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My Adventures with Obsidian

My Experiments with Obsidian

Another experimental (in the sense of describing an experiment) post.

It's starting to resemble some kind of "experiment with the tribe" series. However, I share this so that others can compare their experiences with mine.

So, here we go!

The fate of my notes is an ongoing optimization and gradual change. I've gone through many stages (MediaWiki, text files, strange programs).

However, the current state of both the software (Obsidian) and the way of organizing notes (hardware, he he) seems highly optimal.

Let's Start with Obsidian

Actually, let's start with Markdown. What is it? In short, it's like a text file on steroids. It's a way of constructing text files so that when a tool understands this format, it can generate richer formatted documents (headings, lists, etc.) from a plain text file.

At the same time, a Markdown file opened in a "notepad" looks completely normal (except for the use of, for example, # for headings or - for lists, or * for bold).

This has some crazy implications:

  • Backing up is trivially easy; we're backing up text files! Differences are easily visible! You can use Git for both version tracking and simple backup.

  • Sharing between machines is trivially easy; we share a folder. Whether it's old-school (emails) or modern (iCloud Drive, Google Drive).

  • It can be opened with anything! Notepad, Obsidian, or any other "Markdown-aware" text editor.

  • And most importantly, it's just a plain text file, so you can use it without even knowing you're using Markdown. Every text file is a Markdown file!

This is the first ingredient of this wonderful recipe.

The second is the note-taking software. I used Obsidian. I heard many good reviews, and the price is very good because the program is free.

I'm not a paid user; I'm just a freemium user without the fancy add-ons. The main product (in my opinion) is Obsidian Sync, which is supposed to keep your notes in the cloud and accessible all the time (regardless of situations like a computer or device breaking, whether it's on a laptop or a phone).

So, Obsidian itself is essentially a notepad. It has just a few more functions than a regular notepad, but these functions are sufficient to use this notepad.

In short:

  • Categorization and notes (as Markdown files)

  • Hashtags

  • Links between notes

  • Neat data representation

  • Plugins

Could you use another program? Yes, of course.

Hardware - Organizing Notes

An important component that makes this duo (Obsidian - notes) strong is the organization of notes.

I've optimized and experimented with this element in various ways, borrowing from other systems, books, screenshots, and productivity hackers.

However, it was only after reading a book that I got great answers. The book is "Building a Second Brain" by Tiago Forte. The book appeared in several places, and the premise appealed to me.

Of course, I didn't want to build a second brain - I have enough problems with my own! I wanted to learn what Mr. Tiago would suggest.

And he proposed two acronyms.


Fairly easy to remember but require some explanation.

The first one (CODE) defines the way of working with notes.

I remembered it as: "Record everything, then optimize according to the scheme, then just use it."

Mr. Tiago describes it as:

  • "Capture - Record what resonates." Basically, record everything and everywhere. Always and a lot! The idea is to note and enter into a unified note-taking system with the smallest "entry" barrier. Obsidian itself has this very cleverly set up. The two most important buttons are "Make a note" and "Make a note with today's date." The entry barrier is just the desire not to forget. And with a somewhat burdened mind, this is a very effective method. The second scope of this capture.

  • "Organize - Save to use." Here, Mr. Tiago suggests a solution to the initial chaos from the "Capture" point. Organization is a less frequent process and uses another acronym, PARA. PARA stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive. I will describe it shortly. But in the "organize" step, you just spread out the initial loose notes in folders. Thanks to this, there is perfect order, and the structure of knowledge simply goes down. Of course, there are problems with where to put something, but these are really small problems compared to the absence of notes altogether or a stack of unstructured notes.

  • "Distil - Find the essence." In this point, it's roughly about working with organized notes, creating new ones that are transformed raw notes, collecting new concepts, sometimes obvious, sometimes not :)

  • Express - Show your work - in this point, it's just about using what we note, organize, distill. Use it either for projects we're working on, or areas where we want to take action. Or share it externally, for example, in a blog or by showing notes in a raw form.

This presented workflow allows me to clearly define what I'm doing now: I take raw notes, organize them, deduce conclusions, and use them. Before knowing this code, these four activities were somewhat mixed up in my head. And the confusion was building frustration, for example: "Should I save this? What will I use it for? What projects am I actually doing and how do they connect?"

The last component of this system is organization according to the PARA acronym. I mentioned it earlier, but below I'll describe what Mr. Tiago meant:

  • Projects - something that has a beginning, end, and scope. Ordinary projects. I just created a directory per project. Some people also use notes as a project management tool - and it can work for small projects.

  • Areas - this was like a revelation. Mr. Tiago simply stated that these are endless projects. Things that are important and form the basis of our interests and activities. For me, some of these emerged naturally through the note distillation process. Thanks to this, some notes ended up in folders that gather topics that are important to me and have a place in my mind and in the note-taking program.

  • Resources - yes, you're starting to feel it :) This is simply the directory responsible for collecting all other resources of various types that are not projects per se or that you don't have the heart to turn into "areas." You can still collect and catalog notes, but treat them as resources. Interestingly, during the organization, distillation, or expression process, these notes can migrate from resources to projects or areas, just as our mental forces and resources migrate.

  • Archive - simply notes that we don't delete but want to keep - so that we know the notes have been moved to the archive but still have them.

The two intersections: CODE x PARA give us 16 post-processes (each with a slightly different interaction with each other), but thanks to this, there is no uniform way of "I need to work on notes but don't know which ones are important" or "Where did I have that?" Second, I didn't always know "will I use this?" or "how do I group this?" Now I've received a simple prescription. Perhaps it's grandly named a "second brain," but it's quite clever and easily implementable.

To conclude - how to start?

Just install any Markdown note-taking software (I recommend Obsidian).

Then create four folders (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive).

And put your notes in them.

Then, from time to time, when the basic notes take up a lot of space, simply move them to the folders and clean up.

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