Hook to New

Hook provides the world’s easiest, most flexible, general, elegant and only way to create notes about anything that are linked to just about anything (in the app of your choice)!

Before Hook, most people had practically given up on taking notes about their sources (web pages, PDFs, emails, spreadsheets, videos etc). Why? Because without Hook it’s impossible to systematically create notes and drawings quickly in your favorite app that are linked to a source,where the source can be in any linkable app. You may have wanted to take notes about a source (document, video, PDF, mail, whatever). But then you didn’t, because it’s too time consuming to create notes that you can quickly (contextually!) access later. Web browsers still don’t even include note-taking tools. Most PDF readers do; but their editors are extremely limited compared to your favorite note-taking app. Hook’s Hook to New is the solution to your problem!

To instantly create, store, name, open and link a new item to the current source, with one command, use the Hook to New menu entry in the Title menu. Just click anywhere on the title bar to see the Title menu. Or use ⌘N to instantly create a name, linked note in the default “note-taking” app.

With Hook, you can create “notes” in the app of your choice! Why limit yourself to the limited note-taking editor built into the PDF or ebook reader you’re using? You can now use your favorite note-taking app: whether it is a writing app, a mind-mapping app, and/or whatever other app you want! Having linked the source to your note(s), thereafter you can instantly navigate between the source and note!

As always, you can move the notes linked by Hook and the links will generally still work.

Hook names the new “note” based on the current source (optionally adding a prefix, and suffix).

Using ⌘N, the “Hook to New” keyboard shortcut

The quickest way to link the current source item to a new one is to use the “Hook to New” keyboard shortcut, ⌘N. This creates a new document of the default type, as assigned in the Notes pane of Hook’s preferences (⌘,).

Assigning keyboard shortcuts to apps that do not create Finder files

Currently ⌘N can only be configured to create a new note that has an associated template in the Finder (like Pages, Keynote and BBEdit). However, if you would like to instantly create a note of another type (e.g., Agenda, OmniFocus, or Bear) with the keyboard, you can configure a keyboard shortcut via Apple menu > System Preferences. See Create keyboard shortcuts for apps on Mac – Apple Support.

For example, if you have Bear app and would like ⌘B to be a keyboard shortcut for creating a new Bear note, then following this procedure,

  1. select “Hook” as the App in Apple-menu > System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts.
  2. click the Add button , click the Application pop-up menu, then choose a specific app or All Applications.
  3. Type “Bear” as the command, and define the shortcut to be ⌘B.

Also, when choosing a keyboard shortcut you might want to consult the following page to make sure (or at least know whether) your choice does not clash with Hook’s own keyboard shortcut: All Commands & Shortcuts – Hook.

What are Hook notes, anyway?

Hook is app-agnostic, meaning that it enables you to take notes in the app of your choice. We call “note” any object or document Hook creates with “Hook to New” command. However, Hook does not have or edit its own note files. Its “notes” are files or objects created by third party apps.

We call Hook-created items “notes” because most of the time, when you choose “Hook to New”, you are in some sense taking notes about them. (Technically, these objects are “meta-docs”, as defined by Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective. But “note” is a more accessible term!) Hook can even create OmniFocus tasks, Things tasks, Contacts and more … they are all Notes as far as Hook documentation is concerned.

As long as an app enables users to create, link to and open its documents or objects automatically (e.g., via AppleScript), Hook can treat its documents and objects as notes. Markdown documents, diagrams, mind maps, spreadsheets, …, anything can be a Hook note.

Two variants of Hook to New menu

There are two variants of Hook to New command:

  • Hook to New <app-name> ⌘N . This variant creates a new note in the default note-taking app (specified in the Notes preferences tab.) <app-name> is replaced by the default app’s name. You can change this default.
  • Hook to New... ⌃⌘N (with ellipses). This variant prompts you for the app in which to create the new note.

Hook to New...: Select which type of note to create

You choose which type of “note” is created by using the “Hook to New…” submenu (or ⌃⌘N). The first item in this menu is always the default note app —that is the one with which ⌘N is associated.

