I'm just getting started and it seems like questions are more valuable than answers

You find yourself staring at a blank obsidian vault.
You have been eaten by a grue.

I think I have a way to get started with obsidian, but feedback would likely save me some time and effort.

Tags/links/folders/MOCs are search optimizations

premature optimization is the root of all evil

  • Donald Knuth

So I won’t use any search optimization until searching is a clear, measurable performance problem.

So I will:

  1. Begin with a note for every question/problem I may want to (even superficially) research.
  2. As I research, create small atomic notes with no tags/links/folders/etc.
  3. When those notes are hard to consume (making it slower to continue my research), add tags/links
  4. When I’m sick of typing the same metadata blocks over and over, I’ll use templates

I suspect this is where I’ll start to see some surprising patterns emerge.

Is this a strategy anyone else is using? I’d love to hear about it.


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I agree that premature optimization is the root of all evil, but I also think it is debatable wether or not links are optimizations.

One of the most important values that were only made tangible to me only after several months of linking is the serendipity and the feeling of connecting the dots (a.k.a insight).

In this respect, linking, or more precisely, the act of writing densely connected atomic notes, isn’t a form of optimization, but an empirically proven process that helps facilitate insights.

Your approach seems reasonable though.


Ironically, I am also in the very infant stages of PKM. Getting started for me, was also the hardest part.

What I have found:

  • get started
  • write notes
  • make connections (tags and backlinks)
  • things will happen

A brief description of what has happened for me:

Getting started I was doing some research tagging and backlinking in my notes. There were a couple areas of interest and little did I know, they would ever relate to each other. They were complete opposites. The light went off, so to speak seeing a connection from a tag and I went off on a new tangent.

Also, other things that you write about, you will find many different aspects relating to that subject, thus creating new subject matter.

I am only a little more than a week in and it is becoming an exciting knowledgeable journey.

I have written and acquired enough information to move onto my next step in the journey, MOC’s (indexes).

The whole point of this reply, just get started, I spent too much time trying to figure out a system, rather than inputting. As you input you will ultimately find, or figure out what works best for you.

It is a journey. Everyone’s is different, likewise so is there system.

Good luck with your journey!


@nate13oom Yes this is in fact exactly how I got started, and now a few months later my system has grown considerably and entirely organically to incorporate an entire workflow, different note types, templates, and two distinctly different levels of MOCs.

When I started I arrived at exactly the same conclusions as you (except for links, they are critical) and actively resisted adding features until I found a need for them. This was an intentional application of the agile development principles e.g. don’t plan too far ahead because YAGNI, etc.

The result is my systems works for me and feels like a natural extension of my mind in many ways, precisely because it grew organically and changed based on actual needs.

A few bits of advice:

  • Links are important – forward links especially with transition sentences showing why the link is relevant. Backlinks are far less valuable, and tags largely useless to me because they form such weak associations. (ok this is one of 200 notes on “#topic” – so what?)
  • Research and understand how others’ systems are constructed so you can learn principles and concepts to apply to your own, but don’t try to prematurely apply them. Instead, learn the principles so that when the time comes you can recognize the same/similar problems in your own system and have some idea of various solutions and their pros/cons. This can help you pick a solution instead of only blindly experimenting.
  • But don’t be afraid to blindly experiment either. :slight_smile: Install the git plugin and make your vault a git repo pushing to a private Github repo and set it to auto-commit and push every X minutes. Create git tags before & after major changes to your system (and be sure to push them to remote) so you can always roll back if you want. Having the safety net is a big deal.
  • Make a note about your system and keep updating it as you make decisions on how you want to proceed. Start simple and just briefly state the major components of your system and how they work together. Heck even have a section for decisions and timestamp them so you can see why you made the decision and what effects you expect to encounter as a result of that decision.

As my system has matured my notes which were originally rather sprawling and rambling are tending to become more compact and atomic. This was a natural progression that I learned over time. You may see the same results, or you may see wildly different results that work better for you. That’s the great thing, that by adopting this approach you form a system that is uniquely tailored to your needs and your working and thinking styles.


