The Roam Research and Notion are two examples of software that help you take your personal knowledge management to the next level.
If you want to analyse, synthesise and discover your previous ideas via "happy accidents" then Roam is your best friend!
Notion offers a bit more structure and that comes with it's benefits and costs — all of which Nat Eliason and I discuss in this podcast episode.
Nat's the founder of Growth Machine which is an SEO and content marketing agency. Nat also teaches you how to use roam effectively via his Effortless Output course.
The fundamental unit in Roam is a page that you can link to other notes in the database, which sort of emulates how your brain works.
Think of it as a it more fluid approach to information management, as opposed to the traditional vertical vertical hierarchy we tend to follow where note goes in a folder that goes into another folder.
We don’t file information in our brains, we relate it to other information.
I haven't come across a tool quite like Roam when it comes to tagging and linking information this well.
Notion adopts a similar idea around page creation and linking between different pages but I feel it's a bit too rigid (harder to add and manage information in it)
It works well for groups but it's all that great for individual knowledge management.
Roam gives you the freedom to create “Productive insights” by creating a collection of information that you’ve read about. This appeals to the more creative type.
Basically, both tools are ideal for different goals. If you want to very clearly structure information for sharing with the team so that anyone can open something up and understand what’s on the page, Notion is your go-to tool. If you want to work through your knowledge graph, explore the things you’ve read then Roam is a more ideal option.
(This transcript has been auto-generated. Artificial Intelligence is still in the process of perfecting itself. There may be some errors in transcription)
Nat Eliason (00:00):
So almost think of Notion as closer to a blog platform than a note-taking tool, because what Notion lets you do is create very nice finish products. Roam mostly just makes you lets you create ugly collections of information, right? It's not a very pretty tool and it's also the thing that is going to make sense to anybody besides yourself, but it gives you so much more freedom to like create productive insights.
Ash Roy (00:28):
Welcome back to the productive insights podcast. This is Ash Roy, the founder of productive insights.com and the host of the productive insights podcast. And today I have a very special guest. His name is Nat Eliason. He's the founder of the marketing agency growth machine. Matt teaches a popular course called effortless output. Now this course teaches you how to use a certain software called Rome, which I've been playing with for the last few months. And I've absolutely fallen in love with Nat has published his notes from over 250 books. He's a prolific reader. And if you're curious, then you should join his mailing list, which has over 25,000 people. I look forward to receiving his Monday medley email each week. I'm delighted to welcome Nat Eliason from growth machine.com.
Nat Eliason (01:18):
I'm excited to be here. Thanks.
Ash Roy (01:21):
Thanks for being on man. So now let's talk a little bit about this awesome piece of software called roam research and we will be sharing more information on the show notes about this, but if you would like to purchase NATS course, which actually takes you very comprehensively through their own research program or software, I should say head over to productive insights.com forward slash roam, spelled R O a M. What Rome essentially does is it helps you to research and organize information effectively, but more importantly, I think it's a powerful way to resurface your own previous research and have these happy accidents where you can synthesize and collect your previous ideas and come up with new understandings of your previous thinking using these intersections. And that would you like to tell us a bit about how you see Rome research? I'm sure you can put it far more eloquently than
Nat Eliason (02:27):
So I discovered Rome because I've been interested in the personal knowledge management space for a while. I've been a fan of Tiago Forte's work and his building a second brain course. And I had been using a combination of Evernote and notion for my personal knowledge management up until finding Rome. At the end of last year, you mentioned how I've done the 250 plus book notes. I've always been interested in kind of trying to record my notes and takeaways from things that I'm reading and consuming and had not found a tool that felt like a perfect fit. Evernote was definitely a workable solution. You know, the nice about Evernote is it is fairly bare bones and simple. And so you can organize it to whatever structure fits your needs. But, uh, I didn't like the filing cabinet nature of Evernote. I think it made it hard to create more intuitive relationships between information.
