How Stephen Wolfram Takes Notes

It seems I never tire of reading about tools that others use to pursue their creative endeavors. This very long, very detailed dive into Stephen Wolfram’s workflow is fascinating to me.

Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure—Stephen Wolfram Writings

Wolfram is just a couple of years younger than me, so we share the journey from starting out in the early days of computing (time sharing main frames, terminals, the early PC era through today’s ubiquitous computing environment). It’s interesting that he is just as set on filing and knowing where things are as I am. He also defaults back to paper and pen for ubiquitous capture. Saves all of his emails, filed away. He thinks in terms of projects and stores by project, knowing that he’ll return to previous work by exploring an old project.

Of course, Wolfram uses his own company’s system, the Wolfram Notebook which they’ve been continuously developing for decades now. I wish I had been a bit more consistent about staying with plain text over the years. I’ve got work filed away in multiple formats including Word, but also stuck in database programs like WordPress, Ulysses, and. Tinderbox. I can and have transferred work in and out, but those are the places I can’t quickly assess through a file system search or indexing with a tool like DEVONthink.

I like my current Markdown text workflow since it’s so tool agnostic. I’ve been playing a bit with EMacs over the last few weeks as a way to get even more text focused but with some of the organizational power I’ve enjoyed with tools like Tinderbox, but admittedly it’s hard to get it to play as nicely with the iPad and iPhone mobile environments the way the modern crop of markdown focused text editors like Drafts, IA Writer or 1Writer are optimized for.

In fact, as I’ve looked into Emacs, it’s clear to me that many of the features of these tools have been around for a long time in Emacs, just restricted in use to that traditional text based computing environment. As I’ve mentioned before, this exploration of tools and workflow is part of the tinkering. Always gets out of the way as work needs to get done.