Seeking PKM advice after a long journey of semi-successful vault experiments

Hi there,

I’m looking for some advice on vault structure. I like my newest experiment, but I’m struggling with a couple of aspects and need some input from the community to break my mental impasse. First, I provide at length some context, followed by a structured outline of my roadblocks.

You may remember me from my other public experiments with folders which were largely oriented around folders for sources and limiting hierarchy levels:

Perhaps inevitably, I have returned with yet another new folder hierarchy. This time, I’ve chosen an approach which is extremely loosely based on PARA, but not in that order. I think of it as Areas (compartmentalizing my life) > Activities (a more inclusive term than Projects) > Resources (documents and notes). My rationale for this structure is that “AAR” recognizes that projects live within areas. I.e., the project of improving my fitness would live under “Wellness” or completing my PhD would live under “Work”

I present my folder hierarchy below. The goal of this hierarchy is twofold: (1) to store both non-Markdown documents, such as PDF, Word, etc., i.e., my vault = File Explorer/Finder; and (2) to support greater focus on individual areas of my life.

The layout

  • Adventure
    • Day trips and events
    • Travel

Notes in the “Adventure” area could include travel plans, lists of interesting events I may like to attend, and related documents such as registration forms, PDFs of tickets, etc.

  • Housecraft
    • My house
    • Finances
    • Legal
    • Vehicles

Notes in “Housecraft” are lists of ideas for home renovations/projects and formal documents related, such as marriage licence, receipts for car maintenance, household budget (as spreadsheet), and notes supporting my learning about such things as investing, home maintenance, etc.

  • Relationships

Notes in “Relationships” are focused on close family friends. I keep track of gift ideas, important dates, meaningful memories, and little reminders like that. No non-Markdown documents end up here.

  • Techne
    • Art
      • Calligraphy
      • Sketching
      • Stone-carving
      • Sumi-e
      • Watercolours
      • Woodcarving
    • Collecting
      • Lanterns
      • Hobbit pipes
      • Watches
    • Land skills
      • Gardening
      • Landscaping
      • Masonry
      • Woodworking
    • Literature
      • Books
      • Essays
      • Letters
      • Poems
      • Speeches
      • Short stories
    • Music
      • Song lyrics
      • Ukulele music sheets

“Techne” includes activities (read: “hobbies”) I passively or actively enjoy participating in, such as viewing, responding to, or creating art, learning about or doing some gardening, or personal reading and writing. It may include Markdown notes about these topics, or other files such as images which inspire me, PDFs of music sheets, etc.

  • Work
    • Academic papers
    • Job search materials
    • My business
    • My full-time job

“Work” could include drafts of my CV or job applications (Word docs, PDFs) or Markdown lists containing trackers of jobs I’ve applied to, organizations of interests, notes for ideas about my own business, documents related to my full-time employment (contract, meeting notes), and other related materials.

  • Wellness
    • Mental health
      • Journal
      • Routines
    • Physical health
      • Exercise
      • Meal planning
      • Medical

“Wellness” includes documents and notes related to my physical and mental health, such as Markdown journal entries, PDFs of eye prescriptions, exercise routines and notes about fitness- and mental health-related topics, recipes and meal plans in Markdown, daily routines, etc.

  • Photosynthesis
    • _concepts
    • _ideas
    • _organizations
    • _people
    • _places
    • _toolbox
    • academic
    • classes
    • essays
    • films
    • grey-literature
    • news
    • videos

“Photosynthesis” is somehow my collection of general knowledge notes which may or may not support other areas in the vault (i.e., the areas just mentioned). The folders beginning with an underscore are equivalent to atomic notes or quick and easy references such as AI prompts or links to certain organizations of interest (instead of bookmarks).

I use Zotero to manage my PDFs for academic papers because I like the auto-formatting of bibliographies and the browser extension for quick saving. I do not, however, use Zotero to search for what I need. Instead, I add a fully formatted reference to my knowledge notes, and create notes for sources which contain keywords I can search in Obsidian and a link to the Zotero item.

Challenges

(1a) The “Photosynthesis” area: knowledge notes

This area presents a challenge to me. It creates the feeling of duplication in my mind. As I mentioned above, I am thinking to keep notes related to certain areas in the folders where they are relevant, but I will come across other concepts that perhaps I would prefer to keep in a “zettelkasten” (a term I use loosely since I am not strictly following this management system). I suppose I could simply link or tag knowledge notes to the “life areas” to which they may be relevant, but I’m struggling with indecision on this.

(1b) The “Photosynthesis” area: non-Markdown files

As I mention, I use Zotero to manage sources, whether fiction novels or academic papers. Yet, I have a folder for “Books” in Techne and I do academic research for both work, my own creative writing, and just because I enjoy it. Therefore should I not save these files in the Techne folder? Or should all source notes (containing Zotero links) be kept in Photosynthesis? Or something else?

(2) Folders

I like folders. I think folders are great. I’m 34-years old, so I’m just old enough to have been influenced by this kind of thinking and just young enough to be tempted by no hierarchies at all. Folders help me to feel organized which helps me to think clearly. But what I don’t like about folders is how deeply they can become nested.

For example, Techne > Literature > Books > Book project I’m working on > Notes and files. Such a hierarchy means I would have four levels of folders before actually seeing my notes.

Is there something else I can do that will let me maintain the use of folders but limiting them to two levels before accessing their contents? I suppose a name-based hierarchy is one option, e.g.:

  • Techne
    • Art_Calligraphy
    • Lit_Books

Open to suggestions.

Summary

I like this structure because of the way it lets me organize my life into areas. I don’t like how deeply things can become nested and the indecision I feel with respect to where to save source notes and knowledge notes (areas they are relevant or “zettelkasten”).

I’m struggling to better clarify my question, but would really appreciate any feedback. What do you see here that’s problematic that could be improved?

Thanks!

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Your vault structure sounds comprehensive and thoughtful. One potential improvement might be addressing the depth of folder nesting. Have you considered using tags more extensively to categorize and cross-reference notes instead of relying solely on folders?

I have thought about that, yes, but I am partial to visually organized documents. But you know, I will try what you suggest and see if I can get over my compulsion :slight_smile:

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