How do you manage "pornographic" productivity in obsidian?

Maybe it’s some kind of hobby. Some people enjoy playing games, some people can talk for hours about fishing or politics. And we spend time here talking about notes, organization and productivity. Because we are all social beings interested in it. And there’s nothing wrong with that (when it’s in a moderate amount, of course :grinning:). We got time. We can’t be 100% productive-working-robots all day. (truth is, we should not even try to be like that, but that’s thing for different topic)


I suppose, depending on your perspective, it’s either straightforward socialising or an orgy.

What it isn’t is improving your productivity.

But, if people are focused on personal productivity, they can take advantage of such conversations to do so.

Which implies that generous
contributors are teaching altruistically.

Yeah exactly, that book was very helpful for me. I think process of capturing ideas is as important as the PKB that notes goes into it.

That looks like a very promising solution, unfortunately I don’t have any apple device, so I have to find something like this on Android.

That would be very nice if possible, but I tried it and very soon found out that slowing reading down for the first read is very frustrating for me. So one time of reading without any burden and the second one for annotation.

Yes but as good as that book is it is kinda out of date in some regards. I wish something like that was available for digital age. It is like figuring out how to use Zettlekasten method via computer.

I tried to post about this, but nobody paid attention because I didn’t use the word “pornographic.” :grinning:


@davecan I’ll be interested to hear your longer term opinion of using Nebo for iPad note taking. I went through a Nebo phase, probably 2 years ago, and at first was very taken by the accuracy of handwriting to text conversion, and I thought that’s what I wanted. I came to realize that this conversion made me unhappy, because my notes no longer looked like my notes. That is, a part of my note taking process involves the physical act of writing, sketching ideas, etc., and I form a picture in my mind of particularly relevant – perhaps “evergreen” in Obsidian-speak – notes. Nebo had the effect of erasing this link in my brain, so I ultimately dropped it in favor of GoodNotes. GN maintains my handwriting, but hides the writing-to-text in the background so you can still do remarkably effective searches.

I think this notion of the note creation act has broader relevance in the context of this discussion. The act of creating and curating notes to some extent is the work of PKM, so perhaps the porn label isn’t fair. I think some amount of care in the look and feel of your notes can help cement them in the place that matters, which is in your brain. Notes that I’ve spent real time on have left a mark in my brain, and are more likely to pop up when I’m thinking.

That said, it’s helpful to hear how other people approach this. I’ve been using Obsidian now for 9+ months, and had to try a variety of things before I settled on a flow that works for me and feels natural. It has taken some practice and experimentation…


This resonated strongly with me. I was strongly constrained by the following feeling: Before I can start with my PKM, I need to know as much as possible about Obsidian and the associated best practices as well as the zettelkasten method before…

Specifically, I was concerned with the following obstacles:

A) Usage of tags

  • First question I had : use tags to group topics?!
    • but: clear choice of keywords necessary
  • rather: use tags to declare status of the note
    • fleeting-note
    • evergreen-note
    • daily-note
    • meeting-note
    • question
  • Grouping notes via MOCs

B) Metadata

  • Should I include the metadata after YAML front matter?
    • but then I can’t filter e.g. in the graph view…
  • Instead rather have own section with metadata?
  • I still don’t know how to best embed metadata in a zettelkasten… :neutral_face:

C) Number of vaults

  • A single vault containing everything (raw ideas, fleeting notes, evergreen notes, meeting notes, …)?
  • Or one vault with meeting notes, literature notes, … and a separate zettelkasten?

D) Filenames

I have now switched to just going ahead and working with two vaults. In the first vault I collect my literature notes, meeting notes and all other notes. Here I have an inbox where I triage. Promising notes then go into second vault which is set up according to zettelkasten method.

However, there is still a certain ambiguity inside of me: Can’t you still improve something? How do other people approach the matter?

I’m also still inhibited by the fear that one day I have to go through all my notes and make systematic changes. But here I always try to calm down: first collect 50-100 evergreen notes and then see…


I’m not wedded to Nebo, it just looked really interesting given its ability to convert to plain text for import into literature notes. I’ve not tried GoodNotes but like you I also prefer my own handwritten notes. Given your description of it I may go ahead and buy it to try it out since its only $7.99.

