After months of professional chaos, I stumbled across a free note-taking app that will make 2019 my most organized year yet

google keep androidiJeab / Shutterstock.com

  • As Business Insider's international correspondent, I am constantly juggling a dozen different tasks, from planning out itineraries, taking notes during interviews or experiences, prioritizing my workload, or jotting down some observation about a place on the go.
  • I've tried a lot of solutions to keep track of everything I do, from using Evernote to keeping a series of hard-copy notebooks for different tasks.
  • Since switching to Android in November, I decided to try Google's note taking app, Keep Notes. I've found its dead-simple, highly visual interface to be, by far, the most comprehensive and powerful free note-taking solution on the market.
  • Behind the easy-to-use interface are dozens of useful features like collaborative notes, reminders, quick to-do lists, voice notes, and more. I'd recommend it to anyone trying to get more organized and productive in the new year.

My New Year's resolution started early this year.

After switching to Android in November after over a decade on iOS and iPhone, I was determined to find a better note-taking/organizing/journaling solution than the mishmash of hard-copy notebooks, iOS's Notes app, and Google Docs that I've been using for the last few years.

As Business Insider's international correspondent, I'm constantly traveling around the world while juggling a dozen different tasks, like planning out itineraries, taking notes during interviews or experiences, prioritizing my workload, and jotting down some observation about a place on the go.

The combination I was using was making me more disorganized than organized. I had some observations in one app, another in Google Docs, and my to-do lists and interview notes in my notebooks. To put it simply, I lost or misplaced a lot of notes or I would find myself in a desperate scramble to find one note or another when trying to write a story. It was no fun.

My first instinct was to use Evernote, as I'd used it before. But during my last stint with Evernote several years ago, I found the interface too complicated for the quick observations and to-do lists that I am most often writing down. It's probably most useful for intensive tasks like say, writing a book, as Insider Inc.'s Global Editor-in-Chief Nich Carlson once did. Some of the best features are hidden by a premium paywall. I wasn't ready to commit to a for-pay solution.

After reading through my colleague Kaylee Fagan's rundown of popular note-taking apps, I settled on Google Keep Notes. It was the best decision I've made in a long time.

A few reasons why:

1. It works the same everywhere

Google Keep Notes works exactly the same on every platform, from iOS to Android to its web app at keep.google.com.

When I switched from iOS to Android, all of my iOS notes were suddenly trapped on my old phone and my iCloud account. I was determined to not get stuck like that again.

google keep, searchGoogle Play Store

Other note-taking apps I've used in the past work only on smartphone. Having a web version means I can quickly get access to my story notes or observations when I come back from a day of interviews and am ready to sit down and write up my draft.

2. The interface is simple, lightweight, and visually appealing

I've found that encourages me to use the app more often. It's literally one click to start a note.

Whereas in the past, I found myself whipping out my hard-copy notebook to jot a note or a list, I now find myself opening up Keep because of how easy and quick it is to use.

Google Keep checklistsScreenshot / Business Insider

The app supports every kind of note you might want to take, including to-do lists, images, text, voice, drawings, maps, and even webpages you want to remember.

Even more amazingly, if you take voice notes - I take a lot for talking out story ideas - Keep Notes converts all voice memos to text so you can read over them later.

The simplicity of the app can occasionally be annoying. It's impossible, for instance, to have a note that is both text and a checklist. In addition, the app doesn't support rich text like bold or italics, two features I like to use to visually signal what's important in a note.

Still, it's a small price to pay for how easy and useful the app is overall.

3. The organizational system is best-described as controlled chaos, just the way I like it

google keep 1Google Play Store

The interface most closely resembles a cork board covered with different-colored notes. It allows you to scroll through and quickly find the note you are looking for without so much as typing a search or cycling through folders.

Some people might find this organization system to be chaotic, but I've found it to be adaptable to multiple levels of organization. It all depends on how much thought or customization you want to put into the app.

Notes are able to be color-coded in about a dozen different colors. For now, I've simply added color to the notes I am constantly going back to, but one could easily color-code the notes based on projects or type.

In addition, rather than use folders, like most note-taking apps, Keep Notes uses labels. This means you can sort your notes any which way you want. Simply add a hashtag to the end of your note with the label you want and it's already sorted.

When you want to find your note later, you can either just click into a label or use Google's powerful search to find exactly what you are looking for, searching by text, label, or note type.

4. The app includes premium features you normally have to pay other apps to use

google keep 3Google Play Store

Keep can extract text from photos, like from a sign, photo, or business card, a feature for which Evernote charges extra.

Unsurprisingly, Keep integrates well with Google Drive and Google Docs - the two apps I use most for work. If you want, Keep can transfer notes to a Google Doc, which I've found extremely useful when I'm ready to start writing an article. My notes and observations go directly into my draft.

Keep can even have notes that act as reminders. The reminders can be set so that notes pop up according to a specific date and time, or even based on a GPS location.

Perhaps, most importantly, Keep allows you to have collaborative or shared notes. That means my partner and I can have a shared to-do list for personal stuff and I can keep my editor updated on which stories I'm working on in the same app.

Everything is in one place. And that's what's been keeping (ha!) me using the app long after I had abandoned other solutions.

It's a New Year, New Me after all.

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