Zettelkasten, Roam, Obsidian, RemNote, Notion and Cong does not work as expected

Zettelkasten, Roam, Obsidian, RemNote, Notion and Co

I am a professor, based in an institute of computer science. In addition to my regular lectures on data analysis and mathematical modelling, I offer three seminars helping senior students and young scientists with scientific writing, writing grant proposals and a seminar on productivity, time and project management. Taking “smart notes” did not play a role in my seminars, until the renewed interest in the Zettelkasten technique, evergreen notes, and apps like Agenda, Roam Research, Obsidian, RemNote and Notion created quite a stir in the Internet. I decided to have a go at using those techniques and apps, some of the conclusions I like to share here.

A short history

The origin of the Zettelkasten technique is usually attributed to Niklas Luhmann, who had a system of small cards (Zettel) and slipboxes (Kasten) to collect notes and link them through a numbering system. He used this system quite successfully to write research papers and books. The key ideas of note taking using the Zettelkasten technique are

  • the notes are short (“atomic notes”), focussing on one idea,
  • rather than just copying things (e.g. from other papers), learning and thinking is supported by formulating the notes in your own words.

Sönke Ahrens published in 2017 the book How to take smart notes, which picked up on the Zettelkasten idea and discussed its value to boost writing, learning and thinking. In a 2020 YouTube video youtu.be/nPOI4f7yCag he describes the history and ideas behind the Zettelkasten technique. Andy Matuschak advanced ideas in Ahrens’ book by introducing the idea of “evergreen notes”. Instead of just having a blog post on the topic, Matuschak presented his idea with a webpage that implements and supports the Zettelkasten technique, using an web-based environment: notes.andymatuschak.org/Evergreen_notes

Evergreen Notes

Matuschak’s Evergreen note webpage includes so called wiki style links, where pieces of text are marked and turned into a link to another note where the title is the marked text. The key is that one not only goes from one note to the other, but can easily navigate back, and is supported in finding other notes that link to the one under consideration. Rather than just implementing the Zettelkasten technique using a web-based tool, Andy Matuschak evolved Luhmann"s Zettelkasten by introducing the process of writing Evergreen Notes as “a fundamental unit of knowledge work”. In order to create notes that are worth developing over time, he stated the following principles:

  • Evergreen notes should be atomic
  • Evergreen notes should be concept-oriented
  • Evergreen notes should be densely linked
  • Prefer associative ontologies to hierarchical taxonomies

There is thus the idea of a writing process, and the tool to support this process. The key elements of Matuschak’s web-based tool, that set off the hype are:

  • When hovering over a linked word or sentence, one can preview that other note.
  • Clicking on the link, opens the other note, together with the previous note. One can view and edit several notes together.
  • The linked note has at the bottom a list of other notes that link to the note.

The preview and “back-linking” supports easy navigation between notes and thereby supports finding links between notes and ideas. The implementation of these ideas were really a fantastic idea, taking the Zettelkasten approach back into a modern setting. Note long after Andy Matuschak’s webpage, the ideas led to the creation of new tools for note taking and learning, most notably roamresearch.com, www.remnote.io and obsidian.md

Back-linking has since been introduced in various other apps, including web-based all-in-one workspace Notion and the calendar-driven notetaking app Noteplan (iOS, Mac). More apps have emerged with support for back-linking, offering new experiences in note-taking. The ones I listed above have probably received most attention.

Other apps, like DevonThink and TheBrain on Mac has long supported the management of large numbers of notes and have also supported finding relationships between notes. The question is what these new new apps add, that the established ones don’t have.

Outlining

Roam and Remnote are in their initial appearance apps for outlining, very similar to Workflowy and Dynalist. Outlining is an important strategy for researchers who draft manuscripts or their theses. Rather than starting to write down full text, one starts with small units - bullet points, then adds headings and only then fleshes out the text in full text paragraphs. The idea is that bullet point lists make it easier to rearrange things and thinking and writing in bullet points encourages you to be concise.

