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TECH TALK: Distillation Tools

It’s helpful to use software to distill your ideas, but important to choose software that will keep your notes safe as technology changes.

Editor’s note: Besides following developments in tech, our author is also a musical composer (Juilliard-trained), He has provided a musical composition for you to listen to while reading this column. This piece is called “Funky Distillation”


In last week’s column, I wrote about the four stages required to move your creative ideas to reality. The first step was Capture—the process of recording those fleeting insights before they vanish.  The second step was Distillation, where you refine and extract the essence of your creation before you show it to the world. I indicated last week that there are software tools to help you in that Distillation stage, to help you distill a large amount of undifferentiated information into a concrete result. This week, I want to talk about what to look for in a software distillation tool.

So let’s say you have now captured a considerable number of ideas, and you’re no longer worried about losing them, but there are still way too many for you to communicate coherently in the form of results or for other people to digest and make use of. In other words, you have not yet delivered value. You may have offered a flurry of very impressive thought processes demonstrating your brilliant creativity, but to have value to other people, you need to provide something they can use, something that is actionable.

So you begin the process of distillation, of re-organizing and iterating, until you have a less confusing pile than you started with. Unfortunately, you still have too much. You have too many ideas, and they can be combined in too many different ways. Some of us have used notebooks and folders, first analog and eventually digital. Then, we were able to move into folders within folders. This is not a new problem.

“To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points,” Winston Churchill once said. He is also reported to have said, “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one.” And echoing the same sentiments, Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

In the process of capturing your ideas, you need to take notes, and you need to organize those notes so they will be accessible and useable in the future.  There are more than a hundred note-taking apps available. Some have been around for a long time; some will die early, well-deserved deaths for being too hard to understand.

The single most crucial attribute to look for in a note-taking app is that the file format will remain relevant as technology advances. You want your valuable information to remain accessible across different platforms and operating systems. A text-based system has the best chance of achieving lasting usefulness. Text files are universally compatible and accessible on every computer, smartphone, and device, ensuring durability and longevity. Advancements such as rich text formats (RTFs) and markup languages enhance flexibility without compromising compatibility.

If you are using a text-based system, you can add in rich text formats and markup languages to enhance flexibility without sacrificing compatibility. By embracing such systems, you can safeguard against the risk of format obsolescence and maintain the integrity of your information repository.

A good note system will allow you to set up useful folders. Information that needs to be connected to other information can be put in the same folder. Adding tags for cross-referencing, like library card catalogs, is another way to find things that are related. And you can use both, as they are not mutually exclusive.

If you use a system that permits folders and tags and is also based on text files, you can be pretty sure that you are not going to lose your information and you can keep it organized.





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