Ever since I entered university, I’ve wanted to jump on the bandwagon of going paperless.
It seemed enticing and I loved the idea of going all digital.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2020, my interest in a certain field called Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) started developing. If you don’t what that is, I’d highly recommend checking out Tiago Forte and his course “Building a Second Brain“.
On the quest to find the perfect app to “build my second brain”, I stumbled across RemNote: a powerful note-taking app that I’ve been using for the last month.
The key features of RemNote
RemNote is different from the standard note-taking app because it lacks structure. There’s no hierarchy. Instead, you create pages and documents (known as “rem”) that appear on your sidebar under one of three categories:- Draft, Pinned or Finished.
Search portals are a key feature in RemNote that help me a lot. You can tag notes and pages (using ##) to create a searchable tag. The search portal basically collects all of the search results and displays it to you in a simple box.
One feature RemNote boasts is bi-directional linking. If you’re not familiar with what that is, essentially when you type a word using double square brackets (like [[THIS]]), RemNote automatically makes that word into a page. You can click through to that page and see how many times that word has been referenced. It creates a link between multiple pages at a common point.
It sounds a little confusing but I’m pretty sure you’ll get the hang of it when I talk you through my workflow.
What is RemNote actually for?
Before I get into the weeds of my workflow, I think it’s important to highlight the flagship feature of RemNote, that is flashcards.
The marketing of RemNote shows it to be the perfect tool for university students because it combines the features of standard note-taking apps such as Notion with the spaced repetition algorithm and flashcard approach such as Anki.
I personally don’t use it that way because I haven’t gotten the chance to yet (I’m on summer break) and I prefer Notion’s toggles over flashcards for my spaced repetition.
RemNote is way more powerful than the spaced repetition it offers though, here’s how.
Book, Podcast and Article Notes
I started taking notes on what I read and listen to quite recently. It’s a habit I’d encourage everyone to do for long-term usage of the content you consume.
Taking notes helps you remember what you’ve read and it helps you create new ideas because you’re breaking down what you consume into little bits and pieces which can be reorganized into something that’s yours. This is known as “first principle thinking” and is highlighted well in this video by Shu Omi.
Using RemNote for this task has proven to be quite amazing due to the bi-directional links and non-hierarchical structure of your notes. You can just make a new document and start typing away without having to worry about where your notes should go.
The process begins while I’m reading or listening to a book/podcast. I use Apple Books and highlight bits that resonate with me while I’m reading. Sometimes, I also make a note on that highlight if I want to add my two cents on that topic.
At first, I tried to make notes at the same time as I was reading but I found this to be counter-productive. I found myself just transcribing what I read into RemNote without really expanding on what I just wrote with my own thoughts because I wanted to get back to reading as quickly as possible.
With podcasts, I used to use an amazing app called Drafts and note down my ideas while I was listening. More recently, I discovered a fancy new app called Airr which can highlight and transcribe bits of podcasts for you by tapping on the screen and creating an “AirrQuote” which is essentially the last 45 seconds of the podcast you were listening to.
If you have Apple’s AirPods, you can just tap or squeeze the AirPods to create an AirrQuote without having to touch the screen.
Airr particularly caught my eye because it recently received an update where it has direct integration with RemNote. Now every time I make an AirrQuote and caption it, it automatically gets stored into a folder called “AirrQuotes” on RemNote — how cool is that?
When I find myself finishing a first-tier task (more on that here) and don’t know what to do, I’d flip open my iPad or laptop and open up RemNote.
I have a specific page for book notes where I also have a clever way to add books to my TBR or “To Be Read” list. If what I’m reading/listening to recommends a book, I’d usually make that book into a reference and tag it as ##TBR. This automatically gets added to a search portal on the book notes page where it automatically populates and gives me a list of books I wish to read.
I’d open up the book I was reading and start writing out my notes. At the top of the page, I have references which I might need later on — this includes the author, how the book was recommended to me and when I started reading the book.
The way I take notes isn’t that special. It’s pretty standard note-taking where I try to write what I read in my own words while connecting it to ideas I’ve come across elsewhere.
However, one important thing I do is tagging each mini note with one of many tags I’ve pre-made in my “Knowledge Bank”.
The Knowledge Bank
The knowledge bank is basically a page that has very vague topics such as “life”, “writing” or “money”. Under each topic I’ve placed a search portal searching for each specific tag.
Over time, each search portal accumulates with various topics and notes I’ve made without me having to do any extra work. This works because of the whole tagging and search portal function of RemNote.
So if I’m writing down something and it particularly resonates with me, I’d tag it with it’s specific tag. For example, if I’m writing about habit stacking, a technique mentioned in James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I’d tag it as ##habit because it relates to habits and ##productivity because it can help you become more productive.
With this technique, you can connect different ideas from books and podcasts. When I have no idea what to write about, I can just look into my knowledge bank and pull out a topic. I can also link ideas from one note to another because I know they relate in some way or the other, that’s why they’re in the same search portal.
Using these core features — bi-directional linking, search portals and the simple tagging system, RemNote has proven to be my best choice for PKM.
That’s not to say that it’s the best app out there — it has it’s flaws. You have to be the type of person that prefers no structure and no hierarchy to get the most out of RemNote. For me though, I can see myself using RemNote way into the future.