Introducing my boyfriend to Capacities & Morgen

Building a PKM system for an academic with a LOT of admin

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Table of Contents

Intro

My boyfriend is called Joe. His fancy job title is Senior Lecturer in Statistical Data Science, but from my POV he spends a lot of time looking at code, graphs or replying to emails. 

His teaching is all in Semester 1, so he found himself at the start of Semester 2 with a growing list of admin projects and research. One day he was telling me all about them, and all I could think was “how on earth do you manage this without a task manager?”. So I asked.

That turned into me helping him find a simple and sustainable system to support him through this semester because he wasn’t feeling supported by his existing system. I suggested Capacities and Morgen as a starting point (more on why below), and he’s actually been loving it. 

So this post is all about how we identified what he was looking for in his digital system, and how we crafted one with a PKM and a scheduling app, as someone who’s never used either before. I hope this can provide some methods/suggestions that might help you develop systems for yourself or people around you.

After this experience, I’m even more convinced that PKM practices and tools can help everyone, it’s just a case of showing people what it can instantly do for them, rather than blinding them with definitions, complicated methods and books to read first…. but that’s a task for another day. 

So here’s how I introduced my boyfriend to Capacities and Morgen…

Evaluating what he has first

Based off an old recommendation of mine, Joe had started using Amplenote in 2022, and liked the mix of notes and tasks. He takes meeting notes in there and always adds tasks but I’d never seen him actually check anything off. 

He confirmed that that was indeed the case- a growing list of tasks, very easily created, but no action.

Evaluating what he wanted

He kept alluding to how he wanted to work, so we took 2 mins to spell this out explicitly, in order to create a needs-based system.

He said he wanted to

  • take notes for his projects

  • check in with the projects regularly to make sure everything is progressing…

  • …and therefore spread time across projects, not just doing the one thing he’s remembered to do (his words not mine!)

  • organise and prioritise tasks

  • schedule time for certain tasks

  • collect and keep his thoughts (to avoid forgetting and to help feeling on top of his work)

  • see everything related to a topic or a person (inspired by my ramblings about how useful backlinks are) making meeting prep much easier

All of these things are possible in a lot of different apps, so I had a play with Amplenote first, to see if we could get it to work where he already has a setup. It was fine for most things but project management was lacking. I made the bold suggestion he tried something else.

He was on board in principle, so it was just a case of finding the right set up for him.

Take a wild guess at what I recommended to him?… Capacities.

Joe is actually no stranger to Capacities because it’s a common topic of conversation in our house. Ask him the difference between tags and collections, and he can tell you. But he’s never used it himself.

Now of course, no app works for everyone, but given its the tool I know the best, I thought I could use it as a benchmark, using his reactions to it as clues to further refine suggestions later. However there was no need for this!

After about 30 seconds of using Capacities he said 

this is everything I’ve been trying to hack together in Amplenote for a year

Why Capacities?

From Joe’s frustrations with Amplenote, it sounded like he needed better note-taking capabilities, but he didn’t want to lose the ability to have tasks pop up in his mind mid writing and turn them into actions. That instantly made me think of task actions, which are a Believer feature in Capacities. So we set him up a Believer account.

I wanted to address the task action part before notes. We knew the origin of the task (Capacities), but what about the destination? How do we make it different to what was happening in Amplenote where he’d collect tasks from a note-taking app but not use the list for action?

I remembered that universities run off meetings and emails, therefore out of Outlook. He always has Outlook open. I needed to put his tasks into his calendar so he can see how it all fits with his millions of meetings, and that would help him prioritise, schedule, and spread time across projects. So we needed a scheduling app with tasks and calendars. These apps are not hard to find. 

I work like this too, so I showed him Akiflow which I’m currently using. He liked it until he saw the price ($34 a month is very, very high). So that’s a no. He still wanted the ability to label tasks, so we went with Morgen’s free plan. We set up a webhook integration between Capacities and Morgen and we eventually managed to get his calendar in too. 

I showed him how task actions worked and he was genuinely excited by it, because it was simple and quick.

simple task action set up

Somewhere along the way we saw you can match up tags in Capacities with projects in Morgen, which filters tasks into the correct bucket at the point of capture, which is excellent. He can send a task to the exact place he wants in Morgen. Lovely. 

