Best practices to start with Obsedian & Zettelkasten?

I’m just getting started on Obsedian and the Zettelkasten method. Here is the screenshot of my very first note and the questions I have:

1 - Is it useful to add Tags like I did here? How to choose them or create them so that it doesn’t become the bronx and disturb the relevance of the results in the search for notes?

2 - What title to give to your notes: here, you can see that I put the same title for the note as for the headline at the beginning of the note. Is this a good practice? The headline is very readable (and therefore useful) when I reread my notes. It formulates my thought very well, but it may be a bit long for the actual title of the note (the text found in the note search)? Isn’t there a way for the headline to be automatically repeated for the note title which is at the same level as the 3 small icons in the top right corner?

3 - Let’s imagine that I want to have in all my notes the same structure with 3 parts “Main content”, “Examples” and “Connected notes”. How can I make sure that my new notes already have this structure? Is it possible to make a template ?

4 - Let’s imagine that I create hundreds of notes on psychology, marketing and health: do I have to put them all in the same Vault?

5 - Is it ok to have notes in several languages (English, French, Spanish…) in the same vault?

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  1. I use tags for status - work in progress, unread, etc. For very broad topics (e.g. economic theory) I prefer notes that serve as maps of content.
  2. I prefer titles that are like a one sentence abstract, although for some event driven items that repeat I’ll be more succinct - e.g. Federal Reserve statemen theret on 2020/xx/xx
  3. There is a template plugin that can do exactly that - look in the settings screen.
  4. I separate major topics by folder, mostly professional versus personal (with subfolders under each). This way I can open them all as a single vault, or individually as their own vaults, depending the circumstances. Eg I only sync my professional vault to my work computer, but all vaults on my home computer.
  5. I have multiple languages in my vaults without any issue.
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Thanks so much for your reply.

  1. So basically, tags are useless for pure content/knowledge management, that’s what you say? But they can be a great tool to flag notes along the process: Work in progress, unread, hot stuff, etc.

  2. I’m still confused about the two levels as can be seen on my screenshot.
    As you can see, the small note title can be seen fully: it stops after the word “relativiser”.
    The big title and the small title are exactly the same: I copied and pasted the same text. Should I keep doing this?

  3. I found it.

  4. You mean you have several folders in the same Vault, but each folder can be eused as a Vault? For example, you can limit your Search to a single folder? Or to 2 or 3 folders that you would preselect and search in?
    Let’s say I have 15 topics: meditation, healing, copywriting, literature, language learning, energy work, psychology…
    Should I create one efolder for each in the same Vault?

  5. How do you sync? Let’s say I want to use Obsedian for my corporate job and my personal life as described with my 15 topics above, how can I manage this and sync across several computer without having the risk to create a leak for my employer to see into my personal Vault?

  1. I think using too many tags gets very messy, so I try to keep them down to a handful or two. That impacts what I use them for, although there is no rule about what works best for you.
  2. The note title is different from Heading 1 within the note. I would like for the title to match the first Heading 1, but this isn’t how the app currently works. In the quick switcher (Ctrl O) you’ll find it searches for file titles, not headings.
  3. Vault > Personal, Vault > Professional. With Obsidian you can open folder Vault to see all at once, or open just one sub folder. I wouldn’t create so many folders - I only do it to separate a few many types that I may want to view in different vaults.
  4. I sync using Google Drive and Boxcryptor to encrypt (password protect) my vault.
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I like your approach. It confirms my intuition as a starter, thank you for your valuable feedback.

  1. I use tags for status - work in progress, unread, etc.

Do you have other examples of those “etc.” tags, if any?

  1. So what’s your workaround or working habit here? Do you simply copy & paste the title and the Heading1 to make them exactly the same? That’s what I have started doing. Not sure this is the most optimal way, but you need the title for the searches (Ctrtl+O) and I need the Heading1 for better, more engaging readibility.

  2. English is a foreign language for me and I may be confused by the term Vault here. In Osidian, there is an option that says “Create a new vault”.
    When you say “you can open folder Vault”, does it mean those folderers have been created uwing that option? Or are there just regular folder?

  3. Hm, I just installed Obsidian yesterday and created 20 notees or so. I hosted it in the OneDrive folder of my laptop to at least have a copy somewhere on nthe cloud but I’m not a user of OneDrive other than for such backup. GoogleDrive might be a better option: Do you need to install a local GoogleDrive App for that? Can I easaily migrate from my current location to the new, GoogleDrive location without breaking anything?
    Boxcryptor: Why is that so important? Ssorry bor the candid question but I wonder who would want to steal my personal knowledge base? I assume you’re using the free plan?

Thanks again for your feedback.