Are you able to copy the handwritten notes as plain text to paste into literature notes on the Mac? So far I see you can convert the notes then copy, but that defeats the purpose of keeping the handwritten version. I suppose it would be possible to copy or duplicate the note and then convert it so the original isn’t lost, but wondering if there is a more seamless approach.

Notes that I’ve spent real time on have left a mark in my brain, and are more likely to pop up when I’m thinking.

This is fair. The strongest notes in my zettelkasten are the “true evergreens” that are highly polished and contain my most refined thoughts.

@waltejon I was very much the same way when I started. What I did was force myself to make a reasonably simplistic and reversible decision in each case and move forward: single vault, no tags, no folders, etc. Add each only as true value is identified.

Now I have two vaults, one for zettelkasten and one for project management (new, still fiddling with it) whereas previously they were merged. Over time I realized the two concerns were conflicting and creating a lot of mental tension and friction. Separating them allows me to treat them as completely different concerns, with different sets of plugins and workspaces and workflows. For example, in my zettelkasten I barely use tags and am very judicious in links, and use virtually no YML front matter at all, while in the project/PKM vault I am using both tags and YML much more and becoming quite promiscuous in linking, slowly becoming more like what you see in Roam. This is because the two separate concerns each encourage and reward the two different behaviors.

Even the filenames differ. My zettelkasten has a unique ID at the end of the phrase-based note title to help prevent accidental note collisions destroying knowledge (e.g. if I create a new note from an external automated tool like Alfred) while there is no such need in my PKM vault since it is almost entirely based around work project management.

But here I always try to calm down: first collect 50-100 evergreen notes and then see…

:point_up_2:This. I have some 800 notes in my ZK and climbing (300+ source/lit notes with 800+ links in them, 322 permanent/evergreen notes with 1,000+ links in them, and a bunch of ancillary notes like MOCs etc) and the struggle is always there, but once you have a set you start finding patterns that work for you. Those may not be the patterns recommended by others, and that’s ok.


If you haven’t already seen it: GitHub - mgmeyers/obsidian-embedded-note-titles only part of what that thread is about, but I found it helps

This is great wisdom, thanks for sharing. I may do same. One has to be clear on the goals of each.

It’s worth mentioning that for several months I was adamant on having One Vault To Rule Them All.™ The idea was that I only have one brain. It turns out (in my case) it eventually created too much friction. (at the start having two vaults created too much friction because it reduced my ability to “just write notes and link them”)

If I’d stuck to my guns on the single vault I wouldn’t have been able to explore the other plugins I had disregarded as “unnecessary” (from the ZK point of view) but which are now proving damn useful in my PKM context.

I do however miss the ability to easily link to the notes in my ZK sometimes. While writing a note in the PKM I tried several times to quickly link to a note only to realize it is in the other vault. Hard habit to break. It’s annoying but not the end of the world, I can just write “see X note in ZK” or whatever.

But just something for folks to be aware of, when you split vaults you start to run into that. To me the gain in capability far outweighs the cost.

@davecan With regard to copying handwritten notes, I’ve settled on treating them the same as I would a source PDF. I’ll frequently do a screen-cap of a relevant section and turn it into a PNG file, which I then link to other notes. In that sense, my handwritten notes are a rough draft of what eventually become more synthesized ideas, and I like to have the picture of my handwriting around as an artifact. For my work – math-heavy R&D engineering – it might be hand sketches of system block diagrams or a first pass math derivation that ultimately gets cleaned up with MathJax.

With regard to multiple vaults, I had originally thought I would have at least two, one for work and one for personal, but ultimately settled on one. I only have one brain, and my day involves task switching between work and personal related thinking. Easier to have it all in one place. My Daily Notes containing a mix of everything I’ve got going on, separated out by section headers, and I link those sections back to a master page – maybe a MOC, but less curated, more chronological – for each topic. To me, these are the two views that make the most sense: the day view of where I’m at right now, and the long view on any particular subject, where I’m trying to keep track of background threads of ideas that I may only revisit periodically.


I ended up splitting into two vaults simply because the ability to use different plugins with different configurations in the two vaults means I can tailor each as needed. My work project management PKM vault relies heavily on automation while my ZK is almost entirely manual.

