A maintainable second braind for someone with ADHD

Hello everyone! I’m a person with ADHD and this whole secondary brain / knowledge management system seems like a very good way to process through the data I gather everyday and keep them in for the long haul.

But what ever I’ve tried to implement failed as were not maintainable for extended duration or yet it was hard to use for retreiving information.

I also want to use Obsidian almost as if its the one ring and while storing data I want it to help me with my daily to-do lists and etc.

What would you guys recommend and if you have ADHD what is your system?


Depends on your use case. Zettelkasten is not just a note taking system, it’s a whole workflow that is excellent for people with ADHD.
I have ADHD and this is what I use. The best way to learn it is not to browse forums and watch videos but to read this book. Taking literature notes on it using the aproach it describes will give you the best understanding.


I was diagnosed like 40 years ago and I end up trying all sorts of things to accommodate this brain of ours. I’ll have to think about this a bit because I am not in a great position with this myself right now — professionally I am on pretty solid ground but everything else is chaos right now because I stopped doing regular reviews and fell off the metaphorical wagon.

I’ve been trying some new things lately but the essential things for me to keep in mind:

  • Don’t force anything, technology should augment and enhance and facilitate.
  • Stay in your genius as much as possible (this is something my kids’ therapist told me when I was talking about a new job a couple of years ago; essentially spend as much time as you can doing the things that are natural and that you excel at)
  • Don’t overdo taxonomy (stop creating tens of thousands of nested tags)
  • I take stimulant medication and it’s extremely easy for me to literally sort photos for five hours applying metadata to them — the stimulants anchor you on what is in front of you (at least for me)

That smart notes book @thoughtship linked is great. I am an old unix and mac nerd and I’ve been using OmniFocus and DEVONthink Pro Office for years and years.

My experience with Obsidian as a project/task management platform isn’t great. I think it sucks and relies on add-ons that can stop working tomorrow unless I’m literally just keeping lists of actions and at that point just use Taskpaper notation and do that. There are really cool chart-building query-based dashboards that look wicked but I can’t figure out how it makes my life better enough to warrant the development time. I’m an IT Security Architect (and parent and writer and photographer) and don’t enjoy hacking on code most of the time.

I have bookmarked and enabled notifications and I will try to keep up in here and I’d love to learn some new tricks or resolve my perceived limitations and frustrations.


Here are some notes I wrote after reading chapter 1 of ‘How to take smart notes’.
Perhaps it will motivate someone with ADHD to actually read the book.
Despite the name, it’s about more than just taking notes. It’s about building a system that helps you think.

People (myself included ) often conflate structure with rigidity. As something that restricts change. But Ahrens contends a good structure can support and facilitate change. In doing so it allows us to be driven forward by our own impulses.
Rather than struggling with resistance at ‘having to’ do a certain thing now because ‘the plan’ or ‘the structure’ demands it. ~p16

“If we work in a structure that is flexible enough to accomodate our work rythm, we don’t need to struggle with resistance”.

Instead we are moving from stage to stage, across multiple projects all in various states. So if we tire of one, we leave it off and pick up another. In this way we are driven forward by our passion rather than trying to fight against it.

We are driven forward by our own insights and enthusiasm. If that starts to wane, switch to something else.
%%This sounds perfect for my [[ADHD]] brain. %%


I’ll second what @thoughtship and @incumbent wrote. “How To Take Notes” is worth reading, even if you have no intention of implementing a full-on Zettlekasten system.

“Don’t force anything” is good advice. Put another way: don’t try to organize your entire life according to this or that productivity guru’s schema. You are better off focusing on solving one or two problems at a time.

As much as I’d love a highly personalized dashboard for living, with a place for everything and everything in its place, I try not to let perfection be the enemy of good enough.

Universal search is a godsend for the ADHD brain. It’s OK to keep things in more than one place. But if you can limit the possible number of places a thing can be, the easier time you will have finding it. That’s one of the nice things about Obsidian. I use it for just about everything besides time-sensitive reminders. The community has done a lot of work to enable Obsidian to sever as a task manager, but the plug-in management this entails strikes me as excessively fiddly for someone with my disposition. For time-sensitive and recurring tasks, I continue to use a digital calendar and task management apps such as OmniFocus, Things, Apple Reminders, etc.