I do most of my initial outlining by drawing a mindmap, using Mindnode on Mac, iPhone and iPad. The user experience of Mindnode is fantastic, and the fact that one can easily switch between iPhone, iPad and the Mac to edit and visualise the mindmap, makes a difference to quickly view and edit the map/outline. Mindmaps are ideally suited for editing with touch surfaces. In parallel to the actual mindmap, one can also have a conventional outline. I even use mind maps for my seminars, instead of Powerpoint. The one thing that Mindnote is not particularly good at, is the handling of notes attached to elements in the mindmap. The text is just plain text, no formatting, or links possible. All elements of the map are thus things that fit into a single sentence and there is a point when the size of these maps work against the idea of an easy navigation. There is also not the support to connect elements in the map, in the style of backlinks.

Roam, Remnote and Notion also support outlining in an excellent way. It is very easy to collapse and expand lists, and move units of text/lists around. The calendar-based note taking app Noteplan has recently also introduced the collapsing of elements in notes. Noteplan also supports backlinking and thus the Zettelkasten approach. Because Noteplan stores all notes as markdown files on the computer, some users use Noteplan together with Obsidian. Apart from the graph view, I am not sure what the motivation is behind this combination. To summarise the first observation about these new apps, including Roam and RemNote, is this feature:

The ability to collapse and expand lists and paragraphs, and to easily rearrange elements in those notes or lists, are key elements in helping to organise thoughts through outlining.

Support for outlining relies on a WYSIWYG experience, so it does not make sense to outline in markdown directly. Overviewing elements of an outline, to possibly color-code and tag elements and then rearrange things quickly does not work well if you have to switch between the markdown text and its preview, I feel. Apps like Agenda and Bear (iOS, Mac) are markdown-based but the writing experience is WYSIWYG, really very well done and user focussed.

On top of my wishlist for Agenda (iOS, Mac) are the collapse and expand feature for elements within notes, and a corkboard view of notes. The backlinking between notes would not be the highest priority for me, despite the hype :).

Note taking

While DevonThink has, in principle, many of the elements that create a hype with other tools. This include links in markdown documents and an ai tool that identifies related notes. The main strength of DevonThink is clearly its ability to handle a vast array of documents, not just notes of a particular type but almost any document. It provides you with databases, that you can also carry around and access from the iPhone and iPad. The reliability and flexibility have not competition in my view. However, when it comes to note taking, the app takes some “getting used to”. I have to admit that I was not really aware of some of these features until I looked at Roam, Obsidian and RemNote. The company also offers a search tool, Devonagent, which I purchased but for some reason I find difficult to describe, I do not really use. The fact that wasn’t aware of some features, despite using the app daily, suggests that there is something with regard to the user experience.

We all know that once people are sufficiently in love with their app, they will adapt to limitations, or find ways to address these for themselves. It does not make sense to then argue with them over usability etc. and I not experienced enough or qualified to judge these issue properly.

Roam and Obsidian have been very clever in creating a user fan base that helps with the development of plugins to overcome limitations and expand the apps to their needs. It would not make sense to argue with them that the many plugins themes and customisation is not only a blessing. I guess, I personally prefer a native Apple app, with a well worked out user interface, so that I do not have to resort to plugins other users have created. It is great if these tools, like DevonThink offer css styling but if an average user tries to figure out how to do that, one can spend easily days and week learning about css styling. The experts in the forums keep saying there is plenty of training material in the Internet … only that this is not user friendly. Ulysses and Obsidian at least offer a gallery of themes that one can easily try out without learning the supposedly simple css. I enjoyed Obsidian and also enjoyed tailoring the appearance to my preferences, only to realise that I spend a lot of time adjusting the tool, rather than using it …

