The promise of the ultimate note taking app is not just efficient storage and retrieval of notes but to makes us think. Thinking is about asking the right questions which will enable you to solve problems. So far knowledge workers have not found that utopia of a note-taking app which makes them better thinkers and problem solvers. If years of notetaking and knowledge work hasn’t enabled, your problem-solving skills that your PKM system design has failed you.
In the recent verge article, on why the note taking apps have failed him the author Casey Newton cites distraction due to multi-tasking as the major reason why note-taking apps don’t let him think. He further dwells on the solution and mentions that an ideal note-taking app would help him chat with her entire database.
I completely agree on this solution but have not yet come across any single note-taking app which has a chat interface built in. I have achieved this by stacking a few apps which help me chat with my docs. So, in this blogpost I am explaining how I use multiple apps to achieve my not-so perfect notetaking and thinking system.
Most of the note-taking apps do is to help in storage and efficient retrieval of notes.
Most of the note-taking apps are used for storing notes and efficient retrieval of notes and many have bi-directional linking popularised in the PKM community by apps like Roam Research.
There are some AI powered apps like Gemsnotes, which find similar notes automatically and even rate the notes on similarity quotient. Reflect notes have even gone further and lets AI create your bi-directional linked notes automatically. But none of these apps tell you how you should think to solve problems. There is no framework for thinking. It is all left to human subjective experience on how he achieves this process of thinking.
What is thinking for me.
If I distill my thinking process than I would say, what question to ask next is the most important thing in the thinking process. If the next question you ask to your note taking app brings you closer to the solution you are looking for, the note-taking app is the perfect app.
“The goal is not to take notes — the goal is to think effectively,” Andy Matuschak writes. “Better questions are 'What practices can help me reliably develop insights over time?' [and] 'How can I shepherd my attention effectively?’”
Below is my app stack which help me in asking the right questions to my database.
Apps which function primarily for Storage and Retrieval
I store all my notes in iAWriter and Nvalt. I use iAwriter mostly for longer form content like articles synopsis, highlights or notes of an articles. iAWriter makes it very easy to export all the notes I need into PDF. Just a keyboard shortcut, and my PDF is ready, and I export all those notes into DocuChat.
Apps which Summarise
App which helps me in connecting two notes or assets.
I then use hookmark to link the article outline to the main article in case I need to refer the entire article.
I then export those notes as PDF files depending on the topic, I want to gather insights on, which I need, DocuChat. Docuchat supports PDF, articles, websites and even audio and video links in their beta app which I am currently testing. I’m a beta tester for docuchat.
I then start asking questions to make sense of what I want to do exactly. Thats it, how I start chatting with those documents.
The next questions are based on the current answer to my previous question. You keep asking the right questions, and you will keep deriving insights from your documents.
Currently, there is no single app that has all this integrated, and I need to use different apps.
Limitation of the above system
I have to still choose the right notes still to take it to docuchat. I might miss an important note and thus making the system less effective. Exporting notes to docuchat from iAwriter does take extra time.
So, till the time we don’t have a chat like generative AI system into a note taking app, I will have to continue with this system. I hope the note-taking app founders who are reading this article take notice and build such a system. I prefer native systems so I can avoid export and import of notes.
Here is how I have stacked some apps and designed my PKM system to get me thinking. Thinking always is about asking the right questions, and chat interfaces allow that. If you are asking questions and not getting quality insights, then your input data is not such great quality.
I would love to know if you also feel a need for a chat based PKM system and if you have achieved this with a different app stack app. Do drop in a comment if so.