Year 2020: Apps and Tools


This year has provided tremendous value and growth in honing my productivity. The growth is subjected to a few nominated apps that I rely on as part of my daily workflow.

I will break this article down to highlight:

  1. Note-taking apps
  2. Todo list apps
  3. Audio related apps

Note taking apps

  1. Notability – Notability is an excellent application for the iPad. In combination with the Apple Pencil, handwritten notes are easier to produce, which eliminates the use of a notebook and a pen. I find it encouraging to use this application whenever I’m importing a PDF document to review or signing various documents. During my initial phase of using this app, I was actively using it to write blog posts. However, during COVID-19, I resorted back to using my iPad to work on my writing and creating new graphic ideas that I could highlight in my newsletter. Another app to consider would be Goodnotes, I haven’t tested it much, but I can’t wait to try it out in the new year.
  2. Notion – A game-changer for my workflow. I actively use this app to manage my writing and creative process. The functionality and usefulness of this app has enlarged my outputs making it manageable to balance my creative process. Through various key applications within Notion, I have been able to experiment with different board views, creating additional pages within a category of topics, and assemble my scavenger list in a table list to manage various pillars of my life. I’ve previously done videos on using Notion as a beginner. You can check them out here. Certain inbuilt tools that I love to utilise are the ‘toggle’, which can wrap away large amounts of information. The ‘to-do checkbox’ provide that instant gratification when you have completed a task. Also, the ability to create innovative templates that play a key role in minimising setup time. This app has truly become a second brain, my capture hub to enhance my productivity.
  3. RoamResearch – An underdog but a recent addition, to the world of note-taking apps. RoamResearch is another note-taking app to my workflow, it’s my secondary component for value storage as part of the Zettelkasten Method. The advantage of creating bi-directional links to gather relevant information has been beneficial. I’m able to manage my value storage easily by assembling information on an author who has produced various works of literature or creating a tag system on a category of topics. It works well with my ‘snippet of value’ section when I’m composing my weekly newsletter called the Monday Madness.

Todo List Apps

  1. Todoist – I would consider this to be more than just a standard todo-ist app. An effective means to capture your tasks that are important but not urgent. A particular usefulness of this app is creating a project and within the assigned project creating a to-do list. This can be monitored with reminders which are sent to your email account.
  2. Draft – You could consider this as a note-taking app, however I prefer to use this as my go to “to-do list app”. I use this app to practice capture habit or managing a to-do list within the scope of the day. The use of the app with an Apple Watch is a productivity advantage. It allows you to dictate your ideas or capture notes whilst multitasking i.e. driving or running.

Audio related Apps

  1. Airr – This app has been a revelation in the making – a recent addition to my productivity arsenal. The functionality of this app presents a single advantage in the form of “snip quotes”. I can save intervals of 15, 30 or 45 second snippets whenever I’m listening to a podcast, which can be reviewed at a later time. The snippets are available in audio as well as being transcribed. The saved highlights can also be exported onto your personal note-taking platform if supported through readwise.
  2. Audible – An alternative to reading, I find listening to books on audible to be an effective use of my time whilst driving. I find myself listening to various fictions and autobiographies during my journey from and to work. An effective means of repurposing unproductive time. Audible also has the capability to “clip snippets of information”, which can be reviewed at a later time.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing ✌🏽

Let me know in the comments below if I should be experimenting with any other apps in the coming year.

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Zettelkasten Method: Taking smart notes

In the 1960s, the origin of the Zettelkasten method was established by a German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. He took the initiative of implementing his ideas and notes in an analogue-based system that relied on index cards. Stored within a physical slip-box called (Zettel translates to slip and Kasten to box). Through this, Luhmann compounded his knowledge for various interdisciplinary categories such as religion, law and economics. And, as a result, he was able to write 70 books and 500 academic papers.

Zettlekasten method – How Luhmann made it work?

  1. Wrote down each idea on an index card.
  2. Linked each card one after another through his taxonomy.
  3. Sorted individual cards based on reference or permanent slip box.

