In this long ramble I will try to explain how I ended up adding Agenda to the small list of applications I use every day.
I’ve been a heavy Evernote user for the past three or four years. I use Evernote to store anything I’m not actively working on and might need to reference later. I’ve all but stopped putting files in folders, and instead I put everything in Evernote. Since you can open and modify files right from the note itself, it becomes basically a kind of note-based file system. Even with thousands of notes and files, everything remains fast and searchable. It works very well. I trust that anything I put in Evernote, I can find again.
I’m also a heavy Todoist user. In Todoist I have a moderately complex and manageable system involving several lists that I trained myself to review regularly. My system helps me keep track of my deadlines and schedule, and lets me also queue up tasks that I can do whenever. I trust that Todoist will not let me forget anything I don’t want to forget.
In the past few years I’ve tried to use Agenda a few times. Each time I tried to make it replace one of the other apps. It didn’t stick. It was not as well suited as Evernote at storage and retrieval of files, it was not as well suited as Todoist as task tracking and management. But a few months ago I tried Agenda again, in a different way. I had realized I had another need – something to help me reflect on things and think and plan the road ahead. I had tried to do it in both of my other apps, but it did not work. In Evernote my plans got lost within all my files, I had trouble relating my notes to each other as they were often far apart, getting a sense of what historically led to what decision was hard. In Todoist everything is an action item, and I found it did not provide me with the space I need to think about stuff. Planning in Todoist is not a good idea, as every planned item suddenly becomes something I have to do. I’m not saying it is not possible to use Evernote or Todoist to plan or reflect, but it does not work for me. The best place I had found to do this was in a plain paper notebook, but it has drawbacks – it’s hard to search for things, hard to resurface old ideas, and hard to link together things when they are separated by many pages.
By contrast, I found that many design choices in Agenda supported my use of the app as a place to reflect and plan. For instance, in contrast with 100% of other note apps that always first present you with a list of note snippets, and only show you one complete note at a time, in Agenda a project presents you with every note in its entirety at the same time. If I tried to store files or generic information in Agenda, seeing everything at the same time is overwhelming. If instead everything in Agenda is something I’ve reflected about and typed myself, it becomes a journal of my thoughts, decisions and accomplishments. Instead of overwhelming, seeing all the notes, chronologically ordered, provides context – it becomes helpful. Showing the entirety of each note also means long notes necessarily take a lot of space on the screen, and become “heavy” – drag-n-dropping one is not a small thing. In addition, Agenda by default sorts notes chronologically, and in overviews, notes appear according to the order of projects in the sidebar. All this means that notes have a very static feel to them, they don’t feel like small virtual containers that could move around at any time and appear in many different places depending on a presentation choice too easy to change. I’ve found I came to rely on the fact that in Agenda things will not move around too much. My notes feel heavy, static and important, not like small items in a database. I’ve found this calm environment is very conducive to thinking about stuff, and planning. There are other things that I like about Agenda – the search field acts like a filter, showing calendars helps planning, apps are very consistent on all platforms – but it’s just icing on the cake. It’s the overall feeling that I find appropriate.
Thinking about this made me realized that, if an app fills one of my needs really well, I will tend to optimize my use of that app to make it meet that need even better. I optimized my use of Evernote to make it a note-based information retrieval system. I optimized my use of Todoist to make it a task-tracking and reminder system. I optimized my use of Agenda to make it a thinking and planning system. The more flexible the app is, the more the optimization ends up directing my use of the app, and the harder it becomes to make it do something else, or do the same thing in another app. It would break the optimizations. The aim of the app would become diluted. Using it would be less efficient and less enjoyable.
This is already too long and I will end it here, without even mentioning Zettelkasten