NotePlan 3: Has my search for the perfect productivity app come to an end?

I only recently started to try out the beta version of NotePlan 3. I’ve been a fan of NotePlan for some time, but I never really used it extensively, and I didn’t know why. All its features really appealled to me, because I have long thought the ideal app would allow you to combine notes, events and tasks.

Side Note: This conviction dates back to an old DOS application called Total Recall that I relied upon in the 1980s. TR allowed me to manage four types of information: Events, Tasks, Notes and Contacts, as if each was an index card, but all had date fields and could be reviewed in a calendar.

NotePlan 2 did this, but just didn’t hold me. I’ve now figured out why… more below. (Note: I am writing this review with the approach that readers will already have some familiarity with version 2. If you don’t, you can see more at the app’s website.)

When I learned that NP3 was going to be a $60/year subscription, I initially wrote it off. Too expensive, I thought, for something I will admire, but not use… like a fine vase on a shelf in my home.

But I did follow development of NP3 and the more I saw, the more interested I became, especially after I had tried out Roam Research and Obsidian. NP has some significant similarities to those two inovative projects even in its earlier versions. As with RR and Obsidian, NP is built around daily notes, and has clever linking and task management. (NotePlan’s task management is far more sophisticated than either RR or Obsidian at this time.)

I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try out the current beta edition of NotePlan 3. I was immediately smitten!

As far as I can tell, there are not a lot of essential functions of NotePlan 3 that you can’t find in version 2. However, the user interface has been completely overhauled, and this has made all the difference (and, yes, there are some new features that are nice, too… more below).

The major improvement

In version 2, a major chunk of the screen is absorbed by the calendar. I thought nothing of this until using version 3, where the daily note editor has become the center of the screen. There is no monthly view, other than the smaller navigation calendar which sits at the top of the right side panel, above the day calendar split into hours.

NotePlan 2
NotePlan 3

I realize now that the monthly calendar in version 2 is a dead zone to me, and one of the reasons I did not fully embrace NotePlan. In version 3 the emphasis is all on the notes, which really resonates with me.

And the editor has been improved, making writing notes better than ever. I would even go so far as to say that the slickness of the editor rivals that of Bear or other markdown-based writing apps. (I would like to see a typewriter mode added to the editor for working with longer notes.) And, of course, all the innovative task management and linking tools are on hand.

Note folders

NotePlan has long had the ability to create and manage undated notes, but this had been rudimentary in version 2. NP3 has made undated note management far more robust with the addition of folders that can be nested for organizing your notes. You can also add tags, of course, if that’s your prefered organizing scheme.

Command Bar

Another nice feature is the Command Bar, which you can initiate with the keystrokes COMMAND-J. This pops up a search function window. Start typing what you are looking for, hit enter and you get a list of the notes (daily and undated) that contain the search string.

The Command Bar with the search string “Hazel.”
After hitting ENTER in the Command Bar, I get a list of the various notes that have the search string. Clicking in any one of the found notes brings me to that note.

Supposedly, you can add tasks using the Command Bar by prefacing the search string with an asterisk, but I haven’t gotten this to work yet. I assume this is a glitch in the beta version, or perhaps I just haven’t done it quite right. I have no doubt this will be worked out.

Update: In an email, the developer gave me the proper instructions for creating a task in the Command Bar. You don’t need to preface the text with an asterisk, but you do need to add a “when.” So typing in “Correct the information about how to create a task with the Command Bar today” (without the quotation marks) will create a task to do that for today.

Weekly Review

One of the features of RR that I especially appreciate is that you can view your daily notes in a rolling editor, so it is easy to review your recent days and weeks. NotePlan 3 has a similar feature called the Week review, which opens up a week’s worth of daily notes in the central screen.

The Week review screen. (I’ve toggled off the calendar sidebar.)

There is a lot more to NotePlan 3 than I’ve written about here, but these are the features that have won me over. The iOS version is also being updated and will be released at the same time, but I have not tested it. Learn more about NotePlan 3 and sign up for the public beta here.

As the app is polished for official release (some time in October I believe), I believe NotePlan 3 will become my number one planning and information application. Yes, $60 is a hefty annual subscription fee, but if it allows me to focus most of my work on one app, this will save me money in the long run.

In coming posts, I want to elaborate on features of NotePlan to provide more depth about how this wonderful app works. And I hope to answer the question posed in the title of this post.

7 thoughts on “NotePlan 3: Has my search for the perfect productivity app come to an end?

  1. I tried a lot of to-do apps, some TOO expensive (Things I’m looking at you) and always felt best in Notes app just creating a note saying “Tomorrow” with sections “morning” “after school” etc… until Noteplan came along. It’s a diary, todo list, notepad, planner…

    1. There are many to-do apps that I admire, from Things to TickTick to ClickUp, but I’ve come to realize that simpler is better for me personally. Noteplan is simple in that it mostly relies on just writing things down. I do use ClickUp to manage larger projects for work that have lots of steps and that my organization of them benefit from multiple views.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

  2. Steve, Can we get a more detailed comment from you comparing NotePlan and Things? I think they overlap in function and even n elegant modern German software design. Do they seem redundant to you or complementary?
    Stephen (nice to be back here)-

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