My favorite idea from Building a Second Brain is using the PARA organization structure for all of your digital tools (including Dropbox and other folder-based cloud storage services). This goes a long way toward limiting the possible number of places a thing can be, which makes retrieval much easier.

It’s also OK to use any given tool for a very limited set of purposes. For example, I’ve never had much look making DEVONthink the cornerstone of my personal management system. But I did find one killer app that keeps it on my computer: indexing an OCR’d library of PDFs I store in Dropbox. DEVONthink let’s me quickly find anything in that 20-year archive of scanned publications.

Another example: Apple Reminders is a good app for sharing lists with family members with an iPhone. In my household, we use it primarily for groceries. It’s also a useful way to capture and share the names of movies or shows we want to watch together.


The community has done a lot of work to enable Obsidian to sever as a task manager, but the plug-in management this entails strikes me as excessively fiddly for someone with my disposition.


Another example: Apple Reminders is a good app for sharing lists with family members with an iPhone. In my household, we use it primarily for groceries. It’s also a useful way to capture and share the names of movies or shows we want to watch together.

totally agree - there’s even a third party overlay application called GoodTask (included in a SetApp subscription which i highly recommend for mac users of all types) that uses Apple Reminders as a platform and extends it quite a bit. i haven’t made up my mind about it yet but i’m definitely playing with it. the only reminders i keep in reminders.app are household things. family task list and household grocery lists for two locations, things like that.

DEVONthink is outrageously good at finding contextual information; i index some of my obsidian vaults with it and DEVONthink is easier and faster to work in when i’m filing or doing light edits or anything like that. That’s more a criticism of Obsidian but DEVONthink’s engine is really excellent and I have a wide array of interests and areas of research that DEVONthink handles gracefully.

I haven’t yet got an “official” ADHD diagnosis but I’m in the process of it and recently started taking stimulant medication which has been immensely helpful, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t store daily to-do lists because I can’t access Obsidian easily at work, but I do use it for storing long-term data.

What I’ve found is that Obsidian is very good at maintaining the “novelty” aspect of motivation in taking notes. By keeping my notes short and on-topic, I don’t get overwhelmed like I would when dealing with a single, long .docx document of all my notes on a given class, for example.

I’m also making a great effort in always putting a link or footnote to the source of the idea/thought so I can trace it back later. I can’t tell how many times I wrote something that seemed brilliant but then I couldn’t remember where I got the thought from.

As others mentioned, flexibility is key, but I also think flexibility demands a strong foundation. You have to trust the system, even if it’s not perfect. I’ve spent way too much fiddling with plugins and CSS and that’s okay, as long as I also commit to using Obsidian without waiting for the “perfect” set-up. I can always clean up later! IT’S FINE!!! (Easier said than done, but it’s worth it.)

Finally, I stopped trying to implement other people’s systems and developed my own which makes sense to me. It’s a patchwork of other people’s ideas, grabbing from Zettelkasten, GTD, PARA, etc - but without being beholden to trying to make it exactly like someone else did because that would supposedly fix all my problems, it’s a system that’s mine and I can tweak how it seems best.


I have adhd and new to Obsidian as well, and I kind of have the same problem as you do. I like what I’ve seen of Obsidian so far, but after watching a whole lot of videos on how people use Obsidian and gush about all the possibilities, and even if the idea of a second brain seems cool, I just get overwhelmed (kind of the same feeling I get seeing people show their nifty and colourful bullet journals: they seem to spend more time formatting their journal than actually using it.)

So I’ve decided to do it my own way (and kind of like I used Evernote before): Just make a few folders (sorry not sorry, but I like folders…) for things I’m studying or working on and add things to them, and see if something grows from there. I’m not willing to spend hours every week just to set up a second brain, so for the time being it will just be a simple notetaking app. I like the fact that it uses the open markdown format, so that is a big plus.


Hi everyone,

I started learning Obsidian yesterday. However, having used a similarly flexible application for managing tasks & projects, I can offer the following advice.

The Path to your Dream Tool

You can turn Obsidian into your dream tool, but the trick is determining what form that will take. Think of this as a journey, pick a direction and head out. Over time, you can tweak and modify as you progress. Think continual improvement of your second brain, much like we all need to continually improve ourselves.

Where to Begin

If unsure of where to begin, then may I suggest looking at some of the existing workflows. From each, draw components that match your way of thinking. Then combine them together in your own unique way, tweaking as you go.