This right here. I find myself unable to think freely unless I separate my tasks/projects from my PKB. I choose to use a task manager, but anything that keeps you on task is what you should use. Of course, finding a task manager I liked was another spiral I spent way too much time with!

That said, I do keep a project list (separate folder) but it’s there only as a way to track what happened, not what I need to do - along with conducting a post-mortem to record lessons and knowledge gained during the project. Sometimes they are blank until the project ends.

For me, tags symbolize an action: todo, finish, triage, research, etc., and I use them incredibly sparingly. If something requires any sort of collection, I use links instead. So far, I’ve been calling them MOCs, but I’ve seen the same from others who use @Topic or something else to identify a theme or overarching topic.

Just my current structure. Again, as long as you understand your locic, no system is wrong.

So many great inventions and breakthroughs in the past were made without obsidian, without internet. And even today, a lot of smart people don’t use any knowledge management tools, and yet they are able to produce brilliant thoughts and ideas with just paper… and their brain. That makes me think that you can organize knowledge, but knowledge has to exist first. It has to come from you. And no plugin will help with that.

That resonates. But in an interview with Tony Frewin, Stanley Kubrick’s long-time assistant, he said of the legendary filmmaker:

He used to say anything that saved time was worth its weight in gold. The rest of us were sort of luddites, but he wasn’t. In 1980 he bought us all IBM green screens. These were the first PCs that were generally available, little 12" screens. You didn’t even have a hard drive, you had two floppies. And Stanley said, “This is the future, this is what we’ll be using.” And I told him, “No, I like to type something and take out the piece of paper and see what’s on it,” and he said, “No, listen, you’ve got to get rid of that, this is the future, it’s arrived now.” He wasn’t at all conservative in that way; we had fax machines before anybody else did. People would say, “What the fuck do you want a fax machine for?” But he’d grab anything that saved time and made things look better.

Kubrick used NASA’s lenses for the Apollo missions for his film Barry Lyndon with the same enthusiasm. I have reason to believe that this tendency may be a trend for other pioneers in other fields as well.

The invention of writing made possible many paper-brain advancements possible (in literature, science, math— Inventing the Hindu-Arabic numerals requires both design genius and mathematical genius) that strictly oral traditions could not.

New telescopes helped support and confirm Einstein’s theories. Though Kepler didn’t need such technology. And sure, there may have been other brilliant theorists and thinkers who didn’t need experiments or technology to cement substantial contributions. But such breakthroughs which did require them enabled many after who only needed paper and their brains. Today, entire fields and breakthroughs in science wouldn’t be possible without computers, the internet, and new technologies.

The interactions between different methods, people and tools are what makes innovation possible. Everything builds on the past, a past filled with tool-making and tool use from our species’s inception. Why should our judicious use of Obsidian/plugins be any different? Isn’t it still possible that we could create conditions for more thought development in less time than equally bright people with only pen and paper?


Interestingly if you watch Matuschak’s recorded live stream where he writes that note you see him grapple with the idea. The key insight he drew was that it’s not just the tool but instead is largely the fact that major breakthroughs typically come from a singular individual who possesses both domain-specific knowledge and design knowledge driving the innovation of that tool or domain forward. If you have designers and domain experts in a room together you will get the designer’s mental model of what the domain experts need, whereas the single individual who possesses both skills can simply drive towards their vision without playing telephone with the designers who likely don’t understand the problem domain to begin with. Love them or hate them these singular individuals drive innovation, both well-known people like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, and also lesser known like Keith Tantlinger the inventor of the shipping container who Sönke Ahrens wrote about in his book, or Paul Cravath who invented the organizational model used at virtually all major professional service firms now. (the partner system like you see in Suits etc)

Everything builds on the past, a past filled with tool-making and tool use from our species’s inception.

We have arguably been cybernetic organisms since reading and writing became near-universal skills allowing us to externalize information to reduce mental load.


Important point. I should watch the rest of Andy’s stream. I liked what I saw.

I don’t really differ on that point but my argument is still a basically “You didn’t build that” variant.

The most conceptually adept of innovators may get away with understanding without deep knowledge but many components of the possibility of innovation are still dependent, in some form or another, on the symbolic inheritance system (section 3.3.4 for details)—the historical (hysteresis), cultural and ecological conditions which create the social context for individual innovation.

