What note-taking software/PKMS has *actually helped* you think better?

Have you used a piece of note-taking or personal knowledge management software over a reasonable period of time and found that it helped you clarify your thinking or discover something new?

Can you share specific examples? Thanks!

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What’s the difference between helping and actually helping?

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I have been using Miro with my coaching/mentoriing clients since the start of the pandemic. It’s especially useful for untangling messy situations. We “draw out” a lot of understanding by “drawing out” the situation. Miro lets us work together across the internet, but the secret is using a bunch of thinking tools and models.

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Perhaps it’s like some comments you see here where a person thinks they’re helping, but they’re not actually helping?

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The way I clarify my thinking is generally by creating mind maps. I find the visual representation and the possibility to move or link branches to be super useful.

At present, I use MindNode, but any well-designed mind mapping tool will do.

A secondary use for mind maps is learning. Studying a subject or prepping for an exam - using mind maps with plenty of visual cues (images, icons etc.) can be super helpful. I still have 30 year old mind maps (on paper) that immediately re-ignites my memories of the subject.

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I feel like none of them actually help, even though I try and them all. Ultimately writing things down help me, but I rarely successfully look back at things and make connections.

Anyway that said, I’m enjoying using [[Obsidian]] currently, uniquely because I really like being able to make to do lists in-line with my notes, which other apps don’t tend to do.

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Yes. I use Obsidian + Notebooks + Devonthink to mine the same vault of markdown notes and ancillary materials such as jpgs or pdfs.

My biggest bang for the buck has been in language learning. I’ve been able to do things like link words to their shared roots, link words that follow a particular grammatical rule; link words that are exceptions to the rule, etc. By way of example, I have a note that lists masculine Russian nouns that use the letter “a” to form the nominative plural (an exception). Each word on that list links back to the vocabulary note I’ve created for it. That note will in turn link to the note I’ve created for the root it shares with other words. It might also link to the note for its synonym or antonym or a note for related vocabulary (e.g., colors, food, transportation, whatever.)

A close second has been photography. While I do have notes on technical matters like the exposure triangle and what not, I’ve found it particularly useful for understanding aspects of photographic style and photography as an art. I can link a particular image to a note about the photographer; a note about the photographic movement the photographer is associated with; to the thing the photograph is a good example of (e.g. use of vantage point or detail); my notes & highlights from a book or article that’s relevant, etc.

I haven’t had a chance to dive deep into Obisidan’s Canvas plug-in yet, but I’m already itching to use it for my photography notes especially.

Both the process of creating the notes and linking them and then following the links when reviewing them helps me place individual items into a larger whole. I often find I’m in a position to distill the fruits of that review into a new note crystallizing some observation I’ve been able to make in the process.

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It has to be Curio by Zengobi, and Nebo with their infinite canvas handwriting app.

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I use Obsidian all the time. Here are a few examples where it’s helped:

Used Canvas in Obsidian to draw out a complex inbred pedigree which was then used to develop a novel way of calculating inbreeding and relationship matrices that takes advantage of the supercomputers in our pockets and network analysis algorithms.

Brainstormed a major software development project by writing use cases, then linking the tasks that were common to those cases. Added in ranking data from user requests and then used that information to develop the functional spec for a MVP for the project.

Added in as notes all the database table creation statements as separate notes and used templates to standardize how they are defined. Put that entire system under Git control for use by all project team members. Currently looking for ways to link the foreign keys so I can see the mesh of how the data is referenced but that’s going more slowly. This will help as we move the structure into using UUIDs as primary keys in the future.

Moved my task management into Obsidian and was able to eliminate some extraneous contexts. That combined with several different views gave me a new appreciation of just how busy I really am. It’s no different than it was in Omnifocus but somehow in Obsidian the load became more concrete because it’s nearly impossible to hide stuff in Obsidian. So I see it all, all the time. That led to figuring out ways to reduce th overall project load and also to slice and dice the projects so I can focus on small subsets at a time. Significantly improved my ability to actually work on the stuff once I identified it properly.

