Why Ulysses Is My App for Notes and Writing

When I upgraded to iOS 9, I finally consolidated my convoluted note taking setup. Moving from Simplenote, Vesper, OmniOutliner, and a couple other notes apps to just Notes.app for everything. And I really like Notes.app, as it has come a long ways — but the UI leaves a lot to be desired and I often can’t get to what I need fast enough. Still, it synced perfectly, added a lot of features and generally worked well.

So generally speaking, for getting ideas, thoughts, and notes, out of my head I used three apps:

  • Notes – catch-all place for me, and general holder of things.
  • Ulysses – writing.
  • OmniOutliner – listing and outlining. (You will find no better way to manage your holiday shopping than OmniOutliner.)

But here’s a common problem I started to run into: I would jot down a quick idea for a post I wanted to write in Notes, but then I would end up writing a quarter of it in Notes. I would then have to copy it back out of Notes, and over to Ulysses, then tweak the formatting to work correctly. That seemed stupid and convoluted to me.

Especially since most of my small little notes are taken on paper these days, it just seemed like I had Notes.app hanging around for no real reason. So I decided to dump Notes.app in favor of Ulysses as a way to get everything in one place.

Now, this is a bit unfair, as Ulysses for the iPhone and iPad Pro are not yet out (I have an early beta), but I still want to talk through some of the points here to explain the pain point I found, and why I made this move.

Where Did I Jot That?

This was my pain point, I often just simply forgot where I jotted something down. I don’t typically make tasks out of articles I am writing, so I remember what is what by looking in Ulysses, and if it isn’t in Ulysses I won’t go searching for it. Notes was the most convenient place to write, but also a bit of a black hole for writing. Same too with OmniOutliner — whereas when I create ideas on the Mac, I have a script to make an new OmniOutliner file and Ulysses sheet at the same time, I can’t do this on iOS.

Same with doodles, as they are handled in a second-class way in Notes, so I never could remember which of the half dozen doodling apps I had done something in. Further, it’s a bit of a pain to start doodling in Notes.app as you have to tap into the doodling mode.

So I ended up with a very fragmented system in an attempt to use apps that were good, but not well suited to how I work. All of this led to far more frustration than I had anticipated. So while Notes is a great app by itself, it is simply not robust enough for most of the tasks I wanted to use it for — leading to fragmented storage once again on my devices with parts of articles spread between three apps, and doodles spread between half a dozen apps.

And that’s the pain I started to feel as I used Notes more and more. I kept ending up having to just look at what was in Notes before I started going to places where I naturally thought they might be. Notes then became a bit of a chore I had to do each day.

I’m Writing in the Wrong App

It’s easier to consolidate into a more general purpose app like Notes, than it is into a more focused app like Ulysses. Therefore the most logical solution would have been to use only Notes, or some app like Notes, instead of Ulysses. But when you take into account what I used Notes for — as I did before deciding — it was quite obvious that it was for small nuggets of text, jotting down ideas for articles and occasionally doodles.

With that in mind, either Ulysses or OmniOutliner seemed like the logical choice. Nether would handle the doodles, but those are rare enough not to matter as much. Ulysses, ultimately won out because it was simply faster to get a note into than OmniOutliner, and therefore made far more sense.

Now I am never writing in the wrong app, and all my stuff is once again living happily together. I can find everything I need by going to just one place, instead of going all over the place.

A Note About OmniOutliner

My big gripe with OmniOutliner is that it is very slow to get a new document up and running. You hit new, select a theme, probably delete some shit out of the theme, and then you can start going. Then, when you are all done, you realize it has a stupid “untitled” name and have to rename it using this small tap zone on the document picker screen.

OmniOutliner is only good if you have themes set up correctly, if you have scratch documents already made and ready to go, and if you have deep experience with the app. It’s an app begging for a button to create a new document and have the cursor ready to go on a row in under a half second. It really needs that.

I love OmniOutliner, but for the same reasons I left OmniFocus, I am beginning to look around at other options. Luckily, for OmniOutliner, there really isn’t other viable options. I end up spending a lot of time getting the app ready for each week — creating files ready for a spontaneous outline, or clearing out my “brain dump” file so it is ready to go the next time I need to do a quick brain dump.

It’s a fantastic app when you are in it and outlining, it’s just getting to that point that is tedious with the app. I wish that were better streamlined.

You Have To Love The Tool, First and Foremost

Anyone who follows me on Twitter, or reads this site regularly, knows just how much I love Ulysses. It’s a fantastic app and the best writing tool I’ve ever used. Which is a large part of the reason I felt moving to it would be better. I didn’t love using Notes, or any of the other note taking apps I’ve tried. I liked them, but didn’t feel the love for them. And that ultimately leads to them not being used as much as they could, or should, be used.

But I do love Ulysses, and because of that I tend to use it whenever I can use it. And I am happier with the setup, even if it isn’t ideal, because I get to use a tool I love.

So far, this consolidation to Ulysses, Procreate, and Notability for all my note taking needs has worked out wonderfully. I still use paper most of the time for notes, but when it comes to needing digital notes, I now know right where everything is.

Notability: hand written notes on iPad Procreate: doodles Ulysses: anything typed. OmniOutliner: only when I need it for something very specific.

That’s my system for now, and believe it or not, it’s the simplified version of what I was doing.

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tl;dr

Long story short, I had trouble finding notes so I moved everything to Ulysses.