Whether it is a book about building a second brain or youtube videos with luminary like figures discussing how they take notes it seems like there is a real interest around taking notes well into 2024.
In this blog I describe my experience of using two apps, Logseq and Obsidian notes, and how I have started to see some progress.
Some things are true…
- Using plaintext and markdown is a way to ensure longevity to what you are building with notes.
- Plaintext combined with the power of hyperlinks in privacy-first apps provide nourishment for learning and record keeping.
- Writing is partially about writing to forget as well as to remember. Some notes will simply not be useful in the future, but getting them off your brain helps, and you may begin to see patterns in your writing that help.
…But can you really build a second brain? Let’s take alook…
There are common themes to stories as to why people seek to take up note taking as a practice: digital exhaustion, mental capacities stretched… and here comes the note taking to save the day. I can’t go much further without sharing my own story. It was Christmas 2023. I reflected on my repetitive habits to check web platforms and write directly inline into platforms. My entire experience of the web felt dusty and tired.
I asked myself questions. Questions like:
- I have written posts directly into Linkedin. I dont have any record of them anywhere else. Am I just giving up my energy to that platform? Why not write somewhere first and then share?
- I have multiple aspects of my life that seem like they could be better organized. Would note taking help?
- Do I write like Im writing for an audience? Or can I write purely for myself some more?
So I went looking…
The Apps: Logseq and Obsidian
Not sure how I found it first but I started using Logseq first. I have written 45+ notes currently around 7300 words. Secondly for MacOS I found Obsidian Notes. I am using it on a separate machine to take notes and I have taken 40+ notes around 5000 words. I have journalled daily for 20+ days now since Christmas and still doing it.
I have many projects in the works now that are big in my head and small items alike are now stored in hyperlinked notes. It has helped me with big and small tasks. This could have all been possible with any number of record keeping techniques but these two apps are helping the most.
Logseq is currently the app I use on my main laptop to track my daily journals and miscellaneous stuff.
Obsidian I use for longer form writing on my alternate machine, and also sparingly on my main laptop. I also use it on mobile for occasional mobile notes. This blog post was written in Obsidian notes before being moved to VS Code for blog publishing.
But why these apps?
The Product Themes: taking back your writing environment
The marketing for Logseq and Obsidian fits some consistent themes although the two apps differ some ways:
- Markdown as plaintext
- Privacy first
- Local first, with options for syncing
Lets break this down:
- Markdown the format is a portable readable format. It is not a proprietary format.
- The markdown files are stored in plaintext, not in any particular encoded format or anything that needs to be exported for ease of access and use.
- Notes are stored locally and do not need the app but there are options to sync them.
All of this is sort of packaged with a goal in mind: getting you to focus on the words you are writing, and the knowledge gained, rather than distractions or frills.
This is helpful but doesn’t really capture the whole picture without mentioning that many apps have come and gone in the note taking world. Apps like Evernote have simply had to cease operations. It seems that the discerning user is concerned about the longevity and durability of their notes more than just the platform for taking the notes which might be most convenient.
Your notes will even outlast the apps, hopefully
With this local first, privacy respecting and markdown environment in mind both Logseq and Obsidian offer some powerful features:
- Instant hyperlinks between notes
- Daily journal notes
- Graph view of all your notes and their connections
The real powerful feature is the hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are what make the web work and make the web great in some ways and both apps provide the ability to instantly link and create notes together with hyperlinks, typically by double bracketing
[[Name of new note]] what is intended to become a new note.
Old ideas find new life: POSSE
POSSE is an abbreviation for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere, the practice of posting content on your own site first, then publishing copies or sharing links to third parties (like social media silos) with original post links to provide viewers a path to directly interacting with your content.
Now, whenever I have an interest to share something, I work on the material in plaintext and markdown on my own computer before copying it anywhere else, and ideally publishing it to my own site as well if relevant, but in general all writing I do now is into a note taking app like Obsidian and Logseq and then maybe shared from there.
But have I built a second brain?
I will be honest… my headline was a little misleading. I have no idea what it means to fully build a second brain. I haven’t read the book or watched many youtube videos other than basic videos to get started with Logseq and Obsidian notes.
What I can say is that I have built something like a toolchain. I am focused more than ever on what I am writing for durability and usefulness.
The best part about note taking is you don’t need to buy in to any big idea! Just start taking notes and see where it goes