Another key element of Andy Matuschak"s evergreen note webpage was the ease with which to view and edit multiple notes simultaneously. Here Scrivener still stands out with their corkboard. In Scrivener, every section of your project is attached to a virtual index card. Scrivener’s corkboard lets you step back and work with just the synopses you’ve written on the cards—and when you move them, you’re rearranging your manuscript at the same time. Scrivener also supports outlining. Scrivener is targeted at writing long text, similar to Ulysses, and of course Word and Pages. With the corkboard and outlining support, is a major advantage over Ullysses and it puts Scrivener much closer to notetaking apps like Agenda and Noteplan (which set themselves apart with the integration of calendars and reminders). One key idea from the Zettelkasten techniques are atomic notes, i.e. short concise notes. As a result viewing a note, its heading, tags and a few lines of text, does not take much screen estate. This brings me to another observation how note taking can support research:

The ability to display several notes together, side by side and seeing at least parts of the content, is a key element in helping to relate ideas in different notes.

Finding relationships in and between notes

An outstanding feature of Roam, RemNote and Obsidian in particular, is the support the discovery of relationships between concepts and ideas through a visualisation of notes and tags in a graph. While Roam and Remnote are cloud based, Obsidian and Noteplan store all notes as plain text (markdown) files on the computer. In Obsidian one user has taken this a step further and developed a Neo4j plugin that streams the notes in the Obsidian vault into a Neo4j graph databases, thereby providing a serious tool for research.

Turning a collection of notes into a Neo4j graph database, could open up an enormous set of tools to use for the analyses of documents. This is an example how community-driven plugin development pushes new ideas.

TheBrain has long supported a visual approach to organise and link notes. It supports markdown and in its last version also introduces backlinks. While writing notes, the app recognises words that could be linked to other notes and supports the process in a very intuitive way. It terms of visual exploration of notes and linking of ideas, TheBrain is excellent. A challenge TheBrain and Devonthink share is that there iOS versions of the apps are somehow reduced versions of the Mac apps. One reason why note taking and To Do apps like Agenda, Noteplan, and Ulysses are popular, is the fact that using these app on the iPhone, the iPad and on Mac is essentially the same, in terms of the interface and functionality. The complexity and functionally of those Mac apps is probably very difficult to realise on a smartphone.

One thing that clearly sets RemNote apart from all other apps, is the excellent (easy to use and comprehensive implementation) of ANKI style flashcards. Spaced repetition is key concept in learning and something that is very attractive for students.

Task Management

Almost all apps discussed so far, also some task management through to do lists and reminders. I am on of those people that hopes to eventually have only one app, to write notes, manage documents, which can also be used for task and project management. At present, I cannot see how these apps can replace dedicated apps, like ToDoIst (cross platform, including collaboration) or Things for iOS and Mac. The big challenge is here to offer the experience users of iPhones, iPad and Macs are used to. As I write these notes and realise various spelling and grammatical errors, but can’t be bothered to correct them, I am reminded that Ulysses, has a built in language correction tool, which not only corrects spelling and is very useful for non native speakers who do their research in English.

Summary

I forgot to discuss Drafts and Craft, and of course there is also Microsoft OneNote, and Evernote. While testing Drafts, I had this amazing experience of using my iWatch to dictate a note. I did not take such fancy feature serious, until I was walking my dog, iPhone at home and it was the easiest thing to just dictate a note that was then on my Mac when I returned home. I never needed this again but I was surprised what is now possible, how easy note taking has become. I keep looking at Drafts but somehow its appearance and principles have not work for me … yet. The search for a perfect most-purposes app will probably never end :slight_smile:

I use DevonThink on a daily basis, but mostly to collect and archive information. It supports note taking with Markdown, it has Wikilinks and it has tools to find relationships between notes. For some reason I do not use these features in the way they are attractive in those other apps. Inspired by the apparent success of Roam and Co, I will try to explore these features more.

I like the ideas that are generated by the Roam and Obsidian communities. Turning a collection of notes into a graph database is only one of those examples. The hype is therefore something we all can benefit from and I found watching Sönke Ahrens talk on YouTube and Andy Matuschak’s Evergreen note webpage inspiring.

