Cotton Notes Review: The productivity app done right!

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

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As a productivity enthusiast blogger, I get a lot of pitches for reviewing lots of various applications. But this pitch was very different. The email headline stated: “Made an app, based on one of your articles. This is the reason why I decided to do the Cotton Notes Review.

This immediately sparked my interest. Catering to my ego seemed to work, but I wasn’t disappointed. It was a simple outliner, and I was unsure, was that what I was looking for? And I was looking for a good outlining application, and this seemed as a right fit for my iPhone. The app in question is called Cotton Notes, you can find it on the App Store.

Anthony Romano approached me, gave me a free license, and asked me wether I will review it. I’ve download an app, and gave it a go, even though it completely didn’t fit in my system.

Core competencies

Awesome Simple Outliner

First thing when I saw it, was: “Oh, okay, a simple outliner for my iPhone.” But I want to export this? So I get back to my email, send a suggestion to the Anthony Romano, and wait.

Fast updates

Boom, the next update, you could export your outline as an OPML. I thought, man that was fast!


OPML export

Outliners and mind mapping software have this file format, that I’ve found amazing, it’s called .opml – outline processor markup language. OPML is in the world of outliners, what .doc is in the world of text documents.

This way when I export into .OPML format, into my Dropbox, where I am syncing iThoughts HD, I can get the beautiful mind map of the outline, I’ve just created.

Text export

For people who aren’t fans of .OPML, there is an option for you to export as a text file. This is also interesting features for me, as of this article, I’ve officially started outlining my articles in Cotton. Now, when I want to continue outline, into a text, I won’t actually have to do it from scratch, but instead, I will export the part of the cotton database, as a text, and continue working from there.

This is feature is still in the beta, but it is coming out in the next iteration of the app, that is already waiting for Apple’s approval.

Evernote and file attachments

Accessing your files right before starting a task is a must for any task manager, but it’s also a great way to let you keep working within your usual framework, and still be able to connect your work outside of the app, into the app. This is what Omnifocus did right, and Cotton got from the get go.

I’ve mentioned this in core competencies, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. Integration with other platforms is the right way for a newcomer to start tinkering with. This is in it’s initial stages and still needs further development, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Tagging and search

Search of Cotton notes works pretty well, and lays out the results amazingly quick, but the visual aspect of tagging is not as perfect as the rest of the app, hence I avoided tagging, as it doesn’t look as neat, as the clean interface of the Cotton itself.

Hierarchical structure without distractions

Now this is huge. It allows the user to “zoom in” to the task, or note group, and efficiently eliminating the rest of the things that are showing up from other projects or groups.

This way it let’s you focus on the task at hand, while you are still in the same framework window, and you can still access any information within the application.

This concept has been already seen in Workflowy and is the one that works exceptionally well.


Task manager, wouldn’t be a task manager, if it didn’t have checkboxes. And a lot of geeks will rejoice on the mention


Within the tasks / notes, you are able to set due dates, where cotton will remind you to complete a certain task, on a certain date. It will also give you a clear list of upcoming tasks.

Upcoming improvements and my suggestions to the Anthony Romano

As I’ve stayed in close touch with Anthony, I’ve head his ideas for the future, and where he is going to take application. And you can enjoy a really good, simple ride, where he is going to take you to innovative approach to productivity.

I am very very excited about what’s coming up! Here’s a list, and I believe you will be amazed yourself, that all of this has been already done by a single person!

  1. Quick add is an equivalent of the Inbox. Where you quickly add notes outside of the app, and later on you regroup them within your database.
  2. The ability to export any note (as opposed to the whole Cotton database)
  3. Fine tuned creation of new notes, with some fancy capabilities like splitting a note in two
  4. Tag search, and jumping to tags by first letter
  5. Full screen sckatching on iPad
  6. Agenda improvements, data moving and quick jumping to “Today” view.
  7. Quick add in Launch Center Pro integration, this one is amazing… (my humble recommendation :))

And that’s not all! He’s god more goodies out, coming out of the box, that left me craving for more Cotton!


For 3$, how much this app costs, this is a steal! Considering that the app is young, and that this project is ran by a single developer, buying this app, not only will help him get on the right foot, it will also help you have a developer working full time on something that is amazing, simple, yet packed with functionality without compromising on the functionality.

This is the app from which Workflowy will be able to learn a lot, because if it doesn’t, it’s going to be swallowed by insane competition that this app provides.


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