Thanks for the feedback, Phil.

  8. Bart
    January 10, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    You're not really bragging about this are you? I'd be embarrassed to admit to this.

    And you obviously know nothing about OneNote.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Lol, Bart, so you're saying OneNote has all the features I described above? As I say in the article, using only one notebook was counter productive for me. Though I probably use Evernote and NotesTab the most, the other notebooks also serve the purpose I use them for. I'll check out OneNote to what features I've been missing, though the last time I checked, OneNote is not an OS X application.

  9. Nivethitha
    January 9, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Evernote didn't work out for me, it doesn't satisfy me visually for some reason, the same goes for diigo, Springpad just does most of the things for me, it satisfies my vision completely because i choose to go with the dark theme most of the time and its font size is just perfect for me. It supports lots and lots of file types like notes, tasks, books, contacts, events, files... but i still miss the ability to add tables and checklists to a note as it is allowed in evernote or onenote, but i'm overcoming the difficulty with the comments to add some descriptions to checklist and tasks, the commenting facility even makes me encourage myself and create some log/reports to keep track of things with time.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 9, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Nivethitha, thanks for your feedback. I agree, I've always found Springpad more visually appealing. I also should have pointed out in my article I think Springpad includes an alarm feature for notes as well. And by the way, you might want to check out Annotary.com, as a more visual alternative to Diigo.

  10. Elad
    January 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Great post, totally agree with the "multiple notebook" approach.
    But I use Wunderlist for lists (it's great for scratch notes as well).
    And for bookmarking websites and reading articles you really shouldn't be using anything else then Pocket, trust me ;)

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Elad, thanks for feedback. I need to give Wunderlist a try again. I think it's been updated several times since I first gave it a try.

    • Elad
      January 9, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      It has, and you should :)
      They are about to release version 3.0 already but I find version 2 to be a superb app as it is. It's free to use, syncs with any device, it has reminders, sub-tasks, collaborative lists with task assigning, a dedicated desktop app... I really can't find any downsides

    • Jeffrey L
      January 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Elad, definitely agreed with you on your point about Pocket being the king of bookmarking until I read this article.
      I tend to bookmark all videos and articles to Pocket, even ones that I have already read that I might want to review later, but end up cluttering my Pocket inbox. I will think I will look more into Diigo as a bookmarking service for all while saving important must-read articles for Pocket.

      And great article Elad, though it is from an iOS perspective. Wish you could have compared your mentioned iOS apps to similar Android apps. I definitely think you need to check out Google Keep. The location reminders are the bee's knees.

  11. BCross
    January 9, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    At first I thought this sounded ridiculous but then I thought . . .
    I'm using Evernote for saving articles, meeting notes, etc.; Any.Do for tasks, Google Keep for short, quick notes, Our Groceries for shopping lists, and Trello for project planning.

    Hmmmmmm . . . . . . obviously it's not crazy after all!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Lol, BCross, thanks for your feedback. It's great to see that I'm not the only one who uses multiple notebooks. I still need to check out Google Keep.

    • tinkicker
      January 11, 2014 at 1:14 am

      I, too, thought multi-notebooks silly and wasteful of resources when I first found myself splitting up my own note taking routines. I gradually ended up with a setup similar to BCross, with Evernote for the articles and such, GTasks for tasks and grocery lists, Google Keep for the quick notes, and a nebulous conspiracy of various apps for project planning. Now that I've gotten into Trello, I'm seeing it replacing everything in all roles except Evernote for the reference storage.
      Trello is great for task lists and project planning, and I'm experimenting with it on the quick notes front.
      I LOVE the look of Keep...it really looks and feels nice, but the only way to collaborate on lists (I.e. groceries) is through multi-step workarounds, which at best, feels clunky to me. If Google fixes collaboration (and maybe throws in a few more colors) I'll definitely go back to Keep for the quick, moment-to-moment notes. It's sweet.
      So after all is said and done (and if my routines comfortably fit), I'll actually be using only two apps for now: Evernote and Trello.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 11, 2014 at 1:23 am

      Thanks for the tin kicker. I can definitely see how Trello is useful task and planning purposes.