How I Use Roam Research and Why I Love It

Roam Research has transformed my working life. I’m excited to lift the lid on how I use it and why I love it. 

I stumbled across Roam in 2019 after learning about Personal Knowledge Management from Tiago Forte’s blog. The concept of PKM in a world saturated with information fired up my imagination and I immediately dove in. My first entry in Roam on 26 December 2019 read: “Found Roam on Twitter.”

Since then, it’s become so integral to how I work and I couldn’t imagine life without it.

I use Roam for 8 main things:

  1. Time tracking
  2. Content creation
  3. Meeting notes
  4. Thinking
  5. CRM
  6. Cheat sheets
  7. Daily reflections
  8. Zettelkasten

This isn’t an article explaining how Roam works and all of its separate features. It’s an explanation of how I use it. If you want to see how it works, here’s a free Roam course on YouTube that I recommend or an in-depth article from Nat Eliason where I first heard about it.

Time Tracking

When I open up my laptop in the morning, I have Roam automatically load up in a new browser window on the Daily Notes page. This is the welcome screen for any Roam user. It’s simply a blank page with today’s date at the top. When the clock strikes midnight, it automatically creates a new page with the new date at the top and that’s what you’re presented with when you next login.

For me, everything happens in the Daily Notes page. I start by inserting the time using the /Current Time shortcut and say what I’m doing. So for example, this morning I started the day with:

08:16 [[Writing Week 7 – How I use Roam Research]]

Then I can easily click the link to start working on that page. It’s a little thing I do that confirms my intention to work on a particular task rather than passively jumping from one thing to the next. So if I’m checking email, I’ll write ‘Email Triage’ next to the current time and go triage my email. If it’s a report, I’ll jump into the report. Simple, but effective.

Writing Articles

Whether I’m creating a blog post, Twitter thread, YouTube video or podcast episode, I’ll create a new dedicated page in Roam for it. I’ve got a number of templates setup in roam/templates that I use to create the structure for these posts (I generally use templates as a checklist when creating similar pages.)

My template for writing a blog post looks something like this (I’m often changing it, so this is as of July 2021):

  • #WritingNote
    • Target Date:
    • Links:
    • Choose topic: from [[Content Pipeline]]
    • CaptureNotes: 
    • Objective:
    • Intro:
      • I’m going to talk about:
      • Hook:
    • Outline:
    • Draft:
    • Tweet thread:
      • 1st line: like email subj line. grab their attention.
      • 2nd line: tease with interesting tidbit. pique their interest.
      • 3rd line: explain the benefit of reading it
      • 4th line: inspire them to action. “read more 👇”
    • Note for next writing session:

Meeting notes

I do a lot of meetings and Roam is the perfect partner. I’ll often prepare for a meeting in the Daily Notes page (see Thinking below) by reviewing past meeting notes. I’ll often keep a record of what I want to discuss next with the person by making a note on their page (which I’ll drag over into the Daily Notes page as an agenda item when I have the actual meeting). 

For me, the advantage is to quickly and easily see what I’ve discussed with the person in previous meetings. I hate the feeling of going into meetings unprepared. I have this fear of being put on the spot and my brain not delivering when I need it to. Our brains are not good at storing and retrieving information (unless you train it to). So when I go into a meeting, I have instant access to all my previous meeting notes and a prompt for things we need to discuss. It helps me remember emerging risks that we discussed; decisions made; people’s names and unique details about them; and the agenda topics that matter. 

My meeting template normally looks something like this, depending on the client project I’m working on:

– #[[CallNotes]] #[[People’s Names]] #[[Project]]

    – Call started:

    – Agenda & Notes:

        – Project updates

        – Emerging risks / challenges

        – Key achievements / learnings

        – Changes to project

        – Upcoming reporting

        – What insights can I capture?

    – Action items

        – {{[[TODO]]}}

    – Call ended: 

Thinking

Roam is such a great aide for thinking. I use bullets and indents to structure my thinking and break things down. “Indent with intent” as RJ Nestor says. It’s such a simple method for thinking that I’d never really thought about before. It can also be used with any word processor, like Word or Google Docs.


