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.

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.