Nat Eliason (03:18):
And so when Rome came along, it was super compelling to me because the fundamental unit in Rome is a page or like a note that you might take, but every note can be kind of infinitely, interlinked and web to every other note in your database. So whereas Evernote and to a lesser extent notion, encourage, uh, vertical hierarchies of storage, where a note goes in a folder, which goes in a folder or something lives in a database, or, you know, a page of pages, Rome is much more fluid. And I think emulates a bit better how our brains work, where we don't, we don't file information in our brains. We relate it to other information. And what Rome does a great job of is encouraging you to relate every bit of information you add to it, to any other piece of information in your database. So whether that's a, you know, notes from a book notes, from an article topics to bring up on a podcast, it makes it very easy to one connect, new knowledge to old knowledge. And to like you mentioned to resurface old knowledge, either things that you have done in the past, things you've read in the past things you might've forgotten about. And for somebody like me, who does a lot of writing and who has a weekly newsletter, that's kind of rounding up interesting things that I've read and whatnot recently, it's extremely powerful for resurfacing past thoughts and past work and kind of connecting ideas together over time.
Ash Roy (04:38):
Two phrases that really stood out to me that I want to emphasize in what you just said. One was, you talked about vertical hierarchies and I agree that historically we have as a society tended to collate information in these hierarchies that go sort of top down, whereas run allows you to create the sort of lateral structures of connection, kind of like a tree and its branches, except it kind of loops back around and it's got a reciprocal connections that goes in both directions and that makes it so powerful. I have been playing around with mind maps lately because I feel it almost mirrors the neural structure of the brain. And in fact, I have a nine step business growth mind map, which a lot of my members in my membership program find very useful because it kind of puts all the information on one page and then it allows you to drill deeper into wherever you want to go, as opposed to just showing you one bit. And then you go to the next bit. And the next bit, by the time you've gone down to the fourth level, you've kind of forgotten the first level. There is a place for that. But I just like the fact that Rome allows you to straddle many levels of hierarchy in a flat structure.
Nat Eliason (06:00):
Yeah, I think that's true. It's nice that you're not constrained by the filing cabinet folder structure. All right. My biggest gripe in the past with filing cabinets, styled organization, is that something can't live in multiple places, but if you have the notes from a book, right, like a lot, I've got anti-fragile right here, right? Like if you have your notes on antifragile, you couldn't put that in a folder on a risk and in a folder on finance, but it relates very deeply to both of those categories. And you can do page level tagging in Evernote and in notion if you're using a database structure, but what's extra cool with Rome is that you could do tagging and interrelations on like the block level. And a block is basically like a bullet point. It's a paragraph of information or a paragraph of text. So there might be ideas in a book or an article that relate to tons of different topics throughout your database.
Nat Eliason (06:55):
And you can relate each of those sub pieces of that article or book into all of its composite areas without having to like add a hundred tags to the top of the article and then have to dig through it, to figure out where that tag was relevant. Right? Like I think this is where there's a lot of, or on the surface, the ideas of tagging and linking in Rome seem to seem to be trivial and exist in other apps. But once you dig into them and use them, there really isn't another tool quite like it that does that kind of interrelating of all the information that you've stored. Right.
Ash Roy (07:28):
So that was the second point I wanted to draw out from what you said earlier on. And it was essentially that ability to tag and interrelate the information. It's very hard to explain this on a podcast episode because it is so conceptual, this is even more powerful than your traditional tagging methods. Would you agree? Yeah, definitely. And could you articulate to our listeners why it's more powerful than your standard tagging
Nat Eliason (07:55):
Good. The in traditional tagging it's on the page level. So you might have the page on the book antifragile and that you tagged that page with say finance risk, taking health, whatever. Uh, the difference with how Roman structure is information is that you can add those tags and relationships on each individual paragraph within the note. So there might be a few paragraphs that relate to health and you can tag those as health, but you don't have to tag the entire book as health. So later when you're on your health page and you want to see everything that's been tagged as being related to health, you're only seeing the most relevant information from anti-fragile in this case, you're not just like getting the whole book and having to go through the whole book again and figure out what was relevant to the topic you're now looking at. So it lets you get way more specific in how you relate chunks, information to other chunks throughout your database, by really taking like the paragraph or the block of information as the atomic unit versus Evernote or notion, which uses the page as the atomic unit. Um, so Rome lets you get much more specific in your targeting and interrelating than any of those other popular notes
Ash Roy (08:59):
Tools that's brilliantly articulated. Thank you. Let's compare roam then to another tool called notion, which uses a similar idea around page creation and that lateral linking between various pages, except it sort of tends to use a tabula format and it has slightly different capabilities. How would you distinguish notion from rod?
