August 08, 2020
I am not one for clickbait titles but I can clearly see its appeal. Before you waste a minute of your time reading, I want to reassure you that I mean every word of it. I have built a system and I will help you build yours. For free. Why? Just collecting Karma points. When you Google retention power of brain, this is what turns up in search results:
Every article is about how you can stretch the biological limitations of your brain and improve your retention capacity. This isn’t something unexpected. Anybody who has Internet connectivity now has more information at their fingertips than all of the previous generations of mankind combined! Let that sink in for a moment. I don’t know if you have thought about it in this way but this brings with it some serious implications. For all intents and purposes, our biological progress is nowhere in the race with technological progress. It hasn’t even been one generation yet! At this rate, there is possibly no way biology can catch up with technology without some form of symbiosis. I would argue that biology shouldn’t be on the race in the first place. Technology should be treated as an ally, not an adversary. It should act as the extension of biology, as it was intended.
Before things get a little complicated, let’s unpack how it all began. Anybody from any part of the world could create a simple webpage consisting of things that interests them, things they are currently working on or previously working on, ideas going on in their head, and share their quirky hobbies. Just basic HTML and CSS stuff. They have all the means to document every aspect of their being if that’s what they wished. However, the webpage would then sit quietly in their local machine. Unknown and inaccessible to everyone else in the world. Most people in the world don’t know that you exist or what you are up to.
But then the Internet comes in. Now you can host your webpage in a server and the Internet creates a pathway to the webpage. Anybody in any part of the world with Internet connectivity can access that path to your server and your webpage given that you have not imposed any privacy restriction.
However, all the work was still ahead of us. How could anybody know the exact address (DNS) to your website? It was like trying to put together a phone number to call your friend Jack. You couldn’t possibly tell. Google came in and changed the game in the early 2000s by crawling and indexing pages based on inherent page properties. Now you didn’t need to remember the exact address. You could just type in words describing your search and Google would crawl all the pages indexed that resembles your query.
Many years later, social sites like Facebook in 2004, Reddit in 2005, and Twitter in 2006 emerged and became popular. Millions of new people joined every year. It was like creating several Google(s) within Google. Making stuff produced by the entire planet searchable and accessible in a curated manner is a momentous task. I am sure in years to come, more branches will stem out of Facebook and the likes, to fulfill more specific niches. It’s evident from the rise of Instagram in 2010. Prior to Instagram, people could still upload pictures on Facebook. But there was still a need for a platform like IG where photo sharing could take precedence.
Jump back to 2020, information is everywhere. What we are experiencing has been termed as infoglut. As mentioned earlier, our mind is not able to comprehend this large volume of data being created every second by large swathes of the world population. The mind is not at fault. The rise of technological progress enabling ease of access to information created by the entire planet is exponential. All of this has happened in less than 20 years! We are living in unprecedented times, to say the least. Our mind hasn’t had enough time to evolve to process it all in a manner that enhances our understanding of the world and makes us productive and intelligent human beings. Therefore, trying to stretch our biological limitations to house the ever-growing database of knowledge is walking backward. We shouldn’t be going against technology which is the inevitable future.
We should be using technological leverage for storing information and leave the brain for what it does best – creative purposes. Today, technology provides you with limitless storage across platforms. Data centers stretched across a couple of football fields all over the world to store your cat pictures and selfies. There are technological tools that enable you to retain every information that you consume in a day, to the last character, without having to rely on brain memory. You can go to sleep without having to remember anything and still be able to start off the next day where you left off. Now, I will walk you through my entire system of how I combine various technological tools to achieve the seemingly impossible feat of remembering everything.
In today’s times, when it comes to note-taking services, there are several different camps advocating different apps. People take their note-taking app very seriously. But we need to understand that it’s merely a means to an end. There’s Evernote, there’s OneNote, there’s Apple Notes, there’s Roam Research. But you already know what I prefer, based on where you are reading this article. Yes, Notion. I have tried it all and Notion clearly takes the crown. You can do things here that you can’t do with what all of the other services offer combined. You can find many Getting Started with Notion videos on YouTube so I am not going to cover that here. The scope of this article is much greater. Once you get a feel of how things work in Notion, create a database. It’s no-code. It will be the storehouse of everything you come across on the web.
In 2020, you must be familiar with browser extensions. There is no excuse. I have been using extensions for over a decade now and wrote about Chrome extensions six years ago. So Notion provides a Web Clipper extension that allows you to clip stuff off from whatever page you are on and store it in a predefined Notion database. Remember how we created a database in the earlier on? So whenever you come across something amazing that you would like to come back to at a later date, clip it to your database. Your brain doesn’t need to carry the burden of remembering it anymore. Occasional visits to your database will remind you of all things you have clipped all week. They can be categorized, sorted, and curated to perfection.
Twitter is one of my most favorite places to connect with global communities. Nobody has to know that I exist. I don’t have to maintain a social presence. I can quietly derive all the value from shared knowledge, observe people’s rituals, learn from their experiences, and create lists all day of people from communities I am following. Every day, my Twitter feed is flooded with precious knowledge left and right. My brain is not able to capture all the information that goes by me in a meaningful and useful way. In order to cast a bigger and more effective net, whenever I want to save a tweet/thread, I either use the bookmark feature to save tweets or use the Web Clipper to save it in my Notion database. There is no way I will let anything I find valuable go unsaved. Once I have a tweet/thread nicely curated into my database, I clear it off the bookmark list. I am always aiming to go bookmark zero because you want to build a single truth. This is also the reason why multiple note-taking apps defeat the purpose.
I can’t emphasize enough on curation. Without curation, your database is as good as nothing. I am always spending time to curate information in a meaningful way. Whether I am in the toilet or doing long commutes, I am curating stuff that I have in my database. Regardless of where I am, I can’t be restricted by Internet connectivity. So times I am not bookmarking, I am saving it on Instapaper. Once again, you have the Pocket app as an alternative. You can choose either. My framework is saving tweets/threads as bookmarks and ideally, Twitter accounts in Instapaper. The reasoning behind it is that I have developed a rule for myself where I scan through stuff on Instapaper in a different way. Also, things saved on Instapaper, after curation, go to a different database. If you want to be more technical, you can write scripts to create automated processes.
Personally, I don’t like putting up very sensitive files on the cloud. But at the same time, I also want to reduce my reliance on my local machine. Technical people always have a couple of burner laptops. A good way to imagine is what if lightning struck your computer at this very moment, erasing every last bit of data stored in the drives. Would you lose anything important? Would you lose anything at all? Therefore, I split all my files between portable HDDs and Google Drive. HDDs for files that are more sensitive and permanent in nature and Google Drive to house files that I need the ease to pull and collaborate with others. I use the folders and files hierarchy to organize all my files so that I can access them really quickly.
One of the ideas that changed my life is creating a digital home for everything that I do. If you have separate places designated for all the activities that you do, you will be able to document all of your activities. That way, every moment of your life will have a place where it can live forever and you can be more intentional with every second. I have done it by creating my website in a manner that houses everything I am interested in. I am always jumping from one activity to another. Having a centralized documentation place allows me to store all of my progress, learnings, and notes for myself. It also allows me to assess my overall growth.
© Amitabha Dey. All rights reserved.