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4 apps I use for information processing

Ever since this COVID-19 thing hit I’ve been working from home non-stop. That’s almost a full year of working remotely and being fully in charge of my own productivity. To be honest, I could keep this going forever - I’ve never been more productive in my life.

The last few months have also been perfect to optimize certain aspects of my work, the most important one being information processing. I’ve been horrible at keeping track of todo items before since I could never make it stick. Due to WFH I had the time to create a system for myself and I’ve never been more productive, stress-free and happy.

My system hinges on categorizing all of my information into 4 silo’s: articles, todo items, quick notes and knowledge. Let’s go through them one by one.

Articles

One of the websites I visit (almost) daily is Hacker News. Before, I would open a bunch of links and have something like 10 tabs open until I got around to reading the articles. In practice this meant I’d probably read 2 and skim through the rest. I always hated myself for it because I know a lot of these articles would’ve added a lot of value to my life.

Over a year ago my wife gifted me a Kobo e-reader which has the ability to connect to a Pocket account. Firefox has built-in support for saving articles to Pocket as well, no extensions required. Now, instead of opening 10 articles in tabs and keeping them open for a few days, I save everything I want to read to Pocket which then automatically syncs to my Kobo. There’s absolutely no manual action required which I like a lot. Of course, an e-ink display is a much more enjoyable way of reading long-form articles than the LCD screen of my laptop or phone.

It’s nothing novel but this simple action enriches my life with new insights I glean from all of the artices my Kobo safeguards for me.

Todo items

Many years ago I subscribed to the idea of Getting Things Done, but only a subset of the concept ever stuck with me. I think GTD is way too complicated for a single person with a limited amount of todo items at any given time. Since then, I’ve been trying just about every todo application, but one that always appealed to me was Things.

Things is only as powerful as you want it to be since it has many features I never really used before: headings, tags, sub-items, etcetera. I basically used Things as a glorified list of todo’s without any context apart from projects.

Things deserves its own blog post because I can talk for hours about the many ways you can process information inside the app. I’ll tell you about the most important things I do inside of Things so I’ll, hopefully, never forget something again.

Quick notes

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with digital note taking tools and I’ve again tried most of them. At the end of the day I want the least amount of friction between my thoughts and putting them in writing for later reference. I also like it when a tool feels a well crafted Mac app instead of some janky web app. That’s why I always found apps like Bear to be very cumbersome. Since I’m already knees deep in the Apple ecosystem I’m currently using the default Apple Notes app across my devices.

Since WFH I have a lot of meetings with all of my different clients. During those meetings I make quick notes of everything we talk about. Right after the meeting I review my notes and distill everything into action items which I jot down in Things. After that the note basically becomes useless again as the information is processed.

Knowledge

You’ve probably found yourself Googling a Git command or something about regex more than once. I’ve been there, doesn’t feel great.

Recently I got into the concept of a Second Brain, Digital Brain or whatever you wanna call it. It’s a collection of, in my case, Markdown files with stuff I want to keep around for future reference. Notes that I want to keep around for a short period of time are in Notes, my Digital Brain is for keeping knowledge around that will prove its worth over time.

The tool I’ve chosen to create my Digital Brain is Obsidian, but there are of course others as well like Roam Research. The latter is way too complicated for my taste as I just to have a bunch of Markdown files and I want to link certain pages together to create a cortex of sorts.

At first it’s quite time consuming to jot down every little piece of knowledge I can think of. But in the end I hope it’ll lessen the amount of Google searches for trivial stuff. Obsidian allows me to very quickly search the contents of my Digital Brain so that’s awesome as well.

Another reason I’m building this is because I want to have this as my part of my legacy - a small window into what it was like when I was alive. I hope it’s going to be one of those time capsules they put in the ground to be recovered a hundred years from now.