How I store knowledge…


…and you probably shouldn’t, because I ended up here after a very long journey trying to figure out how I can also take notes, be productive and stop forgetting things.

I’ve been playing and working in IT for more than half of my life now, and given how the domain evolves at a blistering pace it’s only a matter of time until you start to drown in information and forgetting things, it’s not ideal to say the least.

I’ll spare you the details of everything I tried and just say that for me the best way of storing information so far has proven to be the combination between pen/mechanical pencil + paper and a lightly customized Obsidian.

I’ve stolen tips from a lot of folks, one that I feel made an impact in productivity and serotonin was Adam Savage’s rant on making lists, and after trying it I can wholeheartedly say he was on to something.

My initial incursion into making everything a list

I’m sorry that I can’t find the place where Adam showed this, but I’ll update this post with a source after I finish my very much needed holiday.

The main thing was to make lists flexible so you can actually track progress instead of large tasks. So you’d have a more general task of “Fix The Thing” with one box filled halfway, and four subtasks out of which 2 are fully filled and 2 unfilled. I felt this was really useful from a mental standpoint to see I’m not stagnating.

Apart from lists, my notebook contains a ton of fleeting ideas, stuff that I know I want to have written and eventually get to – and this is where Obsidian shines and allows me to have a system in place.

I try to look through my notebook at least once a week and manually add to Obsidian whatever note I feel is important (a few days after I took it), and the same for projects that are larger in scope that I created that sort of dashboard for in the notebook, I tend to use the pen and paper if I’m not at a computer most of the times.

On to Obsidian

The very short intro is that Obsidian is a note taking app that loves Markdown and Open Source and is extremely customizable, you can pay them for storage or you can store stuff in a git repo (which is also how I’m using it on iOS using Working Copy).

You’ll hear a lot of folks talking about Zettelkasten but that just didn’t work for me, my brain works like those people say but the interface just doesn’t map correctly, so after a long while of enduring that pain I set to fix my system and adapt it to how my brain can work.

My Obsidian Setup

The first thing I see when I open Obsidian on any device. 

First of all I’m using the Homepage plugin to always show this sort of dashboard I made when starting the app, it’s insanely useful for the type of setup I have.

The top part of the screen has two buttons (Buttons plugin) with defined actions to create a new note with a specified template type in a specific folder, so a fleeting idea goes in one folder while a meeting note goes into another.

The ToDo part is using the Todoist Plugin to sync whatever tasks I have there to this page, I’m still a bit meh about using Todoist but I’m still giving it a try.

The next two parts are using the Dataview plugin to create views of whatever you want, in my case it looks for stuff in folders and sorts them.

In the bottom of the dashboard I have a helper toggle where I store code for the buttons so they look sleeker and I can use a shortcode for them.

For the templates I use the Templater plugin and store the files in a separate folder, and finally my folder structure looks like below:

The most vague and useless notes transcribed from the notebook will go straight into the archive and contain tags (#topic) so I can easily search for them later, the rest of the notes are fleeting or meeting, and weekly I go through the fleeting ones and either move them into a project of their own or into the icebox, sometimes a fleeting note will just go straight into the archive if it’s more of a information note instead of a “maybe actively create this thing” type of note.

I’m also using the Kanban plugin to move stuff from the agenda into projects, my system says that every project has its own dashboard page, and some have a Kanban as well.

This is what mostly works for me, and I strongly encourage you to not just try using one system or the other but just steal and adapt ideas from everywhere into something useful for you.