A Workbench note ⊗

Just sharing an interesting workflow I’ve been using this afternoon.

I’m working on my procrastination habit. (Always, eh?) So, this afternoon, I was watching, contemplating, and taking notes on this fantastic talk by Tim Pychyl.1

As I was working, I realized that I wanted to find a way to grasp the concepts I found most compelling—but I didn’t want to elevate the importance of these concepts to a tag-level. Tags are treasured by me, and I don’t want to clutter the tags I use with one-off use-cases like this one.

So, I got out my handy book o’ symbols2 and started ending the most valuable lines with ⊗.3

Later, when I was done listening to the talk, I wanted to compile a set of takeaways for me to try to work on. So, I created a “workbench note” titled—you guessed it!—. Now I have a place in which I can make a mess without concern for the details. The backlinks pane of this note shows a number of unlinked mentions that might be handy. If I were working across multiple notes, I might have appended ⊗ on many lines on the database. This “workbench note” now provides a common space to draw those things together without pre-defining what exactly that looks like (e.g., with a nice note name.)

I can also search for every line in the knowledge base appended with ⊗ via Regex: /^((.*)⊗)$/. This gives me a concise collection of highlighted lines in the search box for me to work from. You could increase the specificity of this search, too—for instance, scoping it to a given file by adding a file:"some note" search term.

Later, when I’ve made sense of these takeaways, I’ll put the contents of this note in a more sensible place. Then I’ll trash the ⊗ symbol from the lines in the note I was working from. The workbench would then be clear for future messes.

Maybe I’ll never use this again. Still, thought I’d share while I was thinking about it. It feels like an easy, intuitive, and swift way of collecting ideas without pre-determining what you’re collecting them for.

1: Tim provides a down-to-Earth scholarship-informed walkthrough of why we procrastinate. It’s quite complex, which is why this is such a difficult problem for some people (like me!). Gotta love when pragmatics are so richly researched!
2: I keep a little collection of eye-catching Unicode symbols I find interesting, just in case something like this comes up.
3: Technically, this is the symbol for “tensor product.”


This is a great workflow. I use tags in a very similar way. Also that talk is a fantastic video. Thank you for the link. “I’m in this picture and I don’t like it” :slight_smile:

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Love it Ryan. I think i’ll be implementing this too albeit with “:pencil2::rofl:

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This is pretty close to how I use a #todo tag. I find it helps a lot with both shuffling low priority notes off into the future, and always being able to easily find something that is “shovel ready” to do some work on when you’re ready. I also like that using a tag search for this will show me which draft note has the most #todo within it (or the least!).

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This is brilliant. Another possible use is for marking passages that one might want to remove later, when deciding which parts of one’s vault to publish. The new publishing function in Obsidian is amazing, but I’m not sure I want everything to get posted. This provides a way to mark passages as “personal” (so that I can quickly find and review them later, to see whether I want to include them), but without having to interrupt the flow while I’m writing.

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“Later” as in “immediately after the note taking is done” or as in “tomorrow”, “next week”, “when I have time”, “when I am in the mood”, ……

If it is the 1st one, OK. If it is any of the latter, then you’re continuing doing what you’re trying to stop: procrastination. :thinking:


Hahah. In this case it was “later” as in “when I’m done watching the talk,” but good point. :wink:

I literally have this problem of writing a bunch of literature notes only to have them sit in a folder until I feel like writing permanent notes about them, which has not been the case yet.

I think this method of “workbenching” seems to help the process of writing permanent notes from literature notes less intimidating and hence lead to less procrastination from writing them, especially when you’ve written down a lot of bullets which I tend to do, marking with ⊗ seems to narrow down the note to its more helpful/compelling points.

How do you feel about using Todoist-like priority tags for marking important points instead of using ⊗? For example, important and more “urgent” points would be tagged with “#p1,” important but non-urgent points with “#p2,” and simply interesting points that are not as important with “#p3.”

Since you mentioned not wanting to clutter your tags, removing the hashtags would probably still work fine given that it’s rare to have numbers right next to p’s. But using only one symbol to mark compelling points seems more advantageous in that it forces you to be more intentional with which points you want to develop further, leaving out anything you feel you probably won’t develop—which would mean I might as well shouldn’t have written down some of these points if I knew they weren’t that compelling.

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Indeed, making it easier to make a mess in order to make something is the whole point!

A prioritizing system like you describe certainly makes sense. There are probably other ideas, too—different pseudotags for different kinds of lines… hmm!

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thank you for sharing! such a release of tension to be able to continue with a note without stopping to make such Important Considerations… my anxiety will be quite pleased with this.

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Almost forgot to share this here. I built out a plugin to support this workflow:

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