I'm Building Out a New Roam!
When I first started to use Roam Research in the Summer of 2020, top-down thinking was still my operation mode. I have learned over the several months that I have been using Roam that I only need a little structure to make my Roam database work for me.
I'm also the type to try out every add-on, widget, gizmo, and integration with a new piece of software. This experimentation helped me in some areas and hurt in others.
I'm building out a new Roam for this article series to focus on my lessons learned and show how I would structure it from the very beginning. This series will be a slow burn, focusing on one or two key concepts at a time. I'll add just enough structure along the way to organize and let Roam do what it does best. Let's call it "organized chaos."
The Block is THE Thing
When you first log into Roam after signing up, a help menu and (once you close the help menu) a blank page with a date at the top greet you. Feel free to check out the menus and buttons. Most of them are pretty self-explanatory, and I will only focus on those essential to this first article.
There is a particular page in Roam called the "DAILY NOTES" page. Roam creates a fresh "DAILY NOTES" page each day. This page is where I, eventually, learned to write all of my notes. We will come back to the "DAILY NOTES" page later in this article. Right now, know that it exists and that a new one is created for you every day.
You can create a new page by typing anywhere in Roam with double brackets, typing in some text, and pressing enter.
If you want the page to look more like a hashtag, you can also create a page by typing something like
#[[I AM A PAGE]]. You'll notice that the page now shows up in a different color, like a traditional hashtag. If you click on the text, you will still go to the page titled "I AM A PAGE."
You can also create a new page by using the search box in the top right. Just start typing. You'll either find an existing page or create a new one by pressing enter after you type in the name.
That's enough about pages for now. Here is the ONE thing that I wish I had known when I first started using Roam Research. The block is the essential thing in Roam Research.
A bullet is a block, and a block is a bullet. I will forgive you for thinking that it was less important than a page. After all, it's smaller, and it goes under a giant page title.
But, the block is the thing. Roam is built on the block. It's the solid foundation for your thinking and notes in Roam. Roam wants you to think bottom-up, not top-down. That is what I struggled with in the beginning. It's what I hope to show you so that you don't work as hard as I did.
If you embrace some of the "organized chaos" that is Roam Research, you will begin to create amazing things with it. I learn best while doing, so that is where we will proceed from here. First, let's put a little structure into place.
Building Out Your Roam Life, Block by Block
When I approach a new productivity tool, it is usually to help some aspect of my life. Whether that is organizing, tasks, scheduling, journaling, notes, etc., Roam can tackle all of those tasks. I would suggest approaching it iteratively by building as you learn. You will be much better off than if you tried to tackle everything all at once. This article will show you how to build out a straightforward page structure. You can take the page structure wherever you'd like after that.
Creating Your First Real Page
Let's build out the structure by following these steps:
- Create a page called "Life."
- On the Life page, you will create three blocks that will end up being pages themselves.
- Create a shortcut to the Life page, if you would like, by clicking the start in the top right.
You will eventually build out all three of those pages. For now, I will focus on the Questions page. Go ahead and click on the
#[[Questions]] page link.
On the "Questions" page, you will notice a "Linked References" section. These linked references are what make Roam so powerful. Whenever you reference the "Questions" page by either typing
#[[Questions]], the reference with the page will show up under linked references. It is showing here because you typed that reference in a block on the "Life" page.
For simplicity, there are only two types of questions that I will track in Roam. Let's create a block for each of them. The two blocks should read "Open Questions" and "Answered Questions." To make them stand out a little, type them with a highlight in markup (
^^Open Questions^^ and
Head back to the "DAILY NOTES" page by clicking on it in the left sidebar. Let's track our first question by following this process:
- In an empty block, type "How can linked references help me?"
- At the end of this text, type
- Keep your cursor focused in the block, and hit Ctrl-Enter on Windows or Cmd-Enter on a Mac. This keyboard shortcut toggles the block into a TODO item in Roam. If you keep hitting Ctrl-Enter or Cmd-Enter, you will toggle through the options of TODO, DONE, and plain text.
- When you hit Enter or click outside the block, you will now notice a checkbox to the left of the text. The block becomes a TODO item.
If you go back to the "Questions" page, you will now see a linked reference from the "DAILY NOTES" page for the question that you just typed. This reference appears because you typed a page reference at the end of the question (
To the right of the linked references section is a filter button. You can use this to filter out anything that you do not want to see. For example, we don't necessarily want to see the
#Questions reference under the "Life" page. We only want to see the actual questions.
You can filter an item by using Shift-Click to remove an item from the list or clicking on an item only to include it. I prefer to remove unwanted items, so I'll Shift-Click on "Life" to remove it.
The filter button turns red to indicate that a filter is active on the page.
Once you have checked off a TODO item, you can use the filter button to remove "DONE" items from the view.
The "Questions" page is proving itself to be useful already. Whenever you type a question and include the
#[[Questions]] reference, it will show up as a reference under linked references. You can begin to see the power of Roam by tracking your open questions here.
So far, we have created an immediate use case for our new Roam database to track questions that we may have. Along the way, we learned about pages and, most importantly, blocks. We also learned about the power of linked references.
The next article in this series will dive deeper into the "Open Questions" and "Answered Questions" blocks and why we created them. I will also discuss block references and how you can use them to visualize and deeply link your content in Roam.