There are a lot of note-taking apps out there. Google Keep may not be as powerful as services like Evernote, but its value is in its simplicity. Let’s talk about how to make the most of it.
What Is Google Keep?
Keep is a free-form note-taking app. When Keep was first announced back in 2013, there were a lot of conversations on whether or not we needed another note-taking app. People made comparisons to Evernote and other similar services. But in the end, Keep is its own thing. It’s simple where it matters, but Keep still offers enough features to make it powerful.
Keep is also prolific. You can use it on the web, so it’s available on all your computers, and there are also Android and iOS apps. Since it’s a Google product, Keep syncs to your Google account, so it’s always up-to-date regardless of which device you’re using it on. There’s also a Chrome extension to make it easy to add things to keep as you find them.
I’ve been using Keep since the beginning, and I currently use it almost every day. Here’s a quick look at some of the things I personally use Keep for:
- Grocery List: This is probably one of the most common reasons people use Keep. And it’s a damn good one.
- Meal Planning: This goes hand-in-hand with the grocery thing, but it’s not the same. This is where my wife and I plan meals for the following weeks, so we know what groceries to buy.
- Work Ideas: When it comes to keeping track of things to write about, Keep is absolutely invaluable to me. I have two lists: one for ideas I need to research, and one for ideas I need to pitch to my editor.
- Random Notes to Remember: My wife and I have recently been looking for a house to buy, so we kept a checklist of things to look at while we were at each one. This way we never forgot to look at the water heater or roof. Similarly, we have a list of things we’ll need to buy for said house. If I need any sort of random list—both short or long-term—Keep is where it goes.
- A Holding Pen Between Devices: Since Keep syncs to my Google account, I often copy/paste things between devices this way. If I need to get a piece of text from my computer to my phone (or vice versa), Keep is the place to do it. When I’m done, I just delete the note.
Now that you have an idea of some of the ways you can use Keep, let’s take a closer look at how you can make the most of it.
Color Code Your Notes
As you use Keep, it can start to get cluttered with all sorts of notes. If you leave everything the default white color, it can be a real pain to sort through and find what you’re looking for. There’s a search feature, but if you keep things organized from the beginning, it makes life a lot easier.
Since Keep lets you change the color of notes, this is a great way to keep things organized. For example, you could make all your work-related notes blue, food-related lists green, and hobby-based notes red. So when you need to quickly find something related to work, you could scroll through and quickly glance at all the blue notes. It’s simple.
To change the color of a note on the web, open the note, and then click the palate icon at the bottom.
On mobile, tap the three dots in the lower right corner, and then select one of the colors at the bottom.
Label Your Notes
But wait, there’s more! You can also add labels to keep your notes organized, and if you have a lot of notes, a good labeling system can be a lifesaver.
In the main Keep menu, just tap “Edit” next to the labels option. Here you can add, edit, or remove labels needed.
To add labels to your notes, you can tap the menu button on the note, and then choose the “Add label” option. You can also just type a hashtag directly in the note to open the labels menu. Easy peasy.
The real beauty of labels is that you can you can view all notes with the same label as a sort of collection, making it really easy to browse through related notes. Here, for example, we’re browsing through my Guitars and Music label. Notice that they’re all color coded, too.
Use Check Boxes for Lists
If you’re using Keep for lists—be it a to-do list, grocery list, or some other type of point-by-point list—using check boxes makes things easier to read, and you can check items off as they’re completed.
There are two different ways to create a list with check boxes. You can either use the “New List” button, or add check boxes after the fact by tapping the “+” button and then choosing the “Show checkboxes” option.
From that point forward, just tick these boxes as you’ve completed the items to move them to the bottom of the list. You can also hide or show them by clicking/tapping the little arrow.
If at any point you want to remove the checkboxes, uncheck all items, or delete the checked items, you can do that by tapping the three dots beside the list name on mobile or clicking the menu button on the web. From there, all the available list options show up.
Share Your Notes and Lists for Easy Collaboration
Shared lists are paramount for helping teams or families stay organized. To share a list, tap the menu button on mobile, and then choose the “Collaborator” option.
On the web, just click the “Collaborator” button.
From there, enter the person’s email address, and away you go. Keep sends them a notification and automatically adds the note to their Keep. It’s cool.
Also, if you have a Google Play Family Plan, you can share notes with your Family Group in one tap. This is awesome for families who want to stay organized.
You may use another app to keep reminders, but if you’d like to keep all your to-dos, lists, notes, and reminders in one place, Keep can do it for you. Just open the main menu on the sidebar, and then choosing “Reminders” option.
Adding a new reminder is almost identical to adding a new note: open the note box, give it a title, and add some text. The main difference here is that you can also choose a reminder time.
From there, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Keep reminds you when the time comes, and the rest is up to you.
Keep also adds this reminder to your Google Calendar, which is a nice touch. But if you do that, you’ll probably get double notifications.
Add Voice Memos, Images, or Pen Input to Your Notes
Sometimes you need more than just typed words. For those times, you can also add images, draw pictures (or write words), and even add voice memos (mobile apps only).
To do any of these things in a new note, use the buttons on the bottom bar (on the web, the “Drawing” option is hidden behind the “More” button):
To add any of those things to an existing note, tap the “+” button at the bottom, and then choose the appropriate entry.
If you jot some text down using the “drawing” function, you can also ask Keep to transcribe it by using the top menu button, and then selecting the “Grab Image Text” option.
It will take a few minutes, but it generally does a pretty legit job.
Similarly, if you add a voice note, Keep will automatically transcribe it. That’s awesome.
Eh, that’s close enough.
Customize Your Keep Settings
Keep doesn’t have a lot of options in its Settings menu, but what it does have is pretty useful. To access these options, open the main menu, and then click or tap the “Settings” option.
Here, you can change the way lists function by choosing whether newly-added items appear at the top or bottom. You also can choose whether checked items are moved to the bottom or remain in their current place on the list.
Similarly, you can customize specific times for reminders, though the default options are really pretty good.
Finally, you can enable or disable sharing, as well as rich link previews. The latter basically adds a preview snippet and thumbnail image to any links you add to Keep, which can take up a lot of space.
Use the Android Wear App for Even Quicker Access
Okay, this one is sort of niche given that Android Wear isn’t as popular as Google would like for it to be. But if you are an Android Wear user, you should really get Keep on your watch!
This is such a great way to keep an eye on a list when, say, grocery shopping. You can look at list and check things off as you go. It even works in ambient mode, so you won’t drain your watch battery while keeping the list easily accessible.
But here’s the thing: you won’t find Keep in the Play Store for Wear if you search for it. Instead, you have to open the Play Store on your watch, and then scroll down to the “Apps on your phone” section. That’s where you’ll find it—just install it from there.
Note: The above instructions are for Android Wear 2.0 only. If you’re using a pre-2.0 device, Keep should automatically sync from your phone.
Keep is simple. It doesn’t have a full-fledged text editor like Evernote, but it’s powerful enough for simple notes. It’s great for lists, and for jotting down quick ideas. The shared lists work great for a family, and the color-coding and label systems keep things clean and organized. If you haven’t given Keep a shot before now and are looking for a new way to get organized, give it a try. And if you already use it, hopefully this list will help you make better use of everything Keep has to offer.