Building your second brain with NotePlan

Building your second brain with NotePlan

As a developer, I deal with huge amounts of information. It's so easy to forget chunks of information that you use infrequently. Sometimes it feels like the steady increase in new information compresses right out of my brain key information I may need in the future.

An example: yesterday after seeing yet another $10 charge from do-nothing hit my bank account, after checking that they never responded to my last request for tech support, I decided to dump them from 47hats for ReplyBox a fairly new commenting service that seems to work well with non-WordPress and WordPress blogs. I wasted 3 hours going down the rabbit hole with Netlify before I remembered that I had moved my site to Ghost 6 months ago. Doh!

Then I spent another 2 hours this morning navigating the back alleys of Ghost Pro, trying to remember/relearn/google how to change a layout (for 3rd party themes like the one I use on this site, you have to find your theme's code buried on your localhost, edit that, then zip it and upload the zip to ghost and set it as active - another process I'd completely forgotten.).

ReplyBox a great service, and if you've got a blog (and you should if you're a developer), you should consider switching to ReplyBox, but the point of this post isn't about ReplyBox, it's about my my brain, and my need for a second brain to store all the technical stuff that was originally in my organic brain, especially workflows.

Workflows are something that developers build for other folks who pay them, not something we give a lot of thought to for ourselves. But as the job of coding has gotten more complicated, the tools and services we use more robust, workflows, aka instructions on how to do shit, become critical to our doing our job.

When it comes to PKM systems (Personal Knowledge Management systems - if you're not familiar with the term, give it a year and you will be) there's actually two layers in my opinion: the knowledge stuff (quotes you want to work with as a writer or student, facts you need to know to learn your chosen profession) and workflows - knowledge about how to do something with all that knowledge you've been building up in your second brain.

Adding a second developer brain

For years I've used Evernote, which absolutely sucks for this purpose. Oh, Evernote is alright for receipts, recipes and the like, but it mangles code, doesn't have usable backlinks, and has a terrible search engine. I'm still using it for online receipts, but I have moved on.

I'm presently using a hodge-podge of three different apps (sigh):

‎Notes is the best place to jot down quick thoughts or to save longer notes filled with checklists, images, web links, scanned documents, handwritten notes, or sketches. And with iCloud, it’s easy to keep all your devices in sync, so you’ll always have your notes with you. Features Powerful note-t…
Amplenote: Best Note-taking App for To-do Lists & Calendar Scheduling
NotePlan - Your tasks, notes, and calendar. All linked in one place.
NotePlan lets you combine your tasks, notes, and calendar in a single place. All linked and synced between your devices as plain-text markdown files.

I really like the ubiquity of Apple Notes - it looks great, and does well on my iPhone, iPad, desktop Macs. But Apple Notes does not support markdown. My second choice is AmpleNote - great for creating rich context around what you need to do, but limited support for markdown. My final choice is NotePlan.

NotePlan as a [provisional] Second Brain

NotePlan is very similar to AmpleNote: it too allows you to mix todos with context. While I think that AmpleNote does a better job of making reminders more robust and general life planning, NotePlan has become my daily note taking app.

(small digression: Get SetApp and it pays for NotePlan, and Cleanshot X, and TablePlus and MindNode and a whole bunch of other apps you may find useful.)

NotePlan does an excellent job of handling code blocks –  and code blocks are for developers what sentences are for linguists:

NotePlan codeblock

For now, I'm going to stick with NotePlan for part of developer second brain: documenting workflows. I'll still use remnote for code I want to get into my first brain because it does great code blocks that can show up in its built-in flashcard system.

I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Tiago Forte's book in June, Building a Second Brain. But in the meantime, I've had a painful lesson in just how important having a second brain is for developers, and how important it is for me to document my technical workflows in my second brain.