Note taking tips?


What do people use for note taking? I’ve used Notational Velocity for a while, but I feel I should be living in my text editor. What I like about Notational Velocity is that it provides me with a list of notes (not unlike an email client will show me a list of mails), I can select one using the keyboard, and then I can see and edit its body. I think if I had that, that would get me quite far.


Maybe the notebook package?


The notebook package looks like it’s meant for notes about a project. If you just want a general collection of notes that you write in using Atom, I guess the simplest thing would be to just start a “repository” of markdown files. With Atom’s fuzzy search and other features, that might actually be a pretty nice way of doing it.


Thanks, @Terrycloth, but what I don’t see is how does fuzzy search help me get the list of things I need? Hm. Maybe I should put each item into its own file, and include “TODO” in the name of the file if it’s an action item, and “P1” if it’s about project 1 and “P2” if it’s about project 2. That would help me find the right files quickly. But it does seem, hm, inconvenient to always rename files to get what I want.

Of course, having some files in git is the right way to make stuff editable from multiple machines. I like that part.


I used Notational Velocity (NvAlt), writing the notes in Markdown and synching them via Dropbox/Google Drive, for 3-4 years. I’ve recently made the switch to Atom for note-taking, because a) I was concerned about the lack of development on the Notational projects and b) I wanted a few customizations to the user experience without having to hack the source and re-compile that project etc. Atom seems like a much more extensible editor, so I’m trying it on the theory that I can make it very Notational-like. It’s been working very well for the way I use it for about a month now.

Here are some of the things I do to make it more NV-like / use it like I used NV:

  • Used an OS X service keyboard shortcut to make the application launch with a hotkey. This was my favorite part of NV and Atom lacks it as a built-in option.
  • I still keep all of my notes in one single folder, like NV did. This aids sync, and makes it so I can do a ⌘-Shift-F to do a search of all notes, similar to the “omnibar search” of NV.
  • For simpler note reference, or where I already know the note title, I use the ⌘-T keyboard shortcut to call up the “file opener” dialog window.
  • If you want the “notes list” like you had in NV, you can use the ⌘-\ keyboard shortcut to show the “Tree View”, which is pretty similar, especially if (like me) you had the notes list on the left in NV.
  • I also made some stylesheet changes so that my text editing is always centered in the pane, and the line numbering in the left gutter is right-justified:
// always center the scroll view
atom-text-editor {
  .gutter {
  -webkit-flex: 1;
  text-align: right;
    .line-number {
      width: 100%;

  .scroll-view {
  padding-left: 10px;
  -webkit-flex: 3;

Other things that I can do now that I couldn’t in NV:

  • VIM Mode. Yay for using VIM shortcuts in my note-taking app! YMMV. I also installed a plugin that lets me open files in VIM for when the VIM mode plugin doesn’t cut it (regex search/replace comes to mind)
  • Solarized color scheme, both for editing and UI. I had to hack NV to make this work.

Hopefully some of that info is helpful.


To be clear, I’d been thinking of fuzzy search as a way of quickly searching the contents of notes to find the page you want. The editor I used before Atom didn’t have anything nearly as quick and convenient as Atom’s fuzzy search, so I would not have liked note-taking in a plaintext editor then.

As dmerand said, you could see a list of your notes in the file tree view. I don’t think you’d necessarily have to rename all your files to have TODO or “p1” or anything.


I’m sorry. When you said fuzzy search, I automatically assumed you meant ⌘T, which does a fuzzy search in file names only. But maybe that’s not what you mean at all. Maybe you meant project search ⇧⌘F? That would search the file contents…


It looks like there are a couple of in-progress attempts on GitHub to make Atom work more like Notational Velocity:

I haven’t tried to install either, not sure if I want to go through the hassle of hacking with that code before either project is “published” to the actual Atom repository.


That’s pretty cool stuff. Thanks for the pointer, @dmerand! I’ve glanced at the code briefly, and I must say that I don’t know what to say yet. Both packages look cool, each in their own way, but they don’t seem to be finished yet. Definitely something to watch.


A little late here…but the repository system you mentioned is how I manage my notes and I’ve been really happy with it! I keep my private repository for all of my markdown notes open as a project in atom and sync when switching devices.

I take a lot of notes and work on content that requires some version control so I’ve tried quite a few systems.

Markdown + Atom + GitHub repository has been the best solution for me so far.


My dream plugin would render images from links or locally inside the notes. Maybe you can then click on it to edit the source. This would make it really easy to pull together multimedia from different sources inside your notes.


A wysiwyg markdown editor would meet your needs. Unfortunately attempts to create that have failed.

One reason it hasn’t been done is that markdown is supposed to be readable without rendering. Images and links are the big exception. So your idea could give a markdown editor that just renders the images. That sounds like a good idea to me.