TIP: I would suggest not dumping a ton of knowledge into your vault at the start, but rather start small and play around with it. Have some fun! :partying_face:

Continual Improvement

Eventually, you will start seeing what works well and what doesn’t for yourself. At which point, you can start worrying more about content and less about form. Although never give up the spirit of continual improvement. You will not fail at anything in life, if you look at it as a journey and keep improving as you go. Every step is a learning experience, especially “failures” (it is not a failure if you learn from it :wink: )

Time for some more concrete help …

Good Starting Point

John Mavrick Tried Obsidian for a Week

Here is a YouTube video that I started with yesterday:

  • NOTE: John Mavrick has continued making video’s in regards to Obsidian

Useful Resources

The previous video was a fantastic starting point, that in turn led me to the following resources:

Easily Try Out Popular Workflows

Best place to start as you can download premade templates, for popular workflows to try out

More Great Obsidian Videos

Bryan Jenks, YouTube page has lots of great Obsidian videos and a ton of followers

  • Personal Knowledge Management playlist

Bryan Jenks Videos on Life With ADHD

Bryan also has hours of helpful advice on how he deals with his ADHD

  • ADHD playlist

Kudos to everyone involved in Obsidian. It seems that even the forum is based upon it. So even though I have yet to really start using it, I feel like I have already progressed by learning some Markdown for this post, along with using the preview pane.

Hey, this post turned out rather well. Think I will save it off as my very first note within my vault! :sunglasses:

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It doesn’t seem like I can edit my post, so here is an additional tip. I saw this on another discussion thread. So it may be more prudent to just start playing around with Obsidian and then circle back to the looking at the templates for popular methods to help tweak your starting results. Guess I will find out over the next bunch of weeks. :stuck_out_tongue:

mediapathic: My advice to anyone just getting started is always going to be this: Just start making notes, make links and tags liberally, and see what structure emerges to suit the way you think

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I work in IT and was wondering if you keep your IT notes / research in Obsidian? If so, can you share your workflow? Thanks!

i’ll do my best!

i’m not licensed for Obsidian at work but i do have a few vaults including my own research data available on my employer-provided workstation and i can tell you how my workflow would be if i could go all-in on it.

my function organizationally is a critical component and aligns with four? other teams. we had to do a hard pivot march 2020 and had to use what we had or could quickly get. my source of truth i’m actually working from during our workshops are a OneNote notebook for each workshop mapped to ticket in ServiceNow. our workshops are held on MS Teams.

i’ve been writing in markdown for years and so it’s not really going to cause any big disruptions if/when i can get the appropriate license, there are at least five other people into this idea because i created an obsidian teams channel and four other people in there say hello. but because i am constantly writing in markdown (even in Outlook and MS Word :joy:) i have a set of markdown documents that are essentially templates i use and that i’d continue to use in an obsidian vault. i follow vaguely zettelkasten conventions (i always stamp new documents/files YYYYMMDDHHMMSS-$whatever for example) which i do use for each workshop. when i am done i re-write my actions and findings for submission into the markdown doc i created to prep and stage the workshop.

those notes are essentially my worklog but it’s all replicated effort right now. i index the folder with DEVONthink to an unsynced database on-disk (but outside OneDrive’s clutches) and can easily recall nicely formatted details about every workshop i’ve facilitated and very much look forward to a day when i can stop doing it twice. some of the things i could do with obsidian that would be amazing are not likely going to materialize for me however.

for example, if i were allowed to have an API credential for SNOW i would automate t-F out of staging and even committing findings and actions back into SNOW. that would make my life a lot better, but so would having an intern that would attend my workshops and do those things for me since they’re the only part of my job that i don’t find delightful.

edit: wanted to add:
during that staging/prep time in a markdown doc for the workshop i also bang out all the front-matter (i use the usual things (tags,date,title,id) but add: onenote-uri and snow-uri and ticket-id) and then i take all the gathered intake information, fill out my sheet (description, scope, SDL team, contacts ([[Person Name]]) and if i could i would have those notes of people contain a function to return/embed a list of all the workshops i’ve had with them, and/or findings that are open if i were allowed to use the SNOW API.

there’s a lot of untapped potential in my use of Obsidian. it’s pushing me towards Dendron and reverting back to research data in DEVONthink databases.