Drafts as a bare bones knowledge management system

I just tweaked a script for some quick and easy cross-linking between posts (https://actions.getdrafts.com/a/11Q). That got me wondering how many other people are using Drafts as a knowledge management base, and whether anyone had any tips or tricks to share.

I’m drawing on thoughts from things like How to take smart notes (Ahrens, 2017) and the Roam research white paper (which is in itself an intriguing proposition but still in the early days of its development).

I know there are other apps for this kind of thinking (DevonThink, Evernote, even Notion, etc), but having tried most/all of them over the years, I’m still very comfortable in Drafts. Just curious to know if anyone else is doing anything that I might be able to learn from.

Any and all thoughts gratefully received.

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Thanks for bringing this up! I use something similar to the Zettelkasten method described in How to Take Smart Notes.

If you’re not aware of it, you should check out The Archive, and the community forums they have there.

I currently use Drafts for pervasive capture, and as a “operational memory” area, while using The Archive for longer-term, static, conceptual knowledge. I’ve tried various ways of combining these things into one, but have increasingly seen the value in stratifying different kinds of knowledge storage.

I can see some uses for linking in Drafts, and might give it a spin, but there is a problem there for long-term information upkeep. If your links depend on any kind of app-specific or proprietary formats, they will all eventually break. If you’re trying to create a collected, life-long knowledge-base, then you don’t want this.

The system I’ve adopted for linking is what the makers of The Archive use. Basically just put IDs everywhere. Specifically, timestamps. This works across paper journals, Drafts, notes, and documents of all kinds. Mine look like this:

201911222025 Include in filename.txt
Include in body of a Draft: 201911222025
A later [[201911222025]] reference or backlink
An alternative #201911222025 reference or backlink

Any app which recognizes the double-bracket search format can make this really fast. Or you can manually execute the search yourself. I haven’t yet tried making a script for Drafts to recognize these links, but that might be worth trying.

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I do pretty much the same thing: Drafts for starting most text, now on the Mac as well as my phone. On my Mac, I used The Archive for a while, but now I use the beta of nvUltra, which is also fantastic.

I’ve thought about using Drafts for more, but in the end, the database is what leaves me cold. I could switch from The Archive to nvUltra painlessly (and sometimes go back to The Archive or even nvAlt for one reason or another) because both just use plain text files. I can open a note in Marked to get a much broader range of Markdown, HTML and PDF options. I can run scripts on notes or groups of notes. Hashtags and some crude project metadata (all in plain text) let me connect notes in various ways, especially with some help from Keyboard Maestro, TextExpander and a little Python here and there.

I really like Drafts for creating text, and I’d be lost without it on my phone (though I also use 1Writer — again, with the same Dropbox folder of plain text notes). But I long ago decided that I don’t want to be locked into a single app, or have to export and reimport my data to get it out.

But as long as Drafts stays useful for creating text and doing things with that text through automation, I’m thrilled with it (and willing to pay for it, needless to say). And I’m happy it works for other people as a more comprehensive notes database, because that helps keep it viable!

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Yes! I’ve attempted to implement Zettlekasten a few times, but I don’t feel as if I’ve truly grokked the benefits. I’m a lurker on the Zettlekasten/Archive forums, but I admittedly need to do a bit more of a deep dive, and should probably strike up some dialogue there for further direction.

I should also say that the vast majority of my writing/thinking/reading is managed via iOS. I rarely power up any of my legacy Macs any more. Used to live between nvALT and FoldingText up until the first iPad Pro was released.

Totally appreciate the value of a good timestamp. I’ve blocked on that somewhat, simply because timestamps aren’t descriptive. I typically don’t adjust titles once I’ve committed a note to my system, so I’d figured a Drafts UUID and title offered the best of both worlds, and that’s how I’d configured that cross-linking action. Now you’ve said it, though, I also see the value of an ID that can be easily generated beyond Drafts for interoperability with references/files in other apps. Hm. Will consider that further.

Curious: if your system also contains paper, how does it distinguish between paper documents and other files as endpoints? If you link out to a paper document from an Archive note, for example, are you simply using the fact that it won’t automatically turn up in a search as a trigger to search for the hard copy?

Double brackets search in Drafts: https://actions.getdrafts.com/a/1Tg :wink:

Understood. For my own use case, I think I’m happy as long as there’s a relatively painless way to back-up/export my notes from Drafts to plain text and still be able to retain cross-linking in the event of any required platform shift. I remember the “joy” of exporting an Evernote notebook to plain text files when adjusting my workflow a few years back. Not. Fun.

(Although I still do have a ton of stuff archived in Evernote…!)

I’d like to believe that use of robust unique IDs, plain text metadata and appropriate use of wikilink-style double brackets should all serve well for maintaining the integrity of my system if I ever have to export and move elsewhere, but please do point out any holes in that thinking!

Whatever works! That’s what I’ve come to conclude. I tried to come up with the perfect (for me) note naming convention, and when I finally put it into practice across iOS and Mac, I realized it was more complicated than I really need. Now my Drafts action to create notes on iOS and my KM macro on the Mac end up naming notes slightly differently … and it doesn’t really matter. Similarly, I use Zettelkasten time stamp IDs religiously (automated), but rarely link with them or any other way. Instead, it turns out tagging works better. At least for now — I’ve also realized my note-taking habits change over time; it’s another reason I need a robust system involving just text notes.

But there’s no doubt Drafts is an incredibly powerful organizer now, in addition to all its other strengths. It’s tempting to go all-in.

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I started trying to keep my zettelkasten in Devonthink, but found the DTTG too slow and finicky, and found the lack of wiki links frustrating. Then. I was trying to use Drafts, but really wanted the [[ ]] search capabilities here too. Like others I still use Drafts to get information captured quickly (and have some nice actions for my zettel templates), but after working on them, I tend to send them to my Dropbox folder. From here, I have nvALT and Devonthink index them for my Mac. There are some great keyboard maestro scripts shared on the zettelkasten forum that also work fine in nvALT. I like being able to take advantage of the AI on Devonthink. I use 1Writer on my IPad, which is really wonderful for this kind of work. All these tools really play nice together, and I feel way more comfortable knowing they are all plain text files, that are easily backed up.

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Zettelkasten is about breaking down concepts into networks, which is an incredibly powerful way to “think out loud”. I’ve written, journaled, and captured notes for a long time, but in my experience, there’s nothing like Zettelkasten for clarifying thought.

But I don’t think it’ll make much sense until you’ve done it awhile. It’s not about learning the system—it’s about really coming to embrace the idea of networked knowledge. After that, everything else starts to fall into place. I’m still coming to terms with a lot of the things that didn’t make sense to me at first. It’s mostly a process of letting go of the complexity I wanted to bring to it, and getting comfortable with simplicity.

I’m trying to move in the direction of primarily using iOS, but I haven’t found anything to rival The Archive on iOS yet. Currently, I use iOS for capture and access, and MacOS for analyzing and breaking down.

My normal use case is journaling or capturing a note on paper, and then transferring it into my digital system. In this case, I usually manually timestamp it when I write, and then use the same timestamp digitally. This is more of a “linking in” scenario, where going through my paper journal would point me into the digital.

But to “link out”, I would make a digital note corresponding to the timestamp, and say “See journal XYZ”.

My most frequent case for doing this is actually documents or books that are in my personal library. I’ll create a digital note in my system, spell out the relevant details, and describe where or how to find the physical object.

Thanks for pointing this out!

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@jsamlarose, I really like this action. I’ve tweaked it to add a few more line breaks, but otherwise it’s very well implemented.

What’s funny is that I’ve been thinking about something like this for a while, but never tried an actions search. The first time I tried, a few days ago, your action came up and this was apparently even before you made your post.

Anyway, thank you.

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I flagged your post by mistake.
I apologize.

I’ll find out how to unflag it.