An Obsidian Experimentation Starter Guide

Obsidian has so many powerful tools, it’s hard to know where to get started as a beginner. So I decided to put together a quick experiment guide to help me start testing out Obsidian. Would love thoughts and feedback! The guide is below and in markdown so you can pull it into your own Obsidian vault :smiley:

:test_tube: Obsidian Experiment Guide

How to use this experiment guide

  1. Pick how long each step will take you. Consider spending a week minimum per step, but longer is fine too.
  2. At each step, I’ve listed a goal and some guiding questions. Take note of what worked for you and what didn’t work.

Step 0: State your goals

Take some time to state your goals for Obsidian. Phrase them as questions you can ask yourself when your experiment is over. Here are some examples:

  1. Is this a habit I can follow?
  2. Do I enjoy it?
  3. Do I remember more of what I read?
  4. Do I feel more creative?
  5. Am I a more critical thinker?
  6. Do I want to keep using Obsidian this way? Do I want to keep using Obsidian at all?

Step 1: Collect

This step is all about collecting information into Obsidian. The goal by the end of this step is to have a comfortable, useful habit of collecting useful thoughts and notes in Obsidian. Do not worry about formatting, linking, etc. This step is all about collecting.

The Planning Phase

  1. List all the places you current collect information

    • ebook highlights?
    • journals or physical notebooks?
    • notetaking apps on your phone?
  2. Determine where in your vault you would like your raw notes to go.

    • I recommend creating an “inbox” folder in your vault. Your freshly collected notes can sit there to be processed later into the rest of your vault.
  3. Brainstorm 3-5 easy ways to get notes from where you typically collect them to your inbox. Some examples below:

    • Maybe use your notes app on your phone to take notes while you read a book
    • Maybe you want to download highlights from your e-reader to your vault once a day or once a week
  4. Pick 1-2 of the ideas you brainstormed in step 3 that you want to start with. Create a simple action plan:

    ==Action Plan==
    Every time I [typical info collecting activity], I will [idea from step 3] to store the note in my vault’s inbox.

    Here’s an example specific to me: Every time I [finish reading an article on my e-reader], I will [open up Markor on my phone and jot down the thesis of that article] and store the note in my vault’s inbox.

The Action Phase

Spend the next few days following your action plan. At the end of each 3 day period, revisit your previous notes ask yourself the following:

  1. Is it easy to get information into my vault?
  2. Do I understand what this note means looking back at it?

If the answer to either is no, then change some things about your action plan.

If having your phone open while you read is super disruptive, consider putting it in airplane mode. Or maybe it’s better to have your computer nearby or maybe you prefer to import highlights from your e-reader into your vault once a day instead. Don’t be too rigid about what habits you want to have, find something that works well for your brain and working style.

If you find that you’re not jotting down enough context to remember what the note meant later, practice slowing down and adding context when you create the note. It’s okay if this means you’re creating fewer notes! All that matters is that each note is valuable to you.

Loop through the action phase a few times until you’re relatively satisfied with your approach. If you’re spending longer than a few weeks on the Collection step, consider moving on even if it’s not perfect. You can always iterate on this step in the future, but it also doesn’t have to be perfect to get the job done! Collecting is only part of your system.

Step 2: Curate

This step is all about curating the raw notes you create on the fly. Deleting or archiving notes that are no longer useful to you, or adding metadata to help keep the note useful long after you’ve created it.

The Planning Phase

  1. List the ways you want to use the notes you collect.
  2. List the kind of information you need to make the note useful 6 months down the line.
    • Date? Source? Background context?
  3. Brainstorm different types of formats that you want to try:
    • Super small atomic notes?
    • A small note that gets added to as you come across more relevant information?
    • Do you like an outline format?
    • Because of the power of linking, Obsidian is designed predominantly for smaller documents that can link together in a web of knowledge. However, how big or small your documents are is up to you! Try a bunch of things!
  4. Where do you want the notes to live?
    • I’d recommend starting with them all flat in your main vault folder for ease. But you can try other things like:
    • Folders based on source? Emojis at the beginning of titles to denote the type of note they are?
    • An archived folder for the raw version of your notes or for collected quotes that you don’t want in your main vault.
  5. When and how frequently will you be processing your notes?
    • the closer to when you make the note, the better. Maybe start with once a day or once every 2-3 days?
  6. Under what circumstances should you archive or delete a note?
    • When you reread the note and it no longer makes sense to you? When it’s no longer interesting to you? When it’s no longer actionable (e.g. old to do lists)? Never?
  7. Under what circumstances should you link notes together?
    • When one thought reminds you of another?

Come up with an action plan. Start small, just with 3 or 4 tiny actions you’ll take to a note when you’re processing it.