Daily journaling with backlinks to prevous entries on the same day or month has led to me finding and then pulling out as separate notes specific techniques that I found helpful when doing routine tasks tied to the seasons. Those notes are now going into a much more accessible user manual for running the farm that can be used by other people and not just me.

There are more but those are recent examples.

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I think the word “actually” is being used as a linguistic device. The writer is saying implicitly that it is ASSUMED that note taking apps makes us think better but he would like confirmation that they “ACTUALLY” do that.

It would be great if a renowned writer or researcher could say they owe one of their creative ideas to one of these note taking apps. Something along the lines of “And then when using Obsidian the idea of CRISPR came to me. I would never have got tenure without that app”.

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I’ve been using Obsidian for a while now (maybe 18 months) to keep track of my own thoughts and ideas. What does that mean? Well, at first, not a lot.

I used Obsidian to do my weekly reviews and track my goals. I also created my “Life Plan” in Obsidian and that slowly grew into notes about mental health, meditation, health , and so on.

Then with the start of 2023 it occurred to me my weekly reviews would be better served tied to a date/calendar so I downloaded/activated the plugin that shows the calendar (stock I believe) with the weekly note also (I believe third party).

From here I found myself creating a daily note and more MOC’s. I’m a “librarian” through and through but the mould is breaking a bit as of late. I’m finding a lot of value in creating an MOC note for a work project and then linking out to meeting notes. Between the creation of those quick links [[ ]] and the templates in Obsidian, I find myself typing and connecting as I go and worrying less and less about the structure of it all.

Oh god, I’m becoming one of them!

I still use Evernote as my digital repository though. Works great.

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Scapple is the only one that actually helped me to think better because it has no stuff to tinker with. It is a clean white board.
On other tools, I spend a way more time tinkering with the tool than thinking about my actual subject/topic.

To think better… human relationships, and software (if necessary) as support.

First place goes to my wife. Second, my clinical supervisor.

For me, I’ve come to the realization that actually eliminating a lot of PKM and note taking has helped my thinking.

I was getting really bad, constantly researching note taking, Obsidian, Evernote, Notes, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, news, YouTube etc….all of which was clogging my mind with things I don’t need in my life.

Not to say I’m backing off entirely, but software is maybe 20% of the equation for me. Being mindful, taking the time to focus and do my work, shutting off the firehouse of information and people vying for my attention — that’s the good stuff.

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After much time spent with ALL the major PKM tools (except, perhaps, Roam), and thinking they were helping, elimination has been the biggest benefit.

I use EagleFiler as a dumping ground for web pages, documents and emails of interest. Its search works well enough that I can uncover topics without any hard work of ‘linking my thinking’ and come up with new ideas as I need them, rather than trying to anticipate what might benefit me in 10 years’ time.

It’s not that I don’t use software, but I’m back with the Office suite and a specialist research tool as my daily drivers. Pretty much where I started this journey a couple of years ago! :slight_smile:

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Clearer mind, heavier wallet. It’s not a bad way to go. LOL

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None of the promoted by YouTubers because that’s not how our brain think.

A good old blank sheet of paper and multiple pen colors help me think deeply by making diagrams and mind maps, I even had a whiteboard attached to my wall in my bedroom when I studied.

Nowadays I use Nebo on my iPad with the infinite canvas. You see, notes should help you think better.

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Killed most of my subscriptions and have settled for UpNote, Monterey (though Catalina would be better for the 2017 Air) and the Finder/regular folders.

Cut down on the churn and just work.

Focus on people, at home and at work.

Tools are tools, they should get out of the way so you can think.

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When I started using Apple Notes for PKM, I was able to use the software instead of spending time reading about other software.

I want to love Obsidian and its a very cool concept but Apple Notes has everything I want.

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May I ask, what are you using Apple Notes for?
I tried a lot of apps. The last one was Craft and I like it a lot but I realized that I just don’t use most of the stuff.
I have Bear also, but Bear is a mess. I’m not good at sorting stuff with hashtags. So I thought about trying Apple Notes.