WWYD? Four Years of Notes, A Fresh Start, Team-Based

Hey folks, I’m about to embark on a new professional adventure with two close colleagues and a four-year timeline. Reflective journaling, documenting our work, and digital asset management (PDFs, Google Docs, image files) will be essential. I’ve only ever had to worry about notes for myself. If you were embarking on this kind of work, what are the tools you’d be looking into? Ask questions if context matters and you need more detail. Thanks!


What platform the primary documentation and calendar scheduling tools the team will agree to use for the “big chunks” of collaborative work would be my first intuition here. Everyone will probably have their preferred workflows, apps, etc. but establishing that initial collaboration tool vocabulary would be very important to me.

Let’s assume Google docs for primary documentation and Microsoft Exchange for the calendar.


If by Microsoft Exchange, you mean Microsoft 365, why use Google Docs instead of the Microsoft 365 apps?

Edit: TL;DR: Keep everything in one place.

Have to agree with @wweber , Office 365 might be the best bet here.
Teams for communications.
OneNote for notes, holding PDFs, spreadsheets, documents, all available and editable within OneNote, or can be edited in the desktop apps.
All the applications people are familiar with, Word, Excel, etc.
iOS, iPadOS, Android, web, …

Word is not my friend, but I think everything else outweighs that.

Example: A protocol I wrote, and related discussion with a grad student I was working with.
You can see there’s another document pinned to the top for easy access. A couple of clicks, and you can jump into a meeting. Etc.


Looks very similar to a startup environment. As Office365 has been already suggested, I would add Notion which a lot of teams are using.

With regards to office suites, please don’t mix Google Workspace tools with Office ones, you’re not going to get the full potential of any of these suites unless you go all in.


I tend to agree. I’ve used Google and Microsoft office software since both were introduced. Excel and Word are the gold standard. If you plan to create complex documents you might want to start with them.

Question, could you create your documents in Numbers and Pages and export them to Excel and Word? If so, then Google Docs and Sheets should work for for you and they are superior to Microsoft when you need to collaborate on documents.

Obviously the first step is migrating off of Exchange calendars ASAP so no one feels pressured to use any Office products. :stuck_out_tongue:

Without knowing more, I’d look at making a cozy home base that fits the work and the team. Maybe Trello with fun powerups or a Miro board (Miro on iPad is okay with Pencil—not great.)

If the reflective journaling is supposed to create an artifact, it’s going to be used for for years, and you want something that looks like it fits the project, it’s probably worth setting up a multi-author/multi-category blog.

If assets are private, whatever existing cloud storage is probably fine unless a lot of metadata is needed. Then I’d probably be looking at an airtable or another custom DB app. Depends on your appetite to build things vs. just getting going.


Google Docs has very fine importers for native MS Office documents, but as soon as you edit them they become native Google documents. I have never tried to export a Pages/Numbers document in the MS Office format and import them into Google Docs, but I have the suspicion that if the docs are sophisticated enough the import would be less than ideal. Worth a try, though.

I meant that people who have converted numbers and pages to excel and word should have no problem using Google docs and sheets. Guess I wasn’t clear.

@cornchip, I’m a Mac Power User! My appetite to build things is insatiable.


More context, if helpful:

It’s an academic group of researchers, we’ll collaborate with other researchers at other institutions. We’re not going to use Office products. The 365 thing is unavoidable because of the uni’s IT choices. I’m wanting something clever and fun, but also efficient. I’d thought about Trello, and that’s a promising direction, I’ve loved using it when working with a team (not so much working alone, though). Notion might work, but for some reason, I’m not into it and never have been?

We already use the heck out of Google Docs, I doubt we’ll change that, but systems that integrate well w/them are of interest. (I realize Trello continues to be an option with this criteria.) Please keep ideas coming, and think “in an ideal world” for now. And I’ll continue to add thoughts if they occur.


Microsoft and Google. Unless this is a temporary situation, don’t feed those beasts and do not let them get their hooks into you. We all know the endless problems caused by Microsoft through the years and I read recently of a guy who has used Google tools for years and got cut off. He tried to appeal, to get his data back, nada.

This thread names a zillion alternatives. Don’t use Google and Microsoft for anything.


Notion. Basecamp. Zoho. The internet is stuffed with ways to share information. Don’t use Google and don’t use Microsoft. Once you start, your life will be worse forever. You can’t get rid of them (until they decide you are bad and then you are screwed).

The keys to Word – just in case this has anything to do with your sentiment – are to use document templates (and/or change the default template to what works for you), and to use styles for all text formatting.

MS could have made this much easier to figure out and implement, but using Word without setting up document templates and styles in advance causes the user to constantly be fighting the application to make their documents turn out how they want.


If only.

It’s a strange and frustrating consequence of the complexity of modern software operating environments. Every time I’ve used DevonThink/DTTG I’ve ended up with corrupted databases and/or sync issues rendering it virtually unusable. Yet many people here swear by it as a reliable workhorse. I’m always given the impression it’s something I’ve done, although the availability of tools within the application to repair databases suggests otherwise.

I’ve used Word most of my working career, yet have had none of the issues you’ve described. It’s clunky in places for sure (like the aforementioned templates), but reliable. But we presumably have different use cases and document types.


If all of the academics on your team are at your university and on the same network, what about just making your notes individual documents saved in the file system using a simple but consistent naming convention? You could create a set of folders to represent high level categories. But I would not make it overly hierarchical so that you and your team are not constantly debating where a document should go.

If you do it this way, your notes could come from a variety of different applications but the documents would be naturally ordered by title if you put the date first. Sortable by document type, just by clicking a field in finder OR windows explorer. Searchable. You could have traditional documents, images, spreadsheet analyses, presentations, emails (printed to pdf or native or text), etc.

I have a system I use that I call my black box that I use essentially this method for. Everything goes into a document management system, not the basic file system but the principle is the same.

My system has been road tested for hundreds of thousands of “pages” of documents and is pretty efficient to find and even browse (not that anyone is normally browsing all of the repository.) It’s also good because none of the materials are trapped in a locked-in platform. Although, you could easily map this system to some of the cloud platforms. (I don’t use Google docs very often, so I can’t speak to that.)

Your substantive work could be organized the same way, either in the file system or right within the Google Docs repository.

One of the things that’s helpful to me with my document management system is version control — materials can be edited and saved as new versions while maintaining the prior versions. With a VCS, you have a single file but you have access to all the prior versions. That’s so much better than manually saving versions. But I can show you a clean way to do that if you need to go that route.

If you want to be adventurous, you could set up a git repository to manage document versions. It’s primarily for software development but the tool can really be used with any files that get modified over time. It may be more of a learning investment than you want for this project. It’s not hard but there are a lot of abstract concepts to master that (again, are not hard but…) still take some time.


I agree; this sounds like a good case for using Office365. Teams has come a long way and is now native M1, and this is great for meetings or videoconferences as it has a thread for each where you can post links and files. Onenote is excellent for sharing notes. I’m also not a huge fan of Word, but you can export as PDF from any program and use that in OneNote or OneDrive; this makes sharing files a cinch.

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Here is a far out idea, use Obsidian for your notes synced via a GitHub repository.