The slip box aided him to retrieve relevant knowledge to build ideas and arguments.

The practice of such a process in the current day of age while reviewing ideas from sources like kindle highlights, articles or Youtube videos can become simpler through bi-directional linking and tags. Using RoamResearch, I actively connect dots and create connections between different ideas. Something, Luhmann would have appreciated who built a Zettelkasten comprised of 90,000 handwritten index notes.

Something to consider: a book on how to take smart notes by Sonke Ahrens. A video by Shu omi.

How to apply the Zettlekasten method?

The break down of this method is based on three elements:

  1. Fleeting Notes
  2. Literature Notes
  3. Permanent Notes

Fleeting Notes

Ahren suggests:

Fleeting notes are just mere reminders of what is in your head. They should not cause any distraction. Put them into one place, which you define as your inbox.

Fleeting notes are trinket of information and ideas, which have a similar resemble to the concept of capture habit. In a podcast interview, Tiago Forte expands on the concept of Capture Habit. He suggests that capturing ideas should be based on intuition and something that deeply resonates with your interests. The initial philosophy behind this idea was recycled from a book called Getting things done by David Allen.

I have broken down my resources of capturing Fleeting notes:

  1. Drafts – I use this app while exercising my Default activity during lunchtime. This is free on App store.
  2. Walling.app and mymind – These are two different google chrome extension I’ve recently come across that allows you to create and save information on the internet.
  3. Voice Memos – while working out in the gym, the immediate access to this app allows me to dictate my ideas.

Literature Notes

In my previously written blog post on ‘My process of reading a book‘ – I highlighted my kindle highlights are synced into Goodreads, which requires the manual input of copy-paste export onto Notion. 

Notion doesn’t have bi-directional links that allow similar ideas from various pieces of literature to be linked together.

Therefore, I have decided to break down my Literature Notes into two components:

As a primary Notion user – I have been compounding knowledge in my Scavenger’s list. I consider this as my Bulk storage which doesn’t consist of a tag system that can link different resources with similar ideas.

And, that’s where RoamResearch comes in as my value storage – the reason why I considered it as my value storage because I can be selective of the information that I wish to import and use my thought process to elaborate and reflect on the ideas that I’ve highlighted. I tend to keep this short and selective. These ideas will go on to become a permanent note with bi-directional links.

For clarity purposes, let’s provide a demonstration using RoamResearch.

I recently finished reading Make time – How to focus on what matters every day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. I’ll be filtering down my bulk storage and input few of the key insights from the book into my value storage.

Every (resonating idea) from a book, article or video becomes part of my literature note. Every literature note has the following:

  1. tag stating #literature note
  2. Type of resource (book, article, images or video)
  3. As a user preference, each literature note is highlighted.

The highlighted fields are either summarised in my own words or directly acquired from the resource. The example above highlights literature notes for four different points that will become permanent notes.

Permanent Notes

Ahren suggest:

The idea is not to collect, but to develop ideas, arguments and discussions. Does the new information contradict, correct, support or add to what you already have.

Permanent notes are a means to make you think about how each ‘literature notes’ can be relevant to your ideas, interests and own research. The emphasis is to make you better at combining ideas to generate newer ideas. This, in fact, raises many questions within the realm of understanding the idea. And, ultimately when piecing together an idea on a single note, write as if you’re writing for someone else. Write in full sentences, using the sources from your literature notes as a reference.

Ahren emphasises that only Permanent notes go into the slip-boxFleeting notes get discarded and Literature notes get their own reference box.

Here’s how my permanent note looks:

Following a repetition process of creating various Permanent Notes, you can begin to file additional (resources/ notes/questions) behind one another by supplementing your permanent notes through researching and strengthen your arguments, filling out missing information and answer difficult questions. Through the addition of bi-directional links wherever relevant, you can keep tabs on your ideas. And, such relevance is often complimented by “tags or keywords” that are a direct result on your interests.