Nat Eliason (09:23):
Yeah. Notion is a very good like shared Wiki. So I use notion quite a bit for sharing documents and processes with like the team of my marketing agency and then with Amanda, who I work with on all of my personal site stuff. So we use notion a lot for like organizing Wiki style information. Cause it's very good for groups, but notions not good for individual knowledge management because it's too heavy. It's too much like effort to add and manage information in it. And it doesn't have the block level relating and organizing the realm allows notions. Atomic unit is still the page like I was talking about before. So what it is really good at is creating final pages, almost think of notion as closer to a blog platform than a note taking tool. Cause the notion lets you do is create very nice finished products.
Nat Eliason (10:13):
Rome mostly just makes you lets you create like ugly collections of information or it's like not a very pretty tool. And it's also a thing that is going to make sense to anybody besides yourself, but it gives you so much more freedom to like create productive insights, like with things that you've been reading, studying, adding to your database. So it's kind of just like different tools for different goals, right? If I want to very clearly structure some information for sharing with a team so that anybody could like open something up, look at it, understand it and then do what's on the page notions way better. If I want to like work through my knowledge graph and you know, explore the things I've read and try to come up with some new ideas or work on a new article than Rome is a much better tool for them.
Ash Roy (10:57):
That's brilliantly put, I think Rome is messier, but it appeals to the more creative types certainly does to me then notion which has a nice finished product, but it doesn't have that flexibility. I'm going to try and share with our listeners and our viewers. If you're watching this on YouTube, that's great. If you're not, I recommend doing that. You can go to youtube.com/productive insights to check out this episode. What I did in the last three or four days in terms of using Rome was I just created a list of the various projects I'm working on. I created a page for project. So what you do in Rome is you just put two square brackets around the word projects and now you have a page for projects. I said projects for my team members and I put two square brackets around the two words team members and that create another page for team members.
Ash Roy (11:42):
But now I can very definitely jump between projects and team members. And I can switch between the two pages so I can almost think, Oh, but I need to create another project. And I want this particular team member to work on it. So I click on team members and in the team members page, I have four of my team members in there and I have a page for each of their names. And then I have each of those team members would their role definition. So podcast coordinator has one and that has a page for it as well. What makes Rome so easy to use though, is I can just create it in my natural language text, all introduced, put two square brackets around those words. And it's almost like I'm reading a sentence, but each bit in that sentence takes me into a page that is another entity unto itself that allows me to then embellish that sub entity. But then jump back to the main page. If that makes sense, can you help me out? I'm like, how am I doing?
Nat Eliason (12:35):
I think it's going to be hard for anybody just listening to visualize it. I mean, I've got some good videos on this. Like if you're listening and you're thinking like, what the hell are they talking about? If you search, if you search like Nat Elias and what's so great about Rome, I've got a good video and article that I think explain this fairly clearly.
Ash Roy (12:54):
Oh yes. I remember reading that. I recommended a link to that in the show notes.
Nat Eliason (12:58):
Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. I think that that's helped a lot of people kind of like see the organized chaos that you can have by investing in it for awhile because it is one of those tools where when you first start using it, it's sort of like, you know, what the hell is going on here? Like why are people excited about this? This is just like a bulleted list, but then you start using it more and you kind of start to understand the power of it and like, Oh then it gets more exciting. So seeing what you can kind of do with the developed database, I find helps a lot of people have that aha moment where they want to invest in actually getting it set up. And I think part of the reason that the course has done so well is that there is a very high return on learning how to use the tool, but there's a very steep learning curve. So if you can shortcut it with good education and Rome really doesn't have any onboarding right now, I'm sort of part of the onboarding someone. So if you can skip some of that learning curve, that's like pretty high value. And I think that's why a lot of people like yourself chose to go through the course.