  1. Other tags for note type: daily, report, event, moc. These tend to have different structures and frequency of use. I primarily use tags (and folders) to filter things out of search results.
  2. I rarely use H1 as the title in my notes for now. In the future I’d prefer to have note file names as simple zettlekasten timestamps and the top H1 to be the name that is searched, linked to, etc, but alas that is not how it works for now - so I stick with just putting the title in the file name.
  3. Instead of creating a new vault, use the option above to open an exist folder as a vault.
  4. In general it is trivial to switch cloud hosting services - they all work similarly. Boxcryptor allows me to encrypt my notes before they are uploaded to the cloud, so Google isn’t indexing them, and it also requires a password to decrypt the vault before Obsidian can read them locally too. You’d have to make your own judgement as to whether any of that is necessary - I prefer it so I use it on top of Obsidian, it is far from necessary.
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If I try to summarize things in a VERY simple way:

  1. Literature notes are notes I take from books, videos, search papers, articles. They can be…
    – a bare copy and paste of an entire article,
    – just like a 3-page summary of a 250 page book.
    – or even a 2 paragraph raw notes of mine listing ideas I got.

  2. Zettelkasten notes are:
    – minimalist and centered around a very specific concept
    – They must be written with my own words, be they a pure definition of the concept, a recipe for X, or a 7-step method for Y.

Am I correct here?

If so, should I keep all my literature note in Obsidian while systematically connecting them to my Zettelkassten notes? What’s the added value of doing this rather than keeping the final Zettelkasten note only?

I found this taxonomy and have been very impressed by it:
https://publish.obsidian.md/bryan-jenks/Tag+Taxonomy

Still, I don’t understand why there are so many steps.
I have a hard time understanding the real difference between the Ferns and Incubator status?

Another thing: I’m not sure what should be the real definition for a “permanent or Evergreen note”. Why that? I mean, is knowledge not an ever-evolving animal?
If so, how and whene can you consider that a note is fixed for ever as an Evergreen note?

Sorry if I miss something here. Feel free to guide me. Thank you.

Permanent (or Evergreen) notes are permanent not because the content don’t change, because, like you said, knowledge is an ever-evolving animal. What is permanent is their potential participation in the creation of future insights.

I prefer the term “Evergreen notes”, because there are several properties associated with the concept. Evergreen notes are atomic, concept-oriented, densely linked. Basically, when written with those properties in mind, a note qualify as an evergreen note, because these properties enable insights (or new knowledge) to take place.

The mechanism by which insight takes place is an interesting one, I am working on clarifying how insights, such as defined by the body of research on insight problem solving, can be facilitated by evergreen notes. It’s not serious, hardcore research, just something I’ve been flexing out.

Here’s an excerpt (with slight rewording) from my blog post Beginner’s guide to serious note taking which I think is relevant.

Start excerpt

Developing evergreen notes help create shifts in perceptions which produce insights

How does evergreen notes enable insights ? Insight is an unexpected shift in perception that leads to a better story. A story is a representation. A representation is distribution of activation across pieces of knowledge in memory [1]. Basically, we change our perception of a story by changing how pieces of knowledge (ideas) are activated. And activation of an idea is closely linked to how it’s connected to other ideas, so we must change how ideas connect to one another. When we do this in our mind, it amounts to thinking (loosely speaking).

Evergreen notes are atomic, concept-oriented and densely linked to other ideas. Evergreen notes can be used as components of our perceptions. More importantly, they are externalized perceptions, which mean we can concretely integrate, contrast, modify, refine them. Evergreen notes enable the possibility of manipulating how ideas connect together in an external environment.

Interestingly, the observed suddenness of insight is more likely an epiphenomenon, and in fact the brain gradually gets closer and closer to insights [2]. This is important because it means that insight is something that we can make incremental progress towards. Each increment is made by refining evergreen notes and their connections.

So, to summarize, developing evergreen notes amounts to developing our own perceptions. The process of development create changes in perceptions, which when experienced as a shift to a better story about the world, are insights.

References

[1] Jones, Gary. (2003). Testing Two Cognitive Theories of Insight. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition. 29. 1017-27. 10.1037/0278-7393.29.5.1017.

[2] Bilalic, M., M. Graf, N. Vaci and Amory H. Danek. “The temporal dynamics of insight problem solving – restructuring might not always be sudden.” Thinking & Reasoning (2019): 1-37.

End excerpt

Here’s another blog post of mine that touches on insight, in case you’re interested:

Hopefully that helps !

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Thanks a lot for your detailed reply.
I went reading on your blog too.

I have to be honest: All this sounds very conceptual. My brain type and personal thinking model learns better in bottom-up approach, going from several examples to understand a common principle. Inference and induction.

Knowing that, what would you do in my shoes to avoid creating a mess in Obsidian? I notice I have a tendency to create notes to “memorize things”, and I guess I’m missing something about the Insight phase.

When can I concretely and objectively know if one of my note deserve to be labelled as Evergreen? Are there specific mental trick or actionable questions I can use, like a mental process/recipe to follow to know how to go from seed box > seed > incubator > evergreen?

I’d say you should just proceed and create a mess, and then fine-tune it as you go. Recognizing your own tendency is a good thing, because it means you can begin to make adjustments. Maybe set aside an hour or two everyday to sit down and review your notes. Then refactor them into something more conceptual, then link them together.

