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.

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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.

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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!


Hello! Would you be able to share the modified macro that you mention in your post? Larger area to enter is interesting for me as well.

Update: May be this is the link to your modified solution - will go through it. Thank you.

@BKammer thank you for sharing your workflow.

Just confirming the modified macro evolved into the mini-app called Napkin available here, as you guessed.


Downloaded Napkin. Looks very good. Have not used the image portion of the macro. Otherwise very promising.

As I put it to use, I wondered if it might be more powerful to make the window be that of a markdown editor (such as say wysiwyg editor like Typora), and that markdown gets appended to the markdown file that Napkin is configured to append to.

So that way once can write / copy and paste markdown text into Typora Window which is then used as a tool in the Napkin workflow.

Just an idea. But it is great as it is. Thank you for sharing!

Yeah @sims I can't see why not just use switcher once text doc is open? Whatever here is one I use all the time to open quickly with two set text entries in Markdown for Ulysses. Maybe you could merge it somehow with the macro mentioned here or use it independently?
I don't know how it would fit offhand it might be worth a look, I just uploaded an image consequently.
It uses long press and short press to give a new document with different heads.

Like this?


Napkin v0.9k Markdown.kmmacros (175.7 KB)


wow. this is right along the lines I had imagined.

I tried to understand where you introduced the Markdown editor but could not in the HTML prompt. I thought it would be in the html in the action titled "Custom Floating HTML Prompt: Text Mode Form", but that html did not seem to have any markdown related syntax.

This is so useful. Thank you.

On another note - what do you use on any iOS device that you might be using - much needed there also! :slight_smile:

hi. thanks for pulling together this image. I did not quite understand what you meant when you refer to switcher and perhaps for this reason did not follow the rest either... do explain if you get a chance. are you proposing a whole different workflow as opposed to Napkin's approach of appending to the previously open notes file.

With Napkin I can keep appending to a dailyNotes file. An idea referred to by @JMichaelTX in a post of his.

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When I looked more closely I guess this is better as a different and independent macro. The point I was making that once you have a text editor open it is easy enough to move between that and another app, whatever it is, using switcher, that is command + tab which works much the same as the native Mac switcher using those same shortcuts I think? I find that anyway. I think best think of my actions as an independent macro. I hope that doesn't confuse this thread too much, sorry if it does. I might take it down if that is what happens. I am sure some apps and workflows have impediments I don't understand?

I use Ulysses as my go to text editor and Markup app, it is similar to NValt in some ways. Most of what I do starts there. I haven't been able to find anything faster to open a new sheet than this macro. I sometimes have to open one and date and time it while paying very close attention to what is being said to me. Hence the long press option. I get two headings depending on whether I hold the key down. I can do that while paying close attention to what is being said to me.

That is an interesting idea. No confusion as to the Napkin system at least as far as I am concerned.

What you are doing makes sense. However it does mean some screen switching and would work better if editor window size is small but then it is not the case when we want a bigger window size. May be a smaller window size and one can use the native editor itself to achieve something along the lines of what Napkin does. (I might try this with a smaller window). Thank you for the idea.

As for Ulyssys, I did not like it handles images and much prefer Typora. Although that is a Ulyssys specific issue...

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Ahhh, I don't handle images at all, well not as part of what I really do, or am supposed to be doing!
I can see what you mean regarding Ulysses though regarding images. Thanks that was informative. I will look at Typora one day.
There are several 'long press' versions, similar to mine and posted here prior to mine I found on looking. By @JMichaelTX @DanThomas and others. Worth looking at in this context I think?

Actually, you're right. It's in the Custom HTML Prompt. The Markdown library requires (in this version) an Internet connection to reference the code. It's linked in the <head> section:

	<link rel="stylesheet" href="https://unpkg.com/easymde/dist/easymde.min.css">
	<script src="https://unpkg.com/easymde/dist/easymde.min.js"></script>

That's one issue. Another is that the ````` grows. I prefer it to be fixed and just scroll instead, but that doesn't seem to be an option for this particular library.

But I didn't spend much time with it, so there may be a configuration option I missed. You may prefer a different set of tools on the toolbar, too (which is all explained on the GitHub page.

(I don't use anything similar to Napkin on iOS, sorry.)

Yep, indeed I struggled with that early in the development of Napkin. Why not just pop over to BBEdit and drop some next text in?

So I tried to design a reason, so to speak.

That's where the slug and time stamp come in -- as well as the standardized formatting (which can get sloppy when you drag-and-drop or type or dictate or mix them all together).

It turns out the fomatting is a big comfort to me. I don't worry about whether or not I have the right number of returns at the end of a note I'm appending.

The slug is helpful and more efficient that constantly citing sources and the time stamp is just gravy.

But clearly those aren't compelling arguments for using Napkin instead of an open document in your favorite text editor.

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I see what you mean. I didn't really understand. Formatting can be troubling when you copy and paste I agree. I will look at the thing more carefully. Thanks.

And building on this one - I wonder if Napkin becomes even more powerful if a small window of the favorite editor (or a good editor) can be used in the workflow - instead of the KM9 html prompt. So the snippet and slug etc get auto-filled as YAML content at the top of the small editor window, and when the right button is pressed, the window closes and the typed and copied information gets appended to the dailyNote or be saved as a separate note depending on the slug or file.

I would have tried something like this, but I do not understand the html prompt and further do not know how I might be able to incorporate the html prompts control to then control the editor window.

BTW, the markdown version that you created is almost as good as an editor.

Two upgrades to that version and perhaps to Napkin itself can be

  1. to have the slug be in the text box itself (listed as such on the top -- slug: "text for slug that was used last time"). So that no mouse is needed to edit it.
  2. to have a key stroke like say cmd-enter to append / save and quit napkin.

Just ideas. :slight_smile:

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This goes back to personal preferences. I don't want to open or switch to another program to take a quick note. I just want to invoke an input dialog, jot the note, hit OK and the dialog disappears and I'm right back in the app I'm focused on, e.g., a PDF reader. Some will just prefer to use the app switcher and switch focus to a favorite text editor.

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Agreed. I certainly prefer this approach to switching between programs. I'm capturing a lot more notes this way than I used to, in fact.

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