Trying to find a good setup for ADHD

Hi! I recently started using Obsidian about a week and some change ago, and I adore it - my first day using it, I spent 5 hours straight taking notes on research for a novel I’m writing, which is a huge deal because I notoriously hate note taking AND research :joy:

I have some classes starting in a couple days and figured I should have a pretty decent setup for those notes - I can be lax and not worry too much about my personal notes like my book, but for school I need to utilize organizational and efficiency skills I unfortunately severely lack. I was wondering if anyone else with ADHD has a setup that works particularly well for them, especially in efficiency, reminders, and helping you stay on task easier? I have a general idea of how I could go about things, but I have very little experience with stuff like this and sadly it’s really difficult for me to imagine something or know where to start if I haven’t done it before.

Thanks in advance to anyone with some advice, and sorry if my post is too rambly!

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I don’t so much have advice as I have reassurance that you really can’t go wrong. I mean this in a sense that by learning all the features and abilities at once could be great and you may get an almost perfect system in place with very little need to change over time. However, the downside of that scenario is that you may not understand the power of all the little subtle flavors of these features in their own right and you may find yourself less flexible and more unaware of potential options when they inevitably present themselves.

When I said I had reassurance it was because in my view both extremes actually are very good outcomes, as are all in between them. For example, I have had more of the other experience of slowly trying out each feature and experimenting with all the options. This unfortunately means not having as much solid experience with a working all around system and the confidence that come with that over time. But that confidence still has began creeping up as I move forward. And yet still, I have been able to make it thus far without settling on a definitive workflow. This means I am constantly building bridges between parts that uniquely originated at different points in my journey and that process in itself has been very valuable. It has helped me tap into some of my good and bad tendencies and in which cases they are helpful or detrimental.

The bottom line is that you will do just fine as long as you have an understanding with yourself that it may not be a quick fix. By continuing to try and then regularly trying to understand and keep track of the successes, any failure can be built into what will later be a very well deserved triumph.

I apologize for being “rambly” (I now have a new word that I very much like. And for the record you were not rambly at all, and if you were, it was in a good way). My final thing I will say is that you should beware that as you start using these systems, sometimes it can be scary to go back to retrieve and recover pieces that you built before them as you continue deciding on a new ways of working. Before you know it you have moved on to five or six iterations of new systems with each containing some duplicate parts but also containing some unique parts that not only feel impossible to uncover, but to also integrate into your new system which is suddenly and shaky ground. You will have the temptation of just leaving those past pieces in the past and not being burdened by them. This is where I want to suggest from experience to absolutely avoid giving into that temptation. Don’t give up until you retrieve and fit every piece of what matters into your current creation. This is where backups can be key and saving versions may be a life saver in avoiding backtracking. I say all of this because I am in this exact process now and continue to surprise myself with the little gems that turn up during these almost archaeological digs into the past.

Good luck. It sounds like you are prepared to have a really good year. I hope it exceeds your expectations. This forum has been very helpful to me and I hope it is for you as well. Welcome, and thank you.

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your response, and it does reassure me a lot. Standing at the edge looking over everything Obsidian is capable of is a bit overwhelming sometimes, so this advice definitely helps!

And for the record, your rambling was also in a good way and I’m glad I could teach you a new word! :blush:

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So I don’t have any personal advice (still finding my feet) but this is from a post in discord by KGB (how do tag?) and I’d also recommend checking out @tallguyjenks channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfhSB16X9MXhzSFe_H7XbHg

[How to use Obsidian: Adult ADHD point of view]

- There is no right or wrong way, start by just taking a note when you come across something you want to remember, don’t worry about the format etc. - Don’t be afraid to change your methods completely. Don’t start again, just keep building in whatever way makes sense to you NOW.

