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.

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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.