It’s not just that these singular individuals say, “Oh, the world/X-industry is doing this all wrong. I’m not just making this better. I can make this problem go away”, they’re still differentiating their breakthroughs on the basis of what came—or didn’t come— before, on solving the personal/societal need; part of the solution is embedded in the problem if you will. In many cases (I’m not claiming this theory is exhaustive yet), the tools/methods of the past serve directly as a catalyst for new solutions.

It’s often how multiple independent discoveries are decentralized (though not equally distributed, like look at Terrance Tao on that list…) and emerge through a kind of self-organization on the basis of technologies (and social technologies) that are ready for the ratchet effect or what Matt Ridley calls the leap:

Matt : This is a phenomenon known as simultaneous invention. And it’s very true of almost any technology you want to look at, whether it’s the telegraph, or the telephone, or the airplane, there are several different people who could have got there about the same time, and sometimes who did get there independently at the same time. This isn’t something sort of weird and supernatural that’s happening. The reason for it is because the contributing technologies to making that technological leap had reached the point where the leap was ripe. It was ready to go. And you can see this very clearly in the case of, for example, the search engine, probably the most useful invention of my lifetime and the one that I use pretty well every day and invented in the early 1990s.

And in relation to Google:

Matt : But if Google has never been founded, we’d still have search engines. There were lots of other companies coming up with it around the same time. It’s not in that sense unique to one individual. It’s a case of simultaneous invention. And you can abolish from history half the people who invented search engines and we’d still have search engines. So it’s a very odd phenomenon. And one of the things I find most puzzling about it, is that looking back it’s obvious that the light bulb would be invented in the 1870s, the search engine will be invented in the 1990s.

Steve Jobs and Elon Musk were no doubt singular, largely self-taught, and instrumental (I can’t speak directly to Ford), but they also still work/ed and collaborate/d heavily with teams. Simultaneous innovation likely could not have occurred for the totality of their contributions in all their dimensions. They are indeed unique. But how they interface with teams is baked into the archetype of their brand of leadership. And that, I think, is indicative of many, though not all, major innovations in our world today.

The synergy of subject-matter expertise and design knowledge for individual agents of innovation is central. But I don’t think a monocausal, Great-Men theory can be plausibly applied to the kind of innovation required for the most pressing problems of the 21st century. Even as a very strong proponent of hybridity and generalism, I still do not think most solutions to today’s truly wicked problems can be solved by a single polymathic engineer or scientist. They will likely also require a community of practice or inquiry. I guess those are the innovations I’m most interested in. Given my broadly decentralized stance, I don’t think purely intellectual, artistic, or academic innovation is any less important or valuable.

But history tends to surprise.

And finally:

Yes! And to a lesser extent, I’d add cave painting to that technology for distributed cognition as well. And one of the brain’s core objectives is control of the social and physical environment. That also has to be a principal cybernetic function in the embryogenesis of man-machine interplay, right? (I know our ability to control machines much better than other living complex adaptive systems probably provided a lot of evolutionary novelty, dopamine hits, etc., but my comp sci knowledge base is too poor to reconstruct the other relevant layers (largely from the systems textbook I recommended to you a while ago)).

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I agree with your points and did not mean to imply that a singular individual alone can affect these major changes. Rather, that it takes a singular individual who can cross multiple domains (systems thinking) to define a singular vision which they then combine with their other talents to motivate and engage teams to effect the change. This is much more the reality in today’s age of complexity than it was at the time of the emergence of Hindu-Arabic numerals. :slight_smile:

So in that sense, singular transformational inventors of today are truly transformational leaders by necessity. It is commonly difficult for example in tech fields for an individual to transition from a technical to a managerial role, so for people like Jobs and Musk to be able to do so and to navigate the waters successfully hints at a much deeper level of cross-domain expertise than may seem apparent on the surface. It is rare for someone with that talent to move into management, far rarer still for them to rise to such a prominent position navigating the various organizational and financial complexities and politics they encounter along the way. But they still rely on large teams of people smarter than they are within each domain to execute their vision.

(and there may be more than one in a given problem domain at a given time, but they are still “unique” enough to stand out, as Newton and Leibniz did)

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Well said. Agreed!

This video is a good summary on this topic: