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5 reasons to make Markdown your secret weapon for effortless personal knowledge management

Markdown could be your secret weapon in creating an effortless, low-friction personal knowledge management system.

Elizabeth Butler
Elizabeth Butler
7 min read
5 reasons to make Markdown your secret weapon for effortless personal knowledge management

Table of Contents

First of all– what is Markdown?

Markdown is a way of formatting plain text. It's technically a lightweight markup language, originally developed in 2004 by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz.

The goal of Markdown is to make plain text documents easily readable as-is, but with a way to quickly add formatting (like bold, italics, lists, headings, etc) within the text itself. A Markdown-enabled editor will convert this plain text to formatted text on the screen. But if you simply read the text yourself, it makes sense even without the formatting.

The quick Markdown example (from Obsidian) above gives you an idea of the semantic markup. The original content is on the left, and the formatted version is on the right.

But how can Markdown be your secret weapon in creating an effortless, low-friction personal knowledge management system? Read on...

Markdown is lightweight

Photo by Javardh / Unsplash

Markdown files, although they end in the ".md" extension, are essentially text files. And text files are the tiniest, most efficient type of file for any operating system to read.

Opening a basic .txt file in Notepad is lightning-fast. Opening the exact same words typed into a Word document, Notion page, or Evernote database? Way slower, verging on glacial at times.

Now, for different types of content, more complex solutions like Evernote databases or Notion pages are wonderful. They let you add images, documents, tables, all kinds of bells and whistles. And they're great for that type of rich content. But if you're aiming to simply take text-based notes, it can be very frustrating as you impatiently wait for heavyweight software to load and sync.

Designing your personal knowledge management system to use Markdown means that you can benefit from the small footprint and incredibly fast processing speed of text files, instead of waiting for the endless spinning circle or hourglass to finally launch your app of choice.

Markdown is portable

Long Day in the city
Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo / Unsplash

Markdown isn't proprietary. No single software owns the rights to it. If you create your files in Markdown, you can import them to a wide variety of other types of software– and many will allow you to export in Markdown format as well. If you choose your Markdown-friendly PKM software carefully, you'll be able to easily export and take your Markdown files with you in the future, to avoid vendor lock-in.

  • Obsidian is the best-in-class software for Markdown portability right now. Your Obsidian vault is simply a folder of Markdown files that you can store locally or on a cloud-based folder like Dropbox. You can copy and move those files anywhere you like or open and edit them with a different app like Typora (on Windows, Mac, or Linux) or 1Writer (for iOS).
  • Other apps that give you Markdown import and export options include Notion and Bear App.

Markdown is future-proof

Found this old floppy disc at my uncles place, pretty old, but those good old days.. 1.44MB storage, we can’t even imagine 😂
Photo by Fredy Jacob / Unsplash

Do you remember the stories and letters and projects you wrote... and saved on endless floppy discs? Or a zip drive? If you were lucky, you transferred them to a USB drive at some point. But if you unearthed that USB drive from the bottom of a drawer... what format were those files in? Word Perfect? A really old version of Word? Lotus Notes? You might be able to find some sort of online file conversion online– but it will be a process.

But... if you happened to save those short stories from your past in .txt format? You're golden. Those will open as easily and smoothly today as they did the day you wrote them.

As we covered above, Markdown files are basically plain text files. Therefore, if you make Markdown an integral part of your PKM system, you can feel confident knowing that you'll easily be able to open the notes, writings, and ideas that you capture in Markdown today years down the road.

Markdown is cross-platform

Photo by XPS / Unsplash

Maybe you have a Windows laptop for work, a Macbook Air for your personal laptop, and an iPhone. And throw in an Android tablet or an iPad for good measure. You need a personal knowledge management note-taking solution that can follow you wherever you go.

Markdown is accessible on Mac, Windows, Linux, mobile, tablet, or even the web. Worst-case scenario, you can open your plain text file absolutely anywhere. The file formatting doesn't change per platform because it's integrated right into the text itself.

For example, to make your files available across platforms, you could:

  • Host your Markdown files in a Dropbox folder
  • Access the files on your iPhone with 1Writer
  • Access the files using Obsidian on your personal Macbook Air
  • Access the files using Typora on your work Windows computer

Markdown lets you capture ideas and notes at (almost) the speed of thought

Instagram - @andrewtneel | Donations - paypal.me/AndrewNeel
Photo by Andrew Neel / Unsplash

The thing I like best about Markdown? It's unobtrusive, flexible, and lets you actually focus on the writing itself. Once you've opened Obsidian, Bear, Typora, 1Writer or whatever Markdown app you decided to go for, the blank page is minimalist and ready for your thoughts.

You don't have to worry about formatting, structure, pagination, font style or colour, or a slow app. It's technology that shows up for you, then gets out of your way. It's the closest digital equivalent I've yet found to grabbing a blank piece of paper and scribbling down ideas as fast as they flow. You can choose to build scaffolding in your writing with bullet points and headings right from the start, or just get the words out and figure out structure later on.

But when you write in Markdown, rather than scribbling a first draft on paper? Once you're in the editing phase, you can quickly and easily go back to add headings, bullet points, dividers, or any other formatting you need. When you capture your notes and ideas in Markdown, you can swiftly iterate and build upon your knowledge and creativity.

Ready to get started using Markdown?

Quick-Start Guide to Markdown Apps

Perfect! There are plenty of apps you can consider, but here's a hand-picked list of some popular, full-featured, and aesthetically appealing options to get you started:

Obsidian

  • For Windows, Mac, and Linux

Typora

  • For Windows, Mac, and Linux

Caret

  • For Windows, Mac, and Linux

Byword

  • For Mac, iPhone, and iPad

Bear App

  • For Mac, iPhone, and iPad

1Writer

  • For iOS (iPhone and iPad)

Markor

  • For Android

Build a tailored digital note-taking system with the Calmer Notes method

Are you ready to use your newfound passion for Markdown and digital note taking? If you're a creative person who would like to create an intentional, mindful, flexible personal knowledge management system that fits your busy life, the Calmer Notes method for digital note taking might be just what you've been searching for.

I've created Calmer Notes: Personal Knowledge Management for Busy People based on my own two-decade experience with personal knowledge management. The Calmer Notes method will take you through the process of creating and maintaining a tailored, mindfully-designed personal knowledge management system to organize your digital notes and files.

This self-paced course (which includes digital book + workbook + PKM app database) is now available for purchase at Gumroad.

You'll learn:

  • What personal knowledge management (PKM) means -- and why busy people need a PKM system to stop feeling overwhelmed 📚
  • How to identify the existing pieces of your PKM system 🔍
  • How to choose the right note-taking app that actually works for you (instead of switching apps every few months) 📝
  • How to design and create a personal knowledge management system that works for the reality of your right-now life 🕰️
  • Years of hard-won, first-hand knowledge about personal knowledge management I've accumulated after years of completing a PhD, an MD, and working as a physician while parenting 👩⚕️

If you'd like to learn more, check out an overview of the Calmer Notes approach or visit Calmer Notes. You'll also get a free guide to the 5 most common note taking myths (that just might be stopping you from building a sustainable personal knowledge management system) when you sign up for my newsletter.

Wishing you all the best on your personal knowledge management journey!

MarkdownNote Taking

Elizabeth Butler Twitter

Your guide to the world of note taking and mindful productivity. Creator of the Calmer Notes method for personal knowledge management. Physician, PhD, parent, tea drinker.


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