Can you advise a new(ish) user on work flows?

I have been using obsidian on and off for about a year, and mostly on in the last 4 with heavier use now I moved my paper, spreadsheet life management, projects and notes over. I still think I am missing something.

I am a knowledge worker in healthcare, not a programmer or sysadmin. I am mid career, and open to learning new things.

My obsidian is now a bunch of notes, in folders. I Started trying to link them but I realised I was just replicating the directory tree, so I stopped. Also I thought some of the links were a bit tenuous.

I watched some youtube videos and read some productivity blogs and bought a few books about work flow and productivity for knowledge workers. I found tiago forte and his brand fortelabs quite interesting. I started sorting everything in that pattern. I found I was just refiling and recategorising my stuff the way someone else’s brain works, and it didn’t fit.

I really like seeing how excited everyone is with their graph view, but mine is quite… …so what. Now I can see everything linked, well I sort of knew that anyway. Looks great, now what? Is this more for someone with a wiki, they want to see every page linked into the network of pages so there are no inaccessible outliers? (Sorry to sound weird but I read that markdown and mkdocs makes a web wiki - and it is not a corner case for Obsidian?)

I also got Graham Allcott’s ‘How to be a productivity ninja’, which I quite liked. He seemed to propose creating your own system loosely based on his with some ‘low hanging fruit’ and easy-wins, mixed with common sense. I used some of that, but I still don’t have a regularly functioning system, or meaningful workflow in Obsidian that builds and reinforces my knowledge while keeping my productivity up and the management burden light. And that squeezes the juice from lovely graph view.

What am I missing here? Are there some all time winner blogs or vlogs or courses you just have to do? I have not really looked at the BuJo (bullet journal) stuff, but reading around, my system is not too dissimilar anyway.

Sorry to be a bit newbie about it, sorry this doesn’t fit in nicely to any topic here. Can’t help feeling that the Obsidian community are gonna know how to make the most of Obsidian. Thanks for at least reading to the end, even if you don’t post.

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I also started one year ago with Obsidian. My first book was about Zettelkasten from Sönke Ahrens: „How to take smart notes“. It was a recommendation I‘ve got at the beginning. And here I‘ve found all answers to my questions.

But let me understand your problem, tell me about your use case you want to improve?

You are right, I am not properly explaining what I am trying.

Two things (?+) mashed together as one. One the one hand I am running small projects, and on the other I am knowledge managing. I should have these as separate vaults, but then you don’t have to?

Projects could be further split into ‘Life admin’, ‘Domestic maintenance’ and ‘Curiousities and hobbies’. PKM could be further split into ‘work’ and ‘Personal interest’. That would be five vaults where one might do because there is overlap between all these areas. The projects area has a mixture of recurrent tasks (monthly / annual) and more complex one off projects. Some of the projects could be managed as a simple list but others would be really good as a flow/gannt chart, because of what I am used to paper still wins here. The PKM side - work related updates come in thick and fast, and I need to stay current. Having it all written down is a little visually nicer than paper files and folders, but then what? I think I will go back to your resource suggestion here, thanks for that.

It also crosses my mind I manually write a daily weekly and monthly calendar, pushing tasks onto it from the project lists, pushing them back if incomplete each day/week. This is sort of bullet journalling, but I was doing it before I read about that. I used the table function to do a text based ‘day’ diary, but only using it fleetingly. There was a calendar ‘Gem of 2022’? I will have a look at that.

Thanks for your post

I think that, as you correctly identified when talking about fortelabs, creating your own system is the most important thing you can do. Look at other people’s systems and take any ideas that seem interesting, and create your own unique system out of that.

So, here are a few things that I’ve found helpful which you might benefit from too:
Tags. Folders are still useful, but tags are a bit more flexible and help with making the graph view more manageable. Tere’s an option to “show tags” in the graph view and this leads to notes clustering around tags. You can also search for tags or filter for them in the graph view.

MOCs, “maps of content”. These are indexes basically. For example I have an Analysis MOC which links to all my notes on analysis, and also to another MOC for specifically Complex Analysis. These are only helpful once you have a lot of notes though, if you’ve got <100 notes or something like that then just continue writing, tagging, and linking for now. The new Canvas core plugin is very helpful for these by the way.

Finally I try to make notes atomic, make them as small as possible and about one concept.

At the end of the day though, every person is unique, and my method may not work for you. There’s no magic technique that will make your notes suddenly work better, and I wouldn’t really recommend paying for courses either. To be honest, graph view isn’t always that useful, some people get by with Obsidian never using graph view. If you can find your notes and they help you remember stuff, then you’re doing fine.


But why? I do not use content specific vaults. There is only one vault for me named “Zettelkasten”.

As I said, I only use one vault and only one main folder within this vault. It’s for for my “Permanent Notes”. But looking back I had to overcome several pitfalls. Here are my top mistakes to avoid when starting:

  1. Starting without templates — so that it was hard to build up a consistent note structure I needed later for effective searching.
  2. Using tags without rules for tagging — so that building clusters for searching was not very effective.
  3. No use of frontmatter — so that meta data and content of notes became inconsistent and confusing.
  4. No use of time stamps like “created” and “modified” within frontmatter — so that using backups and changing cloud spaces caused a loss of time information connected with my notes.
  5. No use of DataView plugin as a tool for gardening — so that inconsistencies in my Zettelkasten were growing and growing.

All these mistakes lead to intensive re-work of my notes later on.

See: How to use Zettelkasten in Obsidian - #8 by Edmund

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Yes, indeed. Without an estabished system for tagging I wouldn’t really benefit from Graph View. Tags are a must to use filters with Graph View.

But I found another option which helps a lot: It’s the Local Graph extended to a depth of 2 with filtering on Incoming Links only.

What’s your experience?

Ah right, so you can pop open the graph, pick out only a few tags and get a specific graph, ok, I see.

Googling MOC, oh yes, as you say an index. Would you have indexes of indexes? branching like a tree at each level? This is different to the folder structure in that you can hop up and down the ‘tree’. And if you tag the MOC as MOC then it is metadata that does not need to pop up in any graph view, so you can switch that tag off, so you only see the branch to branch links, ie the ones you were not expecting.

This is lots to work with. Thanks, really really thanks. Book purchased, Link bookmarked.

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Hi @clexp the difference between a Table of Contents (in say a book) is a finished thing. An MOC as I understand it is something that grows, as your vault grows. It’s a living entity.

I agree, I don’t really understand the whole graph thing, so don’t really use it. Obsidian is POWERFUL without it, imo

Have them as MOCs

Please no, MOCs where you would have vaults or folders, and #tags to obtain cohesion and granularity

My background is similar to yours. In a nutshell, I have my MOCs in one folder, Obsidan organisational notes in a folder (although in retrospect these could have been listed under [[Obsidian MOC]] in my general notes folder), and ALL my general notes about everything I’m interested in, in my one main folder

I use the built-in Template plug-in to give me consistancy (the ‘date’ is the only variable, inside a couple of curly brackets). I created a General Template for most everything, and a (very similar) MOC Template for the MOCs.

Consistency: Everytime I create a new note, regardless of the subject, I allocate appropriate MOCs (they are like what you might have identified as separate Vaults), and then add a couple of more granular #tags

In this example of one of my notes, I have the Title, the {{date}}, the MOC (in this case [[Creative Ideas MOC]], also a related page link, [[smart Ideas]] (which I’ve since learnt would be better suited in the body of the text, so now I only put my MOCs up here), followed by #tags, and any appropriate url. I use the Firefox add-on ‘Copy as Markdown’ which pastes in the excellent ‘[title] (url)’ format.

Then I have a space, three dashes (which form the line across) and then three hashtags to start off the heading for my actual writing. I find this template works for everything I need (I don’t understand all the more complex templating and coding stuff)

I would say, get rid of multiple vaults and folders. Use MOCs instead, and further linkup with a good tagging system.

Hope that helps!

@Edmund Hey Edmund, I’d love to hear a bit about how you structure your #tags. They are so valuable, I’m always looking to refine/improve my tagging system :thinking:

Edit: found this How to use Tags TY

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This is a screengrab of my General Notes template. Templates go in their own folder of course so Obsidian can find them

My list of templates is growing. I’ve shared them at: 16 Obsidian Templates For Zettelkasten To Start With
With each template I‘m using at least one default tag. One example: The “Structure Template” offers ‘#type/structure’ as default in the YAML frontmatter.

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@Edmund just wanted to say, thanks for being such a generous and informative poster :melting_face:

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You totally can!
For example: I have an overarching “History” MOC, then more specific MOCs for certain topics like the 20th century in Europe, the Roman empire, etc. It’s up to you how detailed you go, at a certain point you don’t need an MOC, not too much point having an MOC that only includes two notes in my opinion.

This works too. Personally I like having MOCs on, as they kind of act as their own tags. Links end up collecting around both their tags and their MOCs. You can turn them off if you find that more helpful though.

Yeah totally, thanks too for not being ‘rtfm’, where you could have been. Real positive experience for the new member.

Also great output, thanks overall, loads to digest and build into the workfflow.

I read all this and I still don’t really know what you want to achieve. What exactly do you mean by knowledge managing?

You talk about productivity, Tiago Forte, Graham Allcott, bullet journals. Ahrens has been mentioned. You must have spent many hours on reading and trying things out. If you had spent them actually doing - anything really - you’d likely have achieved more. In the productivity world such chasing a perfect system is usually called procrastination.

So, I’d junk it all. (You won’t forget it, but letting your mind integrate all these alien ideas into your own thinking on its own, in the background, without trying to force yourself into a system is likely to be more effective.) And I’d go simple. And only use Obsidian when it seems obviously helpful.

At its heart, Obsidian is a program for making notes,
that allows you to make links between those notes (allows is not the same things as having to make links.
With plugins offering an immense number of features and automations. (constituting a black hole for the procrastination inclined).

It’s not a todo system. You can leverage any number of tasklist and calendar features into it, but if that’s all you want, you’d save a lot of time just using a purpose optimised program like Todoist.

There are many choices to be made even if just using Obsidian for making occasional notes. Group them with folders? Or tags? Or just search? Or a network of links? Manual or automate?

If I were you, I’d go simple until you have achieved a gain in productivity or knowledge management or reduced stress that exceeds the time you have spent trying to achieve it. And then build from there.

And there’s no reason why you can’t achieve more productivity with separate programs for notes and task management, so don’t feel that you have to do it all in Obsidian.