My Brain Map

This post includes links to things I pay for. There are no affiliate links. I get nothing if you buy them. This is simply a post about tools that I have found userful.

I’ve made attempts at Mind/Brain maps years…maybe decades. On notebook paper, notecards, various diagramming-arrow-pointy software applications, etc. I have many areas of interest, which are mainly self containted but sometimes they cross over and that’s really cool when it happens(an old project around the NBA, data science and a statistics course I was taking comes to mind). But none of the solutions I’ve used for this have worked for long. I’ll keep them for a while and then abandon them and move on to something else. I still don’t have one system for this, but I have narrowed it down to a few. So as of now, here’s how I build my Brain Map.

Notability (more info)

Yep, we’re going to start out expensive. Notability is the best iPad app I’ve found for taking handwritten notes. While Notability is free with some extra content you can buy, it’s iOS only. You’ll want an iPad(I have the entry level one) and a Apple Pencil(I have the 1st gen). Hey, I said it’s what I use, I didn’t say it was cheap. You get notebooks, notebook groups, endless pages with different patterns and the killer feature, hand writing recogiztion. You can convert handwritten notes to text, but I almost never do. The app indexes your hand writing so you can search for things later. It finds the handwritten note and takes you there with a nice highlight.


If it can recognize my handwriting I’m pretty sure it will be able to recognize yours. I don’t know of a decent Android equivilant, but I’m sure some web sleuthing would find something very simliar.

Workflowy (more info)

Workflowy is a giant document of bulletted lists that you can easily collapse, tag, move around and share. Just a bunch of:

  • Here’s a thing
  • And another thing
    • Goes on and on
  • Other stuff
    • You get the idea

I pay for Workflowy Pro but you can get the idea of the service with the free tier. I use it to outline things (an example of which I’ll show later) and as a very simple Todo. I have an Open Todos node that I add things to and cross off. Just a place for a real quick “write this down before you forget”. It does a lot more than keep track of Todos. Check it out. I’ve found making quick bulletted lists and being able to easliy drag the nodes around to be a great way to get ideas fleshed out.

Readwise (more info)

Another pay service that I was sure I would let lapse because who needs to pay for a service that is so simple. Let me see if I can summarize what Readwise does in a tweets-worth of text:

Readwise syncs your Amazon Kindle highlights(w/notes), sends a random selection of your highlights via email & allows you to upvote/downvote an individual highlight that impacts the frequency with which you will see the highlight. This keeps interesting passages from books you’ve read fresh in your mind. You see a few more everyday.

Answer: no. I went 57 characters over a tweet. Seriously never thought I’d pay for the service but when the trial ran out I really missed it. I’m retaining a lot more of what I read which helps immensely as I’m reading more books on management and general people-organzation-stuff. Some of these concepts don’t sink in right away. It’s also interesting to see similar statements from different books. Anyhoo, it’s a good service and I find it worth the money. Of course I did have the “I could write this in a weekend” pipe dream but then realized I’d be putting my time to better use by just paying them. (more info)

I’ve been using this service for a long time. Well, a long time in internet years. It’s a very simple service that allows you to save links, tag them, write a note about it and if you pay for the premium version, it’ll download copies as well. If you’re thinking “this sounds a lot like from back in the day”, you’re right. In fact I found while looking for a delcious replacement. There’s an iPhone app called Pinner that allows you to add links from mobile browsers. I use that a lot. It’s great for keeping track of interesting links. Often times I forget that I’ve even pinned something, but that’s the great thing about pinboard, I don’t have to remember. I can search for it later, find it by tag when that topic becomes interesting again and there it is. For me the $25 a year is worth it.

Fun fact, I read over the wikipedia article and found out that Pinboard bought Delicous in 2017.

Johnny Decimal (more info)

Finally something free! And it’s free because it’s not a product, it’s way to organize and tag things. I’m not totally immersed in this system yet but I’ve started the implementation and already it’s paying off. Johnny Decimal is a method for coming up with a numeric identification system that you can use no matter where you are tracking something. For example, let’s say you mobile projects at work (all projects are 300) and a large chunk of that is migrating to a new KewlSDK(project 10) and the first app you’re going to move is the Sock Organizer(app 101). You can tag everything that has to do with this with 300.10.101. Just looking at it you’ll know “oh, this has to do with migrations”. Thinking about how you organzie things is key. I read about Johnny Decimal for about a year before I started to use it. I store the layout in Workflowy and tag things in email, photos, random docs, github commits or whatever with the 3 part code so that finding things later is a a lot easier. Read about Johnny Decimal here.