I have a setup in my Obsidian which is Zettelkasten with a few tweaks.
I take notes mostly about stuff I read, but this process usually has a HUGE friction for me. So I collect some literature notes while reading, but then I never have enough time and energy to think about them and turn them into permanent notes, and then to actually go and type out those notes, so the literature notes end up just sitting in my inbox.
But a lot of people here have over a thousand (or even multiple thousands) notes. I assume they aren’t all about what you read, and some are just about your thoughts.
How do you find the mental resource to go and write a note each time you have a new idea?
Interesting question and one I have also recently experienced. I use Obsidian for everything after being introduced to it last year. I also write notes on books I read or podcasts I listen to. This aspect is similar to your application. And yes there is friction, it is necessarily so because you’re adding a step that does not need to be there.
I think the key to overcoming friction is finding ways to fit it into your workflow. As an example, I read before bed on my kindle. I highlight the important ideas etc on it. The next morning, I go through my highlights from the previous night and type it into Obsidian over breakfast. Another important way to overcome friction is to keep it manageable, so maybe write notes after shorter bouts of reading? After a few weeks it becomes routine. Andrew Huberman speaks a lot habit forming and overcoming friction if you’re interested in a more informative and science based approach, just google him.
I write in the mornings, as soon as I get up. Sometimes I write for 30 minutes, sometimes for two or three hours. I begin with my journal to record experiences and ideas. It ‘loosens me up’ and gets me into the flow of uninhibited writing. And it usually leads me to create or edit more notes. I read on Kindle and make notes there. I’ve tried making an audio recording after each chapter of the book that I’m now re-reading and embedding the audio in a note. This is quite time-consuming and I doubt it will last. I’ve been using Obsidian for nearly a year and I’m retired.
I have given myself permission to write very sketchy first drafts and to have notes in various stages of development. This removes the obligation I felt to produce ‘good notes’ at the outset, which saves a me lot of time and spares the self-criticism. To support this I have adapted [Maggie Appleton]'s ideas (A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden) and use:
note is a nut (kernel of an idea in the form of a sentence fragment or jumble of words)
note is a seedling (barely developed but growing)
note is budding (developing but needs more work)
note is evergreen (needs occasional tending)
I use daily notes and have them open throughout the day on all my devices, so all notes tend to be fleeting throughout the day. In that sense, I don’t set aside “time” for writing notes every day, I just write notes every day. Then on Saturday I go to the local cafe and refactor all my daily notes into their relevant project or topics, and summarize a weekly note. In terms of routine, I try to pair my note-making with leisure time. Once my slip box or inbox gets overwhelming I will usually designate a task block to organize and refactor topic-specific notes as necessary.
Analog reading notes are tough on time for transferring between real-life books and Obsidian. If you’re reading digital articles though, there are a lot of integrations between read-it-later apps and Obsidian. I mostly use Matter and Zotero with their respective plugins.
I keep two different super large notes that I keep as a way to prioritize what information to actually turn into notes.
First one is called “Note Ideas” , where I put ideas I come across and think are interesting but I haven’t expanded upon or not sure if I should make it into its own note. An example of this
"## Freedom needs Restrictions
Create “Freedom needs restriction” note that ties into the ideas from the Freedom book by Sebastian Junger. Especially the idea that you don’t have freedom without restriction. Lessons learned from that book?"
These just sit in my vault until I come across the idea again in a different context. When this happens, it tells me that this idea is worth turning into its own note.
The second super large note type I have is “Text Messages to Self (2023)”. Which just has the day or Month as a header and then bullet points of ideas or links that I thought were interesting and texted myself. I usually will integrate an idea from a bullet point if it applies to a note that I create at a future point. For example under April 2023 header I have a bullet point that says “What causes people to have nightmares on a neurological level?”. If I ever create a note about nightmares I will search “nightmares” in my vault and then integrate this question into the note.
The idea is to find ways you can record information without getting hung up on having to keep an elaborate note on the topic and then only really process the information when you find yourself coming to it repeatedly. This cuts down on the amount of mental energy. So every morning before work I take 30 minutes to process new text messages to myself and to elaborate on existing notes I find myself returning to.
Well, notes don’t have to be fully fleshed out articles. They’re just notes. They can be a paragraph, a few lines, one sentence.
I rarely write full notes in one sitting. I mostly, the moment I get an idea, quickly open Obsidian, and in a new note or an “Ideas” note, I just type whatever I came up with. Usually one sentence. Like, “the Aftermath is actually not a sentient rock, but the ‘crystallized’ soul of Sulla.”
That one’s for writing. For taking notes on things I read, I like to have Obsidian open as I read, but I try not to take notes. Sounds conflicting, but I only want notes on things that match the all of the following conditions:
I will need this information OR I want this information and will get utility out of it
I won’t remember this unless I write it down.
I haven’t written this down already.
Because notes on anything else are pointless. They’re nice to look at, but they won’t help me.
Shortening notes to only what’s needed frees up a lot of time for other things and more important notes. Personally, I like to write at night. There’s something special about sitting in a dim room, seeing stars outside your window, and watching white words appear on a black screen. But I write short, quick things Obsidian throughout the day, whenever I have a thought I feel like I’ll want to remember later.
Writing in a different environment, like a park, a library, or the closet also increases productivity. The closet in particular is less comfortable, but it really gets the writer juices going.
What an absolutely brilliant idea! Sometimes I get lost with new entries, like a fleeting note, that I’m not sure where they ended up. If I create like a Master note for certain types of recurring thoughts/ideas, they’ll be centralised rather than randomly spread about, thanks @lizardmenfromspace
Such a great and simple checklist to retain the sanity!