Homework for life

Homework for life is a profound statement that highlights the importance of reflecting each day to find a story. And, that’s what’s been stated in Chapter 3 of the book called Story-worthy. Written by Matthew Dicks, an author, teacher and most importantly a storyteller. In this book of his, he enlightens the readers with his hilarious stories, provides strategies on how to become a good storyteller, and sets the readers with ‘Homework for life’.

I decided that at the end of every day, I’d reflect upon my day and ask myself one simple question: If I had to tell a story from today — a five-minute story onstage about something that took place over the course of this day — what would it be? As benign and boring and inconsequential as it might seem, what was the most storyworthy moment from my day?

Now, when I read this it felt like a revelation ‘of writing a few sentences’ to highlight the story-worth moment of the day. Therefore, I’d decided to implement ‘Homework for life’ into my system of Journalling. I’ve been practising this for the past couple of weeks. While reflecting on my day, I have been able to record moments that have been quirky, amazing and stressful which have become the story-worthy moment to my day.

How have I been doing this?

There are various options to consider when implementing a system for ‘Homework for life’.

  1. The author himself prefers to use Google Sheets to write his story-worthy moments.
  2. A standard Journal Notebook could also suffice.
  3. I currently use a template on Notion, as highlighted below. It’s part of my journalling question set that I like to reflect upon.

Why is this important?

I have found the daily practice of writing a short story each day has a compounding element to remember the most unique moments from each day. And over time, as we continue to add these story-worthy moments, we end up creating a library full of stories that we can look back on providing a reminiscing outlook to revisit the past. And secondly, having a repertoire of stories makes dinner conversations much more interesting.

I fervently believe in the practice of ‘Homework for life’ and the value it has added to my life and your life if you chose to do the homework.

A Personal CRM for maintaining communication

I remembered as a kid growing up my folks had a light brown A3 notebook that they kept near the home telephone. And, as I vaguely recall my memory I remembered skimming through the pages to find a whole host of names with their telephone numbers beside it. When I questioned my folks, they stated that it was a contact list of their friends and people they liked to stay in touch with. Fast forward, I found myself in a similar position of fabricating a cloud-based CRM (contact relationship management), a method of maintaining communication with my network of friends and acquaintances.

Why do I want to design a Personal CRM?

While thinking about this, I reflected on whether using social media as an alternative. But, I wasn’t convinced since Facebook, to which I have been disconnected with for the longest time didn’t provide any meaningful value. Instagram doesn’t build on any real connections. Twitter, I am still trying to figure out, but it doesn’t fulfil what I truly want to achieve with the Personal CRM.

Hence, the purpose of the Personal CRM was to focus on the following three things:

  1. To grab a cup of coffee with any of the potential contacts that are visiting the city. 
  2. Staying connected with people I share similar interests – to build a better rapport. 
  3. Keeping track of the people I meet.

Coming across the following articles written by Khe Ry and Nat Eliason, provided the groundwork on how to establish a CRM system. Taking into account, the methods these guys proposed – I decided to use Notion to create a cloud-based CRM system that I can update as I went along. Now, an excellent thing about Notion – it has a default template on a ‘Personal CRM’. The template eluded on a few attributes that I have included in the revised version as highlighted in Figure 2.

Figure 1: Default Notion template

So, while updating the fields, I included the following:

  • How I met that person for the first time? This eliminates the initial awkward question ‘do you remember that time how we met?’
  • Interest – to narrow down the contacts with their particular interests. The reason for this in the possibility of catching up – it would be in my control to organise something that we both could enjoy.
  • Location – if the contact is in the same town and city – it allows me to meet with that person.
  • Personal Contact – I included this field for family and close friends. It’s an excellent way to keep in touch with those distant cousins.
Figure 2: Personal CRM

By positioning myself to build my own ‘digital book of contacts’ and having a visible status that would automate a reminder whenever I need to reach out – I can make the necessary effort and not rely on a chance meeting. Overall, this is an initial draft template that would see a whole lot of changes as ‘my contact list’ expands. If you guys decide to pursue your personal CRM, I recommend checking out the posts from Khe Hy and Nat Eliason.