[How I use Obsidian: KGB's point of view]

- I think in terms of topics and hierarchies: Start with a main page. Then have topics, say, Sport, have a main page for that that links to the main page, then have a page for Chess that links back to it, and have any notes on Chess I come up with link back to the chess page. - Main pages become contents pages for the pages lower than it. I then end up with a tree with branches. - Sometimes branches link to other branches. That’s okay too. Link everything that you think connects in some way. [[these links]] are awesome for remembering things because I sometimes lose track of thoughts but I come back to them from another direction. - eg: Say I’m trying to remember what that “Line of best fit” thing is: - AI > Methods > Code > Linear Regression (can’t remember) - Economics > Econometrics > Economic indicators > Tools > Linear Regression (oh that’s right!) - My notes have two things in them: How to find the source material on the topic, and my thoughts on what I learned. I don’t worry about repeating the source material. What I thought about it and what I learned from it is much more important to take down.

+ I hope that helps! Just remember, don't waste time planning how, just start driving: you can't steer a stopped car.
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I also have ADHD. And added to that I’m also researching this topic. So I like to think about ADHD as well.
I have a few straightforward suggestions:

  1. Use an “opportunistic” system. By that I mean that if your system requires you to spend time dedicated to regular maintainance of your vault, that would not at all work. For example MOCs are awesome. But they should not be the way that you mainly organize your vaults. Because they require you to spend time on maintaining those. It can be nice to have on the side.
  2. Use PARA. You can find a lot about PARA if you search for it. Or if you want, I can tell you more in direct. Now, why I’m saying that you need para is that para is pretty straightforward and cognitively minimal. you will have one system all over all of your systems. You will have a projects folder, areas of interest folder, resources and archives. They are pretty action oriented and just by a look at what the folder contains it reminds you what you have to do. And it is pretty rewarding when you move a folder from projects to archives. Added to that, it is pretty opportunistic. You will have to only change it, when you are done with each project.
  3. If you use para structure, make a folder in areas, named courses. For each course you take, make a folder. In that folder you put all of the resources for that course. If you take notes, make a note per each session and keep it in that folder. If you have homework, for each homework you should make a folder in the projects folder and add the due date to the name of that folder.

If you take general notes that you want to keep indefinitely, make a folder in the resources folder, called knowledge base. Put all the notes you need there. Also make another folder called asset base, and put every item (pdfs, slide shows, graphical assets, etc) under that.

I’m outdoors right now, I will attach a picture here of the structure, here, when I get back.

You also should use nested-tags.
For me, I have different categories.
#type/references -> I make a lot of notes that contain the referencing data of papers and books I read. I also name these notes starting with @citekey. If you are not doing a lot of academic works you probably won’t need it.
#type/fleeting -> these are the notes that I would not keep. Things like lists of homeworks or anything that would be useless in future.
#type/actionable -> these are notes or blocks of notes that tell me that tell me to do a specific thing. Like “search for this item”
For notes that I would keep in my knowledge base, I do not use any #type/ tags. They are the defaults
#stage/boat and #stage/evergreen -> these are about how complete a note is. For a better explanation take a look into @nickmilo’s LYT vault.
#subject/philosophy
#subject/cognitive-science
#subject/cognitive-science/time-perception
You get the idea.

Also use templates to have uniform and tidy set of notes without spending time on each note.
The key is automation. You should make it easy for yourself to be organized, not force yourself to do organizing.

Ok here is my folder structure:

Here is my tags structure:

Here is an example of my notes:


(you may notice that I didn’t put tags directly in the frontmatter, that’s because I like to have the visual effect as well as the autocomplete which makes it easier for me to add or edit tags, without too much effort: automation!)

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Oh, wow! This is incredibly helpful, thank you so much. One of the problems I was having was just generally being unable to grasp what others would say about their setups or workflows, like objectively it just never made sense to me and felt like we were speaking different languages almost :sweat_smile: But this is exactly the kind of thing I can easily understand and run with to create the best flow for me. I appreciate this so, so much!

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Hey @amirography your set-up looks really cool! A bit of topic, but I’d like to ask what theme are you using here? Thanks!

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It’s minimal base, but I added a css snippet with some custom modifications that I like to have with some fonts like damavand (for the titles) and poppins (for the body) and increase the format differences between different levels of titles and bolding properties. If you like I can share it with you. Just send me message.