Ash Roy (13:56):
So let's talk about the course because I really found the course to be excellent. I think you've articulated some very difficult to articulate concepts, particularly the more recent one that I did, I've done both of courses, but the one with a capstone project in it. Could you tell us a little bit about the course and who it would help the most and how they can find out more about it? Full disclosure? I am an affiliate on this particular course, so you can buy the course through my link and you can go to productive insights.com forward slash roam to buy the course R O M you can also get a link within the show notes and that will be firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash two zero five. That will be all the show notes for this episode with Matt coming back to you. Annette, can you tell us a bit about the course and how someone who signs up for the course and benefit from it?
Nat Eliason (14:45):
Well, I think that it's actually worth taking a step back first and thinking about like the value of some of these tools, right? Because Rome is like a very nerdy, attracting tool. Like it's very compelling. It's people who really geek out about productivity software and like note taking tools and they want to play on the fringe of what you can do with those. I had this tweet a week or two ago, that was kind of like a little incendiary in their own community where I said something to the effect of like, if you're playing with all of the brand new features that come out and writing these like crazy advanced queries or whatever, you're probably not using Rome for like what it's supposed to be used for. Yeah. It might. My point of that is that a lot of people will play with productivity tools as a way to trip themselves into being productive.
Nat Eliason (15:34):
Or it was as a way to trick themselves into feeling productive. If you go into Evernote and like organize all of your notebooks, you feel like you got something done that you probably didn't. Uh, and at the same time, if you're like writing these crazy advanced queries and round to surface information, you might feel like you're getting something done, but you know, what did you actually like publish? What did you actually create? All you did was play around with your tools. It's the same thing as like, you know, guys who buy like a big, fancy pickup truck to show off to other guys, but who aren't actually like doing any construction work, right? You can geek out on the tool without ever actually using it for its intended purpose. You know, what I, what I really try to focus on is like not doing any of the crazy French stuff, like my goal and the way the course is structured was like you're using this so that you can hopefully be more creative and do more with the things you are reading, learning, consuming, interested in studying whatever.
Nat Eliason (16:25):
So the point of this is just to help you set up a system to capture information on topics. You're interested in relate all of that information to everything else you've ever studied on that and related subjects, and then use your new collection of interrelated thoughts to produce new works. And that's kind of the like overarching structure that it's built around because I like, in some ways I have failed. If somebody comes in and all they do is just like dump a bunch of notes and their database and like feel super organized, but never do anything with it. Right. The point is to create something, whether that's starting your podcast or organizing your interview notes for the next 10 episodes, or, you know, maybe somebody wants to launch a business or they just want to write a few articles what ever it is. If you're not actually using the tool to produce something, then you're just, you're goofing off, but like giving yourself a gold star anyway.
Nat Eliason (17:21):
So what I've tried to do is kind of be the bridge between the Rome, curious and the Rome, not even power user, but like proficient user. I think there's a lot of people creating good material on the power user side on the like, okay, you know how to use it now. Here's how to do like some crazy advanced query stuff. And like, that's, what's really neat, but it's not how you get more people interested in the tool. What I try to focus on is like, all right, you heard this thing is cool. You've heard that a lot of, you know, successful, productive, whatever people are now using this to structure their thoughts and work. But how do you get from like curious to functionally using it for a couple hours a day? Like I, and a lot of my peers now, too, uh, and that was sort of the goal I was going for.
Nat Eliason (18:05):
Um, so yeah, when you took, like, when you took the, one of it that was very hacked together, it was just like, here's a bunch of videos on how to use different parts of it. Right? Like here's how to, you know, do like relations is inquiry is and filters. And that was good because there wasn't that much out there like that when I did it. But now, I mean, you can find all of that stuff on YouTube, right? Like a lot of it, or some of it, honestly just like basically straight up copied from my course, they were like, Oh, well, like that's charging people to learn how to use it. I can teach you how to use it for free. And so, you know, they just put it all on YouTube for free, which like it's bound to happen. Right. If you're just curious of like how some of the functions work, you can find that on YouTube, but if you actually want the whole like going from okay, discovering it, storing information and relating information, creating stuff with it, that was what I really wanted to design this one around and then doing the live sessions.
