From tabs in physical notebooks or virtual tabs in OneNote to the hierarchical file structure of Windows or Google Drive, we’ve all been conditioned to use a folder structure to organize notes and documents.
However, it wasn’t until I started using the minimalist note-taking app Bear some weeks ago (after reading this glowing Lifehacker review), that I began to appreciate the power and fluidity of hashtags over the traditional folder structure. Part of the reason for my new-found appreciation was that Bear, unlike nearly every other note-taking app or word-processing app, does not offer the option of folders: you are forced to use hashtags if you want to apply any kind of organization.
The limitation with traditional folders is that notes/documents can only be filed in one folder: you are only likely to come across a particular note again when browsing through that folder. Moreover, it is often apparent that our notes do not necessarily fit neatly into a particular folder but are relevant to several different topics.
When I first began using Bear, I just used the tags as folders: I assigned a tag to each note, and there it rested. But, it soon became apparent that I could add several tags to one note. In this way, instead of a note being in a single location, it is simultaneously ‘filed’ under several tags: when I open a tag ‘notebook’, every note associated with that tag is housed there.
Although the popular note-taking app Evernote does also have the functionality of hashtags, Bear offers a further feature that provides even neater organization: the ability to ‘nest’ the hashtags. Evernote does not offer the nesting function: you can “stack” your notebooks under one parent, but I have always found this to be a little cumbersome. However, Bear offers “infinite” nesting: so far, however, I have only taken it to 4 levels. The nesting itself is very much like a traditional file system, but the nested layers open at a snap, and if you apply some consistency in labeling your tags, the notes are easily found. (The nesting here is similar to my favorite list app Workflowy which also provided seemingly infinitive collapsible nested levels).
So, rather than the 45 notebooks I have in Evernote, in Bear, I have just 5 main tag categories in Bear, but each has several nested layers. (The Bear website provides simple instructions for importing notes from Evernote or elsewhere to Bear).
In addition to utilizing this unusual organizational system Bear is a beautifully simple app with a clear and delightful user interface.