==Action Plan==
Every [day? week?] I curate my notes by:

  • going through each note in my inbox and:
    • adding [X, Y, Z] metadata
    • [any formatting changes you want to make to the file]
    • [any renaming you want to do to the file]
    • deleting a note if […]
    • linking any notes if […]
  • scanning notes in my root vault folder and:
    • [when do you delete notes?]
    • linking any related thoughts together that I may have forgotten about

The Action Phase

Follow through with your Action Plan for a few days. At the end of the trial period, ask yourself:

  1. What’s your balance of collecting to curating?
    • If you feel you’re spending too much time on the process, consider what’s most important. Perhaps it’s worth cutting down on collecting to spend more time curating or vice versa. We’re so used to the importance of taking notes that we don’t all have the same muscles around reviewing and curating those notes. Notice where your biases are and stretch yourself. It’s okay if this means spending less time collecting or less time curating than you naturally do.
  2. Which pieces of added metadata are you getting value from? Is it still useful to include them all or should you add more/remove some/etc?
  3. Are my notes linking together? How do I feel about that?
  4. How do I feel about the organization structure (or lack thereof) of my vault?
  5. Do I understand my notes looking back at them?

Also reassess your collecting action plan:

  1. Is it easy to get information into my vault?
  2. Do I understand what this note means looking back at it?

Step 3: Create and Contribute

The goal of this step is to make your notes work for you.

The Planning Phase

Take a moment to brainstorm: what do you want to get out of your vault?

  • Do you want to write articles, poems or stories?
  • Do you want to remember more of what you read?
  • Do you want to think more critically about what you read?
  • Do you want to be able to quickly pull up sources and fact-check your knowledge and assumptions throughout the day?
  • Do you want to grow a specific skill for work or for personal growth?

Now take a moment to think about how to go from your Obsidian notes to that outcome.

  • Do you need easily searchable quotes?
  • Do you need easily parse-able notes that you can put together into video scripts, essays, or blog posts?
  • Do you need a clear action plan or cheat sheet to practice a certain skill?
    Distill this brainstorm to 2-3 ways you can create useful output from your Obsidian notes.

Now fill in your action plan:

==Action Plan==
Every [day? week?] I will set aside [30 min? An hour?] to thinking through Obsidian. I will do this by:

  • [e.x. Picking notes at random, seeing if I missed any connections, and writing a little bit in the note to expand on the thought.]
  • [pick some process from your distillation above]
    I will know Obsidian has successfully contributed to my growth/creative process when:
    • I successfully [post about a topic on my blog/exhibit X skill by achieving Y]

The Action Phase

Go through your action plan for a few days or weeks. At the end of each few days, consider the following:

  1. Am I successfully creating using Obsidian? Am I successfully integrating my insights into my life?
  2. Am I enjoying myself?
  3. Is there anything I need to tweak about the collection or curation phase to make the creation phase easier?
  4. Am I achieving the goals I set out to achieve?
  5. How is my time balance looking? Am I spending the right amount of time on each step each day? Do I need to adjust anything?

Step 4: Conclude

You’ve completed phase 1 of the Obsidian experiment! I say phase 1 because any process requires repeated reassessment. But continue through your usual process for about a week and then take a step back to consider how it went. Go back to the list you drew up in Step 0 and answer the questions.

Step 5: Retro

Now that you’ve assessed yourself and Obsidian, take a moment to assess this guide! Here are some questions to get your started:

  1. How long would you recommend spending on each step?
  2. Would you rearrange the order of any steps?
  3. Would you change the goals or guiding questions at any of the steps?
  4. Create a copy of this guide and modify it to fit how you’d recommend someone experiment with Obsidian. Then post it below! I’d love to hear how this changes for folks.
17 Likes

Many very good thoughts in your guide! When I think back to when I started with Obsidian, this would have been a big help for me. But even now, over one year later, I think about going through your thoughts to see how to optimize my processes. Thank you!

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Yes, I agree with @a_wue and I also want to say a super-big thank you for making this! I’m looking forward to spending some time with your steps and filling any holes in my working plan.

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I’m so glad! Thanks so much to both you and @a_wue for the kind feedback. Let me know if you do use any of this and how it works for you both.

Thanks very much for this guide. I’ve been using Obsidian for about one week and the guide is very useful.

I do have a very elementary question. Do you leave Obsidian open (minimized in Windows) while working on your PC or Mac? I am just wondering about capture: notes, interesting URLs, etc. Do you just restore Obsidian and then open a new note, or do you have other idea and note accumulation apps, then open Obsidian and add all at once periodically throughout the day?

Thanks for your help.

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Thank you it s great

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Great question! I’ve only been using Obsidian for a few months now, but so far my system has been:

  • I keep Obsidian open on my computer while I’m working and will make a new note when needed (or add to old notes)
  • my vault is synced to my phone as well, so while there is no Obsidian app on my phone, I can use other note-taking apps to quickly add notes to my inbox folder. The inbox folder and status tags like #link-this become very useful in this case because I can do part of the work on my phone, and then later get on Obsidian on my computer and finish whatever formatting or linking I need.
  • every few days I copy all my highlights from my e-reader into Obsidian

It works pretty well for me. What have you tried so far?