Like many of us, I am still on the lookout for changes to my workflows. From my perspective, the key components that define the competition at the moment are:

  • The support for outlining by collapsing and expanding units in notes.
  • The ease of entering and editing links in texts.
  • The preview of notes by hovering over links.
  • The cork-board view of several notes together.
  • The simultaneous side-by side and WYSIWYG markdown editing of notes.
  • The similarity of the experience on iPhone, iPad and on the Mac.
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Wow, that’s a great piece, thank you so much for sharing that! As you mention, I’m not sure something as the perfect app exists to be honest, there’s probably always something to wish for. What I believe is more important is that you find an app that you feel comfortable with, find pleasant to use and makes it easy to accommodate to your way of working. Another thing you mention that we take close to our hearts is the believe that there is no one app to rule them all, but rather that various apps should work together. As in, Agenda is not trying to be a replacement of your calendar or task manager app, but rather works in close collaboration with them.

Interesting, is this because it would make it better at outlining?

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In Söhnke Ahrens’ discussion about the Zettelkasten technique, and looking at the revival of the ideas with Roam, Obsidian, RemNote & Co, there was one aspect that struck a chord with me. It is a key point that I forgot to mention above:

Writing is not the outcome of thinking; Notetaking is the process when thinking takes place.

Thinking does not happen in the brain alone, there is an external dimension to it. Because note taking is thinking, the success of your thinking depends on the way you take notes.

One can use note taking apps to keep or archive ideas but note taking apps can go beyond managing files and support creative thinking and research. I think this is the core of the current wave of interest and the comparison of apps should focus on how apps support this process and most importantly, the ease with which this is possible.

Outlining is a key element in this process, or an example of notetaking as a way of thinking. In research, the process of writing a publication or a long text (e.g. dissertation) is often started with an outline. While many people outline by headings, it is often an good idea to jot down key points of an argument or the results one wants to present, to then start ordering these elements (bullet points, short paragraphs).

Being able to collapse elements in an outline (text below headers, lists etc) and easily move things around, supports this process.

Backlinking is one way to support the discovery of relationships between ideas and concepts, that are stored in separate notes. However, in many instances one has a collection of ideas (bullet points, short paragraphs) in one note, and the process of finding relationships is through rearrangement and ordering of those pieces (inside a note).

I love the interface and design of Agenda and I’d love to use it for this process in which I jot down ideas, collect elements from other notes, and put them together in one note. Here two things help, having a way to overview several notes and having a way to arrange things inside a note. This is where the colapsing helps. For the linking between notes, it would be great to have something like Srivener"s corkboard view. Since notes in the Zettelkasten or Evergreen framework should be concise or “atomic”, seeing the heading and a few lines, in this overview, would probably suffice. This latter process is what writers do with “corkboards” but it also fits an academic writing workflow.

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Right, and I couldn’t agree more. In a lot of the discussion I see a lot of focus on the tool, what A can do and B cannot, but B can and A cannot etc etc. I personally think we should focus much more on the process, which often can be done in any app. I wrote about it in my “Next Box” post; while I “live” in Agenda and love it as my tool of choice (duh!), the workflow I have today isn’t much different from the one I originally set up in TextEdit and Simplenote. Agenda makes it (much) nicer and adds a lot of power, but the basics are the same.

My point is that I notice a lot of focus on tools while I think we can help many people much more by helping them finding ways to structure and support their thinking process. So yes, “Writing is not the outcome of thinking; Notetaking is the process when thinking takes place”. But I’d even go one step further and say this phrasing still puts too much emphasis on note taking being the end product we’re supposedly striving towards, while I’d say that it instead is the structuring of our thoughts and the empowering feeling that an organised mind gives. Helping people to find ways to do so and reach such state is much more about workflows and approaches than tools and apps.

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Yes! This is so important. I’ve not looked at the Agenda website for ages, but certainly much of the discussion here in the community is about keeping on top of tasks. Doing this well certainly gives an empowering feeling!

