I am someone who relies extensively on folders and sub-folders to keep my files organized. Maybe it’s because computers are designed like that, or simply because software developers love to sort source files into a tidy hierarchy of folders. When I began to use Obsidian, I naturally kept my notes like I usually do for my software projects: one folder for each topic or theme that can be optionally split into sub-folders. Your usual tree-like structure that everyone knows.
But when I started to use Obsidian for more and more things and added notes from different topics, I quickly bumped into some problems:
- Some notes can logically be assigned to multiple folders. An example would be a page about a specific software design pattern with a code snippet in C#: I want to put this note in both my
IT/Design Patternsfolder and my
IT/Csharpfolder. Obviously, I can’t do it without duplicating the file. So I needed to make a choice.
- I wasted so much time micromanaging my notes, I would make big changes in my vault to accommodate new topics and keep that somewhat logical for my brain.
- I used tags to categorize my notes, but they were mostly duplicate information (each note in the
IT/Csharpfolder would have a
it/csharptag). The only useful tags I had were some meta tags for to-dos and priority management.
I decided to experiment with something new with my work vault: what if I completely ignore folders? What if I just don’t think about how my notes are hierarchized?
I decided to make a rather brutal change in my workflow: I deactivated the
Files core plugin entirely. No more folders and micromanagement since I can’t access the file pane. Every note will be in the root folder of my vault, and I will not care at all. A truly blind vault.
This workflow simply liberated my brain from the burden of folder hierarchy, and I gained so much mental space to think about the content of my notes instead.
This is the set of rules that I use to keep some kind of organization within this bizarre concept:
- The only folders I am allowed to use are an attachment one (it’s not necessary, but I wanted to separate markdown files and other formats) and a template one because Obsidian needs to know where to find templates. All existing and newly created notes are put in the root folder of the vault. I deactivated the
- I use tags instead of folders to categorize notes. This allows me to be more flexible: one note can only be in one folder, but I can assign as many tags as I want to the same note.
- I need to link my notes more to connect my thoughts and allow some exploration when I read one of them.
There is a fine line between too few and too many links. Too few, and your thoughts are not connected, and you will lose some insights about your vault. But too many, and you will have what I call the Wikipedia effect: while you read, your eyes stop at each link, and you’ll lose your focus. When there are too many links, I sometimes unconsciously stop reading and wander to other notes, forgetting what I was doing.
Of course, you can tweak it however you want to fit your way of doing things, only the first rule is really important for a blind vault.
My first thought was to use MOCs to categorize my notes. But I kind of hate them: creating, maintaining, and using them add too much friction. The few MOCs I made are currently rotting in my vault, never accessed or updated. If you are, unlike me, a great advocate of MOCs and are interested in trying them with the concept of a blind vault, please share your experience!
The best friend I made on this adventure is the search plugin. My vault isn’t a hierarchy of thoughts anymore, it’s the search engine of my brain. I developed two processes:
- If I want to search for a specific note, I simply type some keywords in the search bar.
The search plugin have a lot of “hidden” functions to optimize searches. For instance, you can exclude words with a minus:
foo -barwill output notes that contain the word
foobut no reference to
- If I want to make a broader search, I use the
tag:options to specify some tags and browse the results.
Of course, you can use a combination of both, searching for a word within notes containing a specific tag.
95% of the time, I successfully find what I want, but for the other 5%, there are only two possibilities:
- The good one: what I search for doesn’t exist, and I need to fill that gap. My workflow is to take the time to create and fill the new note right away with content, because if I don’t do it now, I know the future me will not do it. But you can use a sort of TODO system if that suits you.
If you create a note within a blind vault, but want to fill it later, I strongly recommend writing at least a couple keywords inside the body of the note. Your future self, searching for this note, will thank you.
- The bad (but not really) one: you are sure that you have already written about this specific thing, but you cannot find it. No worries, if you can’t find it, it is simply that the note is not about what you are thinking or is simply too incomplete to have any useful information. You can safely create a new note like described above.
Notes need maintenance: you need to read them again, update them, and link them more. But it’s hard to explore a vault without a file pane… But Obsidian gave us other tools!
Random noteplugin. I use this plugin once a day to open a random note a use some time to think about how to improve it: Can I add a link to a new note? Can I make the title clearer? Some information may require an update?
- If I want to connect thoughts, I use the graph view. I always activate the tags in the filter section, so I can easily see which topics are related, which are alone, which notes connect which tags and investigate why, …
Using a blind vault, I developed some tips and tricks to ease my workflow:
- Use bookmarks! You can bookmark everything: notes, headings, blocks, even searches. I bookmarked some of my most frequently accessed notes and searches.
- For power users, you can use Regex to search your notes (if you want to learn that, go grab some shots of vodka, you’ll need it). I sometimes use this one:
/(?<!\[)foo(?![#|\]])/to search notes that contain
foothat are not inside wiki links.
- I use nested tags to categorize my notes (like
it/csharp/dotnet) to have more flexible tag searches.
- If you use nested tags and try to gain some insights with the graph, you may find frustrating that nested tags are not linked (for instance
it/csharpare related but not linked)! I found a new plugin that adds this feature.
- If you want to move a note inside the template folder, you can use the
Move current file to another foldercommand, which is accessible even with the
Filescore plugin disabled.