The best free note taking apps for ADHD writers

In my work as an ADHD writing coach, I encounter two kinds of answers when I ask about note taking systems. Either the ADHD writer I’m talking to will tell me they don’t really take notes (they just leave their browser tabs open), or they tell me that they have a perfect note-taking system. This blog post about the best free note taking apps for ADHD writers is for both these groups. 

“What?,” you might think, “But people in this second group say they have the perfect system. Why would they be interested in this post?”
Well, it’s very simple. In every single interaction I’ve had with the second type of person, it turned out that they were very good at taking notes… But after they had taken them they never saw them again. Their note taking system was great, their note finding system not so much. 

So if this is you: there’s still some work to do! 

The three aspects of note taking

Simply taking notes is not enough if you end up creating them only for them to disappear somewhere into a huge pile of other thoughts. I’ve seen people send themselves an email to take a note, fill the pages of notebook after notebook, or keep hundreds of browser tabs open so they don’t forget that thought they had when they were looking at each of these pages… 

And then, of course, there’s the note-taking multi-taskers. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s said to me: “I know I wrote it down somewhere… But is it in my Apple Notes, my Kindle highlights, Scrivener, a random Word document, one of my notebooks, or on one of the pieces of paper that’s floating around my house?”

So no, not all note-taking systems are created equal. And I find that the best free note taking apps for ADHD writers, are those that allow you to do three different things:

    • take notes
    • search them
    • and link them. 

Note taking with ADHD

Most ADHD writers have a complex relationship with note-taking. Though our memories are often less-than-reliable (which is only one of the struggles of ADHD writers), we have internalized the idea that our memories should just be perfect and we shouldn’t need notes in the first place. What’s more, years of unorganized living have eroded our belief that we’ll be able to use our notes later anyway – so why take the notes at all? As a consequence, we keep reinventing the wheel over and over again. And we never even sit down to find the best free note taking apps for ADHD writers. So clearly that’s not you. Still, bear with me while I talk you through the steps to choosing a note taking system.  

Step 1: acceptance

The first step to developing a great note-taking system, then, is to accept that your brain is not always reliable. And that’s okay. Once you’ve accepted this, you can start thinking about the things that the best note taking apps for ADHD writers should have, for you to be able to use it intuitively whenever you come up with a new idea.  

How to find a note-taking system that works

Here are some of the questions I have found essential in determining which note-taking system is right for writers with ADHD: 

    • What device(s) do you take your notes on? If it’s more than one, you’re going to need a type of software that will allow you to synchronize across your devices. 
    • What kinds of things do you need to take notes on? Do you only want to take notes that relate to your writing, or do you need a more involved organization system that will allow you to divide your notes between “life areas” and different kinds of projects? 
    •  How do you connect ideas in your head? Are you a more associative thinker or do you prefer thinking in a hierarchy? For the first type of thinker, tagging capabilities can be helpful. If you’re the second type, however, you might benefit more from a nested type of organization. 
    • What shape do your notes take? Are they (fragments of) sentences? Or do you also doodle? If it’s the latter, you will also need an app that will allow you to upload and organize photographs or scans. 

And that, of course, brings us to the next step: finding your notes again. 

Searching notes 

As I said before: finding notes that were taken a long time ago is often the number one problem my clients have when it comes to the best free note taking apps for ADHD writers. The first problem is that they won’t know in which of the hundreds of places they have put this particular note – which is something we’ll try to resolve by keeping all your notes in one app. The second problem is that finding these notes can take a lot of time and therefore not seem like it’s worth the effort. 

Why you shouldn’t use paper

What we need, then, is a system that is searchable. And that automatically excludes most physical note-taking systems. If you need to find a note you took 2 years ago, digital really is your best bet. And that is exactly why this post is called “The best note taking APPS for ADHD writers”, and not the best notebooks.

That does not mean there is no purpose for hand-written (or drawn) notes. In fact, I love taking notes by hand to give myself quick little reminders. But if I need to be able to find these reminders again years from now, I know I need to digitize them at some point. 


There are different ways to find digital notes again. Of course, there’s the good old search function, which can be great! If you know exactly what you’re looking for and which words you used – and these are words that don’t show up in hundreds of notes to yourself – the search function can work really well. But what about notes on topics that aren’t so clear in your head that you know exactly what search word to use? Or what if you’re not looking for one specific note but rather all the notes you have every written that are related to a certain topic, like ADHD productivity for example?

I’ve talked and written about it a lot. But not everything I’ve ever said on the topic actually used the terms “ADHD” and “Productivity,” so a simple word search isn’t going to help me there. 

Linking notes

What might help, however, is a way to connect notes to one another. If you’re an associative thinker like me, these systems can be great as you don’t have to remember exactly which words you used when you wrote them down: all you need to do is remember what you associate these notes with. 

There are three ways I know of in which the best free not taking apps for ADHD writers allow you to link notes to each other: categorizing, tagging and direct association. 


