The Guide: A Free, Lightweight Note-taking Program for Windows

I have an older Dell laptop that I use to do the majority of my writing. It connects to my home network just fine, but it doesn’t access the Internet all that well. That makes it perfect for keeping distractions at bay as someone who is self-employed. As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, keeping an environment free of distractions (as much as reasonably possible) kicks your productivity into overdrive. That’s extremely important for me if I want to get anything done instead of spending four hours straight watching random YouTube videos or whatever else.

With that having been said, it runs using Windows XP, and as much as I like OneNote, this old laptop can’t handle a lot of heavy programs that take up a lot of system resources. I also need a lot of notes for what I’m working on that I can easily transfer to it without any problems. I manage this with a free, lightweight note-taking program called The Guide (homepage).

What It Looks Like and What It Does

I make a new notebook real quick to show off what this little program does and how it works:

A screenshot of The Guide program

Each page on the hierarchy in the left pane has its own RTF-formatted section in the right pane. It works a lot like programs like OneNote or Treepad (if you ever used that back in the day), but it’s super lightweight and lean on features. With that having been said, it has just about everything you’d need to implement almost any productivity system out there (GTD being an example). If you’re looking for a program that’s easy to use and allows an endless structure (something where OneNote falls a bit short without being overly complicated about it), then this is a good option.

Pros of The Guide

  • It’s completely portable and takes up hardly any disk space. I keep mine on a flash drive.
  • It’s very fast and doesn’t hog system resources at all.
  • The RTF format has everything almost anyone will need for note-taking, which includes pasting in most web pages.

Cons of The Guide

  • It has fewer features than something like OneNote.
  • There is no mobile app.


This is a great fit for people who are trying to limit distractions and who enjoy simple, free programs that do one particular job extremely well. With that having been said, if you’re looking for something with more bells and whistles, then this isn’t the program for you.