Nat Eliason (18:54):
You know, what you joined for was a lot of fun because I never done that before. That was totally new to me. But having people on live to like ask questions for me to show stuff to and talk about what their challenges were was pretty interesting. I think the other thing that was interesting about it was I think like most of the people who were in it were like you and they had taken the first version and they were there almost for like a refresher or an advanced course. And there were significantly fewer people who had not taken the first version. So that kind of surprised me. And I had to like rejigger a lot of the plans I had for the live lessons. And so maybe in the future, I'll do something else where I do like an advanced realm live thing. Right. It's like, all right, you went through a V1 or you went through a V2 of like the, you know, here's how to use it now. Here's how you like get really advanced with it. Um, cause I feel like there could be some interest in that from the existing cohort of students as well, but it's just been like a good experiment, like journey, figuring all of this stuff out and like how to do a good online course. And now obviously partnering with Tiago and being part of forte Academy. It's all been pretty cool.
Ash Roy (19:57):
Two things I want to mention to your points. One isn't episode number five, I think it was 200 episodes ago with a guy called Jake Hower. He said the best software is a software you actually use. And I really liked that phrase and I think you've made that point with Rome. But the other thing I also want to say is, you know, in episode 200, I spoke to Seth Goden on the productive insights podcast. And we'll be talking about how to dance with fear in that episode. And I think as people we tend to often dance around the problem. One of the ways we hide from launching is by tinkering on the edges of software and think we are busy, but we do busy work, but not actually shipping what we should be shipping. And as you articulated in your story, often the insights come only after your ship.
Ash Roy (20:43):
So after you did version one, that's when you got the insights, how version two is going to be better. And I'd like to say that that was awesomely better than version one. Version one was a great start, but version two was just like, I am so glad I signed up a lot of this learning. I'm realizing it doesn't happen in here. And I'm pointing to my head if you're listening to the audio. Um, but rather it happens out there somewhere between you and the market. That's one of the biggest insights I have had over the years and I have it over and over and over again, if you're using roam to get to output, that's great, then it's working for you. If you're using Rome to feel that you're really super smart and clever, that may be a good thing, but that may not be what you're trying to achieve. If your objective is to be more productive and to put more meaningful work out there, then you probably want to be using it and asking yourself, well, how much is it helping me to get to my results? Speaking of which you have an agency called growth machine. So I'd love to know more about your agency and how you've used run to grow the growth.
Nat Eliason (21:48):
Yeah. So growth machine is a, an SEO and content marketing agency. So we work with a mix of like e-commerce and consumer tech startup, or companies to manage their like blog production and a lot of their SEO. So, you know, names we've worked with, people probably know Yelp, Adobe, uh, QuickBooks, Bracks, kettle, and fire four Sigmatic like a decent number of big names, um, and kind of like helping all of them figure out that part of their strategy. So I started that in fall of 2017. So I've been doing it for about three years now and that's kind of like my main day job when I'm not, you know, talking about Rome or doing podcasts or figuring out YouTube. Yeah. I mean, using Rome for it, honestly, most of the day-to-day stuff at growth machine we are doing in a sauna and notion Rome is just not that great for multiplayer yet.
Nat Eliason (22:39):
It's not that good for collaboration working on stuff together. And like I said before, I think for a team Wiki for a team knowledge base, you need fairly finished products. You don't want like a complete mess and flurry that you would get in our own database. Like notion is actually a little bit better in that situation. So, you know, I'm using realm for outlining my personal projects, that growth machine or the higher level things that I'm working on or high-level strategy and things like that. But in terms of working with the team, not really using it that much at all, just because it's just not that great of a multiplayer tool yet we using a sauna, no sauna is fantastic for task management and notions great for Wiki management. So again, it's like right tool for the right job, forcing an awkward tool into another line, just to like, I don't know, be consistent to your productivity followers. It's like not a good way to be effective.
Ash Roy (23:32):
Right. And I like what you said, Wiki management. I love that term, managing your own ideas and trying to create creative abrasion or with yourself, or to have that the happy accidents stumbling across ideas that you had six months ago that are related to what you're working on now is a fantastic way to use Rome to discover or rediscover content, which comes back to the concept of resurfacing. Right. It's just a really powerful tool in that front. But when it comes to project management, we too, we use a sauna and the collaborative elements of a sauna so far have been unparalleled. We've used teamwork in the past, but I, we like Assana very much, it's a really good tool. Okay. So what are the biggest challenges you've seen people face when it comes to adopting run research and what's the easiest way to overcome them?