Categorizing, I am sure, is a thing that you already use. What it basically means is that you put everything together that belongs together. For example: I am sure you have a folder on your computer that contains different files related to, for example, your writing project. Or maybe your taxes? Anyway, categorizing in note taking apps works the same way: you just put notes that belong together in the same folder. And this folder-system, of course, can be as nested as you want. You can put a folder in a folder in a folder in a folder… Until you can folder no more. 


Tagging is my favorite. If I know that the note I’m looking for is related to ADHD productivity, and also related to apps – as this blog post is – in a tag-based note taking app I can simply look at all the notes related to both tags to find the note I’m looking for. My blog posts are actually tagged that way as well. If you go to the footer of my website, you can see the tag cloud that covers my blog post topics. Click on one of those tags, and you’ll be sent to a page that shows you all my blog posts on that topic. 

And your note taking system can work the same way! 


Another way that might work for you is organization based on direct association. If one thought always automatically leads to the next, you can have a note taking system that allows you to link the two notes to eachother directly. If you find one note, therefore, the line of dominos in your head should start falling, with one thought automatically leading to another. The Zettelkasten method is one example of this kind of direct linking of notes. 

The best free note taking apps for ADHD writers

These three aspects of note taking – taking them, searching them, and linking them – are important to keep in mind as you decide on the best free note taking apps for you. Make a list of things that are important for you in such an app, and then go through the three options I give you here to choose the one that will work best for you! 

Screenshot of Evernote note taking app


First, there’s the oldest app on  my list: Evernote. This software has much to love! It easily syncs across devices, which is important for those of us who want to take notes on the go as well as on our computers. What’s more, it comes with lots of integrations: there are webclippers that allow you to easily save webpages (no more 1000 open tabs in your browser!) and documents and PDFs you embed in your notes are completely searchable. You can type text directly in the app, or upload photos of handwritten notes you’ve taken… What’s more, it’s integrated with Siri (you can simply tell your phone to make a note) and even handwritten notes are searchable. 

Evernote works with tags and categories, or “notebooks”. The two downsides? There’s no way to link between notes directly and there is talk of the free plan becoming severely restricted. 

Screenshot of Notion note taking app


Confession: Notion is where my brain lives. My whole life is organized from this free app. Whereas Evernote is quick and easy, Notion is the exact opposite. It’s a database system that excels at searchability and filtering. It allows you to assign each note different properties (date created, tags, associated projects, source, importance, etc) and then to filter based on those properties. This means, for example, that you can ask it to show only those notes you created in 2020, that aren’t archived, are based on a website you read, and have something to do with ADHD productivity. Which is a brilliant system if you’re worried you won’t be making the same associations a year from now that you would make today!

Notion allows you to link directly between notes, build wikis, use synced blocks (if you make a change in one page, all the copies in other pages will also be changed), and allows you a lot of different views for your notes. You can create shareable pages with it, embed and integrate different file types… Yes, I could go on and on about the functionality. 

But, of course, there are downsides as well. If you’re just starting to build a note taking system, because of its impressive functionality, Notion can take a lot of time to set up, whereas the other two note-taking apps I recommend here are much simpler. Also: using it on your phone can be a bit clunky (though it does automatically sync across devices). 


And then there’s Obsidian. Fair warning: this is the one I have the least experience with. The reason it still made it to my list, though is it’s wonderful visual representation of your notes. As you can see from the image above, by directly linking to other notes and to tags, you can start creating a web of ideas – which I think works particularly well for certain ADHD brains! 

This app is great for when one thought leads to another, to follow your train of thought back to where you started, and because of its infinite zoom and back linking it also allows you to build a wiki with interlinked notes. 

And, of course, there’s the security. Obsidian lives on your hard drive, not in a cloud, and is more secure than the other two options on this list. The negative consequence of this, however? You cannot sync between devices: you cannot take notes on your phone directly into Obsidian. 

How to get started with a new note taking app?

Okay, so we talked about the three aspects of note-taking, and I introduced you to my three favorite note-taking apps. You may have even been persuaded already by one of these nice apps. If so: great job! But now comes the hard part: learning the new software and optimizing it for your own needs. 

The first thing I recommend you do is just watch some YouTube tutorials. Take 15 minutes every day to start familiarizing yourself with the software slowly, before diving in completely. Only then, start actually building your own note taking system. 

The second tip I want to give you is to think about templates. The last thing you want to do is to keep reinventing the wheel over and over again. So what should your notes look like? Search for templates for notes for your new note taking app, or combine your insights from the templates online to build your own. 

The best free note taking apps for ADHD writers

So what is the best free note taking app for ADHD writers? Whether you resonate with the ease of Evernote’s synchronization, Notion’s robust database system for in-depth organization, or Obsidian’s beautiful, visual representation of connected ideas – the ultimate choice is yours. 

Empower yourself with a note-taking system that resonates with your ADHD writing journey. And allow yourself to capture, retrieve and connect your ideas in a way that seems intuitive to you.  

Do you want to find more free author resources to help you on your ADHD writing journey? Why not take on the 7-day “Dream Big” challenge to organize your goals?!?