So for example:

  • I can just start writing and when something related comes into my head and I want to move onto that thought
    • I can simply just hit return + tab and I’ve nested a thought under the bullet above, and if I hit return again
    • This becomes a second, equal thought I’m having, at the same level as the bullet above. Now if I want to pursue this second thought in detail
      • I can hit return + tab and indent again, so now I’m building this structure of my thoughts
        • And while I’m thinking of structure, I can take this little detour to think about all the other things in my life that have structure:
          • My morning routine
          • Cooking a meal
          • Washing up the dishes
          • Getting into the car and driving
          • Clearing my inbox
        • And thinking of structure in an abstract sense makes me think of:
          • Paintings
          • Photography
          • Books
          • Well written articles
    • And I can return back to a third, completely new idea by bringing the indent back inline with my first and second ideas.

I think you get the idea… Indenting in Roam is a powerful feature and really helps me tame my brain to think deeply.

CRM

I’ve changed CRM to mean Contact Relationship Management for my use case. Basically, whenever I meet someone new who I’m likely to keep in touch with or have several meetings with, I’ll create a new page for their name [[First Name, Last Name]]. Then I use this template for capturing key data about them on their page:

  • #CRM
    • How we met
    • Any unique details about them
    • City
    • Industries
    • I introduced them to
    • Frequency of follow-up: 1 month, Quarterly, Semi-annually

This way, whenever I go to a new city, I can see who in my network is there. And if I want to introduce someone in my network to someone else in their industry, I have an easy way to find someone. And it’s always nice to slip into conversation any unique details about them when we’re talking and let them be amazing at my memory!

Cheat Sheets

These pages are where I keep all the tactics I’ve learnt about a topic. I’ll open them up in the sidebar when I’m doing a related task. So for example, I have one of these for Twitter, which I call [[Twitter OS]]. I’ll include everything from writing a strong profile, the topics that work well on Twitter, useful search functions or how to structure a thread. Currently I have Cheat Sheets on: Twitter, Writing, Roam, Zettelkasten, Newsletter, Podcasting and Utility Innovation (!). They’re ongoing documents and I try to update them constantly with new things I’ve learned.

Daily Reflections

Before closing down my laptop for the day, I try to complete a Daily Reflection which I pull up from roam/templates:

  • 16:42 [[Daily Reflection]]
    • What decisions did I make today?
    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well
    • What can I improve on?

The decision one was added recently, after listening to a Tony Robbins audiobook on how our lives are just a combination of our decisions. So I’ve added this question to be more intentional about the decisions I make each day.

Zettelkasten

Ever since I joined Beau Hahn’s Roam Book Club 3, I’ve been developing my Zettelkasten in Roam. A Zettelkasten is a way to organise your thoughts, ideas and information. It’s another version of a Personal Knowledge Management System, but with incredible connectivity features with Roam. Beau Hahn’s implementation of the old note and box style of a Zettelkasten is the most elegant I’ve seen. I enjoy the deep thought and writing it gives me when I elaborate on a Fleeting Note. Fleeting Notes are just notes I’ve taken when consuming information to remind me why it resonated, what it relates to, and what new questions arise for me.

At this point, I should also mention my Roam-Readwise integration. I use Readwise to import information highlights with brief Fleeting Notes. I’ve set Readwise up to import in the Zettelkasten structure below, saved in a page called Zettelkasten/Captured. 

  • /Current Time
    • #[[Relevant Notes]]
      • #[[Permanent Notes]]
        • #[[Reference Notes]] (link) 
          • <Readwise Highlight goes here>
        • #[[Literature Notes]]
        • #[[Fleeting Notes]] 
          • <Readwise Fleeting Note goes here>

I try to keep a maximum of 12 Fleeting Notes in the queue, to keep the discipline of reading and writing.

There you have it. This is a little look under the hood on how I use Roam and why I love it. I continue to evolve how I use it so it will be interesting to look back at this in a year or so to compare.