How do you use tags?

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use tags. At first I was creating tags based on core ideas of the note, but then I realized that I’m just duplicating work by doing this. I store notes in a folder/subfolder structure, so if I have a note in: math > statistics > regression > mynote, then why would I care to have all of these as tags, too? Plus the more notes I create, the more I pollute tags when I do this. Search is already good at returning results based on text. I guess it could be indexed differently on the backend and work faster than search vs plain text, but saving a second or two doesn’t seem like its worth the downsides of this approach.

My most recent thought is to use it only for todos, followups, reviews, and maybe the rare scenarios where some notes may “belong” to multiple folders (but I’m still debating on this one.)

What are some good ideas around tags?


I agree, they tend to pollute and get messy. I don’t use tags as ways of categorizing things. I use a small number of curated tags to act more like special status indicators. For example, I have a tag to indicate that I am still processing the notes for a book. Once I’m done, I would delete that tag.

I wrote some ideas about tags here. I use more than these, but that is the general idea I use for tags.

I do a lot of project management in Notion as well. And there too, I only use the tiniest handful of tags for special purposes. Usually to flag things in a specific and temporary way.

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Hi, @haosmark .

I’ll direct you to another post with my thoughts on this:

For a very long discussion, please see:


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I believe that using tags as categories is cumbersome and prone to fail.
I agree that there is little point adding them as an extra stage in text search.

I considered using them as status indicators, but eventually decided that folders were better for this. (Slightly more work to do, but a better visual indicator of capacity being exceeded eg with overflowing Inbox etc). Ditto folders for categories.

I use inline tags so that I can use them in any program and format. That wouldn’t suit everyone.
For me, the essence is that they are quick and easy. So they are often impressionistic and reflect my thinking at the time I do them. They help with finding but in quite a different way to text search or folders. I add them to copied webpages, quotes, and notes as well as my own writing. I find that they can help with a Luhmannesque trawling backwards and forwards through my notes.

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I guess that if you carefully maintain your tags with a controlled vocabulary, where you keep a glossary or index to define what everything is for and how your system is set up, tags are probably fine. My habit, though, was developed on websites like Goodreads and Twitter and my own blog, and as a result I use tags very liberally to maximize my odds of having overlap between tags so I can make connections. This is an emergent system, and after awhile I start to get a feel for which tags I most commonly use. It works great for trying to manipulate the “you may also be interested in” algorithm and is really quite terrible for meaningful organization (which is what categories are for, on my blog — on the newsletter, the first tag functions as a category, which makes them functionally folders).

I personally am way too lazy efficient to do that well in my vault. When I first started bullet journaling I read all about the value of maintaining an index and then could never bring myself to actually do it. I have colleagues at work who require students to maintain perfectly organized indexes of their notebooks, and while I totally understand why, I could never bring myself to do the same. Eventually I tried the highlighter method, where you categorize different kinds of pages with a little highlighter mark or a piece of washi tape, and it corresponds to a little pull out key in the back of your notebook. I didn’t get very far with that either. These days I just write whatever then cross it out when I’m done with it, and type up anything that is still important when the book gets full.

Trying to maintain a controlled vocabulary used to stress me out — what if I misspelled something or forgot the taxonomy or spend so much time agonizing over the best way to organize things that I never actually created anything? So for a long time I just avoided them entirely. If I used a tag at all, it was as a random note-to-self like “#followup” or “#synthesize” — something I could see in the tag pane, something that would annoy me precisely because it wasn’t neat and orderly. I wound up using the tag pane as a to do list for my notes, instead of following the (extremely sensible, I repeat this advice myself all the time) conventional wisdom that tags are great for helping filter things into or out of the search results.

Then my graph being messy stressed me out, so I tagged every file with the name of the folder it was in. I hated the redundancy, but at least my graph view was navigable. Then the Zootelkeeper plugin, which maintains an automated index of all files in a particular folder, became available. I was able to delete all but one of my “folder tags” (I sort articles into one of two different folders because of how I expanded my newsletter) and now folders do everything for me that folders feel like they “should” be able to do.

I was left with a mismash of notes-to-self that was starting to emerge into a coherent system. So I consolidated it and now here’s what my tags look like:


All but one of those tags are verbs — something I need to do. For me, my tags are the equivalent of putting a post-it note on a page in my journal so I know I still need to do something with that page.


I’m using tags for a couple of things

  1. To classify things that are related to specific areas of focus in the GTD sense. (AOF LambTracker, AOF Personal Health, AOF Sheep Flock and Farm Management, etc.)
  2. To define the type of reference material. (book, dissertation, article, quote)
  3. To use them with the Dataview plugin to get different views of some notes.
  4. For process status (wip, published, draft etc.)
  5. For my use with the Smart Random Note plugin to give me a random note from a group of tagged items.

The only other programs where I use tags are LightRoom which has a very strict hierarchical controlled vocabulary and Omnifocus where I use them for contexts and the same AOF tags I am using in Obsidian.


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