ADHD and digital vs analogue PKM

I’m curious if anyone with ADHD has found themselves in the position of weighing up digital tools vs paper.

When I found Obsidian I was very hopeful I could leverage it in a way that would support my weaknesses due to ADHD, and the lack of diligence when dealing with non-stimulating tasks that can come with it.

By now I’ve been experimenting with Obsidian and Roam for over a year, but I find that they almost offer even more distraction for my ADHD brain. Any time I’m trying to get down to work, there’s always that hyper-active little monkey in my head that wonders, “maybe if I just tweak my workflow like this”, “how about that plugin”, “what’s happening on the forum/discord”, “maybe I should be mapping this out in Excalidraw, better watch a video of Zsolt”, “what about breadcrumbs” and on and on. And of course, being an a computer at all, the great time sink that is the browser is just a shortcut way, always looming in the wings of an ADHD mind.

A few times recently I’ve just printed out a paper I’m studying, taken some blank A4 and a stack of notecards and gone somewhere to work without any devices. It’s bliss to be honest. I’m focused, sharp, insightful, remember the material well etc.

I’m getting seriously tempted to ditch the digital tools for study, learning, knowledge management, and just use them for producing final written pieces. That would be giving up many of the great benefits of digital tools though, as well as giving me a huge amount of paper to manage in the long run, so I’m hesitant.

So basically I’m just wondering if anyone has gone through a similar process and has any experience to share. Has anyone with ADHD tested working in an analogue way vs Obsidian? Anyone been through similar issues trying to use these tools but managed to get themselves focused and disciplined, and move beyond spending as much time thinking about and tweaking the tool as actually working?


I think using just paper may be a good strategy, because Obsidian brings many opportunities to fiddle with.

The strategy I have is that I can research/update my tooling workflows only once in every 3 months (once a quarter).

I’m not sure what would work for you, but one trick for me is to remove any possible “triggers” that make you start doing the useless “motion” rather than the “action” (the behaviors that actually directly deliver the results you want).

This may include blocking e.g. if you have MacOS, you can do

sudo bash -c "cat >> /etc/hosts << EOF

You may also disable your internet connection for specific times when you want to do heads down work, you can hide your phone in another room, put TV remote in the drawer, when you need to get stuff done, etc.
Essentially design your environment in a way so it doesn’t prompt you to do useless stuff.


i’ll tell you one thing - i have the type of ADHD where i leave things out on flat surfaces everywhere to remind me of something? and that clutter contributes to my anxiety and negatively impacts my ability to do my best work.

i only learned this because i split time between two households, and my partner’s sole residence is very orderly and neat because my partner goes bonkers if she has clutter. but i do get more work done working from the home office there just because i need to keep the clutter to a minimum.

at my other residence i have my children with me half the time and this house i’m in right now is definitely clutter central and i’m attacking it as i can but my “digital clutter” has the same effect maybe even worse. and it’s costing extra money too because i’m obsessive about backups and recovery from a disaster and that’s great at the office but a bit much at home.

using index cards hipsterPDA style and going vanilla GTD is a great reset for me but i am going to try bullet journaling as well to see if i can get to the point where i don’t feel like i have no idea what people are waiting on me for half the time :grimacing:

Hey @biodecus, it’s a challenge isn’t it. I don’t have ADHD, although my young person has. I have a bit of Asperger’s. I found the biggest challenge was working out which note-taking app suits me best (Thiago Forte has done an interesting overview video on about 50 apps!). I settled between Logseq and Obsidian, couldn’t drop either. So now I use Logseq for daily journalling, and Obsidian for my research- it kinda works lol. On a side note, I recently gave up pen and paper journalling to move to Logseq, because it is so much more useful, and easier to make attractive, which stimulates me .

Yes, but it’s important to me to get them working how I want them, and looking attractive. On the way I learnt a bit of css customising. Was it a distraction? Yes, but I’m happy that I have that new knowledge as it was my first insight into how the digital world functions, and my Obsidian pages are a joy for me to look at, so I want to be here.

Lastly I wanted to mention, that from my time learning Logseq, a couple of the guys there have ADHD. Ramses Oudt, Logseq Community Manager, talks about valuing the Logseq Outlining capability, to remove all other distracting content and only have in from of him the current topic. That same function is available in Obsidian, although not quite as fluid, it still works enough to achieve the clean interface. The point here, is when you use Obsidian as an Outliner, you can click on the outlining ‘bullet’, and everything else is minimized into ‘breadcrumbs’, leaving you with only your immediate subject in front of you, you ‘zoom’ in.