Scavenger’s List

Ever since being introduced to the concept of creating a secondary brain and the PARA method. I have created a database which is my ‘point of reference tool‘ for any potential ideas for my blog, newsletter or even Youtube Channel. I call this database the ‘Scavenger’s list’. It hosts a stream of articles, youtube videos, live streams notes that I’ve came across. The intention behind this method was to create a massive transitional database of ideas that I could reflect and use as a source of inspiration for my future work. To give you guys a snippet:

One of the tricks I’ve picked up more recently is using the Notion web clipper – it’s a Google chrome add-in extension, it allows a user to easily clip in any information they feel resonated with into their own assigned database.

The method of information hoarding can be a challenging task if done incorrectly. In past, I have tried the classic method of having multiple browser tabs opened up at any one time thinking ‘Right, this is some good stuff’. This was never an efficient way to store useful information. At one point in my life, I even had a text file containing useful links to all things I resonated with. You might be thinking ‘What an amateur?’ it was such a rookie move to make because I ended up losing all that information. Nonetheless, my current method of storing information has been quite effective and it allows me to reflect more often, especially whenever I am writing a blog post or my weekly newsletter. I have implemented this by creating a ‘relation formula’ and it looks something like this:

So while writing this post, the idea behind ‘Notes property’ is to provide access to my ‘Scavenger’s list’ database so, I can refer or link articles. I have realised there are limited frictions in this step-up which allows me to be a lot more productivity. Through this process, I have already been able to action new ideas into potential blog posts and newsletter. So, test it out and let me know your thoughts.

Photo by fran hogan on Unsplash

Creating a 5-year plan

I was surfing the internet with an idea running at the back of my head on a late Wednesday night. At this point, I should be switching off all my devices and heading to bed. And, in the strike of luck, my youtube feed introduces me to an individual named Hannah Witton. Exploring the content of a 23-minute long video called ‘How to create a five-year plan’. I ended up watching that video for two reasons to create my template of a five-year plan and secondly have more control on materialising my goals into an actionable objectives.

I firstly began answering the following six questions and I called it the ‘Overview’. You’ll find out later why I did this.

What questions should we be asking while creating a 5 year plan?

  1. What do I want to change this year? – this question can be answered broadly or specifically. This is a direct reflection of how life would be better in the current year.
  2. Where am I living? a presumption to see if you’re still living in the same home. If you see yourself moving the next five years – write it down.
  3. How do you want to get better this year?  This is a major part of goal setting. As a realistic goal, you could include – setting good sleeping habits or being on a specific diet.
  4. What steps do you need to take to achieve financial security? Whether that be working to acquire a promotion or a salary increase.
  5. What are some fun things you want to do this year? set realistic vacations or learn a new skill.
  6. What goals do you have for a family? If you’re single and want to start a family – start planning now.

These are a default set of questions hence they may not apply to everyone. But, it’s imperative to start answering these questions to create an overview of the year. By focusing on the six categories stated below, you can position yourself by grouping your goals into actionable objectives. It’s quite simple to set up and I’ll show you how I’ve achieved this.

What categories to focus on while creating a 5-year plan?

  • Personal
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Home
  • Fun
  • Relationships

My plan is structured to focus each year individually and for this post, all the examples will be ‘made-up‘. If you wish to adapt to a similar plan, by all means, give it a shot. I will be extremely pleased to hear if you found this template to be effective arsenal in your goal setting. So do comment down below.

Structuring a Five-year plan

My 2020 dashboard

It’s quite simple and more importantly, it does the job. Couple of things to point out:

  1. Overview of the Year: I use this section to answer all six questions. I dissect those questions to list my goals for the year.
  2. Date: The reason I used a ‘date’ property is to assist me in documenting the completion of each goal, something to remind me of what I’ve achieved in that year. An excellent way to remember your accomplishments. Another use with the ‘date’ property it allows me to apply the Parkinson’s law for some of my goals.
Overview of the goal

It’s easier to state a goal, but it’s important to implement objectives around that goal to remove any undue hesitations. And, the way I tend to accomplish this is through brainstorming and being extremely specific with any potential questions. By asking questions you’re positioning yourself to the path of least resistance and answering those questions brings you closer to your goal. So guys, if you found this template helpful by any means, maybe consider trying out for yourself and subscribing to my content.

