My digital second brain

Table of Contents

Over the year, I have been seeking to build the best knowledge management system that fit my brain. Although it tends to be changed every once in a while, I think it's would be helpful to write it down today and may be at some point in future, I'd have time to look back and see how it changed.

That's being said, this is not the best system nor it will fit your brain, it's just me finding it helpful and sharing it here.

1 What kind of information does my system handle?

The first question you should ask and make it clear is what kind of information you're dealing with, and want it to be digitialized.

To me, they're:

  • Things I want to do at some point in the near future (or not): like the upcoming appointment, the next bill day, details of tasks that i've been stucking on for a week,…
  • Things I learned: things that new and helpful to me, so I write a quick note describing them in the way I understand, highly not helpful to anyone, just enough to trigger my brain when I read thru them again.
  • Idea for my next side hustle: Did I mentioned how many half-baked side project I have?

2 Write and forget

I'm not gonna throw a lot of buzzwords here, so, if you've read about it, you might know what system I'm refering to here, if you can't think about any, don't worry, you don't have to.

The key part here is, by writing down the things occupying your mind, you give your brain a free space to accept more information, or use that energy to think and solve another problem, in a better way, without the fear to forget anything, because your brain is already wiped that thing off.

And by storing what you've written somewhere other than your brain, you can easily looking for it later and fully retrieve the information once you found it.

3 Emacs and Dropbox is all you need

OrgMode is a very powerful document processing mode for Emacs that happen to fit almost every thing I need in my system, from maintaining a todo list to writing notes.

For searching org notes, we can use deft, another Emacs package that provide the search functionality across all of your saved text, also, it let you quickly create new notes within a keystroke.

The tricky part is, there's nothing matched the experience of using orgmode inside Emacs on a desktop. And the option for using it on mobile devices are very limited, there's only two apps available on iOS and beorg happen to be a better choice, although, if you're new to beorg, it might feel a little weird when you start using it.

To sync the org notes between your desktop and mobile phone, you can put everything under a synced Dropbox folder, they're quite good at data syncing. My current setup including 2 laptops and 1 mobile phone, it worked very well and never see any data loss or conflict.

Next, let's see how the setup look like.

4 What's my setup?

First, the folder structure:

I have a folder called notes on my Dropbox, so I synced it to every computer I'm using, put it under ~/Dropbox/notes/.

Inside this folder, I keep all the note files at the same level, there's no need for any subfolder, because later, you can search everything with deft.

/root/Dropbox/notes
  ├── 2015-08-21.journal.org
  ├── 2015-08-24.journal.org
  ├── 2015-08-28.journal.org
  ├── 2015-08-29.journal.org
  ├── 2015-08-30.journal.org
  ├── 2015-09-20.journal.org
  ├── 2015-10-05.journal.org
  ├── 2015-10-08.journal.org
  ├── ...

Next, this is how I configure Emacs and deft to make it read all the notes from ~/Dropbox/notes/:

(use-package deft
  :ensure t
  :config
  (setq deft-file-naming-rules
        '((noslash . "-")
          (nospace . "-")
          (case-fn . downcase)))
  (setq deft-directory "/root/Dropbox/notes/"
        deft-recursive t
        deft-default-extension "org"
        deft-text-mode 'org-mode
        deft-use-filter-string-for-filename t)
  (global-set-key (kbd "C-c d") 'deft))

With the deft-file-naming-rules option like above, deft will create a new note file based on what you typed, with all whitespace character replaced by a hypen, it-will-look-like-this.org

On my phone, I installed beorg app and let it sync with the notes folder on Dropbox.

Author: Huy Tran

Created: 2020-02-08 Sat 18:59