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Welcome to the Thought Palace of Rahul Rajeev

My Tools of Thought - Apps

Technology Oct 24, 2021


I love technology and what it allows us to do. Of course, there are many things that I would like to change when it comes to the direction technology is moving towards. But I also believe that we have a responsibility to exert better control over how we use technology.

In Marvel's Spiderman Homecoming movie there is a piece of golden advice that Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) dishes out to Spider Man (Peter Holland), "If you are nothing without the suit you shouldn't have it". It's neat right? The quote summarises my take on technology so well.

The tools you use are only meant to make your life easier. Do not let them be the drivers of your life. Thus mastering your tools is the best place to start, to take control and responsibility for your life. ‌

With that random introduction, let me share with you my tools of thought - or the apps that I keep coming back to, regularly, to aid my thinking and writing. For me, thinking and writing go hand in hand.‌

Tools for thought
My System for consumption and creation

Each tool that I use is an integral part of my process. The process tries to achieve a balance between consumption and the creation of information and knowledge. The above diagram is a condensed version of my current workflow. The workflow itself is a work in progress and I will refine it more as I continue on this path.  

Though the diagram doesn't fully represent how I process information, it will help you understand why these tools make sense (I hope it does).

Disclaimers:

- I know that with Readwise it is possible to automate some of the elements in this workflow.

- This is written on the basis of how specifically I use these tools. My use cases do not explore the full spectrum of possibilities each of these apps has to offer.

Information Capture

Evernote

Evernote used to be the OG note-taking app in the industry, going as way back as 2004. While it is still very relevant, more and more people are switching to other more modern apps to take their notes. I use Evernote specifically for collecting information. From articles to interesting design snippets, it can store anything.

I treat Evernote as my digital attic. A place to store raw data.


I rely on PARA method to keep everything organised inside my Evernote. I rarely process information inside it though. It is more of a storage container for reference and research material. For those who are interested in an Evernote specific workflow do check out Tiago Forte's Progressive Summarization Method.

Rahul Rajeev's Evernote Setup
PARA applied to my Evernote


Beyond my use case, Evernote lends itself as a powerful note-taking app, especially for premium users. It has a robust handwriting recognition system and the searchable document/pdfs function is a nifty feature to have.


While there is an open-source alternative to Evernote called Joplin, I tried it for a week and it doesn't really fit well with my workflow or needs. But if you are not into cloud storage, and is looking for software that doesn't lock your data in private servers, then Joplin is an easy choice to make. It is an easy switch.

Memex

Word Brain's Memex is an amazing web extension that I discovered this year. The platform is poised to be a social knowledge centre where people can curate links and articles for other people.

I use Memex for its easy-to-use highlighting and note-taking functions, which can be used directly from the website I am reading. Once I am done reading, I can easily export the highlights and notes in markdown format.

Memex in action

What makes memex unique is the fact that you can alter the exported structure to your liking. The structure I use to copy annotated notes is like this:

[[{{{PageTitle}}}]]
  url:: {{{PageUrl}}}
{{#Notes}}
  ^^{{{NoteHighlight}}}^^ {{{NoteTags}}}
    {{{NoteText}}}
{{/Notes}}
Copy templates for Memex


Memex is open source and free to use. The Premium version of Memex comes with an auto backup function that saves all your highlights into their cloud storage. You can still back up the highlights manually if you do not wish to pay the premium.

Memex replaces Instapaper and Liner from my tool stack. I do sometimes find myself using Raindrop.io as a bookmark manager.

Calibre

Calibre is the best ebook library manager out there. It's free and open-source. What it lacks in design polish is made up more than enough by its all-round functionality. It can convert ebooks from one format to the other and while fetching metadata automatically from the internet. It has become my default digital library.

The Calibre Library


Another use for it is to manage my Kindle Paperwhite and import the clipping.text from the device. This file is then used by an obsidian plugin called to automatically pull highlight data into my note-taking system.

Things 3

Things 3 is the best task management app out there for the Apple ecosystem. It is arguably one best-designed app out there. Besides tracking my day to day tasks, I use Things 3 to capture ideas and notes that come into my mind while I am working on something. The captured item goes into the Things 3 inbox where all items will be processed once a week.

Rahul Rajeev's Things 3 Dashboard
My Things 3 Dashboard

A close alternative to Things 3 is Todoist, but it lacks the system-wide URL capture feature that Things 3 has. Unfortunately, it doesn't come cheap, but kudos to its company "Culture Code" for not making it a subscription model (yet)

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Thinking Space

Obsidian

Obsidian felt like a total alien piece of technology when I first started using it in March 2021. For a person who had not used a terminal before, Obsidian gives off a similar vibe and is scary. But after playing around with it for a few weeks, I fell in love with it.


Double bracketing to create links to new or existing notes was the central feature that brought me to Obsidian. But it was the incredibly powerful and equally beautiful graph view that made me stay for the long haul.