I think I agree here, too. I didn’t realize that you can create a link to a note that doesn’t exist, so it’s a really clean flow. I’m still thinking I might delay layering on metadata until I’m having trouble finding related items.

I think you really nailed it here. I’ve been watching content creators and it’s tempting to delay writing until I have my organization just right. I think that’s the trap I want to avoid. I also want to avoid borrowing another person’s organization. It seems potentially self-defeating.


I’m, fascinated and encouraged that your initial sprawl seems to have gained focus. That’s really exciting.

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Great discussion — I hope to see more.

Cosmic graphs and picture-perfect vault structures scratch a certain itch. I’m better for seeing them and hearing the workflows behind it. At this stage, though, it mostly overwhelms.

My workflow is simple. I reflect on the lectionary and saints of the day. Sometimes this inspires the creation of permanent notes, sometimes not. Sometimes I have ideas for permanent notes “out of the blue.” I also take literature notes; they, likewise, can inspire permanent notes.

I link them together when it seems helpful, but I don’t link everything. I rarely use the backlinks panel. I use tags for scripture references and to denote the type (permanent, literature, concept) and action related to the note — create, revise, explore, summarize (progressive summarization of copy/pasted passages in a lit note).

After reading Rank and File by Robert Minto, I decided to be explicit about the questions and themes of my work. I made that into a note and transcluded it into my Home note. The major questions will each become an MOC.

I too am pleased to see the growth not just of the files, but of my ability to ask questions, read things critically, make useful connections OUTSIDE of Obsidian.

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I’ve been watching content creators

That’s great, definitely learn from others. But remember, there is a difference between “building a system that gets blog / video clicks so I get revenue” and “building a system that actually works.”

See: Thread by @andy_matuschak on Thread Reader App – Thread Reader App

(in response to a “challenge” for various note taking proponents to do a live “note-off” of sorts)

I read Minto’s article a while back and my basic reaction was the author fundamentally misunderstood the entire point of a Zettelkasten.

This sounded like a direct solution to the problem I had tried to overcome with spaced repetition. I did not need to stuff my notes back into my birth-brain to make them useful, not if I could somehow organize them so that they functioned as a second brain (as a popular self-help course puts its). What if my note-taking system could think for me?

That last line is key: What if my note-taking system could think for me?

Answer: It can’t.

This romantic idea needs to be squashed. The Zettelkasten doesn’t “think for you” it enables you to think more deeply. That’s a huge difference.

It sounds like the author fell into the Collector’s Fallacy – collecting and linking between things that may be useful rather than thinking deeply about them and adding links where warranted. A zettelkasten is not a wiki, it is not an encyclopedia, it is not a dumping ground. It is a place for curated thought.

He seems to get the fundamental point at the end of the essay, and I’m sure by that point he would appreciate Luhmann’s statement regarding the effort of work needed in the zettelkasten:

The Zettelkasten is much more effort and time consuming than writing books.

But because of that effort Luhmann also reported that writing books was relatively easy because he had so many things to write about. It wasn’t that the books “wrote themselves” but he would “ask” the zettelkasten for topics to write about and would be bombarded with ideas and theories and new lines of thought – all of which he had written into it gradually over the years._

All the zettelkasten does is shift the intellectual effort leftward in the process. Attempts to eliminate that effort will result in a failure but that is not the fault of the system.

I too am pleased to see the growth not just of the files, but of my ability to ask questions, read things critically, make useful connections OUTSIDE of Obsidian.

Yes! I discovered this almost immediately as well.

The tool (Obsidian) and the method (for me, a zettelkasten-style approach) establishes a structure in which we can organize our thoughts, and that extends beyond the written note.

The more we adopt the tool & method the more we trust it, and the more it begins to shape our thought processes as we seek to pre-screen new info to find ways to incorporate it into our trusted system. This leads us to become more analytical overall.