Quick note taking system



I am a big fan of note taking using plaintext notes. As a lawyer, one of my common tasks is paging through large PDF transcripts and records. My preference is to type out notes rather than hand write them, as I review the documents. However, if I've got to switch back and forth between the PDF reader, or whatever app I'm reading a document in, that becomes a maddening hassle quickly. Also, the steps for creating a new note and saving it in the right folder are time consuming and just another deterring hassle.

I am also a big fan of note taking apps which populate the apps' notes from a designated folder or database of plain text notes, like Simplenote or nvAlt (by Brett Terpstra). But, again, even those great apps aren't conducive to the rapid-fire note taking that I like to do without leaving the app I'm using to read a document.

In short, I don't want to have to go through the steps of a) creating a new text document to record my notes for a particular document I'm reviewing; and b) switching back and forth from the app in which I'm reviewing a document to a text document or app where I'm recording my notes.

My solution is a macro which, when invoked via hotkey, allows me to instantly create a new note, and, thereafter, append additional notes to the same working text document, without opening a note-taking app or a text document (e.g., in TextEdit). What the macro does is take variables for the title of your text document and the first note you want to take in it (it can be nothing). The default for the body of the note is the clipboard. If you have entered a new title for a note, the macro creates a new text document in the central note depository on your computer.

After you have entered the first note in your new text document, the macro asks you if you want to open it. You can quickly dismiss this without opening the note document, and it's become part of my muscle memory; I include this step because sometimes I want to confirm the notes are correct and in the right order -- in essence, my paranoia for perfection. You can eliminate this step if you trust the system.


When you are ready to append another note to the same working text document, you invoke the same macro. You will see that the title of your working note is still in the "Title" input. The body defaults to clipboard. You can just start typing to replace the clipboard with your new note. Because the title is the same, the new note is appended to the same document without any effort on your part. What you end up with is a text document with your note entries, nicely spaced, ready for review or printing.

If you ever want to append additional notes to a particular text document, just input the title of the existing text document in the "Title" input, and it will append a note to that document.

The following GIF shows the macro in operation. Here, I open the text document at the prompt just to show the result. When I'm taking notes actively, I don't open the text document, I just take notes.

Remember, the best way to use this system is to store all of your text notes in one folder, and in fact this is central to how it works. Please see that in the macro, you will need to provide a file path to your note folder.

The beauty of this system is that it allows me to take a note at any time, very quickly. I don't have to worry about creating the text document to store my notes. You can, of course, enhance this experience by using note-taking apps like nvAlt to search your notes, etc. I myself use LaunchBar to quickly find my notes. I also tag them, etc. (My preference is to rarely, if ever, open a note taking app).

I hope this is useful to folks!



Thanks for sharing. I'm sure it will be useful to many KM users.

Myself, I'm a big Evernote fan, and, to be honest, I'm having trouble seeing the real benefits of your system.

Once a document in another app is open, you can easily switch between your PDF viewer and the note document with one simple keystroke: ⌘⇥
To use your system requires at least two keystrokes:

  1. Trigger the Macro to prompt for text
  2. Close the Prompt window

Evernote makes this quite easy.

  • There is a global hotkey to create a new Note in your default Notebook. No fuss, no muss. :wink:
  • You can also use an Evernote global hotkey to create a new Note and paste into the body whatever you have just copied.
  • You can even create Evernote Templates to use if you'd like to have some standard formatting/layout.
  • You can easily share one Note, or an entire Notebook with selected users, either as read only or with read/write permissions.

Of course, it is very easy to use KM to even further automate Evernote, like the following:

Press a KM hotkey to:

  1. Copy the selection (if any) in the PDF
  2. Get the PDF title and page number
  3. Get the PDF document URL or file path (to have handy when reviewing the Notes later)
  4. Highlight the text in the PDF to indicate you have a note about it
  5. Paste all of this into the EN Note
  6. Then you enter into the EN Note (using any of the great formatting features of EN, like lists, tables, bold, highlight, etc) whatever notes you want
  7. Then a simple ⌘⇥ and you're back to the PDF

Evernote will auto-save the Notes as you make changes to it, so you don't have to worry about that.

Later, Evernote makes it very easy to review/edit your notes, and even make Evernote Tags as needed for things like:

  • FollowUp
  • Done
  • Issue
  • Urgent
  • etc


But that's all just my preference. Each of us have different preferences and workflows, and the great thing is the Keyboard Maestro allows us to easily automate what works best for each one of us.

Good luck, and thanks again for sharing.


Thanks. Yes, people have different preferences. I like app agnostic systems. I tried Evernote, I didn't like it. Didn't really need it. This works for me, and hopefully it will work for others.


Thanks for posting this, Brian. I found it inspiring enough to roll my own version using a Custom HTML prompt for the input (so I could use a larger note input area) that remains open after any save, the ability to switch directories (for project-oriented notes) as well as the active note file and standardized note formatting (with timestamps).

Which is why I didn't respond sooner. :slight_smile:

As you point out, the attraction is instantly creating marginalia for any digital document without opening another app or losing focus on the current one.

I suppose one handy use would be code snippets from this forum, although (of course) there are more powerful apps for building code libraries. But as you also point out, sometimes you don't need power as much as something tailor made that does precisely what you want.

I'm still testing it but it's been a fun and surprisingly useful project. Thanks, again!