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A Simple nValt Workflow

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A Simple nValt Workflow

In this article I want to introduce you to a great, free and simple tool for Mac called nValt. We’re going to cover how to set it up, how to use it, and how to construct a simple workflow that’s effective and productive.

About a year ago Thanh introduced me to this great tool called nValt. It’s a variation of a program called Notational Velocity.

Essentially, it is a mini-database of plain or rich-text notes. Think of it as a stack of organized sticky notes about different things. I am (was) a HUGE fan of sticky notes – using nValt has actually replaced my physical and Mac App stack of sticky notes completely.

1. Getting nValt

A quick Google search will get you need.

I’m not sure if there’s an “official version” but I grabbed mine here:

After downloading and installing it, I hit “check for updates” and updated to the latest version.

2. Setting up nValt

The first thing I do with all new programs I download or use is take a look at the settings.

Here’s what I set up as my preferences in nValt.

Preferences General

Under general preferences I set:

  • List Text Size to 18. I like my fonts big.
  • Bring-to-Front hotkey to command + control + shift + N. I normally just click to open the program, but this is good if you like keyboard shortcuts.
  • I ticked: Auto-select notes by title when searching, Confirm note deletion and Quit when closing window.
  • I unticked: Show menu bar icon.

Notes StorageNotes Security

Under Notes I set:

  • Read notes from folder to a folder I created in my Dropbox called “nValt”. All my notes go in there, and this is so that they can sync between my iMac and Macbook.
  • Storage Tab. I set it to Plain Text Files. This is because we like plain text at Asian Efficiency for its compatibility – we basically don’t do anything in Word, even if that is the common practice as most companies nowadays. Having the database as plain text also lets you access your notes from your Dropbox on your phone/tablet. If you don’t want to go plain text, use the Single Database option.
  • Security Tab. Turn on encryption if that is important for you.


The screen capture says it all, but I’ll give a quick shout-out to Sublime Text for being an amazing text editor for Mac.

Font Colors

Again, I’ve set my font to size 18 and Lucida Grande.

I’ve also set “Keep note body width readable” and on my monitor this is about 660px wide.

View Menu

The view menu hides even more options you can configure.

I ticked “Show Word Count” as sometimes that is important for notes that I take.
I unticked Disable Show Note Preview in Title as I found that it clutters up when I’m searching for notes.

3. Using nValt

Using nValt is pretty straightforward.

Whenever I have an idea that’s more than just a 1-line OmniFocus inbox capture, I put it in nValt.

New Note

I do this by calling up nValt via mouse or keyboard, and start typing the title of the note.

If the note title already exists, you’ll be able to select it. If not, hit Return to create a new note and then type in the contents of the note.

A couple of other keyboard shortcuts that are handy:

  • Command + L takes you to the title bar to search for existing notes.
  • Command + Delete lets you remove existing notes.

4. A Simple nValt Workflow

Here’s the workflow that I came up with the keep my nValt tidy and organized.

1. Put stuff into nValt.

As I work at my computer, I put things into nValt.

Say I answer the phone and need to take down notes quickly – I’ll do that in nValt, as I don’t find OmniFocus inbox items as useful for that.

If I have a series of ideas to note down, they go in nValt. A really common example of this for me is when I want to outline an article idea for the Asian Efficiency blog.

What I’ve found is that nValt has replaced my physical scratchpad space – before I used a legal pad or sticky notes to write down ideas, but now they go into nValt. It also acts as a temporary holding place for short bits of text and code and that I’m copy-pasting between places and am paranoid that I’ll override by accidentally copying something else.

Now you probably know that we LOVE OmniFocus here at Asian Efficiency. So why do I use nValt for particular things and not OmniFocus?

  • I see OmniFocus as a place to capture things – single lines of data.
  • I see nValt as a place to hold information and refer back to it in the middle of a workflow.
  • I also have a note in my nValt called “Stickies” for 1-2 line ideas – these could actually go in OmniFocus if I wanted them to.

2. Continue Working

Continuing on with our workflow, just work normally. You’ll find that some notes are automatically processed and deleted and the information moved elsewhere as part of your natural workflow.

3. Review Weekly

For the notes that aren’t processed naturally, you will want to clear your nValt on a weekly basis and move the information into long-term storage or just delete it if it is no longer needed.

I usually clear my nValt alongside my OmniFocus inbox and all my email on a weekly basis at least.

5. Next Steps

Download nValt and use it.

If you want to get fancy, look into browser extensions for clipping.

Otherwise, that’s all there is to it.

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Posted by hannes  | April 9, 2014 at 11:57AM | Reply

Hey guys, whats your preferred way for syncing with iOS?


Posted by Aaron Lynn  | April 9, 2014 at 10:51PM

I use Dropbox personally. I know Thanh has some funkier setup with the Drafts app on his phone.

Posted by philippe99  | March 15, 2014 at 11:47AM | Reply

Totally agree with you @Sean. I use nvAlt on Mac for quick text (text+markdown) notes and for preparing blog posts (in conjunction with Byword). Using a Dropbox repository for my notes, I can combine nvAlt with Textkraft on iPad and ResophNotes on Windows. Evernote is my repository for documents, web captures or OCRized PDFs. For simple text (or markdown) notes, nvAlt is far better than EN.

Posted by Sean Oliver  | March 15, 2014 at 1:40AM | Reply

I love nvalt. I use it for all of my work that is just text. Blog posts, emails. Its like an infinite set of index cards for me. I still LOVE evernote but mainly use it for Agile Results, Images, and OCR searchable PDF’s.

Posted by Jeremy Murfitt  | March 14, 2014 at 1:54PM | Reply


Previously you have favoured Evernote, is this an alternative or is it liked because of it’s simplicity?


Posted by Steve Robertson  | March 15, 2014 at 12:29PM

Great question. Has nValt replaced Evernote in your workflow or do you use them in such different ways that you recommend both?

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | March 17, 2014 at 6:04AM

I still use both.

Evernote has always been more of a journal and occasional note repository for me and nValt serves more as a “thoughts in progress” holding area for preparing things like blog posts or research on a topic until I’m able to formalize it into an email or internal wiki document or something.

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