Isn't the graph view in Obsidian so beautiful?


Obsidian is ideal for writing long-form content, collecting ideas from different sections of your complete note collection. The app itself is open source and has a vibrant community that can guide you through most of your day to day challenges.
There is a lot of community generated plugins that you can use to customise your obsidian to match whatever your workflow is. Obsidian also comes with a paid service to publish your notes as a full functioning WebClient, if you are into making your notes public. Obsidian is based on markdown and is local first, ie your notes are safe and you can use it in any other software if obsidian were to go under someday.


Besides being a note-taking app, I use obsidian as an editor for my digital garden whose content is also basic markdown files. Alternatives to Obsidian include Zettlr, Hypernote,  Remnote, Amplenote and Mem.ai.

Logseq

Logseq is a relatively new entrant into the note-taking landscape. It is best to describe Logseq as an open-source alternative of Roam Research that is markdown based. If you love the daily notes features of Roam and an outlining type note-taker, logseq is a solid choice.

Right now logseq is my main writing tool. I start my day by writing a journal entry into logseq's daily pages and build out the rest of my day from there. The pace at which logseq develops is phenomenal. Devs are super active in their discord channel and every week or so a more refined version is released.

Rahul Rajeev's Logseq
Home Note as viewed from Logseq


Logseq also has inbuilt support for drawing using Excali draw, youtube embedding with time stamping and a pdf highlighter that can be linked to the notes that you are taking.

As logseq is markdown based, I get to use all my notes across both logseq and obsidian without any problem. It is actually a really interesting workflow to have logseq and obsidian running from the database of files. I will write more about it sometime in the future. My main use case for this combination is because, I love writing and taking my notes inside logseq, but when it comes to the rediscovery of notes or refined search Obsidian is miles better and the graph view is too beautiful for me to give up on.

Nesslabs has a list of great Roam Research alternatives if you want to explore options other than logseq.

Milanote

Milanote is a tool that I started using recently when I am working on shorter projects with faster turnover rates. It is actually a design and brainstorming tool in my opinion.
I use milanote to collect my notes and thoughts about a particular topic and arrange them visually for me to see.

Rahul Rajeev's Milanote
How I used Milanote for collecting my thoughts on the First Principles Series


Seeing the notes arranged in a visual hierarchy helps me think better and come up with a more fluent content flow. In short, I use Milanote as a tool for creating a visual outline for a concept before I start writing an essay about it.

Idea Management

Notion

Notion is a modern freeform database. Every other database apps today out there (Coda, Crafts) seems to have evolved from the ideas that Notion presented. I use Notion specifically to track my overall project development. It is where I track the growth and progress of ideas and products that I create.

All my projects are stacked inside Notion using their Kanban board feature. Honestly, I love these boards. I can observe and evaluate ideas based on which stages of the production process they are in, at any given moment in time.


I had ditched using Notion when I started using obsidian for the first time. But 6 months later I have come back to Notion. The Obsidian-Logseq combination is a good place for me to think and interact with my ideas, but to oversee the growth of ideas in a time-bound manner, I needed Notion.

Rahul Rajeev's Notion
Kanban view of projects inside Notion


Separating thinking from project organisation did make life a lot easier for me.
I plan all my projects inside various databases in Notion. That way, I have a solid library of checklists to rely upon when evaluating a project's progress.


Every Sunday I look through my notion database and schedule the coming week's tasks and add them into my Things 3 app. Once that is done, the day to day for that week is governed by Things 3 and Notion remains undisturbed.

I am also in the process of using  Notion to organise some of my note notes in a top-down manner. This is helpful for notes that are based on course materials or other study materials.

Alternatives: Coda, Craft

Trello

Trello used to be the default project management app before I started using any of these apps. It is simple and focuses purely on managing projects. I got used to Kanban-style boards for the very first time through Trello. As a freelance writer, Trello was one of the first tools that I started using to get my house in order.

Now that I have Notion, I have completely stopped using Trello. But I am still including it here because, for simple one-off projects, it is better to get started with Trello than drive straight into Notion.

Invision

Invision's freehand app is a very recent addition to my tool stack. I started using it as an alternative to Milanote since the free plan allows only to make 100 notes in Milanote.

Prepping up to update my start page using Invision's freehand tool


But then I found two completely different use cases for Invision.
1.  As a primer or a map creation tool for long-term projects before they are organised inside Notion.
2. As a flow chart/standard diagram creator for blogposts. It is faster for me to use the freehand tool to create diagrams than powering up photoshop for drawing it all up.

Honourable mentions

Now, these are the big guns of my system. But there are also some other apps to mention here to make my list complete. A life without Google Docs is unthinkable. Time-tracking is made possible with Toggl Track. Web clippers for Notion and Evernote are very essential. And there is this amazing app called Cold Turkey Writer for people who sometimes struggle to commit to writing. Cold Turkey converts your PC/Mac into a writing only environment for predefined periods, eliminating all distractions.

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