I run into friends and family that use Macs all the time and it seems that whenever I mention Notes in passing, I always get a blank stare. Apparently a lot of Mac users miss the fact that since Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, the Mail app has "Notes". This was one of the many features that I looked forward to when I upgraded from Tiger to Leopard. I use notes all the time instead of my old system of little stickies all over the wall, writing on the back of an envelope and other paper methods that were a mess.
Where is this Notes thing that you speak of?
I can understand why most people that aren't looking for Notes in Mail don't discover them. Apple didn't really do anything to make them stand out in the Mail app. As a matter of fact they're in a place that you wouldn't think to look. They are in the sidebar under the "REMINDERS". To make things a little worse the entire Reminders section won't be there until you create your first Note or ToDo.
Now that you know where they will appear in Mail, you create a New Note by clicking the Note icon on the Toolbar at the Top of the Mail window
A blank Note will appear and then you can type or paste in any text you want. Whatever you put on the first line becomes the Title of the Note. When you're done typing in your Note, you can just close the window and it will be automatically saved to your list of Notes on the sidebar.
What do I use notes for?
I use Notes for lots of things that I don't want to have to keep on little scraps of paper or that don't need a formal word processing document. Things that I want to look up quickly. For example (above), a list of all your software serial numbers in one spot. A note containing all of your Frequent Flyer/Hotel Numbers. Notes of your prices/rates for the services you provide your customers. Whatever is important to you that isn't tied to a particular Contact or Appointment.
What about Contacts and Calendar Appointments?
The reason I said not tied to a particular Contact or Calendar Appoint is because both Address Book Contacts and iCal Appoints have their own Notes! Actually Address Book and iCal have had notes for years and long before Mail did.
I use Address Book Notes to put in more information about the Contact. Things such as store hours or a person's favorite restaurants, gift ideas, etc. Whatever info you would like to keep track of on that particular Contact that isn't one of the standard fields. Also you might use it as a running log of phone conversation notes. This may be helpful when fighting a customer service battle.
When it comes to iCal I use the Notes field to put in information about the appointment itself. Perhaps it's the address and directions to where I'm going. Or maybe it's notes about what I'm supposed to present when I get there. It could even be something as simple as who to ask for when I arrive at the front desk? The phone number and access code for the Conference Call. Basically anything you would want to know or keep track of about that particular appointment.
Taking it all with me
Having all these wonderful notes is fine when I'm at my computer. However, in most cases I need the notes that I've created when I'm out and about. This is where the iPhone or iPod comes in. You can sync the Notes in Mail (via iTunes) to your iPhone or iPod touch. They will actually sync right up to the Notes App on the device itself. If you put notes in a Contact or Calendar appointment, they will appear in those respective places on your device. Since both the iPhone and iPod touch support syncing via MobileMe over the air, your iCal and Address Book notes will sync right along with your regular appointments and contacts. Unfortunately for Mail notes you would still have to sync those via your USB cable at this time. Apple doesn't yet support syncing those notes wirelessly. Soon I hope! If you make changes either on the device or on your computer the notes will sync in either direction the next time you sync your computer or with MobileMe.
The Bottom Line
Get organized! Use Notes! Sync!