tools for thinking

As a long time user of Evernote, a few months ago I took a deep dive into the micro-world of Personal Knowledge Management (or just call it ‘PKM’ if you’re a hipster).

I looked at:

  1. Evernote
  2. Bullet Journal
  3. Notion
  4. Roam
  5. Obsidian
  6. Logseq

and probably a few others I can’t remember right now.

Evernote

Evernote is still pretty solid but I was one of the first 100k users and over time it has evolved into a somewhat bloated ‘do-everything’ tool that handles scanning, presentations, sharing, and a lot of features that were cumbersome for me. I’m not a huge fan of their pricing model either since it just doesn’t feel like a good deal to use a tiny subset of the features but then pay a premium for more than a tiny bit of storage space. And also I didn’t especially like the way it stumbles and can’t find your data locally when you’re not online. I prefer to control my files, keep them locally, and then maybe be able to sync them across devices on a cloud service that choose and control. Anyway, cloud storage is a topic for a different day.

My primary criteria was something simple, lightweight, with some advanced features for collecting and organizing data. David Allen would call it ‘all my stuff’.

As an aside, David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ was one of my favorite forays into the world of personal productivity systems that actually worked for me. His system is a little complex for my needs, but conceptually I really like the flow of collecting, categorizing things, and sorting them into buckets that can be used in a context when they are actually useful.

But anyway, Evernote is there. I still use it occasionally but it is no longer my ‘go-to’ solution for capturing documents and archiving ‘stuff’. For that I use OneDrive.

Bullet Journal

Notion

I like Notion a lot. The way it handles everything as an element within the hierarchy of its database is elegant and frankly a dramatic improvement over Evernote, which basically has two levels of organization. You can do a lot with it. I’ve seen people build entire operating systems for their small businesses in it. It’s very popular for capturing standard operating procedures. However much like Evernote, it really wants to be online all the time and that ended up being a deal killer for me. My search continued for something lighter weight.

Obsidian

Honestly it’s probably time for me to revisit Obsidian. It’s well supported and has lot of the same qualities that I love so much about Logseq. Logseq got me first because there was zero friction in getting started with it. I ended up liking the constraint of thinking in terms of a daily journal with some added superpowers. Obsidian is an open world where you can build the playground of your dreams, while Logseq pretty much forces you to capture things chronologically first, then layer additional categorization on top.

Logseq

Logseq was love at first sight. Runs locally, super fast. It has some modern interlinking functionality, which scratched my itch to start linking ideas together. But what I love the most are the things that first seemed the most trivial. Each day starts as a new page in the log, which under the hood is a simple text file named as that day’s current date. Simple text files on my hard drive, modern linking features, retro green look and feel, and oh-my-God-can-this-be-true … ‘vi text editor’ keyboard shortcuts. Take my money! Oh wait, it’s free.

It’s hard to explain how useful it is to have a simple, consistent log of things I do (or need to do) in a small window at the side of my desktop. Having one place that collects, thoughts, actions, tasks, and links is really transformative for me. It gets all kinds of links and when I add a short description or a tag I can search for things. Although it can be tempting to over-organize, logseq always let’s you revert to scrolling through your log chronologically. It’s a game changer.

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