My productivity stack with Gmail, Keep and Savory

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In the last blog post, I mentioned how I use Savory as a personal knowledge-base and as a queue for my reading list, podcast playlist and watchlist. In this blog post, I cover the major tools in my productivity stack and go into some detail about how exactly Savory fits in my workflow.

My big three tools of choice are Gmail, Google Keep and Savory. Let’s dive in.

Gmail

This one needs no introduction. I love Gmail. I follow inbox zero for my personal inbox. Things that pile up in my inbox are things that need to be done, and my newsletters.

I don’t subscribe to a lot of newsletters. Less than 10 for sure. I try to get them to zero during the weekend. If they keep on lingering for longer, I just archive them. I do not like my inbox growing beyond control. To be fair, I don’t receive a ton of email which makes this workflow possible.

Aside: For my work inbox, I use starred items as my todo list tracker. I don’t know why I made that distinction. I can follow the same approach for both my inboxes but habits are hard to change, I guess.

Google Keep

I use Keep primarily for taking notes and tracking any todo items which were not emails. For example, I track my 1:1s follow-up items as Keep notes.

I really like Keep’s minimal interface. It’s fast and keeps itself out of the way. Search works well. The mobile app is good enough.

I archive notes that are not relevant anymore or tasks that I have completed. This keeps the active stack of notes to around 10 for me which is pretty manageable. I can open Keep at the start of the week and know what my priorities are for that week.

Savory

Savory is a big part of my stack. Over the years, I have collected a lot of bookmarks. My current count is over 7,000. The earliest in my collection is from 2009. I hear you groan about how many of them would be dead or not relevant anymore. That is true in some cases but more often than not, I find one gem of a link from long time back which is still highly relevant. Lots of them do end up as dead, but I am able to resurrect them via the wayback machine.

Aside: I tag these links with dead link. I am going to whip up a native integration with archive.org in hopefully near future to automate this task for me.

Second brain

Savory is my second brain. I frequently find interesting links from the past which I am pretty sure I would not be able to find via Google anymore.

That’s the thing. You think that you don’t need to save anything since Google is just one-click away. But good luck finding that specific article from 5 years ago if you don’t remember some exact keywords or the website name. Even if you know the website name, people and businesses frequently move domains and now these links are not going to show up in Google search results.

For example, my Go programming language bookmarks date back to 2012 and looking at the chronologically sorted list helps me understand how the language has evolved over time.

Organize by adding tags to bookmarks

Tagging is central to Savory. When I started out building Savory, I knew I needed tags but what was not obvious to me at the time was this simple act of tagging can power many workflows and use-cases. With tags, you are implicitly building a knowledge graph and the various filter and search features in Savory enable you to traverse this graph.

Let’s say we are starting fresh from an untagged collection of bookmarks. I decide to create a new tag — a year in review tag for example. Then I tag other bookmarks (by searching my untagged collection) which are also year in reviews, and a collection emerges naturally. Once you do that, in future Savory can auto-suggest this tag for you.

Similarly, I was doing some spelunking for css animation bookmarks recently. Decided to create a new tag for animations and found 5 relevant links in the collection already. I can now quickly refer to this topic by visiting the animations tag.

I have been tagging all my new bookmarks. There is no perfect tagging scheme and you will only discover patterns and sub-categories when you are diving deep into some topic. For example, when I first started working on Savory as a side-project, I added all the relevant bookmarks under one category— side project —which eventually grew too big. At that point, I decided to split it into sub-categories like savory (for links specific to Savory) and side project (for general links useful for hacking on side projects). I could use Savory’s bulk edit feature for this, which was great.

New tags can also be formed if something was previously mis-categorized. For example, my data science links previously lived under the machine learning tag. There is an overlap for sure, but the two things are different enough to give each of them their own tag. Tags are free, use them often!

Somewhat related is that there usually is a hierarchy in tags and it might be useful if it can be surfaced. Right now, it’s not possible in Savory. Sure you can add as many tags to a bookmark as you want but you cannot nest one tag under another. This is important because some words that you may use for tags can have different meaning in different contexts.

Research tool

As I alluded to before, Savory has been helpful to me for learning new topics. I have been in the habit of saving a lot of links even though they might not be super relevant to me right this moment. But if it’s something cool and interesting and especially if I know I might need it in the future, I save it to my collection.

More often than not, I find use for some of these saved links later. Even when I did not tag them correctly in the first try, just searching through my collection uncovers some gems. The search feature can be improved a lot but it already works well-enough that I find it super useful to surface long-forgotten saved links. At the same time, I make sure to tag these links so that they are even easier to find later.

Aside: Savory does not have an option to add notes to bookmarks yet. I don’t miss it too much but I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add this.

Reading list

On the other hand, Savory can keep track of recently bookmarked articles equally well, making it a good enough read-it-later app. I tag articles I want to read later as reading, videos I want to watch later as playlist, etc. Later when I have time, I can open these tags and catch up with my reading list.

Notably Savory does not support a reader mode. It is just a list of links with tags. You will still end up opening the article on the original website. This may change in the future.

Makes you feel good

I just feel good tending to my digital garden of links and bookmarks I have amassed over the years. I am sure there are many others just like me.

I often wind up revisiting some random links in my collection, which lead to other links, and so on. I end up tagging many of them. This is like therapy to me.

Worth mentioning

Notion

I use Notion as a wiki but just for my side project. I manage Savory out of Notion. I have a JIRA-board like roadmap, track any meeting notes, write my blog post drafts there as well use it as the general wiki for documenting decisions etc.

I do find it pretty slow.

Text files

I was big on these. Just having a bunch of markdown files on my laptop, synced with DropBox. It works but is not the most optimal. Opening it in mobile was not very straightforward. Since I am a command-line nerd, I can use ripgrep etc. for quickly finding something but it is not the best. I use it mostly as scratch space now.

Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar at work (like everyone else). But other than that, I don’t live out of a calendar and keep most of my personal time unscheduled.