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Thanks Amir, that is very helpful.
I think my bottleneck for automation right now is finding a way to write the notes step by step. I would love to know about how to choose header and how to define each step till the research is complete. I am trying to do this process for some projects related to self-learning and taking notes, but I can’t decide for sure at the time where should each passage go as they are closely connected.

I also would love to have that cool css snippet.

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awesome @amirography thank you for sharing that, it looks amazing and I really like that font!

@Archie I would advice to go for a workflow with several drafts and interations.

What I means is writing the content in one flow, without worrying too much about the order of headings and structure.

And then revisiting your writings in a 2nd draft where you can more clearly see the structure and edit accordingly.

That’s the workflow I try to use, but I must say, I don’t have ADHD so I’m not sure if that’s what might work for others

best wishes!

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Thanks
Yes such a multi draft workflow would be awesome, I have not seen such a thing although I should search for more.
I think ADHD thing is useful for people who don’t have it like me (at least I think I don’t) too. It is just making the things easier so there is no harm in it.

@ohsnapitsmama I think you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for with Obsidian, but it’s a paradigm shift if you’ve used more traditional note taking tools. I’m 40 and was only diagnosed with ADHD a couple years back. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to use tools that weren’t designed for the way I think. I’ve tried dozens of tools and never found anything where I didn’t spend more time organizing than doing. Obsidian is the first app I’ve ever used that really feels like it can keep up with the pace of my thoughts.

I agree with what everyone else has said so far - just get started and your system will work itself out. I’ve been slowly moving 3,000+ old notes over from Evernote so I’ve done a lot of trial and error. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is don’t overthink the folder hierarchy. Depend on tags, links, and search instead. I hadn’t looked at PARA before, but it’s basically what I landed on, I have INBOX, PROJECTS, ARCHIVE, and REFERENCE folders at the top level. I’m also a long time proponent of David Allen’s GTD system (in theory), so I’ve taken a lot of my ideas from that.

Essentially my workflow revolves around those top level folders. Everything starts life in the INBOX. I use the create new note shortcut and MarkDownload extensively to create notes. Every so often I go through the inbox, add relevant tags to files, then move them to where they belong (it’s very easy using the move file to folder keyboard shortcut, keep that in mind when you do create folders). Anything that involves taking action or is directly related to current project goes into project specific folders in the PROJECTS folder (more on that shortly). REFERENCE is for specific things I want to access hierarchically or separate from the rest of my Obsidian vault, there’s not a lot there. Everything beyond that goes in the ARCHIVE, I try to put a Zettalkasten type date on archive files so I can scan them in chronological order, but it’s not strictly necessary. I can always look at the file system and sort by creation date if needed.

My project/task system is something I’m fairly proud of and have been meaning to document in detail and share here. You’ve inspired me so now I’m about 3/4 of the way done, but it’s bedtime and I’m too exhausted to finish it now. (Isn’t it always that way with ADHD?)

Here’s a rudimentary version:

  • Prefix any file that represents a task or project (no matter the size) with an underscore.
  • Use the standard MD syntax for tasks inside any note, whether it’s a project or not.
  • Tag any tasks with numeric values for what I call [[ENVE]] - Energy, Need, Value, Estimate
  • And the awesome kicker that brings it all together: Use a note with multiple embedded searches to create a list of 1) any file that is a project, 2) tasks within any file prioritized by the ENVE values, and 3) any tasks that are missing values for ENVE.

