tl,dr; As soon as you notice, turn Airplane mode on in a device and recapture the note there.

I use the Notes app as a kind of outboard memory. I save things there that I hope to come back to and sometimes I even do come back to them. But I also use one specific Note to store notes on the fly. That is, I have a Shortcut automation that will add a note I speak to a particular Note called Scratchpad.

Now, one of the nice things about the Notes app is that if you synchronize it with iCloud then iCloud will keep a copy of any note you deleted for 30 days, so you don’t really have to worry about backups. The problem is with that Scratchpad Note, because I don't delete it. Rather, I edit it, removing things, adding things. And as far as I can tell there is way to recover deleted material within a Note.

A couple of days ago I was in a bit of a spring cleaning frenzy and edited the Scratchpad Note to remove a whole lot of stuff that I thought I no longer needed. Alas, two days later I discovered that I did need some of it. And that’s when I discovered that you cannot recover previous versions of a Note, as opposed to Notes that have been completely deleted.

Of course, by the time I realized, the notes had synchronized between my desktop Mac and my iPhone. I looked around a bit and found a suggestion that, if you have a third device, you might be able to rescue the situation. You open the third device and immediately turn on airplane mode. That stops the device synchronizing your notes with iCloud. I did just that on my iPad and it worked. I recovered the information, copied it to a new Note, turned airplane mode off, and waited for the new Note to sync. All was good.

I don’t know whether the Notes app synchronizes in the background when it isn’t actually active. If it does this method would not be much use if you only have two devices. If it doesn’t, I can imagine that you might be able to recover if you don’t have the app open. I suppose I could experiment to see how best that would work, but for now I’m happy to have recovered the information I foolishly deleted.

Another way to approach the whole problem might be not to automatically synchronize to iCloud, but for me that would remove much of the usefulness of the Notes app. In future, I hope I’ll be more careful before I edit that Scratchpad Note. Or perhaps I should just duplicate it before I do any editing, and then delete the duplicate, but I can see that becoming very messy.

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