Smartblocks, Good Design, and Multiple Creativity Channels

First newsletter written on the new M1 Macbook Pro. Boo-yah!

Hello there and thank you for checking out my newsletter. This week I want to share some workflow updates with you as well as a conversation about design vs feature set that I recently had on Twitter. I also want to talk about mixing up how to stay creative so that you keep enjoying the process of making new things! As always, if you have thoughts you can find me on Twitter. If you were forwarded this newsletter and want to get your own copy, definitely subscribe below!

Smartblocks in Roam42

If you don't know what Roam42 is, then you should definitely check out my write-up of how I use it in my article about the Top 5 Underrated Features in Roam. This past week, Roam42 (created by RoamHacker) added a much awaited feature called Smartblocks.

In a nutshell, Smartblocks is Alfred Snippets built into Roam with Roam specific customization. I was lucky enough to be part of the initial alpha testers and seeing this tool make it live to the greater Roam community is awesome.

You can create predefined templates that run with keyboard shortcuts to automate things like Daily Templates and Weekly Reviews. However, the power of Smartblocks comes with advanced features like bringing in mentions of a specific tag or creating if/then statements (e.g. if you set up a smartblock with an if statement to only show specific outputs on Tuesday vs Wednesday the smartblock will give you specific outputs based on what day you run it). For a quick glimpse of what Smartblocks can do, check out RoamHacker's YouTube Video. Here is one of my Smartblocks to quickly create my template when writing a new newsletter (all of this runs on its own after I select the “Newsletter Metadata” smartblock).

If this all sounds a little complicated, it's because it is! But don't fret, there is great documentation on the Roam42 site. It's still in beta so things are a little wonky but based on the early feedback and how different people are implementing it, the future looks very bright.

Good Design vs Extensive Features

Recently I posted a *hot take* on Twitter about good design being more important than an extensive feature set.

I thought of this because I've recently been using a mobile reading app call Matter that is extremely well designed but lacks all the bells and whistles of other mobile reading apps like Instapaper or Pocket.

Essentially, I'm still drawn to using Matter because the design is so good. However, the discussion on Twitter made me realize that good design is worth it over extensive features but only if needed features will eventually be built. Basically - if your app is in beta then good design will keep me supporting it, if you're working to build it out further.

In the case of Matter, I won't ever fully switch to it as my only and main mobile reading app until it builds out things like highlighting and Readwise export (which the team is working on!). BUT - because the app had good design right out of the gate, I didn't just drop it and move on. I'm keen on seeing how the app develops over time.

Mixing things up to stay creative

As I mentioned in the newsletter last week, I’ve started creating YouTube videos again. Currently I have one video done and another one going through edits. This has all been very exciting but I have found myself writing less as a result.

Initially, I thought that this was bad. I felt like I had decided to become a “writer” and needed to actively work to ship out articles and build up a backlog of content on my website. But then I remembered actually tweeting about something similar when thinking about what I wanted to write about:

Essentially, I needed to take my own advice and expand this thought to multiple creative channels. Making YouTube videos is still making something. It involves writing and much more - recording and editing!

But more importantly, I should create what makes me happy. Making things is therapeutic for me and even though it’s great that people read and engage with what I put out there, going through the process is the most fun part. I shouldn’t have to focus on shipping things for the sake of shipping them. If anything, the more I enjoy making something, the better it will turn out.

I think it’s great that I have multiple channels of creativity available to me. It keeps things fresh and let’s me express myself in multiple ways. When I get bored of writing, I can edit videos and when I get tired of editing, I know I can write up an interesting article. Making something is the foundation and as long as I’m building consistently (this newsletter is one of those mechanisms), the gains will happen on their own.

By the way, here is the thumbnail for the first video I’ve made so far. You can sub to the channel here! Pro tip: It’s super easy to turn blog posts into scripts for YouTube vidoes. Then you can also link the video in your post and you’ve got a win-win.


  • Tweet: Choose Your Own Adventure in Roam: An interesting take on how Roam can be used for different versions of “Choose Your Own Adventure.” This could be useful in contexts like virtual conferences, classrooms, and even in going through patient simulations in medical school.

  • Ali Abdaal’s Final Cut Pro Course on Skillshare: I took this course a while ago when I was initally getting into video editing but didn’t end up documenting anything so forgot everything I learned. Going through it again as I’m learning FCP and it has been great. Documenting my notes heavily in Roam and the goal is to post them online for others to take advantage of as well.

  • True Alogorithms of Thought Have Arrived: Cortex Futura talks about how Smartblocks will transform the way you create algorithm of thoughts for yourself in Roam. His primer article on what algorithm of thoughts are and why you should care is also great and worth a read.

Thanks for checking out this week’s newsletter! I hope you got some value out of this one and enjoyed the hodgepodge of updates I had for you. If you don’t mind sharing this with one other person I’d really appreciate it! I am very close to my 2020 goal of 200 subs and your help would mean a lot to get me there. As always, you can pop by and say hello to me on Twitter!