Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Markdown and Flow

I’m very fortunate to know a number of people who make me think. They do it even if I beg them not to. Some of those people I know quite well. Others, I’ve met in person and/or interact with online. In both cases, these are people I like and who’s ideas and opinions I respect.

One of those people is Joe Brockmeier. A few months back, Joe posted a response to one of my tweets that got me thinking. Not about Markdown versus HTML (as the tweet seems to imply), but about flow.

Flow is something that I find interesting. In productivity circles, flow seems to sometimes be given an almost mystical status. I keep reading about achieving flow or flow being a state that you enter into. But for me, flow doesn’t have any mystical qualities. It’s what happens when I can work smoothly and when no superfluous keystrokes get in my way.

As with judo, flow is a matter of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Nothing less, nothing more.

So what does that have to do with working with Markdown? Plenty, believe it or not. Using Markdown, I can write and format documents with great efficiency and with less effort than, say, HTML or using a traditional word processor.

It’s not that HTML is hard or that Markdown is easy. It’s more a matter of that flow I mentioned. If you’ve ever worked with HTML, then you know what I’m talking about. When using HTML to format a document, you have to add tags. Tags are simply formatting commands that are surrounded by angle brackets. The tags can contain one character or can be longer — this is a good reference to HTML tags if you’re interested.

From the perspective of flow, HTML doesn’t offer me much in the way of efficiency. I need to move my fingers around a lot to type the tags. That slows me down a bit. With Markdown, I’m using keyboard symbols. There’s less moving around. I can type Markdown formatting symbols faster than I can HTML tags. And it’s not just a matter of practice — I’ve been coding HTML by hand since the early 1990s.

Because of that, I write faster and more smoothly. I don’t think about formatting; it’s all part of the process.

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