From Shiny OneNote to Boring Plain Text

I have been taking notes since I remember. We all write to keep things for later, gather and keep information, remember and remind things, catalogue our thoughts, etc. Everyone has their own style or reason for taking notes.

I also use notes as my short term and long term memory as my biological one is a bit faulty!

I take notes on the latest books or articles I read, how to do things at work, processes, discussions with people, how-to’s, project notes, meeting notes, tasks lists, todo items, etc.

Many years ago when I started taking notes seriously it was all on Evernote. After a few years I moved to the shiny OneNote as it had more features and better abstractions for organisation (folders, notebook, sub page, etc.). Recently I even used to write hand written notes on my tablet with a pen. It has served my well but I wasn’t entirely happy! No particular environment or program is best for any one person.

One weekend with the help of some buggy VB script I converted most of my notes from OneNote to plain text. BOOM! You might be asking why?

I have to stress that this subject is highly preferential. Every one’s style and needs of note taking and expectation of tools is different. Plain text is not for everyone.

Why plain text

Short answer:

I get distracted on busy, mixed formatted text with colours, multiple fonts, menus and different options! I also want full control over my notes (where they are, how they look, what structure, what format, etc.)

Long answer:

  • Nothing can beat its simplicity in terms of aesthetic and structure of your choice (main reason)
  • It’s not limited to any text editor or tool. You choose your tool or change tools easily. You can read and edit on a shiny MacBook pro as well as Windows 98 VM or command line. They all show the same thing. (second reason)
  • Plain text is flexible. You can convert it to any format you want. You can apply formatting to it as you want: Markdown, asciiDoc, reStructured, etc. but still the raw content is yours.
  • It’s fully searchable. I hated search function of OneNote! I can even search faster in command line.
  • As developers we deal with plain text all the time in code, in command line and everywhere so why not note taking?! You can version control as well 😀
  • Full control of where notes sit (which note provider or cloud server or version control)

Tooling

Now that all the notes are in plain text I can organise them in folders, some that are more important or permanent become Markdown otherwise it stays .txt. Images have their own folders. For now everything is in a Github private repo and I use VSCode with a bunch of command line aliases for quick access to certain notes and searches (you can also auto commit if you want but I do not)

For plain text or Markdown you probably still can use EverNote and there are many many other options such as  SimpleNote, iAWriter, Notion or native apps in different platforms (e.g. Apple Notes) but the above simpler approach keeps me happy for now.

P.S I still use Google Keep for quick notes when not behind a laptop.

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