Bear Notes as my Personal Productivity Powerhouse

I have a collection of productivity habits and processes that I use to maximize my efficiency and make the most of my time. In the past, I have used many different tools to handle everything from journaling and tracking tasks to maintaining a personal knowledge base.

After some experimentation and research, I have unified the entirety of my personal productivity tooling and workflow into Bear Notes (iOS/MacOS), and I thought I’d share how I use it to plan and manage my productivity.

Warning: I’m going to come across as pretty biased towards Bear Notes, but this is not a paid advertisement; I’m just unusually stoked about this particular app.

I’ll detail how I’ve used Bear to streamline and improve each of the components of my process/workflow. Click any of the following if you wish to skip directly to that section:

Knowledge base

I needed a central, synchronized place to store information for future reference that is easily searchable both online and offline (what if I’m in a data center and need to look up how I did something in the past?). This was the use-case that originally drove me to look for a cross platform notes application.

Previously: Evernote

I found Evernote reasonably good at syncing and cross-platform availability, and the apps were polished and easy enough to use. I found it too cumbersome to use for taking notes related to my software development or DevOps roles, however—I desperately longed to write in Markdown, and native support never seemed to be on the horizon. I was debating sucking it up anyway and paying for a premium subscription to unlock offline mode when I stumbled across Bear Notes.

Bear Notes as my Knowledge Base

Screenshot of my how-to section in Bear Notes

I use a how-to tag for any quick reference or code snippets that I may need for my knowledge base, and an archive tag for any information that was previously captured but not actively needed right now (like meeting notes for work, or notes about a project that is upcoming). Bear lets me search only for notes with the how-to tag, and its great Markdown support has simplified and streamlined my ability to write great notes for future reference.

Archive/reference

Similar to the above, I also needed a place to store various bits of reference information for the future, should I ever need it.

Previously: Evernote

Evernote did well here, with built-in scanning and OCR. I could have continued using it, but I had already fallen in love with Bear at this point.

Bear Notes as my archive/reference

Screenshot of my reference section in Bear Notes

While Bear notes doesn’t have OCR capabilities as of this writing, its search capability is pretty powerful. I’ve yet to find myself missing the OCR functionality when it comes to locating a document I’ve previously stored.

Journal

The journal is a crucial part of my daily routine. I take time each morning for a spiritual and mental check-in. I write down how I’m feeling, any notes from my Bible reading or meditation for the day, and a brief summary of anything notable that happens as the day progresses. In addition, I write down three things each day that I am thankful for that day, which helps orient my mind to a state of gratitude.

Previously: Paper

I originally used a paper notebook to capture my daily journal. Paper has the advantage of not having a screen (no notifications to interrupt you, doesn’t keep you awake at night, works without electricity).

However, paper also has disadvantage of being much slower—I can type or use speech-to-text to dictate words much faster than I can with a pen. When the barrier to capturing my thoughts is lowered, I am much more willing and able to do so.

Paper also doesn’t have the option of being synchronized to any other location or device; I have found myself more than once in a location without my notebook, and wishing I could either write an entry, or look up something I had previously written.

Bear Notes as my journal

I was originally very hesitant to give up using a paper notebook—I have a long history of taking notes that way (and a bookshelf of notebooks from years past).

While cross-device syncing is really nice, the first real advantage that tipped me toward using Bear for my journal is the speed of text entry. Not only am I able to type much faster, I can also use speech-to-text to dictate, and then clean it up later.

I was hesitant to switch for another reason, though: The meditative, thought-provoking state that I find myself in while writing on paper. Being in a self-contemplative state is great for journaling, and I was reluctant to let that go.

But I found something even better while using Bear: Dictating with speech-to-text.

I am an external processor, and I like to pace when I think or speak. I have found that using speech-to-text while pacing also puts me in a contemplative, meditative state, and it has been incredible helpful for getting thoughts out of my head and into words.

In fact, it’s so productive that I will often switch to this method when I find myself facing a writer’s block or an inability to clearly formulate my thoughts.

Task/goal tracking

For my personal productivity system, I track goals and tasks at the month, week, and day level, and I need a way to keep track of what was attempted vs completed at each of those levels.

Previously: Many different methods

I’ve tried everything from Todoist to Trello to Wunderlist to plain old paper… I actually found that applications like Todoist or Trello gave me so much power and flexibility that I spent too much time refining my system for organizing with that particular tool, rather than tracking what I needed to do.

The simplicity of using paper (I chose the Bullet Journal method) was great at helping me focus on what needed to be done, without getting mired in the complexity of the tool itself. Paper was too inflexible, however, when it came to the ability to add, remove, move, and edit tasks; I can’t easily add a nested bullet between two existing lines of ink.

Bear Notes for tasks and goals

I initially balked at the idea of switching from a robust, fully-featured task management application to a notes application for task management. I mean, it’s a notes app… why would you use it when task management systems already exist?

In the end, there are 3 things that really made the switch to Bear an upgrade for my personal task management workflow:

  1. Great support for checkbox items: I can nest items, easily move lines via keyboard shortcuts, and search for tasks (completed or not) across all of my notes, thanks to some advanced search operators.
  2. Powerful tagging system: I have special tags for monthly goals (#goals/month) and weekly goals (#goals/week). I can view my goals across all granularity levels, or click one of the nested week or month tags to narrow appropriately.
  3. Capturing information related to a task: Any notes related to a task can easily be captured inline as nested bullet points. By doing so, I have a detailed view of what I did on any particular day, and how I may have resolved any sticky issues related to the task. In addition, this is all searchable and discoverable in the future if I’m ever trying to recall how I solved something.

Articles/writing

Thoughts and ideas constantly rattle around in my head, along with potential articles (including this one!) that may I want convert to a blog post later on.

Not all of these thoughts are fit for public consumption, but I love having the ability to pull out my phone and capture a thought, or make progress on my writing when I have a few spare moments between other tasks.

Sometimes I’ll even jot down a quick summary of what I’m thinking at the moment, in case I ever want to return to it later and flesh it out.

Previously: Evernote

Evernote works great for this, and I can edit and recall on any device in the future.

Evernote (as of this writing) has no native support for Markdown, however. In addition to being my preferred format for taking notes, my personal blog also uses the Markdown syntax for writing posts, so I must manually convert from Evernote to Markdown if I want to post something to my blog.

Bear for articles/writing

Bear has all the advantages of Evernote when it comes to being cross-platform, easy to write with, and providing powerful sync and searching.

Most importantly, though, it has great Markdown support across all platforms. This means that I can read and write in a consistent format, no matter which device I’m using, and it’s a breeze to use the resulting markdown as a blog post later on, if I decide to do so.

Summary

In Bear Notes I’ve found a fast and beautiful app that lets me quickly capture my notes no matter where I am, as well as search and discover content later on.

The sheer amount of writing (as far as word count) that I’ve done each day since streamlining my system around Bear is orders of magnitude higher. And yet, thanks to Bear’s powerful tagging and search capability, I’ve never had an issue organizing or finding content later on.

It’s safe to say, I 💖 Bear Notes.