App indecisiveness: writing, notes and GTD apps

For anyone who follows this blog, sorry. Take that as a general sorry, but I'm specifically sorry about my disparate and frequently changing software choices. I looked through some of my old articles, which always scares me anyway, but I chop and change at a frightening rate. This is particularly true of notes, writing and GTD apps.

The problem is I'm always searching for the perfect app, which is further complicated because I usually want apps to do more than their specific remit. I don't know why I want that because in general I support the philosophy that it's better to do one thing right than many things poorly.

Writing Apps

This is probably the easiest genre for me to deal with. I have swapped apps a few times, but not as much as with some other types of app.

In the old days when I rubbed shoulders with the Dark Side (by which I mean Microsoft Windows), I would write everything in Word. Then after switching to the Apple platforms the equivalent was Pages. Somewhere amongst all that I spent considerable time with Scrivener too.

I see these as heavyweight apps and they certainly have their place. I write letters in Pages (and previously Word) and if I were to write a novel or a short story I might still consider Scrivener. None of those three suit me for articles, though. They are all in proprietary formats and, despite each having an array of export options, I need something more universal for articles.

I like writing articles in Markdown, which is becoming a standard of sorts these days. Loads of writing apps support Markdown and that makes anything written in it quite portable.

In my pathological search for multi-purpose apps, I've tried using what are really notes apps to my longer-form writing, but that doesn't really work for me. It can certainly be done — and done very successfully no doubt — but, I dunno, I've never found it comfortable.

Back in 2018 I declared Ulysses the best writing app. I encountered a problem with Ulysses and iCloud that forced a move away from it. It was an Apple problem rather than Ulysses problem, but the move was initiated.

I moved to iA Writer, which I reviewed as favourably as Ulysses. I believe this is the best writing app too. I'm in a quantum superposition of believing that both Ulysses and iA Writer are the best writing app.

This is possible because it's horses for courses. iA Writer suits my purposes better for the way I do things. I work with physical files stored on Github, which I then push and pull across various platforms and into a Static Site Generator (SSG) of my own invention.

This could also be done in Ulysses. It can access external files, but there are limitations. Ulysses gives you the full experience if you store everything in its proprietary database. That's still not much of a limitation because Ulysses' export options are extensive, and you can almost certainly export to any blogging platform of your choice without too much trouble.

I'll be sticking with iA Writer, though. It's an excellent app and I have no compelling reason to change to something else.

iA Writer screenshot
iA Writer

Notes Apps

I will lose my home due to notes apps. They will drive me to drugs, I will spend all my money on heroin and I will live in a cardboard box in the middle of the road.

Here are just a few I've played with over the last few years: Bear Writer, Craft, Obsidian, Evernote, Agenda, Notion, Roam, Standard Notes and of course Apple's own Notes app.

I've been all-in on each of those apps at some point in the last four years. They are all excellent apps and it's only the fine details that separates them. Those details are neither good nor bad — it's just whatever suits your particular purpose at the time.

I have notes everywhere — which irritates OCD Gordy — but my main ones at the moment are Craft and Bear. I'm tempted by Obsidian because I'm old school and it works with real files, but I'm getting fed up with swapping notes apps. I wish software companies would stop making so many good notes apps.

If your main requirement is date-related notes then I'd recommend Agenda, but there's something I've noticed about my use of note-taking apps. Whichever other apps I've been using at the time, I've always been using Bear alongside it. I still more or less stand by the review of the app I wrote in early 2018. It's certainly not the notes app with the biggest feature list (although there's a new editor in the making) and its organisational structure doesn't always work for me, but I just find it a really comfortable app to write in. It's ludicrously cheap for an annual subscription too.

Put it this way, if someone held me at gunpoint and made me choose a single notes app to the exclusion of all others — and, really, someone should do that — I'd pick Bear.

Bear Writer screenshot
Bear Writer

Lists, To-Dos, Tasks and Project Management

This is another area where I've switched apps a few times.

I spent some time with Things, Todoist and for a long time I tried to get Apple's own Reminders App to do what I needed. I found the latter to be substandard and wanted it to do more. Apple have indeed updated Reminders since I first used it, but it's still short of my requirements.

A lot of it depends on your needs. If you just want a few lists then Reminders is certainly good enough. If you want a few more whistles and bells and bit more granular control over tasks, then Things or Todoist might be better.

In the middle of all that I started using Agenda, the notes app I mentioned in the previous section, for all my task management. Its strong date-based format is ideal for that, and it played comfortably with my unrealistic desire to find a super-app that does everything for me.

But what I've always come back to is Omnifocus. I think if you have more complex project management needs, yet they don't warrant full-blown, dedicated project management software, then Omnifocus is the lad you're after.

I don't, as it happens, have complex project management needs these days, at least not normally. I did recently run a big, two year project for the building I live in, though, and the granular control Omnifocus provides was worth the (rather pricey) subscription. I needed defer dates and due dates; I needed the features that allow sequential and parallel projects; I needed the freedom and configurability of the Omnifocus perspectives.

I still have criticisms of Omnifocus. I find its iOS and iPadOS versions are cumbersome and unintuitive. I can never remember how to do things in those versions and I operate mainly by guesswork. The macOS app is fantastic, though.

I'm hoping the upcoming Omnifocus 4 will makes the iOS and iPadOS apps easier to use.

Omnifocus screenshot

So that's where I am with my notes, writing and GTD apps at the moment, at least this morning. Given my record of switching things around I could be on completely different apps by the end of the day.