My Note-Taking, Productivity, PKM Apps for 2023

My preferred note-taking and productivity apps for 2023. Logseq for its ease of use and features, including to-dos, and annotation. Anki for spaced repetition. Zotero and Readwise for asset management and read-it-later. Avoid continuously switching apps as this can be costly and disrupt workflow.

My Note-Taking, Productivity, PKM Apps for 2023
My Logseq Graph

Hi Everyone, as we approach the New Year, and I have become an airport and need to make an announcement, I wanted to share the note-taking and productivity apps I will be using in 2023.

Why dedicate (or constrain, as some may see it) to a handful of apps?

Over the past couple of years, there has been a phenomenal increase in personal knowledge management, note-taking, PKM apps, or another name of your liking, and it can become overwhelming and sometimes anxiety sets in about deciding which one to use.

With new apps popping up all the time or new features being made available on old apps, it is easy to continuously jump ship from one app to the other and not get anything done. I believe it is important to keep an occasional eye out for new and updated apps to see what they can do, but only to the extent to see if you can learn anything and tweak your workflow. If the app really turns your life around, then the cost of moving may be less than the cost of staying with your current system. It is just important not to fall into the Golden Chalice fallacy.

I have seen numerous posts of users going from App A to App B, because now yes, App B has it all. Only for them to go to App E, because, well, because it has this new thing that cannot be lived without. Fast forward a little and they are now on App Y, compromising all features they could not live without in the previous apps and swore by. All of this comes to a head when you see a post about the user returning to App A.

To counter the above, this year, I will be dedicating myself to the following apps:

  1. Logseq —

I believe Logseq is one of the best note-taking apps out there due to a few key aspects:

  • Feels natural to use. Logseq opens up on a journal page (which can be changed in the settings), and you can write to your heart's content.
  • Efficient. You can quickly jot notes down at any moment and on the go through the mobile app.
  • Easy to use. Open up and you can start writing, you can then scratch the surface to find a vast array of amazing features.
  • Free (although USD 5/month cost to use Sync at the moment),
  • Ownership (you own your data and can do what you want with it).
  • Information retrieval. You can run queries (which will hopefully be made more UX-friendly in 2023), to retrieve information from your knowledge base.
  • Todos. Yes, Logseq is not a fully-fledged todo app, but it does enough for my requirements. If you need a dedicated app, I would recommend Todoist.
  • Best in class YouTube (and others) video annotation / time stamping, tweets are easy to embed and a brilliant plugin ecosystem.
My Logseq graph

For full disclosure, during the summer of 2022, I was swayed by other apps in the PKM space. The app seemed to have all the bells and whistles but ultimately, the outlining experience, the built-in features and the local first aspect of Logseq were too important to me to stay away.

The above is one of the reasons I want to dedicate myself to a handful of apps this year. The cost of changing continuously (or even always looking over your shoulder to see what the other apps have) is high. You have notes in many places, you need to “start from fresh” each time and you are continuously thinking “the old app could do this” or “in the old app it was like this”.

Enough I say, time to stick to one, use the app as the tool to create / achieve what you want and stop procrastinating.

2. Anki —

In late 2022, I started using SRS through Logseq. I was always against it and did not believe in the system, but after a few weeks, I was hooked. I find my learning and ability to recall information significantly greater than before, and not just the information on the flashcards but also the wider aspects of the topic at hand.

Whilst Logseq does have Spaced Repetition (SRS) built in, I prefer to use Anki because the tool is built and dedicated to SRS. Yes, this does mean that my notes are in another location to the flashcards, but it means I need to properly review and create the card so no shortcuts.

In addition, the benefits to using Anki are:

  • I can easily create multiple decks.
  • I can easily review text, images and sounds.
  • I can sync to my mobile so can have my cards with me on the go.
  • I can download pre-made decks if desired (I believe though that a big part of the benefit of SRS is constructing your own cards).
An example image of Anki from the Internet

Due to the above, in 2023 Anki and SRS will feature much more prominently in my workflow. Should Logseq improve the SRS aspect of the app, I would definitely consider moving, but I would rather the devs focus on the core aspects of Logseq rather than embark down this path.

3. Zotero —

Again although Logseq has an excellent built-in PDF annotation feature, the asset management leaves a bit to be desired. Dragging and dropping PDFs works well but then the filename changes to file_23423840932840921831.pdf — this cannot be easily shared with others. It is also a bit painful to try and find your PDF collection. More importantly, on occasions when working with others, I need to leave the PDFs in a specific location — I do not want to have two copies of every file.

Due to the above, Zotero will be used as my Reference Manager. I have used this since early 2022 and love it. I can drag and drop files into Zotero, or link files which I need to keep in specific directories. I can then annotate all documents and easily extract the notes and annotations to Logseq.

With Zotero, I can easily see all the PDF / files I have and quickly search by name, tags and location.

Example image from the internet

4. Readwise and Readwise Reader —

Readwise is great to bring annotations from different sources into your note-taking app. There is an official plugin for Logseq which works very well. Reader is my go-to read-it-later app, especially when on the move. I store articles I want to read and can then read them at my leisure, even if there is no connectivity.

There is a bit of duplication with Zotero regarding functionality, but I mainly use Zotero for PDFs and Readwise Reader for web articles. We will see this year how things go.

So there we have it, nothing over complicated. A few apps to achieve note-taking and retrieval, SRS to be able to expand my knowledge and learning, and a reference manager to keep all my PDFs and articles together. I feel of late that some productivity showcases have been over complex and confusing so I hope to have shown how it is possible to not overcomplicate matters. For those that are thinking, you can do all of the above in Obsidian — yes, I agree it is possible, but there is too much reliance on plugins for my liking.

I hope you found this useful and many thanks for reading. In the coming articles, I will delve into each app in more detail.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for the coming year. Hopefully, this will be the year we all achieve our goals.