I use Obsidian to organise my notes on different subjects.
‘Feels like the closest anyone has come yet to realizing the promise of hypertext as a tool of thought.’ – Graydon Hoare, creator of the Rust programming language
I have two ways to capture ideas and thoughts:
- write it at the bottom of my daily note which I’ve got set up to open with hotkey
- create a new note in the inbox folder.
The key is to make it very quick to do, with as few distractions as possible to help transmit ephemeral ideas and thoughts to something searchable and ready to be looked at again when you’re in a different mode. (See the Structure section)
Review – spaced repetition
To work on notes incrementally and learn new things and retain knowledge more efficiently, I use a concept called spaced repetition. With an Obsidian plugin to review a note, I get reminded to come back to it at some interval proportional to my understanding or retention of the note.
This is particularly helpful when trying to learn something new and complex, and writing small atomic notes about each term or subject.
It also allows me to review an existing Evergreen note, and perhaps add to it, or rephrase something for clarity.
Notes are generally linked to other notes where it makes sense. I also link to notes that do not yet exist, and I can use the graph overview to see which non-existing notes have links back to them.
Linking notes builds a graph of content, letting you quickly find other, related notes, like backlinks – a list of other notes linking to the current note.
On my website aaa.pm/notes I also show a local graph with links in and links out, and links from those again. This makes it interesting and easy to look for more tenuous links to other content.
If for instance a book is linked to a note about its publisher, the local graph will display all other notes about books that are linked to the publisher. Sort of like half-sibling notes.
Being able to tweak the appearance and feel of the environment you’re working in is essential to optimising for enjoyability and in turn, for flow.
Obsidian, being built on web standards, is very flexible in this way and lets us tweak the UI to suit our needs by editing plain CSS files.
I use different themes for different vaults, but the theme I use for my main vault is a modified version of this iA Writer theme.
It tries to get out of our way when writing and reviewing notes.
I use fonts developed for iA Writer, forked from the open source IBM Plex. The new design was led by Information Architects. I use the monospace font for writing notes, and the ‘quattro-space’ font for previewing notes.
The monospace font gives me a good feeling of draftyness and makes it easier to know what mode you’re in. I think this really shapes the reading and writing experience.
Being bilingual with a want for more, my notes will end up using several languages.
Most notes start out in #english, with a smaller fraction in #norsk and even smaller in #español. Some notes are confused and are written in many languages.
I started getting seriously organised a few years back, when I decided to resurrect my dormant green elephant Evernote. He’d been sleeping for a few years and my notes were a mess of hand written sketchbooks, loose bits of paper, Google Keep notes, comments in code. It was all over the place.
To begin with I used the really great, and deceptively simple PARA system developed by Tiago Forte. PARA stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive. It is a way of structuring all of your resources in all apps the same way. Not to replicate them, but to know exactly where to look.
After getting more serious about daily note-taking and working on notes over time, I needed a new application, and my way of organising was due a review.
My current strucutre is heavily inspired by Taxonomy of note types by Andy Matuschak. At the time of writing 2021-11-12, I’ve used a system close to this for about 8 months.
- for all incoming ideas and ‘incomplete’ notes
- daily notes ie
- dumping ground for links and ideas
- quick, no-think, paste-board
- can be sorted later
- daily notes ie
- Notes (rename to evergreen notes?)
- Definitions (words, ‘prior art’, etc)
- Declarative notes (ie. Trust and responsibility are essential to a successful design process, tf-idf reflects how important a word is to a document in a collection)
- Topic notes (‘notes abstracting over many other notes’, ie List of design systems)
- Stubs (complete-enough-for-now, but short and could do with fleshing out, marked by a #stub tag?
- These notes are collections of ideas and concise writing about single concepts. Evergreen notes should be atomic. And as Andy Matuschak recommends, make a statement in the note title, if the idea is too vague, ask a question in the title. These tricks will help set the necessary boundaries for ease of learning .
- This is the only category of ‘evergreen note’ that has its own place.
- Food notes are either recipes in development, final recipes, logs for different kitchen experiments and
- collections of information about specific topics Stykningsdeler, cuts, cortes
- include links to other notes, useful when strucutring longer pieces of writing.
- Let’s you quickly flesh out alternative outlines.
- Becomes very powerful in conjunction with declarative notes (as it will read clearly).
- These types of notes are sometimes referred to as maps of content (MOCs)
- These source notes are ‘targets for backlinks’, and usually contain some metadata about a publication or film.
- They may contain summaries or outlines, but are not generally ‘evergreen’, that is, they’re not continuously reviewed and worked on
- New concepts or quotes that come out of reading or viewing a source will be turned into a proper ‘evergreen’ note and link back here.