This post is part of our interview series to answer the question: who uses Bear? What do they want out of a notes app? How does Bear fit into their work or play? Do they prefer coffee or tea?
We’re on a mission to ask these and other burning questions from interesting people. Then we share their answers with you.
On today’s episode of Bear With Us, we introduce you to Elizabeth Butler: A person who is so passionate about taking notes and organizing information, she built a business and course around it. Elizabeth uses Bear as the “backbone” of her personal knowledge management (PKM, as it’s called in the industry), so we thought you’d enjoy taking a look at how she approaches and structures her work.
Tell us about yourself and what you do for a living?
Thanks so much for inviting me for this interview! I’m Elizabeth Butler, and I’m a physician, part-time creator/indie hacker, and parent. In my day job, I work in a hospital and outpatient clinic. In my spare time, I write about note taking, personal knowledge management, and productivity on my blog at ElizabethButlerMD.com. I’m currently working on iterating the next version of CalmerNotes.com, my course on note taking and personal knowledge management.
How about for fun?
Life is busy these days, but I try to squeeze in fun when I can! I love going to museums with my little one and watching mystery TV series and movies on date night with my spouse.
You created ‘Calmer Notes,’ a course and book that teaches people how to build their own PKM system. What’s the origin story behind that?
I’ve been interested in note taking and personal knowledge management for nearly two decades. It all started when I was doing grad school in the humanities, and I needed an efficient way to organize my research. While doing my PhD, I also worked as a consultant doing training on knowledge structure and productivity for individuals and organizations.
When I made the career switch to medicine, I discovered that I had to revamp my entire personal knowledge management system. Even though my previous setup had been a great fit, I realized that I needed to create a new system that reflected my current goals and constraints of my new workplace.
As I went through different phases in my own journey through personal knowledge management, I became really passionate about helping people find a PKM system that works for their current season of life. The Calmer Notes method grew out of this philosophy: namely, that note taking and personal knowledge management should be a tool to make life feel less complicated and overwhelming. I feel that personal knowledge management is a highly valuable tool— most of all for people who feel too busy to add yet another task to their to-do list.
How did you hear about Bear, and how long have you been using it?
I started trying out Bear on my iPad and iPhone in 2016 or 2017, while I was still using a Windows laptop as my main machine. When I needed to replace my laptop in 2021, knowing I could use Bear was a major consideration in my choosing to switch to a MacBook Air.
How many notes and tags do you have?
Right now, I have 432 notes and 35 tags. I use tags essentially as folders, and am very glad that Bear lets me nest tags infinitely. I also appreciate the auto-generated icons that make it easy to visually scan my sidebar.
How does Bear fit into your workflow? Do you use it in certain places, or for specific tasks?
Bear is the backbone of my personal knowledge management system these days. I collect ideas and inspiration, draft blog posts, outline course material, take research notes, collect quotes, and journal in Bear. I previously used Obsidian back when I was cross-platform, but I really appreciate being able to seamlessly use Bear between my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone.
Using the quick-capture feature on my iPhone is critical—I can use voice capture or quickly type out a note in the Bear app on my phone, then go back and process through the “untagged” category (which I use as an inbox) on my iPad or MacBook when I have time for processing. Everything goes in Bear.
Without spoiling your Calmer Notes course, can you share a little about how you organize notes in Bear?
Calmer Notes is all about finding a customized approach to fit your life and goals, so no worries about spoilers! There are so many great structures for successfully organizing notes.
Right now, I’m using what I call the PR2 method (2 folders for Projects, 2 for Reference), where I have tags acting as folders divided into:
- Active projects
- Current reference
- Completed projects
- Archived reference (Cold Storage)
I have two of these folder structures (one for personal and one for work), with plenty of nested tags within each. Here’s a screen cap of my overarching folder structure:
What is one of your favorite tricks or features when working in Bear?
So hard to choose! A few that are top of mind would be:
- The seamless Markdown support. I use Ghost for my blog, and copying and pasting Markdown from Bear to Ghost is a dream
- Press and hold to create a new note on iPhone
- The “copy as” feature (I appreciate being able to copy as Markdown or HTML)
- Nested tags in general
- Using the “untagged” notes category as an inbox
- All of the advanced search options
What is a feature you’d like to see added?
I’m anxiously awaiting Bear for web! Being able to access my Bear notes from a Windows computer at work would be a game-changer.
Now for some other questions
What has been your hibernation routine for quarantine?
Not too much hibernation during quarantine, I’m afraid! Lots of long hours at the hospital and clinic. No cool sourdough bread skills acquired, unfortunately.
Do you usually prefer the book, film, comic, or video game?
Usually the book!
Coffee, tea, or something else?
Tea, please! You can usually find me with a cup of Earl Grey at my elbow whenever I’m working on Calmer Notes.
Where can people follow you online?
The best place to stay in touch is over at my blog and via my newsletter. I’m at ElizabethButlerMD.com, and you can sign up for my newsletter there. You can also head over to CalmerNotes.com to learn more about the Calmer Notes method. I’m re-evaluating my social media use these days, but for now I’m on Twitter at @elizabutlermd and Pinterest at @elizabethbutlermd.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks so much for inviting me to be profiled in this series—I’m just so delighted and flattered! Bear has been such a joy to use, and it’s an integral part of my daily personal knowledge management routine. I’m always recommending it to anyone who’s looking for a note taking app within the Apple ecosystem. Thanks for creating such a wonderful app!