But I’d love to see more emphasis in the discussion about the proceses and workflows that support thinking. Agenda is now the main app that I ‘live’ in, and it’s where I’d like to do more thinking, but I find Agenda imposes limitations that mean I sometimes ‘move’ elsewhere - and that tends to be physical PostIts on a physical whiteboard. I move the notes around, group them, name the groups, draw links between them, arrange them as a logical flow etc etc.

Because want to keep all my thoughts and planning together in one place, I try to do this process in Agenda, and often I can, using outlines, but the lack of collapsing makes in unwieldy, and the lack of ability to create visible links between sections is a problem. I sometimes use one note per main item, with lower outlines in the note, which allows me to collapse the notes and just see the title, and to drag them to rearrange. But I often mind myself wanting to ‘promote’ or ‘demote’ notes and outline ‘lines’ which gets fiddly and disrupts the flow.

The other approach I use sometimes is creating a scribble in a note, which is fine for quickly getting something out of my head and sketching relationships between idea, but it’s then static and has to be developed elsewhere.

I know I could find and use another app for this kind of stuff, but I’d love to be able to keep it all in Agenda - I really hate the mental overload of having to decide where to start working on an idea! Building on the existing Agenda approach I think the following developments would be most helpful to me:

  • Ability to collapse any heading, paragraph or outline item, truncating paragraphs longer than one line with … at the end to indicate there’s more.
    • Ability to ‘promote’ a heading to become a note, with the heading as the title, and bringing all lower levels into the note
  • Being able to have two windows in Agenda, one showing all the notes in the project or search results, the other showing the active note I’m editing, which might also be in the project. This would allow working in one note while getting an overview of the other relevant notes - being able to see the notes ’semi-collapsed’ ie titles, headings, first line of each para (for example) would be a huge step forward.

Sorry, I hadn’t intended to start a feature request!

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Great discussion and thanks Olaf for your great overview. I am my whole life (61 now) looking for thé one system that I can use for notetaking (I like a pen to draw/ scribble/ think) and hold my thoughts, ideas, webpage info, etc on one place to right blogs/ books etc. I probably sill be the story of my life to keep on ‘searching’ without finding. From notes (apple) to evernote, to onenote and back; from to do, to etc. And then the lack of ‘good handwrighting ability’ in most of the mentioned notetaking apps; I love the look and feel of Notabiity, and I am not a fan of the handwrighting abilities of onenote, evernote and unfortunately agenda.
So my journey probably will go on; ONE app and stick with that would give me some rest:-)
Thanks for this insightfull discussion

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I have now looked closer at Roam and Workflowly, to figure out what it is that makes their interface special:

  • The outlining feature that creates a note of notes
  • WYSIWYG markdown style editing
  • Collapse and expand of blocks, notes and lists
  • Mirror notes (block level transclusion)
  • In situ preview
  • In situ search
  • Autocompletion
  • In line boards
  • In line queries
  • Easy re-arrangement of elements (e.g. dragging or keyboard based)
  • Automatic renaming across notes
  • The focus mode (which people also use in demos and presentations)

… plus backlinks, graph view, and other things I first thought are are most important. I now realise that they key is, the ability to edit various notes simultenously, having search, preview and suggestions for other notes, right at the fingertip.

On the iPhone, I can see problems with the bullet point indented lists and wonder how they are going to solve this.

For Agenda, it would be great to have the collapse/expanding function, tag autocompletion and some note of notes feature along the lines of an outline with links to other notes, would be great.

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Lovely. Thanks.

There’s one missing app when talking about outlining, in my view: OmniOutliner. This was my first note-taking app and I still use it. For outlining.

Like you say, it is sometimes nice to be able to easily move around bits and pieces of text within an “autonomous" structure. OmniOutliner makes this very easy.

As is the case with the other apps though, it has its own particular drawbacks; it is not easy to use on an iPhone, when a document gets large it’s hard to actually keep an overview and sharing is not its strength. It’s good to plan workshops and training-sessions with though.

The “problem” with DevonThink was that it wasn’t “inviting”. It didn’t inspire. It can do a lot, and most of it it very well. I just didn’t really like using it (which didn’t keep me from doing so for many years).

