Adding life back to my notes: Roam after 4 months

Boon Yew Chew
8 min readApr 20, 2021

A note-thinking tool for rich, messily connected, multi-dimensional work

What Roam Research looks like — from

Roam Research is a (relatively new) productivity tool that’s been compared against popular apps like Notion and Evernote, but is more closely similar to apps like Workflowy / Dynalist (known as outliner tools), and Obsidian (also an outliner, but has more similar features to Roam). Despite its recency, the conceptual roots of Roam links back to Vannevar Bush’s memex concept and Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project.

It has a dear annual price of $165/year, and I seriously considered long and hard before committing to it. But because of my specific and complex needs I now can’t live without it, having used it almost daily and dependably for 4 months.

This article is a breakdown of why, from my own lived experiences of Roam.

I first learnt about Roam from colleagues Andrew Merryweather and Dave Killeen late last year. Then, I heard about it again from the talented john v willshire of Smithery on a Mighty Minds Club salon hosted by Stephen P. Anderson. My curiosity was piqued.

Since then, I’ve been using it almost every working day (and a lot of weekends) since late Dec 2019, and I’ve gotten to a point now that it’s mundane and everyday. So many productivity tools already require so much investment for marginal gains, especially when things get really messy and voluminous. So far, I still feel confident Roam can handle large volumes of my content and still help me get my work done — fast.

It’s come around at the right time, because I’ve been proactively thinking and reading across complex topics related to systems, complexity, services, business, strategy, publishing and more. I really needed a tool that could help me connect the dots across everything, due to the sheer volume of information and diversity of sources.

To make things worse, I would have to deal with all this in a completely messy, unstructured way. The hard work of making sense of things comes down to me. That’s what I’m being paid to do. So, this wasn’t really a hobby investment.

The work I do requires a lot of thinking and a lot of learning. Sometimes, it’s very hard to control when and how this happens, and thinking across complex…

Boon Yew Chew

Principal UX designer at Elsevier. IxDA local leader and board alumni. Strategy. Systems. Visual thinking. Design. Has a brain in his stomach.