If you know me at all, you'll know that I champion plain text productivity in almost all of my workflows. I write in plain text, I display my sermons and classes in plain text, and I manage tasks and projects in plain text. It's dead simple, small in size, highly customizable, universal, and future-proof. Markdown gives plain text super powers.
Think about this: when was the last time you opened an old Microsoft Word document without issues? Chances are that you tried to open an old MS Word doc and it spat out gobbley-gook. If you're looking for a solution that's going to stick around and that you control, plain text + Markdown is the way to go.
Originally created by John Gruber, Markdown is just a simple way to style and format plain text. I know your next question: "Well, Chad, if I'm going to style my plain text, why don't I just use something like MS Word?" The answer: because plain text is universal, and Markdown merely uses UTF-style bits of text like asterisks and dashes to accomplish the appearance of Rich Text without having to put some sort of skin or arbitrary formatting on it like MS Word (or even Pages for Mac). Plus, even if it's a .md file instead of a .txt file, you can open it on anything, even a web browser.
So how do you get started with Markdown? It's very simple. Find a text editor on your computer. Usually this is TextEdit on the Mac and Notepad on a PC. Apps such as MS Word, Apple's Pages, OpenOffice, Apple Notes, and Evernote all have their own proprietary formats and usually can't export plain text. It's the simplest apps that do plain text well. A few I like are Byword, Editorial, Simplenote, nvAlt, and, of course, my precious Drafts.
Just like anything that's been around a while, there are a couple of different "flavors" of Markdown, each with it's distinctions and quirks. I don't mess with any of that. I just basically stick with regular old vanilla Markdown.
How easy is it? As simple as typing a few extra characters paired with your text.
Markdown has support for H1, H2, H3, italics, bold, lists, strikethrough, as well as links. The only thing you'll need is a plain text editor on either Mac, PC, or iOS to get started.