Over a year ago (!), not that long after having discovered Obsidian as a tool, I wrote an article called What A Seedbox Is and Why It Has Been Valuable to Me. This article recorded my personal methodology for quickly capturing and then subsequently nurturing ideas within Obsidian in a low-distraction fashion.
This system has stuck around and proven itself invaluable to me in the last year. I know it has been picked up some other people as well, because I occasionally get messages from folks with questions about the system! It’s very cool to see the idea being put to use, and I want to thank the whole community for all the thoughtful discussion.
I wanted to share what I have learned in the last year, and hopefully it’ll generate more good conversations!
Alright, let’s get to it!
Okay, so as I said, the Seedbox system has held up for me. But I have been tweaking it as I go to keep it working for me, and those tweaks are part of what I want to share. The other part is a report of what has and hasn’t worked in my experience growing this thing out.
And “growing out” is the right choice of words, I think. When I wrote the Seedbox article, I was (usually) capable of scanning most of the notes a few times a week. That is no longer the case. This ain’t no seed box… This is now a whole damn field!
This growth was expected: there will always be more seed than garden. However, it did grow out in some surprising ways that haven’t always made my capture-and-review method effective. Fortunately, that reality itself yielded some lessons.
After a full year of collecting semi-randomness, when I look at my Seedbox I see a bunch of patterns that I don’t think I would have seen otherwise. It is important to note that there is a strong survivor bias here: the things that are still in my Seedbox are, generally, the things that are the most difficult to categorize. Primarily, I see:
- Incomplete ideas (e.g., an idea for a book, supported by a bunch of half-baked quips.)
- Unstarted projects (e.g developing sense-making metaphors… With varying degrees of success.)
- Notes on events (e.g. “I did X on Y date and Z happened.”)
- Notes on experiences (e.g. “I read X book and felt Y about it.”)
- Ideas I think are good, but which I can’t relate to any “main” section of my notes. (e.g., a note on “why some types of fun are more difficult to achieve than others”… a topic I’ve since written on, but haven’t organized into anything larger, yet.)
All of these items have one thing in common: I have no idea what to think about them, really. Or I don’t have the energy to think about them, or I’ve completely forgotten why I would think about them in the first place.
In most cases they are not clearly valueless. If they were, I would simply delete them. Instead, they are indicators of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. In many cases I would like to spend time thinking on the topic of the note, but it just isn’t a high enough priority, and the original context is far enough away that reassessment of the idea is prohibitively expensive.
But, I am grateful to have these patterns revealed, as I think they reveal potential blind spots in my thinking. I have started paying more attention to notes that fit the categories above, and can sometimes craft a better note by pre-clarifying some of my thinking.
For instance, one of the categories that I saw a lot in the Seedbox were “event” notes that had a particular date context. “2021 Health Updates” and stuff like that. There were enough, that I decided to put all of these notes in one place (A folder named “journal”), and that has worked very well. These notes will never be “evergreen notes”, due to the limitation of their time-based context, so I only need to capture them for history’s sake. They can safely be kept away from everything else. Knowing that, I keep my Seedbox a little more clean just knowing that any note I create with a date can be quickly put into that “journal” folder.
The most unexpected and hardest to deal with type of seedling has been the one that just sits there. It doesn’t grow. It doesn’t die. It comes up in review after review, waving as you go past, cutely distracting like the Seedbox’s own Baby Groot. At first, these were no problem. I’d just glance over them in review. But once there were dozens, I had a problem. One Baby Groot is adorable. A hundred is an infestation!
This was a problem I had to solve.
So, I added a folder. Okay, I added two folders. I know, I know, a bunch of you hate folders… But they DO have some useful properties! Perhaps the most overlooked of these properties is how insanely easy it is to move a note to a folder in Obsidian. “Move note” hotkey, type a few letters of folder name, hit enter. Done! There was a discussion in the Discord even as I was writing this article that mentioned using
Bear in mind that, functionally, the Seedbox optimizes for attention. If we acknowledge at least two core disciplines in PKM (and I think we should), then the Seedbox is primarily a tool for the student, whose most limited resource is attention. It is a way of saving thoughts for later in a way that encourages accessing the ideas most likely to someday go into the actual library. It is a way to stay organized without breaking thoughtful flow.
Because of this, having such an easy way to move a file is absolutely welcome, and I don’t think this can be done as simply in any way except with a folder. So, my Seedbox now looks like:
- _seedbox - relegation - growing
relegation box holds notes which I consistently don’t know how to deal with.
growing box holds notes which are actively accruing knowledge.
The names, as always, are arbitrary. I’ll probably rename my Seedbox to
_qq after the previously mentioned discussion.
Moving these two kinds of seedlings means I can continue treating everything in the root of the Seedbox as a review-worthy idea. I review the relegation box as well, but much less frequently, and I usually don’t need to review the growing box, because by the nature of the notes growing, it’s in my consciousness. That said, I do occasionally “demote” notes from “growing” to the root Seedbox, but this is rare.
This single tweak sped me up a lot! The review process is the most time-consuming aspect of the Seedbox system, and by reducing the number of notes that I am reviewing, many good thoughts rose to the surface.
I have reduced my tagging within the Seedbox to a single tag:
#seedbox/interesting! This tag gives me a short list of ideas that are most likely to be high value for review. By the time they get that tag, they are usually:
- Almost ready to be made evergreen / planted in my knowledge garden.
- A good starting point for further research or thinking.
- Tangential to some larger topic I have been thinking on, and primed for refactoring or otherwise being organized into some greater topic.
All of these actions are high value.
I use both a folder and a tag because almost all notes that end up in “growing” are “interesting”, but not all “interesting” notes are “growing”. It is common in review that I will see an idea and recognize it as interesting, but not be in a good space to pursue that interest for whatever reason. I do not segment these notes into another folder because I want to stumble back over them when I am reviewing the Seedbox.
In my original article, I was using dates within the tags to mark when I had found a given seedling useful.
In the end, this proved too high-friction for me, and just didn’t provide a lot of value, either. I almost never cared about the date when a note had last been useful. Instead, I simply either move these notes to “growing” and, usually, make a note about why they were useful in the actual note they were useful in relevance to.
If a note in the Seedbox becomes useful simply as a matter of recall (that is, I spontaneously went looking for it due to some life circumstance), then I almost always either put it in “growing”, or move it into the library on the spot. The only times I don’t move it in is if I know it needs
#breakdown, and I don’t have time to do that right then. In this case, I just tag it as such (though this is not strictly a Seedbox-specific tag).
So, in 2021 the Seedbox continued to be valuable to me. For someone with ADD, sticking with a system this long is quite something! I’d like to say that reflects positively on the system as a whole, but it really might just be particularly good for my brain, of course.
That said, for anyone using the system, or thinking about riffing off of it for their own purposes, I suspect my discoveries will still be relevant to you:
- Look for patterns in the notes that stay in the Seedbox review after review. They’re trying to tell you something!
- If you have notes which are consistent “blockers” in your review, get them out of the way! (I recommend putting them in a folder for the reasons above, but you do you.)
- Keep tags simple, but do use them to remind yourself to come back at certain notes. The fewer tags you use, the easier it is to make applying them a matter of habit that doesn’t distract from your attention.
Thank you so much to anyone who has read this, or participated in the greater Seedbox / note organization discussion! I know this couldn’t have happened without input and guidance from many voices.
I hope this will be helpful to you, and I will continue to update the community as my experience evolves.
Have fun making your notes awesome!!