Ryan Frantz

I take notes daily. Copious notes. All the notes.


The obvious answer is “So I don’t forget.” I began taking notes in earnest after my first annual job review, where neither I, nor my manager, could recall all the important work I had done. I felt like I had missed an opportunity to show off my accomplishments and I never wanted that to happen again.

Really, though, I take notes so that I don’t have to remember.

At any point in time, I likely have several thoughts or ideas bouncing around in my head. I can compartmentalize really well, which feels like I am managing those ideas effectively, but in reality, I’m only deferring those thoughts for some random time. Those times when I’m nowhere near an instrument to capture them (like the shower, washing dishes, etc.). If I can capture them when they’re (relatively) fresh, I can purge them from my mind, coming back to them later.

In short, taking notes helps me focus.

It’s an implicit focus, most times, because I have fewer things on my mind. But that tends to lead to supporting explicit focus later.


When I realized that I take notes to conserve mental energy, the “how” took on a new shape for me. And my tool choice changed as I refined my needs.

I started with Notepad. No organization, no linking. Just raw notes shoved into a virtual “crazy” drawer on my C: drive.

I used Evernote for years, primarily because I could sync notes across all my devices. If I were in the middle of scrubbing pots and an idea flashed, I could hastily dry my hands and tap it out on my phone. Search helped me locate past notes, but the quality of the results was variable, depending on the quality of my notes. Sometimes, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to write down, so a placeholder would be useful. Sadly, Evernote didn’t have a mechanism like wiki linking that allowed for future notes, but I trudged on.

For a few years, I used Roam Research. Part of my note-taking includes daily TODOs to help me organize myself and Roam defaults to a TODO-driven model. That seemed like a good fit. I especially liked that I could create wiki-style links to future notes and hop to them later. For a long time, they had no mobile option, and I missed that, but I grew accustomed to it. In a way, not having a mobile app felt liberating, given how terminally online we all seem to be. When they did release a mobile app, I used it, but found it less compelling than my Evernote days. Despite tagging support, something about Roam Research felt lacking, in terms of how notes could be organized. Yes, it behaves like a graph, but that felt a bit too flat for my needs.

Enter Obsidian. I was aware of Obsidian when I chose to use Roam Research, but I wasn’t interested in self-hosting my notes (I don’t think they had a sync offering at the time). As my dissatisfaction with Roam grew, I took another look. I’ve always been a fan of truly text-based documentation (like Markdown and Graphviz) because it is durable; it’s legible in its raw form and endlessly style-able. I really like that in addition to creating any folder structure I want, links between notes neither require nor depend on that structure. And I can easily create future notes via wiki link-style syntax. I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy lately so I’ve opted not to purchase Obsidian Sync, choosing instead to host my notes in Github (which I already pay for to host code). I have to manually sync from time to time, but since I’m using git every day, doing so feels like a natural extension of my current workflow. I also have been using the Templater plugin to build some light, custom workflows. In total, I am very satisfied.

The Next Tool

I can’t explain it, and I know I’m not alone in this, but I always feel complelled to check out new note-taking tools. I don’t know what they might look like, but I’m certain when they arrive, I’ll dabble.