That’s the approach I took when I initially tried Obsidian (and Roam) out. Unfortunately, there is no objective criteria with which you can always determine if a note is evergreen or not. Even what constitutes atomicity and concept-orientation varies from person to person. I can only say that eventually I got a feel for what might be considered an evergreen note to me.

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Thank you, your input definitely helps.

I’m just afraid to define the wrong tagging system and to have to update so many notes if I happen to discover I forgot one step or phase.

My intent is to use tags mainly for status, just like @tallguyjenks and others are doing it.
I’m quite impressed by his taxonomy and somewhat confused too by its apparent complexity. Why so many categories, status? That’s what scares me in going the wrong way…

I am hesitant in the way I should define my own taxonomy, and especially about the number of phases/status I should get to go from…

the raw input in Obsidian (let’s say I’m talking here about floating notes when I get an idea, literature notes summarizing a book)
… up to the "evergreen note"

I’m not sure also about the interest of Daily Notes if you’re nnot interested in tracking your knowledge effort based on a calendar, as long as you already have “a seed box” statut to flag all your ongoing notes to be processed.

I like you, am new to Obsidian and Zettelkasten. This is what I did:

  1. Put some structure into Obsidian. That is, setup some folders. I think the general consensus is to have as few as possible. Mine are:
  • Inbox - Unprocessed ‘stuff’
  • Daily Notes - really a daily scratchpad, in Zettelkasten terms these are Fleeting Notes. These notes should be processed.
  • Sources - These are for processed notes, which I want to keep. They include ‘Literary’ Notes and the like
  • System Folders - Attachments and Templates
  1. Permanent notes are kept in the main vault folder for atomic notes
  2. Tags - given the use of backlinks and MOC’s, I have restricted their use to Status, which is a useful part of workflow and for filtering the graph view.
  3. Plugins - I also installed several third party plugins, such as calendar, tables, templater…

There you have it!

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I like your simple answer.

So basically all newly created note goes automatically in your Inbox, right?

I happen to take like 5 to 10 fleeting notes per day :

  1. How do you tag them to be able to find them again in Obsidian?
  2. At what point do you decide to change their status into Evergreen?

Use case:

  1. Concretely, let’s say I’m reading an email I received from a marketer. I like the way he entices me to reply to his email with a well-thought post-scriptum.
  2. My reflex is to copy and paste his post-scriptum into a new Obsidian.
  3. While jotting the note down, it gives me the idea to create another note about “How to write better Call-to-Actions in your emails?”
  4. So I’m adding [[email marketing]] and [[call-to-action]] links at the top of the new note about “post-scriptum” I just created.
  5. Then I’m adding the tag #Processing to mention this note is a “draft”.
  6. The day I will have exploded it into smaller notes or enrich it and the day I will consider it is consistent enough, I might change its tag for #Evegreen

Above is my current beginner process. ALL notes are kept in the same Vault and folder.
Am I missing something here?

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I am assuming like me you are using Obsidian for personal information management i.e. purely notes. This is how I have resolved the issue. Following on from my earlier post there are three distinct areas in my Obsidian setup:

  • Inbox
  • Sources
  • Permanent

Status Tagging

Inbox Folder: This consists of Fleeting notes and as such, must be cleaned up i.e. processed to your Sources folder on a regular basis. Anything in the Inbox folder has a Status tag of #Inbox.

Sources Folder: This consists Source and Literary Notes and has a Status tag of #Sources

Permanent Folder (the Main Vault Folder): consists of atomic notes and has a Status tag of #Evergreen.

Topic Tagging

Topic tags are used for categorising notes by subject and applied as follows:

Inbox: None

Sources: As part of the processing of your Inbox to the Sources folder Topic tags can be applied

Permanent: Evergreen notes have no Topic tags purely Links and Status Tags

Maps of Content (MOC)

Maps of Content notes are used to add structure, (see @nickmilo ’s LYT system), as follows:

Inbox: None as Fleeting notes

Sources: None - having said that, I have two MOCs: Book Authors and Books (which I might amalgamate at some point). MOCs are not needed as Topic Tags are used to provide the structure.

Permanent: MOC’s are used in the Permanent section, which add overviews and structure to the content. The rest is done by Links and the Obsidian Graph.

Your Questions

You have captured your Marketing Email and put it into the Inbox with a Status of #Inbox. On your daily Inbox review you open your captured Marketing Email note, tidy it up, add anything that you feel would enhance the note e.g. source, context etc. change the status to #Sources moving it into the Sources folder. If a second idea occurs to you add it to the same note if on a similar topic or generate a separate Source or Inbox note.

Once you have your Source notes put to bed, then you can review individual topics in the Source folder and generate Permanent notes with a Status of #Evergreen. These Permanent notes will initially only have Links to the originating Source note and to the relevant MOC note.

Remember Permanent notes are not supposed to be split Source notes, but are standalone notes containing a single idea in your own words.

Ok the above is my current process, which as I say is early days for me. If you have any improvements let me know.

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