One thing that has become clear from doing 1:1 coaching is that Obsidian is a big part of my learning workflow, but I haven’t yet covered it in detail on this site! To amend this, I’m going to write a quick post outlining some of my main thoughts re: Obsidian, and also add a screenshare video so I can do a quick tour of my space and show some key features.
What is Obsidian?
Obsidian is a free note-taking app.
It is part of the new crop of note-taking apps (along with Roam Research and a few others) that use the idea of inter-connected notes, where you define links between notes.
I highly recommend this video for an overview of what Obsidian can do - you’ll only need to watch the first third at first as there’s a lot in here!
100 OBSIDIAN TIPS: Beginner to Advanced in 23 Minutes
Zettelkasten/ Evergreen notes/ Atomic Notes
This follows the “Zettelkasten” idea for taking notes. Andy Matuschak calls them “Evergreen notes”, and says they’re a fundamental unit of knowledge work.
Andy outlines that Evergreen notes are:
- Concept-oriented: i.e. a note is about a single thing (this is probably the key way this method differs from conventional note-taking approaches and will be discussed below)
- Well titled: atomic notes are clearly titled, allowing you to quickly search and open them
- Highly connected: you can define relationships between notes, allowing you to create a web of ideas, discover new connections etc
Why Obsidian over Roam Research?
I used Roam Research for around 2 years. If you’re reading this as a Roam Research user, I implore you to switch:
- The migration process is surprisingly painless: it took me about 2 hours, and that was with a huge vault
- Obsidian is free whereas Roam is not
- Obsidian has all of Roam’s features, plus more:
- Community plugins: store with some incredible plugins like Kanban, dataview, calendar, advanced tables, Zotero, kindle highlights export… there are an insane number of useful ones. Check out a list of particularly good ones here
- Ability to have more than 2 panes open (i.e. you could have 4 notes side-by-side)
- A very useful graph view for visualising all your notes and seeing connections
- Fantastic & fully featured free mobile app
- Very active community & development cycle: see the official Discord space, a really great place to ask questions and chat to likeminded people. There are spaces specifically for Academia, general learning, etc.
How does this fit into a learning workflow
Whilst Anki is essential for internalising concepts and ensuring you remember them in the long term, a note-taking app is also a key part of a learning workflow. If you’re learning a new topic, it makes sense to collate notes from various sources into a space that is easily referenced, searchable, can be added to etc.
A quick look at my Obsidian vault
Below is a quick screenshare video I’ve made to show Obsidian in action.
The Obsidian graph view can be colour coded and filtered and is a great tool for rediscovering notes and visualising connections
You can have multiple panes open which is super useful for research
The community plugins store is amazing and lets you extend obsidian in a bunch of great ways
Similarly, the community themes store is really great. There’s even a Windows 95 one!
The discord is fantastic too - check out those channels! Wow, people as nerdy as me!