Also Dario, One Stuttering Mind, talks about the advantage of outlining (in Logseq) for ADHD

They’re both easily reachable in the Logseq community



I have ADHD, and I’ve struggled with where you’re at right now. The thing that has me coming back to a digital toolset is my memory. I bullet journaled for several years, the problem is that I couldn’t tell you precisely where something in my journal was because keeping up with indexing is a no dopamine affair.

Enter the digital toolset. One thing that I had to do was design my workflow to address what I know my issues to be.

Analysis paralysis. If I have to think too hard about where a note goes, then I’m less likely to actually take notes. I need a system that is both flexible and rigid. I use Johnny Decimal (modified) for directory structure. I have a workflow that allows for throwing things into an inbox that sits at the top of my file explorer where random junk goes into. Anything I could do to reduce the barrier of entry to a note, I did.

Lack of novelty means I’ll ditch it. Therefore I do things with my notebook to engage my brain. I keep the graph view present all the time in the sidebar, I use the banner plugin to add animated banners to notes, I allow myself the opportunity to spend some time playing with new homepage layouts, which appeases the tinkerer in me.

I also made the conscious decision that ultimately my digital notebook was where my 2nd brain is. If I’m out and about and an idea comes to mind, I use the notes app on my phone. When I get back to a place that I have access to Obsidian, that note goes into the inbox. If I don’t want to be bothered by digital things, I’m overwhelmed and just want to go to a quiet room and read and jot down notes, I do. But when I’m done with that I transcribe the notes into Obsidian (usually not word for word, when I’m putting them in my notebook I’m thinking about the idea again, and I let myself spiderweb out on the topic a bit).

There are days that I don’t use it at all, and there are times that I don’t transcribe things into my notebook. I have a deal with myself that I don’t beat myself up over not following the rules all the time, but that I’ll do better the next day.


@biodecus, curious where you landed with your digital vs. analog experiment?

I use a combination of digital zk (Obsidian) and analog (bullet journal, index card zk).

If I’m reading paper books, I prefer to take notes on index cards because it’s easier to focus on what’s in front of me. Whereas digital books get marginalia automatically imported for me via Readwise.

It’s also a mood thing. If my caffeine + adderall is running strong enough, I can narrow my visual field of focus on one area of my computer screen to force myself to concentrate and block out other things.

When that doesn’t work, going analog will force my thoughts to clarify on the pen and paper in front of me.

What have you tried that works for you since your post?

This post is already from a while ago, but in case this is still relevant for you or anyone else, here’s my current system and some thoughts about your question. As a fellow ADHDer, I totally understand where you’re coming from.

I use Obsidian for archiving, connecting, distilling and developping my notes/thoughts as well as for output. Those activities generally keep me excited enough to stay focused, and if not, short working sessions are never lost if you work with atomic notes. I even realized that many short sessions can sometimes be more productive than a long one, which in turn made it easier to start.

There is a huge part of note-taking, reading, thinking etc. I don’t do on Obsidian though. But paper did not work for me anymore, as I am prone to losing my single-sheet notes, can’t keep up an analogue notebook structure, having too many projects and areas and ending up with dozens of notebooks where only a couple of pages were written on.

My big finding was to transfer all parts of the analogue note taking, reading etc. to an e-ink tablet with a minimalistic setup. There is a broad variation out there, going from paper-like display covers to put on a iPad to digital notebooks that barely have a working browser, no apps, no distraction, just reading and writing. I use one of those (the Supernote A5x, in case you are interested - Remarkable is another option with very similar functionalities).

The great thing about it, is that you have the distraction-free setting of an analogue notebook but with endless flexible folders, so no more 27 notebooks floating around. But also, it serves as an e-book reader (the Supernote has a Kindle App integration), PDF reader with digest system, handwriting recognition and conversion, tagging possibilities and you can export everything as text (for convertible files), PDF or images.

My workflow is:
daily note taking, tasks, calendars, readings, annotations, journalling, meeting notes, brainstorming etc. all goes in the Supernote. Thoughts that go into my notes collection Zettelkasten-style, my daily journal entries where I find some valuable insight and my literature digests are then exported to Obsidian, and there I only do thinking, developing and writing.

Having said that, I do get distracted sometimes and start tweaking my Obisdian setup. However, I don’t take it as a bad thing. Novelty is important to keep my brain interested, and working with a newly tweaked system is part of it. In the rare cases I can’t get myself stimulated enough by taking a random trip through the graph and drift into hyperfocus wanting to develop some new systems, I am just glad that Obsidian lets me do that without any harm being done to the content and future workflow.

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