My Obsidian Workflow

Note: I’m sure the way that I use Obsidian will evolve. This post reflects my process as of 3/02/24.

I moved over from Evernote to Obsidian around three years ago. It wasn’t until recently when I saw kepano’s (Steph Ango, Obsidian’s CEO) Twitter post that I had an epiphany: I probably wasn’t using Obsidian to its maximum potential [1].

I noticed that Steph had his graph view pulled up next to his notes and I thought to myself, “huh, that’s weird. I never once thought it would be useful to have that up [2].” Curious to know what I was missing, I tweet-replied Steph suggesting that he make a a video walkthrough of how he uses Obsidian. (Given my reply had the most likes in the thread, I figured that I wasn’t the only curious one.)

He didn’t reply. In any case, I decided to do my own research.

Now, although I’ve dug through Obsidian’s resources and documentation a few times in the past, I’ve never found a tutorial or explanation that’s clicked for me. But after a few hours of research, I stumbled on Andy Matuschak’s site, “Working Notes”.

Andy's Notes

(It’s a really cool site, you should check it out for yourself.)

A few things stood out to me:

This inspired me to create a new Obsidian vault [3] and start from scratch, with a few “rules”:

  1. Interlinking wouldn’t be an afterthought. Whenever I fleshed out a note, I would be extremely mindful about what I was writing. If I wrote a sentence or word that I intuitively felt could be expounded upon, I would immediately turn it into a link. I wouldn’t change the link’s name or try to use a naming convention.
  2. After creating a new note, I would spend five to ten minutes seeing if it could be linked to any existing notes. As your vault gets larger, it becomes more difficult to do this, but I felt it was important to be thoughtful about each new note and its potential connections.
  3. I would try my best to navigate only using graph view. I realized that navigating via the side panel / file explorer made it too easy to leverage habits and heuristics based in hierarchal thinking. The idea here is that if I were to challenge the way I organized and thought about knowledge, I should change the way I looked for it.

I took a random note from my old vault and used it as a starting point.

The note was titled “不会吃”.

Don't know how to eat

As I started writing about the note, I wrote a sentence that stood out to me: “taste evolves based on new life experiences.” I immediately turned the sentence into a link by enclosing it with double brackets (e.g. [[taste evolves based on new life experiences.]] ).

Mimicking Steph, I had my graph view pulled up alongside my current note. So when I double-clicked the link to turn it into a note, I noticed that a new node popped up on the graph, which was pretty interesting. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but it was a fundamentally different experience from just adding a new file via the explorer (right click and create file).

Obsidian Graph View

After finishing up my thoughts on 不会吃, I immediately turned to the new note, “taste evolves based on new life experiences,” and applied the same principles.

Obsidian Note Taste

Obsidian Graph View 2

As I did this a few more times, I realized two things, 1, I was having a lot of fun, and 2, finding connections between ideas was a lot easier than before because it became a natural part of the note creation process. Instead of trying to figure out which folder and subfolders I should categorize my notes and ideas into, they organically found their place.

It was also really cool to be able to follow the path of a note from one topic to a completely different one. Navigation felt much more exploratory and much less rigid.

Obsidian Graph View Navigation

A few challenges that I encountered:

I don’t think these are problems per se, it just forces you to be more intentional and mindful of what you write and the connections you make, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’m sure as time goes on, new challenges will arise that will force me to rethink this workflow, but for now, it’s working and I’m having a lot of fun.

[1] If you’re a brainlet like me, you’re probably using it as a skin for your file explorer.

[2] Whenever I saw Obsidian graphs in the wild, it would always be a massive web of interconnections. Intuitively I thought to myself, “there’s no way that could be useful to any human”. But Steph’s graph view only had a depth setting of 1, which is completely legible, and that convinced me to re-explore how I used Obsidian.

[3] A daunting task considering that I have near a thousand notes (I know it’s not that much).