Nat Eliason (24:26):
I think that there's a few challenges we run into. One is just very opaque. When you first opened it up, you look at it and you go like, I'm like, what the hell is going on here? Right. So you like heard that. It's cool. It's you go try it out. And there's just a bulleted list with basically no instructions on what to do to get started. And so that definitely is super confusing to people. And so if that's you then checking out like some of the YouTube videos that I've done, it probably really helpful. Yeah. That's good too. Right? It's like any of that material is going to be super helpful. The other bottleneck I see a lot of people run into is they've got a ton of notes stored in Evernote or notion, something like that. And they're thinking like, Oh my gosh, I've got 5,000 notes.
Nat Eliason (25:06):
I never know, like, how am I ever going to move these into Rome? And in my experience, it's not actually that big of a challenge because one, you probably don't need most of those notes. Uh, you're probably not really using a reflecting on many of them anymore. And you can kind of like use them on an as-needed basis. So one thing that I tell people to do is just start with whichever Evernote notebook you're like most passionate about, or you're most interested in and just bring over all the notes from that notebook and format them, relate them to each other, add tags to all of that. And that'll start to help you see the value in building out your database by adding a bunch of information that's within one silo, right? So that that's going to help jumpstart a quite a bit. And then the other thing I say is, and then don't worry about most of the other information, unless you think you'll use it in the next month or so.
Nat Eliason (25:56):
And what you can do is if you have a notebook in Evernote, that's like, I don't know it's about gun control, right? You can make a gun control page in your own database and then make a note to yourself on that page that you have on transferred notes in your Evernote database. And then if you ever are, if you ever end up on the gun control page in your own database, in the future, you'll see that note that, Hey, you have on my written notes in your Evernote database, and then you go migrate them. So you wait until you actually need them. And then you bring over what's relevant. Then you don't bring over everything. Now, assuming it's going to be relevant later because it very well might not be it. You could waste a ton of time and then end up never adopting the tool at all. So that, that strategy helps a lot in my experience. Agree. I think an
Ash Roy (26:44):
Iterative approach is the most sensible thing, especially when you're working with large amounts of data.
Nat Eliason (26:50):
Definitely. Yeah. Cause I've got maybe 3000 notes in my Evernote and I've probably only brought over four or 500 of those.
Ash Roy (26:58):
I think that's one of the best pieces of advice you've given in that life course we attended. And there were lots of very valuable bits of advice. So let's talk about how listeners can find out more about you and if there's anything else you'd love to add, we would love to hear that.
Nat Eliason (27:16):
No, I mean, I'm super active on Twitter, so that's where I'm always going to be fastest to respond just at Nat Eliason. So Nat E L I a S O N uh, I'll be really quick to respond there. Uh, like I mentioned, I've got a few like YouTube videos and things related to this stuff that you can check out. It's just nationalize and on YouTube, you'll find me there. Maybe you'll put a link in the show notes. Um, but I'm doing more content there as well. I'm going to be, I'll probably release a video on migrating from Evernote into Relman notion. It's a room because I get that question so much that it's really have like a video on how to do it. So, uh, you can check out the content there. My site is not alive and.com. You're seeing a trend here. It's just like not alive sitting on anything. Um, I'm probably there, but like Twitter, Twitter and YouTube are definitely the most active right now. So, um, yeah, if you have any questions about realm, feel free to hit me up. And uh, you know, like I've said, if you wanna check out the course, you should definitely use his link and uh, well, you know, both see you in the forum there.
Ash Roy (28:12):
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for creating it, Matt. I really appreciate that. And maybe one day we should have a conversation about YouTube because I've been geeking out on that as well over the last few months. And I've been trying to figure out the algorithm and trying to get my videos to rank a bit more because I have so much video content now. So yeah, maybe we can have a conversation about that one day.
Nat Eliason (28:33):
Definitely. I've been going deep on the YouTube stuff the last month. So I'm super excited about it. Yeah.