Tool Review: Simplenote

As a PM nerd, I'm always on the hunt for project management hacks that will make my projects (and my life) more efficient. It's been a while since I shared the knowledge of these experiments with my readers, so I figured there's no time like the present to bring you another installment of my tool review.

Today's featured tool is Simplenote. It's a desktop, web, and mobile application developed by Automattic, the parent company behind the Wordpress blogging platform. The application's purpose is truly as basic as it sounds--to offer a clean and simple interface for taking notes.

They aren't kidding. The note taking space is best described as sparse. 

Squeaky clean note taking space

Squeaky clean note taking space

I'm used to seeing productivity tools that tout themselves as time-saving yet offer so many bells and whistles that they wind up intimidating novice users who don't want to invest the time to learn the ropes. Simplenote employs the opposite approach. In fact, when I started writing, I was so intimidated by the simplicity that I found myself searching for distractions. Could I bold the text? Create a numbered list? Change the font? No dice. If you're after no frills, just you and a keyboard, uninterrupted creative time, this is the tool for you. In the age of Internet fancy, I felt like I was practically writing longhand. Gasp.

So what are the advantages of Simplenote versus pen and paper? Turns out there are a few.

  • Cloud-based: The first one is obvious. Since Simplenote is cloud-based, you don't have to hunt for your notes if you happen to misplace your notebook. You log into your free account with your email address and--bam!--your notes are there, safe and sound.

  • Taggable: You can create tags for your notes to make it easier to search for your ideas later on. For example, I created a note including steps for how to podcast and tagged it as "podcast" and "blogging" since it pertains to both topics. I also created a note reminding myself to look into the cost of a premium audio editing software and tagged it similarly. I can now filter my notes by tag to see all ideas related to blogging.

Filtering by tag

Filtering by tag

  • Collaborative: This is the most vital feature for project managers. How do you create a common note taking space so that you and your team can share ideas? With Simplenote, you can publish your notes online, collaborate with other Simplenote users, and also email your notes.

  • Printable: For those that take notes longhand but can't read their own handwriting when referring to the notes later on, Simplenote is here to save the day. Unfortunately, it appears that you can only print one "note" at a time.

In conclusion, while Simplenote is a nice idea in theory, I am not a convert. Other tools, such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneNote, fulfill similar functions but offer more robust capabilities, including better integration with other applications. Who wants to create a username and password for yet another portal? Simplenote does offer an elegant solution if you want to create .txt notes but can't stand the ugliness of your basic text editor. For most PMs that want to eliminate distractions, however, a simpler option would be to turn off your WiFi, set a time limit, and open up a blank document.