P.S. This template has been created on Notion.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

I also have a weekly email newsletter that I call ‘Monday Madness‘. It’s my way of reflecting on the week and highlighting any interesting articles, podcasts, or videos that I’ve come across on the internet. It’s also an opportunity for me to highlight my work and any kindle highlights that have resurfaced from Readwise.

Maybe consider subscribing and get your weekly dose of Monday madness 🙂

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3 problems I have working from home (WFH)

With COVID-19, taking a toll on our lives, a statement of lockdown was issued and with that comes the advantage and disadvantage of working remotely.

Lack of structure during the day

Now, again speaking from what I experienced in the past couple of days while WFH, I realized the day doesn’t have a real structure to it. The systematic session of waking up, making myself a cup of coffee, shower and start work in a matter of 25 minutes felt unnatural. I realized I missed the idealistic setting of an office as a space of alignment where I can proceed to slowly immerse myself in tackling the issues of the day. Nevertheless, with any challenge, the best approach is to adapt and adapt well.

Solution

While WFH, I created a habit and the way I approach this is into three sessions. I call it the 3 – 2hour slots. In between these slots, I’ll have my breaks and lunch to create disruption and avoid getting a burnout.

  1. Slot 1 {2hour} – the first session is spent doing the most deliberating work, tasks I tend to postpone because they require more cognitive thinking. I tackle such tasks early in the morning and so far its been effective. The bonus is I get to play an instrumental music playlist running in the background.
  2. Slot 2 {2hour} – during my second session I create new systems of active recall on Notion to hone my more extensive learning.
  3. Slot 3 {2hour} – The third slot is what I call the ‘happy hours’ because I use these hours to catch up with any internal training. This session is used to complete tedious and repetitive work.

Lack of disruption

In the course of an office day, you find yourself being distracted by colleagues coming across your table talking about their weekend, departmental meetings, coffee breaks tends to be the highlight of the day with light banter and lunch breaks are sometimes spent commenting on Chef’s food and whether paying £3.75 was worth it or not. The experience of working remotely takes away these important distractions which I find to be the peak of the day.

Solution

Video conferencing amongst a group of close colleagues before commencing work in the morning keeps true to the mantra of a light conversation before gearing up into the mindset of the day. Follow it with sporadic messages throughout the day which is my “go-to” solution at the moment while working from home.

Also, my non-work activity like being part of the social committee so working remotely removes the social aspects of organizing events. And the opportunity, to build new relations feels there’s a great tendency of disconnect. I think this can be changed – having a weekly session of virtual coffee meet up to plan future events can bring about normality to the day only because it adds a little disruption.

Isolation

With my current layout, I spend much of my time alone as I live in a shared accommodation of sorts. Therefore, the opportunity to hear colleagues arguing in the background or making random comments like ‘have you watched the groundhog day every day?’ is truly missed. Furthermore, the spontaneous delight of being surprised with cakes and cookies on someone’s birthday is a missed opportunity to wish someone.

Solution

I think digitalization does have a little impact on this issue, for instance, wishing someone over an email or message. But ultimately, the human connection is much more preferable because you end up creating memories and connections to that moment that can’t be replicated through any form of digitalization.

If you readers out there that are WFH and resonate with similar issues, please consider commenting and sharing this post. I would be really interested to know what methods, routines, and tools you guys are currently utilising to keep yourself engaged while working from home.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A secondary network

Introducing the following article written by Tiago Forte: Building a Second Brain: An Overview in which he describes the following message:

How many brilliant ideas have you had and forgotten? How many insights have you failed to take action on? How much useful advice have you slowly forgotten as the years have passed? We feel a constant pressure to be learning, improving ourselves, and making progress. We spend countless hours every year reading, listening, and watching informational content. And yet, where has all that valuable knowledge gone? Where is it when we need it? Our brain can only store a few thoughts at any one time. Our brain is for having ideas, not storing them. Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. It expands our memory and our intellect using the modern tools of technology and networks.