The “Hook to New…” menu contains one entry for each

  1. template file in your templates folders (built-in and custom) (such as a TextEdit (.rtf), Pages (.pages), Word (.docx), Excel (.xlsx), OmniGraffle (.graffle) and OmniOutliner (.ooutline)) and
  2. app in your Applications folder(s) with which Hook can create items (such as Notes, Calendar entries, OmniFocus tasks and Things tasks).

Here’s how you get to the following screenshot of “Hook to New…” :

  1. Invoke Hook ( ⌘⇧SPACE, or via a launcher or other means),
  2. type ⌃⌘N (or Click on the Title bar, and Click on “Hook to New…).

(Or instead of steps 2 and 3, just type ⌃⌘N)

2020-03-25: Hook to New…

The apps you see listed in the Hook to New... menu depend on what apps are installed on your system, and the templates you have installed. You can easily add and remove entries from the “Hook to New” menu.

Where does Hook store the “notes” it creates?

By default, Hook stores “note” files in ~/Documents/Hook/notes. You can change the location of that folder in Hook’s “Notes” Preferences tab. You can even choose a cloud (such as Dropbox or iCloud) folder or one that is indexed by a personal information manager (such as DEVONthink, EagleFiler or Tinderbox).

You can also create notes in “database” style apps (like DEVONthink, EverNote, Contacts, Things or OmniFocus).

Links to notes work even if you move the notes

As with other items linked by Hook, files that you create using “Hook to New” can be moved. Rare exceptions aside, the links will remain intact. Thus, there is no need to keep files in Hook’s Notes folder. That folder is just where they are first stored. (Future revisions of Hook will embellish this even further.)

Also, if you use Dropbox, keep in mind that what looks like moving a file from one Dropbox folder to another is not so. Dropbox actually moves the file in a special Dropbox cache folder for deleted files, and creates a new copy of the file in what looks like your destination folder. This is not Hook’s fault, it is Dropbox; Dropbox does this whether you use Hook or not. As a result, your Hook links point to a file in a cache folder, which Dropbox deletes. Hook has some resiliency to this scenario, and will have more, but it is something to watch out for.

Even works with Evernote and DEVONthink apps

The “Hook to New” command not only works with apps that create files accessible via the Finder (like Pages and Numbers). It also works with many apps whose objects are stored in a database and/or accessed via a special user-interface. Examples of such apps are: DEVONthink, Evernote, Contacts, OmniFocus and Things.

Changing the default “Hook to New” app (and template)

The type of note (i.e., document) that Hook creates via the ⌘N keyboard shortcut can be selected by choosing a value in the “⌘N Uses” drop-down list. This list is in the “Hook to New” tab of Hook’s Preferences.

The following screenshot shows you how to change the default template. It also provides other tips: changing where file-based “notes” are stored; accessing the “Notes” Templates folder; adding prefixes and suffixes to your Hook-created notes; adding a Finder tag (In Preferences > General tab, you can also ensure a “Hook” Finder tag is applied to all document notes created by Hook.)


There is one entry in this drop-down list for each file in Hook’s templates folder. This folder, in turn, depends on what files you have installed on your Mac. Here is an example of what the “Default note app and template (for ⌘N)” drop-down list might contain:

  • template.ooutline
  • template_graffle.graffle
  • template.rtf
  • template.txt
  • template_pages.pages
  • template_mspowerpoint.pptx
  • template_numbers.numbers
  • template_excel.xlsx

On most systems, the default note app is Apple’s TextEdit app. This is because the default template is “.rtf”, and on most systems the default app for .rtf files is TextEdit.

There’s more information about this in the Preferences help page.

Advanced Tips and information

Editing Templates to change the default content of files created with “Hook to New”

Advanced tip

As noted above, when you create a new file note in Hook, Hook makes a copy of the template file for the selected app, and stores it in the Notes folder. Most people do not need to know this; however, Hook enables you to change the content of this template file. For example, if you are a teaching assistant, student, critic, or lawyer who is assessing documents, you might want to create an assessment template.

To add, remove or edit templates, simply open Hook’s Templates folder on the Finder. You can access this folder:

  1. from the “Notes” preferences tab. It has a button labeled “Open Templates Folder in Finder”.
  2. directly from the Finder, through Spotlight or a launcher.

