Note-Taking and Quarantining

Note-Taking and Quarantining


Table of contents

In this episode, we mostly talk about note-taking — reasons to do it, and different systems and apps to facilitate it. We also talk about how quarantine life is going so far, and how we're trying to make the most of it.

Some of the highlights from our discussion:

There is a difference between project management and personal knowledge management. Project management can be seen along the lines of David Allen’s Getting Things Done framework which is a systematic way of processing the tasks that we need to do. The idea is that we capture all our tasks on paper and once a week we do a weekly review to work out what the next steps are for each of our projects which means that when we sit down to work we don’t need to think about what to do we just follow the system that we’ve already created. This removes unnecessary friction and can be filed under ‘project management’.

Personal knowledge management is different – PKM relates more to recognising that we all have some forms of knowledge that we’ve gained through all that we’ve read, watched, seen or listened to, and unless we have a system for organising or recording these pieces of information in a useful way, they can easily get forgotten. Occasionally we might bring one of these things to mind but we rarely have a system for it. Having a system – or what some people refer to as a ‘second brain’ – allows you to organise and capture any interesting information, notes or quotes more easily.

Everyone is a content creator – whether you are a student or whether you’re at work – you are going to have be creating content in some way or another. Having an effective PKM system, means that when it comes to writing that essay, or making that presentation, things become so much easier to put together because you’ve collected everything that has ever resonated with you – you’re no longer starting from a blank page but a database that you’ve collected over the years.

Roam is a tool that takes a new approach to note taking. The standard way of organising notes in apps such as Evernote is based on a traditional filing system, but Roam breaks this mould. The thesis behind Roam is that no-one actually thinks in this structured way of sections and sub-sections, we think in terms of disparate thoughts that link together in some form. Therefore, Roam encourages you to create these bi-directional links between different points or topics creating an interconnected web of knowledge that becomes more organised as you produce more content.

‘Morning Pages’ has become a life-changing technique of personal reflection for some people. This is a writing technique that is based around the objective of writing three pages of A4 every morning consisting of simply whatever is on your mind. It is explicitly designed for private reflection, not public consumption, but it has been acclaimed as an incredibly useful technique for managing and reflecting upon your own personal thoughts.


  1. Roam — the new note-taking app that we both use
  2. Building a Second Brain — the personal knowledge management course that Ali keeps mentioning

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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.

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Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram

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