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A change in mindset made me drop a lot of my tools

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Posted by Dellu
Apr 16, 2022 at 12:23 PM


I am a linguist.
I have been using various tools for organizing and collecting information. Linguistics is a bload field, and there are lot of ideas, theories and data to catch up on. I used to collect a lot of cool ideas: planning to use them one day.  I used to think that once I have collected and organized these great ideas, I will be better thinker and produce better results.

I was wrong.

Collected and organized notes are useless after some time. I either forget about them, or I don’t know why I wrote them in the first place. I have thousands of notes lying in various places—most collected by reading various sources. Worst of all, I dislike them once sufficient time passes.

- I had thousands in Tinderbox.
- A lot of Devonthink
- still even more within Obsidian.

Re-reading the notes after a few years, I often lose the sense that I had when I was writing them. I have moved on in different directions; and what I thought were so interesting ideas at the time are not more interesting.

- My interest has changed
- My focus has changed
- My philosophy has changed
, or all of them.

And, I find that most of the cool ideas I had a few years ago are no more cool. I don’t like them. I indeed, end up deleting them.
I find most of the notes I wrote a few years ago pretty useless for the current me.

Even the snippets I had in Evernote long time ago, appear so awful when I see them now. I used lack focus man; feel like I used be immature and childish for collecting these nonsensical, immature essays from the web.

- I used to read the online entries in the New York times. Fuck them man, their stuff is boring! Why do I need to read that fluff? It is not even interesting!
I mass deleted all the entries from that source from my Evernote.

This made me to think that the idea that notes are used to store information (knowledge) for a long term is misguided. There is no permanent storing or organizing of knowledge. Knowledge is highly transient stuff.  At least our interest on a specific type of knowledge is pretty transient.

So, that made me to change my mindset.
Yes, I need to think of myself as writer than a knowledge worker. That is the only way to be a truly productive person.

Now, if I got a cool idea, I am not going to store it somewhere for future me. I am going to do sth with it.

I put it in a draft; or in Scapple file. 
I open a write project around it.
I search, read and enrich it.

I write a shitty draft that will be ready to be published.

This mentality doesn’t require long term organization and storage of ideas. What you need is just a couple of tools—
As a writer, what I need is:

- a good selection of sources to read, collect ideas around the project at hand—Foxtrot works best here. I also use DT for creating associations.
- A tool to sketch ideas, shuffle them around, and make sense of different snippets of ideas I get from the sources—Scapple works great here.
- A temporary drafting or writing software. I am using Keep it for this. Curiota also works great.

I have now deleted every file organization system I had; from Tinderbox to Obsidian to Evernote including every markdown writing tool (I used to have many of them, heck). I am now saying good by to markdown system altogether because the whole idea behind it was long term storage (plain text longevity). I don’t care about the longevity of my notes anymore. I am going to publish them if they are worthy; or throw them away if they are not. Markdown is trash; neither a complete system nor a simple one. RTF works great because I can highlight text, comment in a different color ,or mark a text bold without much fuss: I don’t need a separate viewer; and can snap an image into it with no problem.

A result is what we all need. isn’t it?

I think I am getting better results with this mindset than I have ever been.
A collector mindset is a misguided mindset.

It is better to get results now and here!


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Apr 16, 2022 at 12:52 PM


What is DT?


Posted by Dellu
Apr 16, 2022 at 01:01 PM




Posted by Dellu
Apr 16, 2022 at 01:08 PM


I use DT for just two purposes:

1. I put my draft (or a couple of lines of text which contain the most important keywords of my project) in the database, and ask it to suggest the closest/similar articles in my database—using the “see also” feature. I check those paper if they have any valid point to note, to add or to modify on my draft (ideas growing to a coherent work).

2. Once I read the articles to read, I pick them there within the app and read them—with Annotation Pane (or Keep it) on the side to collect the relevant points.


Posted by steve-rogers
Apr 16, 2022 at 07:28 PM


Dellu, interesting post thanks for sharing. I find myself undertaking a parallel reassessment of my own computing and information management habits. I have tried to pare down my tools as much as possible to stock Mac applications and whittle some of my recurring subscription costs. Like you, however, I find Devonthink indispensable for managing data and references and have even come to rely on it as a writing environment much of the time. I’m an academic scientist and DT is my research notebook and portal for primary literature that I collect and curate with Bookends. The outstanding search engine and decent PDF annotation tools have obviated my need for other PDF software, except for occasional cropping or labeling that I do in Preview.

I also tried to love markdown but use .rtf files for most notes that require formatting. A lot of the writing that I do is shared with students, collaborators, journals, or funding agencies and have to pass through Word or end up as a PDF, so the extra steps necessary to convert from markdown are a burden. Also many documents I write have to fit within proscribed page limits and often incorporate figures (plots, images). For writing within page constraints and placing figures, markdown makes no sense. I understand that there are some sophisticated tools for page layout, but the activation energy required to learn additional tools like Latex is too high and I find myself just firing up Word or Pages to get work done.


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