Luc Beaudoin’s book, Cognitive Productivity with macOS®: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge, explains why some advanced users might want to use templates. It even provides a free template for systematically understanding and assessing documents.

Hook can automatically add a prefix, suffix and/or tag to new note files

Hook automatically names and stores notes for you. (This saves you precious time and energy.)

Per the screenshot above, you can also configure Hook to add a prefix and/or a suffix to note files that it creates. (See the Preferences window’s Notes tab). This can make them easier to find with Spotlight, HoudahSpot, or a launcher (such as Alfred or LaunchBar).

For example, you might configure Hook to prefix new note files with an opening square bracket ([)). Later, to quickly find this note without navigating links, just type “[” in a launcher, followed by part of the filename. Or use Spotlight. This strategy is explained in detail in the “Surf Strategically” chapter of Beaudoin’s ebook, Cognitive Productivity with macOS®.

Hook can also automatically apply a Finder tag to files it whenever it links them (and linking is part of Hook file creation). With Spotlight, you can then easily find all the files that you have linked with Hook. You can configure this on Hook’s Preferences window’s General tab.

Metadata attributes added to files created with “Hook to New”

When you use “Hook to New” to create a new document on Finder (a file or folder), Hook adds a link back to the source in that file’s extended attributes. You can see them by using the xattr -l <filename>.

This doesn’t apply to new items that are stored in a database (e.g., OmniFocus tasks or Evernote notes).

Why does linking to new notes matter?

Historical background. Before computers, people would read documents on paper and annotate them by hand. That’s a proven learning strategy. But (ironically) computer operating systems took humanity a big step backwards in this respect: they made it practically impossible to annotate arbitrary content. In a white paper to Apple in 2010, our co-founder presented the importance of such linking to Steve Jobs, right after the iPad was introduced. The next year (in his final days), Steve told Bill Gates,

We haven’t really improved education with technology.

Hook is what our co-founder had in mind: the most general, efficient solution to the problem, at the intersection of technology, cognitive science and the humanities.

Hook removes the most crucial pain-points preventing users from taking notes about what they read and view, namely the trouble of naming, storing and later accessing their notes. 

Note-taking is very important because:

  • our memories are very fallible,
  • note-taking helps you focus on what is important and ignore the rest (rather than forget everything),
  • taking notes is a proven strategy for better understanding information,
  • it is also often extremely helpful to take notes about content that we ourselves are currently creating, and
  • notes can contain actionable items (it is ultimately what we do that matters most).

However, without a tool like Hook, users are far less likely to take notes. Why? Because of the pain points mentioned above — naming, storing and accessing their notes. The tragic Irony of the Knowledge Age is that despite having more content than ever, and better note-taking apps than ever, people take far fewer notes than they should.

For instance, in the old days if you wanted to take notes about a document, you would scribble notes in the margin, or on a piece of paper that you’d attach to the document. That is not viable these days. Web browsers do not contain annotation tools. The annotation tools in even the best of today’s PDF readers are extremely limited. In fact, annotation tools in browsers and PDF readers could not possibly match the power of note-taking apps. (We should know, we spent many years prior to this project trying to create in-app annotation tools.)

You’re much better off using a special purpose note-taking app like Bear app, BBEdit, nvUltra or other powerful note-taking apps that can be automated. Just use “Hook to New” and you’re off to the races.

And why stop with textual notes? Mind mapping and diagramming are proven cognitive strategies. If you want to draw a diagram about what you’re reading (or viewing for that matter), the best thing you can do is link the current resource to a new diagram. Hook links the two documents together, so you can quickly navigate between them. (Want to link notes that you’ve drawn with Apple Pencil on iPad? Hook can link them too. Just select the note in Notes for macOS and invoke Hook.)

But Hook is not just for learning about sources. Often we need to take notes about what we’re creating (documents, videos, etc.) You can link such documents with Hook too.

Furthermore, it’s also super helpful to create lists of action-items about content we are creating, reading or viewing. With Hook, you can link content to new tasks (in OmniFocus or Things) and to todo lists (e.g., with TaskPaper)!

This means that Hook can greatly increase the value of note-taking apps, task management apps and more!

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