An open laptop computer sitting on top of a table

Are you a habitual note-taker? Are you constantly using outlines to help you work on the flow of your articles? Do you need something to help you organize your thoughts? Then perhaps it’s time you used a great piece of software to help you.

I recently stumbled on a free program for Mac OS X called Deep Notes. Deep Notes is a hierarchical outliner that makes it simple to create outlines. Before we get into it, however, let’s ask ourselves a few questions about an outliner.

Do you want something fast? Of course you do. There’s nothing worse than trying to solve a problem with a piece of software, only to have it turn out to be slower and more cumbersome than the old pencil-and-paper way of creating an outline.

Do you want something simple? Again, this should be a no-brainer. While we all want an application to have a ton of features, the worst thing in my opinion is when those features overtake the design of the program, making it difficult to use.

Do you want something inexpensive? Unless you’re made of money, or will be making so much money by virtue of using an outliner, I think it makes fiscal sense to be on the lookout for something that’s not going to break the bank.

There’s an old adage about paying someone to do work for you. The saying goes that there are three traits to most work that gets done. Work can be done slowly or quickly. Work can be done poorly or it can be done well. Work can be done cheaply or expensively. Most of the time, people want their work to be finished on time, under budget, and without flaws. The adage, however, says that you’ll only ever get two out of the three. You can have your work done quickly and inexpensively, but it won’t be very high quality. You can get your work done quickly and of high quality, but it won’t be inexpensive. And you can get your work done cheaply and of high quality, but it won’t be fast.

With Deep Notes, on the other hand, you get all three. You get a program that’s quick to use. You get a program that is simple to use. And you definitely get a program that’s inexpensive, since it’s completely free!

How does Deep Notes work?

Well, simply start it up. You will be faced with a small screen, with a single note already in progress. More than likely you won’t want “untitled” as your first note, so start typing and give your outline a title. Now, take a look at your toolbar.

Pretty simple, right? Three buttons and five blobs of color. The buttons, in order from left to right, create an entry at the same level you’re on (I call this a sibling), while the next button creates a child entry, indented from the previous one. The third button, the big red X, deleted whatever entry is highlighted. The five color blogs are for you to use to set apart certain entries. Highlight a line, click the color, and the text is immediately changed to that color.

Right now, that’s pretty simple, but don’t worry, just head up to the Outline menu, and you’ll see a few more options. In addition to the abilities listed above, Deep Notes can also create new items, but gives you more control. You can choose to create a new entry not only below your current entry, but above as well. You can duplicate an item, which is helpful if you’ll be stressing certain points over and over. This avoids having to retype. The menu system also gives you the option to move a particular item. Did you mean to create a child entry, but clicked to create a sibling entry instead? No worries. Highlight the one in question, then select the move in or out option. Similarly, you can also move an item up or down, if you decide to reorganize. This can also be done via drag and drop. While most of these options are only initially visible and accessible via the menu, they can be added to the toolbar as well. Simply right-click in the toolbar, select the Customize option, then drag and drop whatever buttons you want.

Let’s go back to those colors for a second. In my mind, the feature is great, but not necessarily that well-designed. For instance, the five built-in colors are Black, Gray, Red, Blue, and Purple. Honestly, the Gray is hard to read, and the Blue and Purple a bit too similar for me. Thankfully, however, you can create as many colors as you want, so if you want more colors, different colors, or just your own colors… Deep Notes lets you customize to your heart’s content. Also, in the Deep Notes preferences, you can further customize things, by selecting a different font (if you wish) for displaying while the program is in use, as well as a different font for use when printing.

When you’re finished with your outline, you’ll probably want to do something with it, right? Again, Deep Notes makes that simple. You can print it, of course, and because Deep Notes is a Mac OSX application, you can also print directly to PDF, for easy sharing with others. If you want something a little different, you can also export your outline, to either a plain text file with a numbered outline (standard numerals, not Roman numerals), or you can also export to a text file using tabs. Doing so, in either case, will lose color formatting, so beware.

All in all, I’m really impressed with Deep Notes. Now, don’t get me wrong. A program like Deep Notes is not going to take marketshare away from something like Omni Outliner, but that’s not its audience. As I said at the beginning, it’s not a complicated program, isn’t cluttered with weird features only ten percent of its users will ever use, and it’s not expensive. It’s simple, lightweight, easy to use and free. If you’re looking for a program to help you organize your thoughts or your writing, check out Deep Notes. You’ll be glad you did!