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Apple Notes: 12 Tips and Tricks for Mac, iPhone, and iPad
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Apple Notes: 12 Tips and Tricks for Mac, iPhone, and iPad

Answering your most common Apple Notes questions...Plus a few pro tips.

March 10, 2021
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

However you use it—on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, or all three—Apple Notes is sneaky good.

Apple's 2019 update added significant changes including checklist formatting, folder—subfolder organization, shareable folders, and a gallery view.

Plus, the operating system update for iPhone and iPad from late last year added Apple Pencil compatibility, improved search, and a few other notable (pun intended) usability improvements.

What does all this mean? You're probably not getting as much as you could be out of Apple Notes.

But that's okay. Because we're here to help.

However skilled you are with the Notes app, we’ve got a host of tips and tricks to take your note-taking up a notch. 

If you’re an expert Apple Notes user, you may want to skip to the pro tips section further down the page. The first section will be dedicated to some quick tutorials that review some basic, but commonly missed Notes features. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

Quick and Dirty How-To’s

How to Make a Checklist

What's better than a checklist for making sure your tasks are really done? Answer: nothing.

And in Apple Notes, you can easily turn any line of text into a checklist item by highlighting the text and tapping the checkbox icon. Alternatively, you can start a blank checklist item by making a line break and then tapping the checkbox icon.

How to Lock Notes

Want to lock your notes? First, you'll need to create a notes password, by going to Settings > Notes > Password on your iPhone or iPad. Then, you just enter a password, and if you want, enable Touch or Face ID.

Once you have a password: to lock a note, first, open it, then tap the ellipsis and then tap Lock.

How to Share Notes

If you ever wished you could collaborate on Notes like you do (for example) on Google Docs, this is your lucky day. To share a note, click on the ellipsis in the top-right corner and then tap share. You'll then be prompted to share the note via text, email, hyperlink, or a variety of apps.

Bonus tip: You can change the share menu that pops up when you tap ‘share’. After you tap the share button, scroll to the right of the options you’re presented with. Tap More, then tap Edit. From there, you can set favorites and remove options you don’t want. 

How to Highlight Notes on the iPhone

How you highlight notes on the iPhone depends on what you mean by highlight. 

If you're looking to highlight text so you can copy and paste, format, or delete the highlighted text, you do it by tapping and holding some text. Once you do that, toggles will show up on either side of the highlighted selection (as shown below). 

You can move these toggles to the left or right to highlight more or less text. 

Using the actual highlight tool is a different story. 

You can access this tool by clicking the highlighter icon. But you can’t actually highlight text—instead, any highlights you make will show up as their own separate element, like adding a drawing to a PowerPoint or Google Doc.  

Where you can highlight text with the highlighter tool is in .pdfs. So if you have text you want to highlight with this tool, make sure it’s in .pdf form.

How to Download Notes from iCloud to iPhone (and vice versa)

If you need to get your notes from your iCloud to your iPhone or iPad, you don’t actually need to download them. You just need to turn on iCloud sync for your device. 

To do this, go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud, then slide the toggle for notes so it’s green. Once you close and reopen your Notes app, the notes from your iCloud will show up. And you can follow the same process for getting the notes on your iPhone or iPad to the iCloud.

How to Indent on the iPhone

To indent text in a note on your iPhone, first highlight the text you want to indent. Then, tap “Indentation” and tap “Increase” or “Decrease.” This works for any kind of list, including bulleted, numbered, and checklists.

Pro Tips for Power Users (and Power Users in Training)

Part of the beauty of Apple Notes is its simplicity, so if our tutorial section blew your mind, don’t worry—none of the following note hacks are overly complex. 

Float Your Notes for Easy Reference on the Mac

Side-by-side screens are cool and all, but it’s easy to accidentally click out of them. And they make it hard to read if your screen isn’t big enough. 

In the macOS Notes app, you can float notes over other windows, even as you switch apps. This makes it super convenient to reference the note while writing or to take notes while researching.

To do this, just open a new or existing note, then, in the menu bar, select Window > Float Selected Note. From there, you can place the note wherever you like (or open more notes) as you write in a document, surf the web, or use the calculator. 

Take a Photo or Make Sketch—from iPhone to Mac

Want to see a magic trick? What you’re going to do is take a photo or create a sketch that will automagically appear in a note on your Mac.

First, make sure you have iOS 12 or later and macOS Mojave or later. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Open a note on your Mac and position the cursor where you want your photo or sketch to show up. 
  2. Right-click and choose Take a Photo or Add Sketch
  3. On your iPad or iPhone, take your photo (or create a sketch), then tap “Use Photo”

And just like that, your photo will appear on your Mac.

Save Webpages to Apple Notes

For some, the lack of a web clipper in Notes may be a dealbreaker. But Apple Notes, while it doesn’t have a web clipper, does allow you to share webpages to a note. 

No, you won’t be able to save portions of the page like with Evernote. But you will have a method to quickly grab web pages you want to save. To do this on the iPhone or iPad, tap the share button when you’re browsing. Then, when your share menu pops up, tap on the Notes app icon.

From there, you can add the webpage link to an existing note or create a new one. On your Mac, you’ll follow the same procedure except the Share button is in your menu bar and Safari toolbar.

Make Your Notes Lined

Did you know you can make your notes lined? Just open a note, tap the ellipsis, scroll down, and tap “Lines & Grids”. You’ll then be given several options for turning your note into the digital equivalent of a lined piece of paper or graph paper.

Note: This tip is most useful if you often use an Apple Pencil with your iPad. Unless you have tiny fingers, sketching on an iPhone isn’t the best.

Nested Folder Organization

Folders and subfolders came to Notes in 2019, and they’re super simple to use. To nest folders, open your Notes app and tap Folders. Then, tap and hold the folder you want to move into another folder. When the menu pops up, tap Move and then you can choose the destination folder.

Scan a Document, then Mark it Up

If you ever need to scan a document, know that Apple Notes has a scanner built in. All you have to do is open a note and click the camera icon in your toolbar. Then, you just click the option to “Scan Documents” and take a picture of your document(s). 

From there, you can tap the highlighter icon and highlight or scribble on the documents to your heart’s content.

A Final Note on Apple Notes Alternatives

There’s no question Apple Notes is a powerful tool, especially if you’re entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.

Just don’t underestimate the power of alternative note apps that are built for more specific purposes. Yes, Apple Notes is pretty versatile for general-purpose note-taking… and you can’t beat the price. 

But if you’re taking highly visual notes with lots of images or tables, Apple Notes will get in your way. 

An app like Notion, with its modular, lego-like layout makes it easier to drag, drop and reorder visual elements. 

Similarly, Notes can’t be built into your meeting workflow as elegantly as they can be in Hugo, which is built specifically for meeting notes. 

So, as you become a master of Apple Notes—as you undoubtedly will if you’ve read this far—keep an eye on where it falls short. And don’t be afraid to step out of the box to take your note-taking to the next level for meetings, design, or anything else you do.

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Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

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