Hi! In this blog post I talk about some new discoveries I’ve made in the world of productivity apps: Notion, (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking.

  1. Notion as an alternative to Evernote,  (Here’s my Notion tutorial playlist on YT.)
  2. PARA (only in passing, no details in this blog post as I’m still figuring out what it is – here’ s my PARA YT playlist)
  3. Active Recall and the Cornell Note System as a more effective way to learn new material than highlighting (here’s my Active Recall YT playlist), and
  4. timeblocking – a truly awesome yet simple way to make sure that those things you’d like to do actually get done (all those “Important but not Urgent” items). Link to my yt playlist

After watching a video by a veteran Evernote user on why he was thinking of moving over to Notion, I decided to check it out.

Particularly useful and helpful I found were the videos by Keep Productive (Francesco D’Alessio), Rebecca Ford and Marie Poulin (tho Marie is a power user and sometimes goes a little fast and sophisticated).

The key thing about Notion is, as Marie, Rebecca and Everyday Apple say, that it allows important info to re-surface and come to your attention more easily and effectively than Evernote. Evernote, of course, has its reminders, but in Notion you can created a calendar and put all your to-dos in there, and then created a daily calendar that filters only the tasks you have for that day. This is a huge advantage and though the learning curve for Notion is a little steep, the tutorial videos I found are very helpful.

“Unlike other apps that force me to silo different parts of my planning and task management system between different apps, Notion allows me to keep all of the parts of my system.”  (Rebecca Ford, “Task Management in Notion“, 23 Oct 2018)

Notion basically uses blocks, like the new WordPress interface (the artist formerly known as Gutenberg), but in a much more powerful way than you can in WordPress.

Keep Productive and Marie Poulin also offer Notion mastery courses which I plan to sign up for later this year.

Marie, Keep Productive, Rebecca Ford, GroovyWinks’ Maria Aldrey and super-productive Cambridge (UK) doctor Ali Abdaal have all mentioned another organizing principle which I am currently learning about: PARA (part of a larger concept called Second Brain). Marie Poulin and Maria Aldrey have both done videos on this. It’s different from GTD which I’m a little familiar with, so I’m finding it a little hard to get my head around these concepts, particularly Areas (is that like GTD’s “areas of responsibility”? And,“A resource is “a topic or theme of ongoing interest.” Say… wha???)

Dr. Abdaal also did a video on a study and review method he has used very successfully called Active Recall (video 1 and video 2). Shu Omi also did a neat and brief video on this.

Shu Omi’s video on timeblocking also helped me get over a major stumbling block: saving videos and websites and articles to watch or read later then never getting to that “later”. The simple solution: schedule a time or date to do just that. Well, duh!

So, today, I went through my “Read-Review” notes (because I’m dividing them into “ToReview” and “ToRead”), then I realized what’s going to happen: I’m going to re-tag these and then… probably never read them because I don’t have a way for those to pop up again right under my nose so I can’t miss them. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind. When am I going to review them? As I was already in Evernote, I decided, as well as re-tagging these, to use Evernote’s reminder function to fix a date and time to actually do these. I fixed a day for –

  • doing my weekly review (which will now include reading articles and notes on this topic)
  • working on my business (which will include reading my Evernotes related to business, marketing, etc)
  • working on a new website I’m building, which will include reading my Evernotes tagged with marketing or website
  • learning Notion, which mainly means watching Notion tutorial videos and reproducing that in my Notion sandbox
  • learning more about Active Recall which I’m using to study assignment design.
  • learning more about other memory techniques such as the mind palace (yup! I recently watched again BBC’s Sherlock.)

Each of the above now has a time slot and a day allocated to them, and that will pop up in both an Evernote reminder, and a calendar item in my Notion Master To-Do list.

I also watched Timeboxing: Elon Musk’s Time Management Method. Shu Omi said timeblocking is also used by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Here’s a blog post Cal Newport did on it: Deep Habits: the importance of planning every minute of your workday.

“Atomic Habits” author James Clear makes a similar point about the importance of intention (which timeblocking facilitates) in this clip.

Cal Newport’s new book is called Digital Minimalism.

On Newport’s blog, I found this article about learning and how these days, the hard work of developing good study habits seems to have gone by the wayside.

To Olser, it was clear that training a new generation of thinkers required teaching students how to actually put their mind to productive use, which is hard, and requires “bull-dog tenacity” before it becomes a “good habit.”

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

He repeats this in this interview here: Don’t follow your passion (Do this instead.) |Cal Newport | Top 10 Rules. And at the end of that same video, rule #10, is timeblocking.

Dr Ali Abdaal in his video on Active Recall and particularly the part where he talks about why it works, why it’s effective, says it is the hard work, the difficulty of the task (trying to remember the answers to your own questions) that makes it valuable and helps the information to stick.

As it happens, Notion has an active recall template: Cornell Notes System. Active recall is very similar to a system of note-taking developed by a Cornell University professor in the 1940s.

There are 3 parts to the active-recall/Cornell Notes system:

  1. Read or watch or listen to the original, taking notes as you go. E.g. I’m now learning about how to design effective assignment sheets to teach academic writing to college students. As I read, I make the following notes:
    1. Your assignment sheet should:
      1. Link the writing task with specific learning goals
      2. Describe rhetorical aspects of the task, i.e., audience, purpose, genre
      3. Make explicit any constraints such as word count minimums and maximums
      4. Specify formatting requirements
  2. Create your own recall questions. E.g., for the above notes, my recall question is “What 4 things should an effective assignment sheet do?”
  3. Recalling, which involves looking at the questions only and trying to recall the original notes or answers.
    1. In his video “My favourite note-taking app for students – Notion”, Ali shows how to use Notion’s toggle-list function to hide your notes or answers to your recall questions. 
    2. It also involves, if you’re really trying to master a body of knowledge, repeating the recall step again after some interval of time. Here’s how Ali Abdaal used this technique to revise for his medical exams at Cambridge University.

This blog post briefly introduced the following productivity apps or ideas: Notion, PARA (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking. Thanks for reading!


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