So he was happy with the tasks → action set up, and happy to trial opening Morgen instead of Outlook calendar given it tells him all the same information plus the tasks he’s trying to get better at scheduling. But what about notes and projects and everything else?

The notes

Joe is clearly no stranger to knowledge work, but his PhD notes are spread across a number of folders that he admittedly has never looked in since. Capacities doesn’t have folders. It has types of notes and tags to connect them all.

Given this is very different, I was mindful to keep it very simple to help him more easily adapt his old thinking into new thinking. Turns out it didn’t take much time at all.

We started with types of notes by looking in the object type gallery and he added

  • projects

  • people

  • meetings

To tie them all together you can use tags (which he knew already thanks to his tags vs collection trivia, taught to him through numerous pop quizzes), so I suggested he create a tag for each project.

Then we added project pages where he could put dates, collaborators in etc, connecting to his person objects. He’s really enjoyed those pages as a dedicated place to brain dump all thoughts about it and knows it can be linked to other objects. 

He’s always saying in his teaching that nothing exists in isolation, and it’s cool to show him that this is the core idea baked into PKM apps.

I showed him some features over the hour or so he spent populating his objects- the daily note, the turn into feature, bullet points, linking of course. But didn’t want to overload him with info so sat quietly as he worked.

He spent a couple of hours in front of the tv adding info to notes, plugging tasks sent from Capacities to Morgen into his calendar for the week, and he looked really happy. I think he’s because he felt in control of his complex and changing workload, and that was great to see.

He was happy with the set up, so it was time to get using it and we’d evaluate from there.

Things I’ve noticed

From the conversations we’ve had about this, a couple of things stood out..

What to do with chats that aren’t fully meetings?

Joe had some chats with colleagues that weren’t fully fledged meetings, but he wanted to remember them. He didn’t know how to put this in notes. I asked how he’d remember the conversation happened? Would he think about who he was talking to? What he was talking about? 

He said both so I suggested putting it in his daily note, and linking the associations (so here person and topic). This gives him more surface area through which to resurface this conversation because he can enter from multiple angles. He was happy with that!

The possibilities of a note-taking app grow as you get used to it. 

I’ve noticed Joe starting to use Capacities as a supportive tool for all sorts of things, and feeling happy the support is there. The other day he couldn’t remember how to add a day of annual leave and he said : “I’m going to find out and then put it in capacities so I don’t have to ask again. I might tag it with #worktip. This has the potential to turn into object type too!”. Adorable.

And based off this screenshot he sent, I can see that he’s also doing super important work for February including thinking about the Christmas quiz. This exists alongside his work, because note-taking apps are not just for the work you’re paid to do from 9 til 5. 

Unsurprisingly, lots of what he does can’t be shared but here’s a peak. 

So that’s my view on the process so far, but I thought I should give Joe a voice too…

Q and A with Joe

Why did you want some help with notes and organising yourself

I was aware that my level of organisation/attention/memory wasn’t where it needed to be for the more admin-heavy roles I was taking on, I was frequently missing deadlines/replying to things late and largely getting away with it by virtue that in general academics are like that, but I could tell I was nowhere near my potential, so a system that can make up for shortcomings was always going to make my life easier and less stressful

Why is Capacities working better for you than Amplenote?

I think I more naturally work in Capacities because I can see where I’d put all my information and combine it. The ability to create custom object types to suit what l’m working on at the minute, and using tags to combine info across different areas makes it really easy to see how I can sync up information which will be really helpful. 

The Morgen integration* is just a very nice bonus, it’s quite common that tasks will come up when I’m writing notes on something and so being able to deploy and schedule those directly (leaving me less opportunity to get distracted and forget about them is definitely super helpful). 

(*webhook integration)

Conclusion

So far so good! It’s great to see something that works so well for me working for him too. He is a busy man with lots of manage, and it’s really nice to see that he is feeling more confident with his system behind him.

I think this is the kind of thinking that working with a PKM app, specifically one that suits you, can create. It’s really nice to see this playing out in someone else, as I know how true that’s been for me.

We’ll do an update at the end of the semester to see how it’s all gone and what he’s learned!

Disclaimer: I work for Capacities and get everything free. Joe is now a paying user. This post is not sponsored by Capacities. I will be writing one next week about introducing my mother to Twos. The app is less important than what the person using it needs.

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