I really would love to share more details, and intend to tomorrow. If you haven’t heard from me within 24 hours and you’re intersted in hearing more please hold me accountable. You have my full permission to @mention me incessantly until I get back to you.:grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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I have an update! Thanks to everyone’s advice here and me taking bits and pieces from other forum posts, I’ve been able to slap together a rudimentary system! There’ll be a lot of trial and error, and figuring out what works, but I’m excited for it! I’m still getting used to what I see as ‘more advanced’ features of obsidian (I have like 0 experience with any kind of coding or formatting, but I learn quickly!) so it’s nowhere near what I know it could be, however I’m still proud of it! Here’s what I have so far:

I adopted the PARA system, which I may alter and adjust in the future but for now it works well. I was already using a nested folder system for my book notes, so using PARA felt the most natural to me. I also have my DAILY NOTES (labeled 1-Dailies) on top. My templates folder sits under RESOURCES with other subfolders labelled for my classes where I’ve dumped all links and PDFs relevant to that class - at the start of each week, I add the relevant links provided at the start of assignments - and then link to them internally from my class notes, which sit in my AREAS OF INTEREST folder with the #triage tag until I’m satisfied with them and have “made them pretty” (my main mantra right now is ‘just get down the information, make it pretty later’) enough to archive. I do use Zettel notes, mostly to log and keep track of long term assignments or anything I don’t finish within the day I start them. I use the Checklist plugin, so it’s especially helpful here.

I’ve also made a couple templates, one for my dailies and one for class discussion notes - I take online classes, so we have forum style discussions every week. I keep track of these with the #correspondence tag and link to any/all relevant assignments and resources on that week’s topic. They’re not very sophisticated, but they suit my needs just fine at the moment!

I have a “home base” note where I start my day just before opening my daily. I don’t add anything to this note typically, it simply holds basic reminders (take meds, eat breakfast, etc) and a schedule I’ve laid out for both my classes and my general day-to-day life (I unfortunately have to have every minute planned out or I get nothing done, and yes this includes free time :upside_down_face: ). I’ve already discovered that the initial classwork schedule I set up won’t work, as I have standing assignments for each one due every Wednesday and I had it set up to focus on one subject a day which would have meant that assignment for that class would always be late. And while it’s a little irritating having to change the schedule, I know in the long run it’s better to adapt instead of forcing things to work for me when they won’t.

There’s a lot of fighting with my own brain about a lot of things, so I find myself asking questions like “What if this schedule doesn’t work any better than the last one? What if PARA doesn’t work for us? What if this, what if that, what if what if what if” over and over, and normally that sets my anxiety skyrocketing and makes it difficult for me to proceed with anything. But! I was able to confidently answer myself with “Then we adjust and try again.” every time, and now the possibility of failing is much less scary. These are things that don’t have the detrimental consequences my brain thinks they do. Will the world end if PARA doesn’t work? Nah, I’ll just be mildly inconvenienced for a little bit while I find something that does, and that’s ok!

So far, my favorite thing is the overall emphasis on taking note “in your own words”. I’ve of course been told this before, but I’ve also always been in classes where our notes were part of our assignments and we had to turn them in so there were expectations on the “voice” you wrote them in. Since no one but myself will see my Obsidian vaults unless I share anything, I’m a lot more comfortable interpreting “write in your own words” quite literally. I enjoy writing/speaking “formally” sometimes, but I’m also a 27 year old millennial with like 4 total braincells who has a lot more fun tossing around memes and slang and making jokes with my friends all the time. It makes my notes more fun to read and write, and makes them feel more special because they’re mostly entirely incomprehensible to everyone else.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s offered advice so far, and with any luck my system will continue to grow and adapt to better reflect my needs as I progress through the semester!

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Someone else with ADHD here. Middle-aged and diagnosed just a few months ago. I think something like Obsidian has huge potential for individuals who are not neurotypical (though, to be honest, who actually is “neurotypical”?)

I think the key thing about something like Obsidian is just to dive in and not be too prescriptive. Your system will change as you go along.

I have found that a major difficulty with Obsidian is that it doesn’t have any specific date-handling capacity, which is a key concern, if you don’t have much of a sense of time. For example, you cannot search for dates and rank your hits in chronological order. That said, I think there are ways around this. I’m working on a method which involves espanso, and Python. Basically, it generates a set of search queries which are specific to the current date. It ain’t perfect, but it gets me part way there. Happy to share (probably via Github), when ready.

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