8+ useful tips for Notes on iPhone, iPad, Mac

You're likely juggling typical end-of-the-year business tasks, endless holiday season lists, and a pandemic. So you probably need to make Notes work for you better.

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Do you use Apple’s Notes app? While it remains limited to iPhones, iPads, and Macs, it has become an incredibly useful tool that even boasts some collaboration features to help work in teams.

Juggling too much at once? Notes can help

Apple has iterated Notes over the years and has made some useful productivity-boosting enhancements in its most recently released operating systems. (Aside: QuickNotes is of huge value, too.)

Notes today is a powerful iCloud-synced service packed with features that lets you save words, documents, images, websites, links, checklists, and more, along with tabs to help you find relevant items and support for folders, sorting, and a useful search feature.

Here are some of the things you can do with it that may help you keep ahead of the zillion tasks you suddenly face as 2021 winds down (and the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on).

Do you use Gallery view?

I live in list views in all my applications because it’s a good way to stay on top of multiple topics at once. That’s why I so often neglect to make use of Gallery view, which is a more visual way to find Notes. You’ll see any image taken from the top of the Note and the first few words of the text.

To access Gallery view on iPhone/iPad: Either tap the three-dot ellipsis icon and select View Gallery or turn your device into landscape view to invoke this view automatically.

To get to Gallery view on Mac: In Notes just tap the four-square icon above the second column or use View>As Gallery from the application Menu.

The fast way to find attachments

I love that you can use tags, folders, titles, and images to make Notes stand out. But if  your Notes is like mine and has become a minefield of poorly ordered jottings in no particular order — with a few pinned to the top and an item somewhere at the bottom market "Resolution 2012: Stop procrastination" — you’ll need this tip: Attachments view.

To see all of your attachments in one visual gallery, tap the ellipsis icon on iOS/iPad and select View Attachments. Or choose View>Attachments Browser on a Mac. Alternatively, just place your iPhone in landscape view and you’ll also see this view.

Playing tag

Starting in iOS/iPad OS 15 and macOS Monterey, you can assign color-coded tags to every Note you make. These sync across iCloud and give you another way to search for items, and a powerful way to bring relevant notes from across different topics together into smart searches. You can assign multiple tags to each Note, which is what makes smart folders useful, as these can curate items from different folders and on varying topics.

How to create a tag?

Just type hash (#) and then the tag.

This report might be tagged as #usefulnotestips, once saved into Notes, for example.

The big limitation is that these tags don’t proliferate across other applications, so a Note won’t be discoverable in a smart folder on your Mac or in Files on iPhone — just in Notes. Once you’ve assigned a couple of tags, you’ll see them pop up in a new Tags cloud at the bottom of the left hand column in the app.

How to use Smart Folders

Smart Folders are a great way to bring relevant notes together. When you create a Folder, you can also access a range of commands. Tap the ellipsis, and you’ll be able to share the folder, sort its notes (including placing them in order), add a new folder, or move the current one, rename it, add attachments, and convert it to a Smart Folder.

[Also read: 2021 — the year Apple became a big player in enterprise tech]

Choose the folder you want to convert into a Smart folder, tap the ellipsis, then tap Create Smart Folder, add a name for it and its notes will be tagged with the same name. You cannot convert folders that contain subfolders, shared folders, or folders that hold locked notes. In the future, any Note you tag with that subfolder name #projecttitan, for example, will be picked up and made available in that Smart folder.

How to sort Notes in a Folder

Each folder lets you define how the Notes it contains are organized on a per-Folder basis. Open the folder, tap that ellipsis, and select Sort Notes By. The default is to sort Notes according to when they were edited, but you can also set this to oldest first, newest first, sort by title, and by date created. Just choose the order that makes your Notes easiest to manage for that specific set of notes.

Keeping check

To stop checked off items from moving to the bottom of your list, open Settings>Notes and set Sort Checked Items to Manually. On a Mac, open application preferences and check or uncheck Automatically sort ticked items.

How to share Notes and Folders

Sharing Notes (and Folders) is easy. On iOS, select a note, tap the ellipsis and choose Share Folder.

  • On a Mac, tap the person in a circle with a plus button icon at the top of the application.
  • You’ll be asked to assign rights, and you have two choices: "Can Make Changes" or "View only."
  • You’ll then be asked how you want to share: via Messages, Mail, or other selected apps.
  • Finally, you’ll be able to choose how freely you want this Note to be shared. You can permit anyone with whom you share it to share it with others, or secure the note so no one you share it with can then pass along those confidential Project Titan Notes to that journalist who knows too much.

One more thing: In iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, you can use Mentions to let collaborators know when something has changed in a Note, just type @their name in the note and they’ll be notified to check what you’ve changed. 

How to export Notes as a PDF

You can export Notes as PDFs; just choose File>Export as PDF on a Mac.

  • On iOS, tap that ellipsis again and tap Print.
  • Then, in the Print Dialog box that appears, swipe two fingers out on the preview image you see to get a full screen preview of what you will print.
  • That full screen preview will be a PDF, which you can now pop a copy of into Books or tap the Share item to send it to someone else by email, Messages, AirDrop and so on.

How to see what people are doing in a shared Note

You can see what people have been doing in a Note. Open the Note, press and hold a finger on it and swipe left to right. You’ll see a timed and dated list of all edits and who transacted them.

Perhaps you’ve picked up some ideas to help you make better use of Notes. You can also explore Apple’s own guide to its app to learn a little more.

More tips? Here's some others to explore:

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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