Outlining in Agenda would be majestic. Using movable headers as anchors where you can collapse text, for example. But Agenda is already my number-one app and has been for some time now, so I really love it even without.

Exactly that and that it inspires, in some way.

Rob

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Hi all, just wanted to let you know that I mentioned this discussion in the podcast I recently was invited to, a big thanks for the inspiration!

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This is for me an interesting discussion because it involves my professional approach and the way I use Agenda. However, I would like to shift the attention from conceptual maps of fixing thinking in note taking, as it seems the main focus of this article, to a well grounded relationship between thinking and operative acting that in my opinion is more the focus (or at least this is my interpretation) of Agenda. In my job, I always have to develop thinking about my intellectual experience, but I have to turn it into organizational and practical aspects to build cultural formats. The combination of notes, calendar, and todos in Agenda created an exciting possibility, and, for example, it goes much further than the exemplary application for GTD, like Omnifocus, because, as @olaf.wolkenhauer points out, helps on fixing the thinking process.

Combining thinking and operative action - what the linguistics call the Performative - appears to me as one of the main today challenges of using the Todos and taking Notes apps inside our workflow. In that sense, Agenda doesn’t want to be simply a note-taking like Bear or Ulysses, or a pure Todos like Todoist or Omnifocus. I think that the critical point is the balanced relationship between notes and calendar, which is the best result in Agenda.

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@maurizio.bortolotti This is very intriguing, but I’m struggling to understand what you are really alluding to. It’s all a bit abstract and academic. Could you please give some examples from your work?

Hi

as a follow up, if you are a researcher and wonder how one can synthesize knowledge through note taking, you may find the article by Joe Chan interesting:

Knowledge synthesis: A conceptual model and practical guide

I have to admit that I never thought about how I go about doing my research. I came to this topic via the idea of small tasks in project managment and then the idea of atomic notes in the Zettelkasten and Evergreen Notes context.

The trick with getting things, tasks, projects, and manuscripts etc done is apparently to split things up into small units, something that can be done, and thereby generates success, which in turn motivates and makes us happy.

Some of these ideas actually worked for me, which is why I started looking into the smart note taking topics. Here is the workflow that I have figured out for myself. It is adopted from Joel’s process, which is visualising what Roam can be used for quite well. There is a YouTube video of him explaining this. At the end, everyone has to find your own process but I enjoy reflecting on this. I have not come to a conclusion about this but the following diagram is what could reflect my going about it, which also suggests how I tag the files etc. Wish me luck in turning this into something worthwhile teaching my students. Right now, I am a student of this myself.

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Thank @olaf.wolkenhauer! That looks very interesting.

Hi @trebso. Yes, you’re right. I should be more specific. I will do my best, even though it’s not always easy to clarify my experience with Agenda, because, like all of us, I am still testing it.

My job is about organizing exhibitions of contemporary art. So, I don’t produce only an abstract level of thinking, which is undoubtedly necessary. Still, I have to move continuously from that level to a practical realization of my initial ideas in the exhibition. Generally speaking, my workflow consists of preparing a concept and revealing it inside the exhibition. For that reason, my workflow must be fluid and flexible, going from abstract thinking to its practical realization. The concept is the key of all and the first act to base the entire project.

For writing a concept, I have to organize my ideas in a written text which could be collected on a note. I have meetings where to report, discuss and take decisions, which are another kind of notes with a different shape from the concepts (and I have specific templates for them). I have even concrete moments, like the installations, where I am physically engaged to set up the material structure of the exhibition working with artists and technicians. And this can be described in other notes.

Basically, I try to use Agenda to mirror my workflow, using its journal structure to report all the concepts and the events of a project in chronological order. However, what appears to be interesting of Agenda is the flexibility of notes, which can go, as I said, from writing a concept in a long note or describe a meeting or report on a series of gestures to realize the installations (installing an exhibition means giving a final meaning to it, which can be sum up in a note). From the abstract level of thinking to report about practical actions, like take a decision or making a physical structure of an exhibition, notes on the Agenda can move from these different levels, connecting them, with good flexibility to finalize the work.

