Agenda is a date-based note taking and project management app. It's well-written, easy on the eye and is something of a generalist that could replace many other apps in one go. Notes, journals, to-do lists, projects: Agenda's got it covered.
I like to organise myself and it brings me peace and tranquility, although I often get irritated at the results of that organisation when reminders urge me to do things. I can easily ignore reminders in frustration, lacking the enthusiasm to follow through with them.
That's neither here nor there, though, and today I want to review Agenda, which is by a Dutch company called Momenta BV. The Agenda app has been around for a few years now and its profile has been rising in the collective technical consciousness.
What is Agenda?
At its core, Agenda is a note-taking app, but its USP, if you like, is that it associates the notes you take with dates. That also makes it partly a diary and journaling app. Furthermore, it embraces the concept of projects and checklists, which makes it a lite project management app and to-do list manager too.
Agenda is available for macOS, iPadOS and iOS and you get an excellent trial version for free. For some people, the trial version may be enough but there's a premium version that costs £28.99 for all three platforms. That gives you all the premium features now available and those that are developed in the next 12 months. It's not a subscription as such, but after 12 months you can choose to purchase premium again to get any new premium features developed in the next 12 months.
The first thing to point out is that Agenda is not a Markdown app, although you can export notes as Markdown [Premium]. It's closer to a rich text editor itself, with headings and the text transformations you'd expect in rich text.
I'm not going to go through an exhaustive list of features because you can find that on the Agenda website, but I'll pick some that interest me and run through them here.
I have the premium version of this app, but I'll mark the features I'm reviewing if they're premium features.
The interface follows the same pattern you're probably familiar with from other apps of this nature. There's a left pane with projects and categories, there's the middle pane where you do your editing and then there's a right pane with additional information.
You can open and close the panes as you wish and it's all pleasing enough to the eye.
The left hand pane serves as your library. It is here you can create categories, sub-categories [Premium] and projects. Each project then consists of a series of notes. The notes themselves can be made into checklists or they can have images and attachments linked to them.
The dates tie-in
As I said at the beginning, Agenda is big on dates. You can associate each note with a date and you can also mark notes as On The Agenda. There's a special category you can select to view notes that are On The Agenda and there's also a category for notes with a date of Today. You select these from the left-hand pane and they are effectively searches for notes that fall into either of those categories.
Agenda goes further than that, though. You can link notes to calendar entries. A summary of your calendar is displayed in the right pane (if you give the app permissions to do so) and when you link a note to a calendar entry it will provide a link back from the calendar to your Agenda note.
You can also create calendar entries directly from notes [Premium], so there's a two-way cooperation between Apple's Calendar app and Agenda.
There's a similar tie-in with the Reminders app and this all makes for a smooth integration with macOS, iPadOS and iOS.
One useful aspect is that you can set up a note — as a checklist, maybe — and then save that note as a template. Then in future you can just create a note from that template. This is useful for things like shopping lists and other things you do on a repetitive basis.
As well as the standard organisational elements of categories and projects, you can add tags to notes. There are standard tags that begin with the '#' character and then there are Person tags that begin with the '@' character.
Tags can also have sub-parameters along the lines of '#Main(Sub)'.
This all gives you a rich taxonomy of things you can search and filter on, which brings me on to the next section.
Searching and filtering
Finding specific categories and dates of notes is important and Agenda does a fine job of this. You can search based on tags, people, dates and freeform text. You can also save these searches [Premium] and they are then added to the left-hand pane as overviews.
Import and export
You can import Agenda files, Markdown files, Evernote files and Apple Notes. You can export notes as a PDF file, a rich text file (with or without attachments), a Markdown file [Premium] or an Agenda file.
You can also copy notes as HTML.
There's browser integration with Safari via the share sheet. You can either share a link in an Agenda note or insert text you've selected on a web page.
I currently use Bear Writer for notes, Day One for journaling and OmniFocus for projects and checklists, so I'll be basing my comparisons against these apps.
I think as a pure notes app, Bear Writer is better than Agenda, but Agenda's strong association with dates is a big advantage. For me, the tie-in between my notes and my calendar outweighs everything else and that alone makes Agenda worth it.
Day One is an excellent journalling app but Agenda can fulfil my needs too.
OmniFocus is a rich project and task management app that's far more extensive than Agenda in many ways, but it's fair to say I don't really use most of the features of OmniFocus anyway.
In my particular set of circumstances I can use Agenda to replace three subscriptions with one. Agenda is a jack of all trades for me, but I don't mean that in the derogatory way. It does exactly what I need.
It doesn't matter how many times you tell me I should use specific apps for specific purposes, I'm always searching for the one app that will cover all bases; the Golden Goose, if you like. The advantage of such an app is that it can serve as my 'front page' — the place I go to for most of my organisational needs. I no longer need to flip between three apps. Instead I just go to Agenda to take notes, manage tasks and projects or write my journal. I don't even need to open Apple's Calendar app so often, thanks to the calendar summary Agenda provides.
It's horses for courses. If you have a similar combination of requirements to me, I think you'll like Agenda. It's certainly worth trying out because the free version gives you an awful lot for nothing.
The one area it doesn't replace things for me is with my article writing. My notes about an article go in Agenda but I still do the long-form writing in IA Writer. You certainly could write articles in Agenda but I find IA Writer and Markdown more comfortable for that task.
I like Agenda a lot. It has made organisation tasks much easier for me.
Criticisms and suggestions
I don't have a huge number of criticisms, although there are some things I'd like to see in Agenda.
I'm not all that keen that the undo also navigates. What I mean is that I can undo changes to a note but if I keep pressing undo it'll navigate back to previous notes I've been working on and undo the work there too.
In other words, undo is app-wide rather than note-wide. I'd like perhaps a preference to be able to select between the two modes (where I'd always set it to note-wide, personally).
It would be nice to have a couple more options on checklists. I'd like it to automatically move checked items to the bottom of a checklist. Or, optionally, make checked items invisible (and restorable via an option). This is something I'd like to be able to configure per checklist with the defaults in the preferences.
I believe the one about moving checked items to the bottom is already being considered by the Agenda developers.
You can already select a contiguous range of dates to apply to a note but I'd also like to be able to assign different individual dates to a note. I guess I'm thinking more like OmniFocus here.
I'd certainly like to see a bigger range of import options from other apps. If I look at the apps I'm replacing with Agenda, OmniFocus is perhaps the most complex and I couldn't really expect a straight import from that.
But something like Day One should be doable. What I mean is an import that will take all my journal entries from Day One and import them into dated notes in the project of my choosing in Agenda. As it stands it's just too much effort to manually import all my journal entries from Day One.
Categories and projects
I'm not a huge fan of the distinction between categories and projects in the left pane of Agenda. I find it hard to see the structure at a glance (although that might just be my own incompetence). I'd prefer a more folder-like system where folders can be empty, and thus act as categories, or contain notes and thus act as projects.
Such a system would also take up less space in the left pane. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Agenda has very quickly become my 'central' app, through which a lot of my organising goes. I was deliberating between 4 and 4.5 stars for this but decided to give it 4 in the end. I review my reviews regularly and change ratings as necessary and I think there's room for improvement with Agenda.
None of this distracts from my admiration of the app and how it's perfectly suited to my own particular needs.