My compromised and messy way of capturing ideas and notes


(That works for me. At least for now.)

Some people want a single tool or system to do all their stuff. I understand the appeal of that, but I've never found it works well in practice.

If you do want that, then you probably want to ignore everything I'm going to say and just use Notion or Tana and create your own beautiful system for taking notes, as well as all other things you need. Thomas Frank has a YouTube video covering that approach. (I watch a video like this with a mixture of awe and slight alarm.)

In comparison, my own approach is a compromised mess.

My experience is that I sometimes have a fleeting idea that happens always when I'm in the middle of something else. I want a way to capture it, and then if it wasn't a useless fleeting idea, a way to follow up and refine it, and maybe, if it was one of the ideas I want to do something with (like write about it), a way to do something with it.

If I want to capture fleeting ideas, I stick them in Apple Notes. Apple have been smart in making Notes very easy to get to and use. It is there waiting for my silly notions on all the Apple things. If you're not a poncey Apple user, I'd suggest using something equally simple and integral. Maybe Google Keep would work. Maybe a pen and paper would work. Whatever you use, I wouldn't overthink, just capture the idea simply. Spelling and layout and clarity come later.

With Apple Notes you can tag your notes - so I tend to leave them untagged when I initially quickly type them in and then I have a Smart Folder which shows me all untagged notes. This is what I use to identify and review my fleeting thoughts, which I tend to do when I've got a quiet couple minutes, and to - potentially - do something further with them.

I wouldn't stress about complicating tagging systems. Another good thing about Apple Notes - the search facility is good and it will OCR images as you add them. So if I want to find something retrospectively, it's easy to do so.

What is compromised with this approach? Well, Apple... You can export your Apple notes one at a time, but you can't easily export all your notes. So I don't feel full ownership. This is quite crap, typical Apple, and they should sort it out. But I can compromise on this, at least for now, because I don't really care about these random jottings.

UPDATE: there is a (fairly convoluted) way of getting multiple notes out of Apple Notes: see

I do care, and want ownership, of what come out of them, which is the next stage.

I use Roam Research as a daily journal tool. I see this as a distinct activity from capturing ideas. I might take an idea from an Apple note and it might go into Roam as an idea to think through and develop. I might do this - but I have some issues with Roam so I might move straight onto the new step. (Roam is a fantastic piece of software in many ways, but the issues are again around ownership, plus inept company communication and ease of access - Roam takes a while to start up. There's load of other options for this, like , Obsidian or Loqseq. Or hey, Notion or Tana if you want it all in one place.)

ASIDE: One thing I found this week was a plugin for Roam (available via the Roam Depot, which allows you to send ChatGPT a question inline and get the response back in Roam seamlessly. I think this is quite fun and useful - ChatGTP is quite good at unreliable wittering, so get it to witter and then figure out if its worth refining the resulting content.

There's a bunch of other things that might happen to a half-formed idea. It might become a task (and my task system is similarly compromised and messy - that's for another day).

If it is an idea that might turn into a piece of writing - which is what I'm doing a lot of at the moment - I'll fire up IA Writer and use that to develop the content. And from there, if it is a blog post, I'll copy the result into my Kirby content management system and add it to the website.

That might all sound quite complicated, but my thinking is that at each stage, I'm using a tool that is actually designed for the purpose in mind. Apple Notes is great at capturing daft ideas. IA Writer is fantastic for writing content - Apple Notes, or Notion, or Kirby, aren't design for that specific purpose. Kirby is great for managing web content. And so on.

And I don't need to automate the heck out of all this stuff. If I have an idea in Apple Note, I need to turn it into to something else, somewhere else. That is inevitably a manual task, and that painstaking process of refinement is where the pleasure actually lies for me. And if takes a compromised, messy system to achieve, so be it.

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