Paralysis by analysis



A year after deciding I would use Obsidian/Zettelkasten for knowledge management, I am sliding further and further into indecision and an inability to act. Hamlet has nothing on me.

I am still asking myself the same questions over and over …

  • Is this one atomic idea, multiple ideas, or none?
  • Is this too obvious to even count as an idea?
  • How do I know if this should be a backlink or an outgoing link?
  • Am I creating too many links?
  • Do my links even make sense?
  • Why isn’t staring at the graph telling me anything useful?

And that was a non-exhaustive list. I still believe these tools have the potential to help me to be more productive, but I don’t seem to be able to break out of the inertia caused by my (possibly) over-thinking things.

If other forum members have experienced the same problem, I’d love to know how you addressed it.



If you are thinking too much about what you do, I think there are two solutions.

  1. The system you use must have a specific, clear and systematic structure so that you can say, “Is this right? Did it happen this way?” so that you don’t have to deal with questions like.
  2. It is the opposite of the first system. There are no very clear rules, there is no specific system. As you use obsidian for your purpose, you develop your own working order. In this way, you don’t have to deal with the same questions. In short, over time you start to develop a system of your own.

In short, I think your style should be more on the edge in terms of being systematic and organized, and I don’t think that you should have a system in between.
For this reason, you can use this system that I developed myself, which is more suitable for the first option, which is clear what to do in a step by step manner. However, I made this system for making academic notes. If you are not using Obsidian for this purpose, I still recommend you to read it. Because I prepared it using many sources, maybe you can find answers to your questions in the Zettelkasten system in summary form.


I think these are very good questions. It’s often hard to know when to stop in knowledge management. When do I know if my notes are too sophisticated to be worth it?

My approach to answer this type of questions is based on my objectives. I feel like the most important tool to say “I should stop here” is to know what I take notes for.

I’m a knowledge worker. In my case, the reason why I make notes is to resurface information when I need it. The gap between storage and retrieval will vary from note to note, and goes from minutes to years. In the minute range, I have the link to that table I’m working out today. In the year range I have my higih-level notes on “algorithm X” and its caveats, in case I need them for a new problem moving forward.

The notes I take for a few hours are not very elaborate, and I mostly make them directly in my daily notes. The notes that I store for years need much more work and context written in them, so they stay usable for longer.

I hope I summarized my approach well enough. Now I’ll try and use it to answer your questions:

Is this one atomic idea, multiple ideas, or none?

I would ask: am I likely going to want to retrieve these informations together, or do I want to be able to retrieve them separately? If I likely want to retrieve them together, they are probably atomic.

Is this too obvious to even count as an idea?

When you want to retrieve it, are you very likely to know it by heart, or do you think there’s a chance you might need your note to remember it fully?

How do I know if this should be a backlink or an outgoing link?

I think this is a matter of preference. The reason I like backlinks is related to the analysis paralysis you express: it makes it less important where you store information. If I want to write something down but I’m not sure where, I just put it in my daily note. I make sure I link to all the relevant topics such as “Transformer Architecture” or “Gradient Descent”. When I want to resurface it, I look at the corresponding backlinks.

Am I creating too many links?

Are the links making information retrieval difficult? Digital tools like Obsidian are very resilient to a lot of annotation, because you can always filter it through search later. I tend to link more than less.

Do my links even make sense?

Only you can tell :wink: Do they help you surface information when/if you need it?

Why isn’t staring at the graph telling me anything useful?

My graph doesn’t mean much either. At best, its clusters tell me what areas of notes are heavily interconnected in my vault. Other people have better use of the graph, but they tend to be very deliberate about the links they place. I tend to link a lot and not worry about the graph too much. Also, my graph view is a lot nicer when I remove some parts of my vault, like my daily notes.

In conclusion, I advise you not to worry too much about it. Information management is hard, and it is why we need software like obsidian. Do what feels reasonable, you can always edit text files later.



Ask yourself:

  • What am I trying to do? What are these notes meant to help me accomplish? If your goal is vague like “learn about computers”, your notes will be hard to manage. A more concrete goal like “make a note-taking app” or “choose a music player” will make it clearer if your setup is helping or hindering.

  • How will I want to access this info and what will make it easy? If you think you’ll want to visit a note after looking at the current note, link to it. If not, don’t. If it turns out you should have linked it, you can do it later — and you can also use search.

Start simple and only add complexity when needed. In the extreme, you could start with a single note and only split it when it becomes awkward to use (but you’ve already started so start from where you are). Then only add folders when (if) not having them becomes awkward, etc. Only add plugins when something inconveniences you and the fire app doesn’t have a solution.

It may help to try different approaches in different parts of your vault, or designate a section for experiments. Keep backups. That’s super important in general, but also it will make it easier to undo changes to your system.

Your system will change over time. Even if you think you’ve finally found the perfect setup — it’s going to change later. That’s normal, and recognizing that may help reduce your worry about whether you’re doing things “right”. The right setup is whatever works for you.

That’s normal. :smile: The graph is mostly useful for making pretty pictures. Some people find it useful for other things but many don’t. I don’t use it myself. I hear the filters can help and local graph view is more useful.


These are all really thoughtful and helpful answers. Thank you.


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Precision linking is the main stumbling block for me.

While it is easy to create links with tags and metadata, such links are typically generic and fuzzy. With 6,000 notes in my main vault, it is impossible for me to remember which note or notes a new note should really have a close link to.

The benefit of this is that associations can be so loose and free that they create interrelations that might otherwise remain discrete.

The drawback is that I usually have to wade through a sea of non-specific connections to find the eureka link that I should have made originally.

I really need a third brain that tells my first brain where the fundamental links in my second brain should be.


I should also have said: if you link to something that you didn’t really need to, that’s probably fine (unless it inconveniences you somehow).

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The best answer is this: you’re simply procrastinating.

I don’t know what’s your job but I’m 100% sure you can get things done without obsidian or any other software.

My suggestion: create a folder on you desktop called “my things” or what you want. Create a sub folder for every area/project.

From now on you only use plain .txt files, if you have an idea or something to write down you either add to an existing .txt or you create a new one and allocate it properly.

Now create a .txt inside the main directory called “things I need.txt”, everytime you wish for a feature in this system, or if there’s something that bother you, you write it there and then forget about it and go back working.

Use this for a month, then take yourself a free sunday, read at the “thing I need.txt” file and see what applications may or may not suits your needs.

I just saved you mental pain and precious time. Have a good one.

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No, I’m not procrastinating. My job involves digesting large amounts of information and research related to one specific topic and turning it into journal articles, lectures, presentations and papers that feed into the criminal justice system. I’m getting it done.

My hope was that Obsidian would not necessarily make the job easier but would help me to find insights that I might otherwise miss. I think it probably can, but I’m not there yet.


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What I was trying to say is that you shouldn’t waste so much mental energy for something that should ease it.

I’m sure there were too-notch people who did your job in the past without any fancy software.

Just install obsidian, keep it simple and see if you can use it, if not no biggie, move on.