Coming across this article, the initial paragraphs provided an insight into a question that I been asking myself for a very long time…

How do I recall everything that I’ve learned?

And, the solution was pretty simple ‘Building a secondary brain‘. This was the point where I realised I was so dependant on my brain for storing every information that I found online and offline. I was wasting my time in a relentless pursuit to accumulate information but never being able to action this knowledge because I would have forgotten it in a matter of days. And, the reason for this was explained by Hermann Ebbinghaus.

Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve explains that the ability of the brain to retain information decreases over time. He found that the forgetting curve to be exponential because memory loss is rapid within a few days of learning any new information. 

Notion

This idea of building a secondary network to act as a digital brain that is used for preserving ideas and turning these ideas into reality. A digital repository for centralising digital information into one network that can be used to store and retain information such as articles, books, quotes or even messages from podcasts.

Having discovered this new concept of a secondary brain, I now religiously practice this through the use of an app called Notion. I’ve previously been using Notion during my postgrad year as a means of note-taking – having realised that the potential of this app can be far greater I now use this to build my own secondary network/brain.

A typical example would be if I am listening to a podcast, and I came across a message that resonates with me, I pause it, write my thoughts and ideas on Notion in an individual folder called ‘Key message’ along with the timestamp. Then I can then use this “potential idea” for creating a future blog post or supplement it with additional ideas. But, the message I wanted to highlight was that it sits in my secondary network. I don’t worry about it or tell myself ‘I wish I’d written that down somewhere’.

As a novice, I’m relatively new to the idea of creating a Second Brain/network. It’s already provided a measurable way to organise my digital and non-digital information. I’ve found that storing new information and more importantly retaining that information to be a relative ease. So, you readers out there give it a shot and share your methods of a secondary network in the comments below. 

My process to reading a book

On reflection, in my prime youth, I was never an avid reader – I remember I spent late evenings of my year 9 and year 10 watching TV shows like (Hollyoaks, Simpsons) after coming back from school. But, everything changed when I enrolled into university – reading was an imperative part of my growth which I mostly did with hardbacks and now through digitalisation reading has become more effective through various tools.

Late last year, I’d taken an approach to utilizing my book reading to a whole new level. I systematised the way I approached my reading and I did this using the following method and tools stated below.

Tools

  1. Amazon Kindle paperwhite – I consider this to be most valuable purchase of 2019.
  2. Goodreads – an account that stores all your highlights and notes
  3. Notion – to create my own personal account of information hub of all the books I have read and try implement the material into my life where possible.

My three method process

Why Kindle?

With digitalisation on rise, I always felt moving away from your standard hardback was a good call. But with every transition, you always need to take baby steps. I started using Kindle for two reasons.

  1. Financially it costed less than your standard hardbacks or paperbacks.
  2. My need for minimalism – I often found it difficult to store copious amounts of book in my room.

What is Goodreads?

A website that allows users to account for the books they have read throughout the year. An advantage of using Goodreads is allows users to assign a number to the amount of books they intend to read in that year. I find this to be quite useful because it’s a challenge that I look forward to completing. In addition, Goodreads can be synchronised with your amazon kindle account and it is able to store all your highlights and personal notes that you make on your Kindle.

Why do I use notion?

When I do finish reading a book – I spend half an hour of my time collating all my highlights and notes and store it in my “digital brain” aka Notion. However, during my reflection period, I do the following:

I implement the learning or principles from the book into my life (wherever applicable).

As I conclude to whatever method or tools you apply to reading a book – I think its imperative to utilise its learning to your advantage. Hence, having a digital brain is highly important because your brain isn’t meant to store information. More on digital brain can be found of my previous blog post called Secondary network.