I had even prepared a complex template with all the necessary steps to realize an exhibition, organized in hierarchical order (splitting the project into subcategories). So far, I have never used it. Because what it has worked in the past three years of using Agenda was developing my workflow with notes not hierarchical related. I mean, pieces of thinking and associated events to keep the workflow really active and working for me. The core of that is the capacity of notes to adapt to any different level of my work.
In a way, I represent my workflow with Agenda like a flux of events, concept, actions organized in chronological order (it means on the base of the calendar). As I said, what I see as an exciting feature of Agenda is the possibility of adapting itself to the flux of work events without being trapped in a specialized note-taking shape, like other apps do. So far - at least in my knowledge - it is the best app for connecting thinking level and practical acting in a workflow.

I hope I have been clear enough this time.

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That’s very interesting - and very similar to the way I use Agenda, although my work is very different to yours.

The central core of my way of using Agenda, is a new note everyday called ‘The Plan for [date]’. This is simply a checklist of actions that I populate every morning, by referring to:

  • my calendar, creating notes for upcoming meetings
  • saved overviews of due in 2 days, due in 7 days
  • my notes with Goals, which keep me focused on key tasks
  • OTA notes created yesterday (all new notes are automatically OTA), I tidy these up, adding due dates if necessary, removing from Agenda unless working on them today.

The hierarchy of categories and projects is ordered so that when I look at OTA there is a logical structure with Goals at the top, then Plan for Today, then actual projects.

Like you, how I use Agenda evolves, but the current approach has been working for a long time now. I think the aspect that is fundamental making Agenda work, for me at least, is treating Agenda as a thinking tool that I need to regularly engage with to plan my work, rather than a black box where I feed in tasks and notes, and expect it automagically generate a list of tasks for me to power through.

This is how I used a real paper and pen notebook for a while - making notes, lists, etc, flicking back through the notebook, seeing connections, generating new ideas etc. I gave up on paper because my handwriting is terrible, and there is too much re-writing to keep ideas and lists up to date.

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This is a really good point. An effective principle of using Agenda for me has been, “Is this overview useful?” So I click on one of my overviews - OTA, Today, #next, #due, 10-day forecast, whatever. If I feel like I can take action based on the result, great! But if it’s off, I start reorganizing the notes - splitting, merging, creating new projects, reordering projects or notes within projects, etc.

One minor source of anxiety has been there’s no “everything” overview. But occasionally I remember that I can create that on the fly by selecting the projects that I want to look at - which is powerful in its own right. I wonder if the upcoming overview improvements will allow us to filter based on specific projects, or some project-related metadata. That would be helpful.

This is super important! I think of Agenda notes as feature-rich pieces of paper. I think that’s reasonable, given that its icon is a pencil :slight_smile: Because it lacks structure, there are certain things it can’t really do - like use a keyboard shortcut to move a todo (checklist item) to a project (actually a note - which note in which project? which part of the note?) like you can do with Things. So, cut/copy-and-paste is a pretty important gesture. It’s basically like rewriting super-charged paper-based notes, but without having to crumple up paper, and the bad handwriting.

I agree that moving elements (e.g. to do s etc), and/or displaying such elements from different notes in another one, is really useful.

Wow, what a great thread!

This is exactly the core to it, and also as the @trebso and @maurizio.bortolotti mention, your note system is not a static thing but like a living organism keeps on maturing but also evolving at the same time.

It’s a continuous refinement over time, and is a lot like maintaining the codebase of Agenda as a developer where you refactor and polish each time a bit when you work in a certain area. It’s fine to leave some areas you just started with a few rough edges, but if you stick to the simple rule to always leave the place you touch a little bit cleaner and polished compared to how you found it, it works very well. Lots of parallels here.

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Indeed, and with that in mind you’ll be pleased to hear that we’ll be adding some nice additions in this area in the upcoming version 13 update.

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