How to Use Goodnotes to Better Manage Your Day

A page of notes from Goodnotes

Journals are good for the soul. Whether you’re a student, teacher, worker or player, knowing what you’re supposed to be doing – or what you did – on a given day can really help reduce the stress of working in the 21st Century. iOS is blessed with many note-taking apps, including Apple’s own. Goodnotes is another note-taking app that allows you to take beautiful handwritten notes and organize them in a single place. This tutorial covers creating and importing templates into Goodnotes, creating content over the top of them and then using the software’s OCR tools to find notes in your pages.


Goodnotes comes with a good selection of cover and page types for daily use, but adding your own templates, with sections appropriate to your work, hobby or other needs can save time and effort, meaning you can spend more time on the actual notes.

Image highlighting the Goodnotes shape tool, which allows you to create neat lines, circles and boxes.
Neat lines are easier with the shape tool.

The simplest way to begin is to make your template inside Goodnotes. This means the page size is going to be right, and you can also use familiar tools to create your design.

Once you know what’s going into each page, draw it out. I prefer to start with the dotted paper and use the Shape tool to keep my lines and boxes straight.

It helps to know how you like to divide up your thinking and how extensive your note-taking will be. For some, a page per week is adequate, while people with busier lives may want one page per day with lots of procedural or creative sections. Either way, your template sets out your structure, so it’s worth spending some time thinking about it.

Goodnotes allows multiple templates per notebook, so if you’re a weekly person suddenly hit with a tidal wave of work, you can add a new page, set it to a daily template and get writing.

When you’re happy with your layout, hit the Share button and select “Export this page.” Export the page as a PDF somewhere in your file system.

Import and select

Next, clear the page and go back to the Library. Tap the Gear icon in the top right of the page and choose “Notebook Templates.”

Image of the import template tool in Goodnotes.
Create, export and import your template without leaving the application.

The first time you come to this section, you’ll need to tap the “+” icon at the top right and create a new group. Give it a descriptive name, then within that new section, tap the Import button, navigate to your PDF and import it.

Back in your notebook, tap the “…” icon on the top right and select “Change template.” Choose your new template and select Apply.

You’ll have a page that looks like your original design, but the label elements are all fixed. You can start filling in your sections. The next day, slide left with two fingers and a new page is created with your template in place, ready for filling. The really nice thing about this is that the elements you’ve imported are treated as surface elements by Goodnotes, so when highlighting something, your design elements will show through the highlight color.

Page links

Depending on how you decide to organize things, Favorites could become the most valuable part of your setup. To get to your notebook overview, tap the Pages icon in the top left to get to your page grid. At the beginning of your usage, this page is going to be a little sparse. As you move through the month, it can become more chaotic, especially if you’re doing one page per day and adding project-based notes.

Image of the Goodnotes Toolbars.
The Bookmark/Favourite icon in the top toolbar becomes more useful as your notebook expands.

It’s a good habit to add a bookmark at the beginning of each week (tap the “Favorite/Bookmark” icon on the toolbar when you’re on that page), then next time time you go into the overview, you can touch Favorites and see the beginning of each week. Of course, you can base your Favorites on any criteria, so long as you understand it.

Note, Favorites here relate to the internal structure of a notebook. You can also favorite individual notebooks in the library, which is useful for denoting active or archived projects.

Search tips

As you accumulate notes, effective search becomes more and more important. You can access Search with the icon in the toolbar. As you type your query, matching words should appear in the menu along with a screen shot of the word. Tap the result to go to the page.

Image of the Goodnotes search tool looking up the word Tax.
Goodnotes does a good job of recognising my terrible writing. There are ways you can improve it.

While it does quite a good job of deciphering even the most terrible scrawls, you’re going to find it far more efficient if you’ve taken a bit of care with your handwriting. I found that zooming in, using a medium thickness pen and writing in caps made for more successful searches, but I suspect that mostly because those actions force me to slow down with the writing a little more, meaning neater letters.

As good as Goodnotes is, it is a walled garden, so if you’re working across platforms, you may need something a little less Apple-centric. And if you’re a Google fan, Keep is a great app for making your notes-habit accessible everywhere and to collaborators.

Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World and others, and has also published best-selling books on Ubuntu Linux and He's recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. He produces - but hardly ever releases - electronica under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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