Personal Knowledge Madness

Welcome to My Forest of Evergreen Zettels

(did that sentence make your eye twitch?)

So along with some general life stuff derailing productivity levels in my last two weeks… I also have been head down in the most productive form of reduced productivity. I fell in love. With

I Am Creating a New Personal Knowledge Management System

I knew I had a problem with my old one, but I was not sure why. I had used (and loved) Notion for the past five years. I wrote my first novel in the Sunder Series and the prequel short story entirely in Notion. I edited them entirely in Notion. I worked from my laptop, my gaming PC, my phone, my tablet… it was convenient and I could do all my editing spreadsheets inside the same program I was writing in.

Why Switch?

Well, if you have read much on this site you may be aware that my household is a neurodiverse household. My daughter has both ASD and ADHD, as do I. My husband has ADHD. And I realized my system was not working because I have two conflicting sides of my brain:

  1. The creative Mad Scientist that does all my writing. She doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing. She just does it and figures out how to fix it later.
  2. The organized and meticulous Librarian who loves accumulating knowledge, but also making sure it is easy to access. She hates randomness and likes being able to analyze things.

Notion was great for the Librarian. I had systems of organization and nested hierarchies and everything was easy to find when I wanted to find it. I had spreadsheets and notes, cross-references and all the beautiful things I needed right in front of me whenever I sat down to write.

But, the Librarian isn’t the Mad Scientist. She doesn’t do the writing, she fixes it.

And thus arose my problem to solve (another thing that the Librarian absolutely loves).

How Do I Build a System for Two Different completely Different Workflows?

Enter Obsidian.

Well, you know… enter Obsidian after two days of researching everything out there even remotely close in function to Notion… I looked at Roam; I spent a day coding up a Coda workspace. Then, I found that my natural propensity to love extensible programs won over. (Thank you, Gamer Brain that loves plugins!)

Obsidian stuck out because it was simple but powerful as a base program. It allows the Mad Scientist to just throw in a note that popped into my brain while it was stuck in its default mode network thanks to low dopamine and ADHD. And it allowed my Librarian to come back later and have a fucking baller time organizing the ever-loving-shit out of it.

And that was before I even got around to adding in plugins.

It is still a work in progress, but I now have (most) things ported over and am constantly refining the systems.

Interweaving Two Workflows
  1. The Mad Scientist creates a note. Some jumbled thought and burst of connections to other thoughts. She focuses on grabbing the big ideas and the interconnections.
  2. The Librarian knew that the crazy lady wasn’t going to do anything other than grab the note and keep ambling down the random paths her brain was already on. So she set up some systems to capture the thoughts that would prep them for her own work later:
    1. iOS shortcuts for my iPad and iPhone
      • These allow me to quick capture by using two methods:
        1. Quick Access triple tap to open the shortcut that takes an voice note and converts it to text and then shoves it into the native Notes app
        2. A shortcut that exports my Notes to markdown then saves them in my iCloud Obsidian vault (also works to point at local files if you are using Obsidian Sync)
    2. Automations and backups because that other bitch can’t be trusted.
      1. My entire vault is “backed up” via Dropbox. But I am just using it as a quick and lazy sync more than an actual backup. This allows me to sync both my laptop and gaming PC.
      2. My secondary (actual) backup and sync option is Github. (thanks Obsidian Git plugin for making this easy)
        • This one took a bit more work to set up, as I also have my new websites set up via Static Site Generators and Netlify, which I am not going to cover here so much as cover how I combined everything for them into a single vault with Git so I can autoupdate my website without leaving my Obsidian Vault.
        • So, here we go:
          1. Set up git & create a private github repo for BOTH my Obsidian Vault and my new markdown based website.
          2. Set up secondary Github connection inside my iCloud folders (using the iCloud app on Windows—my laptop is a macbook)
          3. Set up automations on Windows and Macbook that automatically push and pull from both my Dropbox and iCloud folders, and then leave the Obsidian Git plugin settings as my ‘true’ backup that syncs when I open Obsidian and then pushes every hour.
          4. Set up a git sparse-checkout under my Working/_sites/ folder in Obsidian to automatically push and pull from only my website’s pre-compiled content folder(s) and the images folder. Now I can write blog posts like this one directly in obsidian and push it later.
          5. → In Progress → I am now looking into the obsidian command line plugin to directly run my sparse-checkout commit and push from inside of obsidian.
  3. Alright, so we have quick capture, backup & sync set up, so what’s next?
    • Workspaces! Obsidian allows me to create different workspaces for different things. Meaning, the Mad Scientist can have her very own distraction free workspace where she enters, she creates her mess of a note or series of messes… and then when she is ready for a nap, all I have to do is switch over to my Librarian workspace.
    • How I have them set up:
      • The Scientist space is pretty basic: all my sidebars are collapsed. It reverts to having no notes open. I have a focus mode plugin that dims everything except for the current paragraph that I am writing.
      • The Librarian space has all the shiny things. Here is my list of plugins I will probably be keeping long-term (although there are a handful more I am testing). These are of course available on my slimmed down Scientist workspace, but the functionality is mostly hidden unless I go looking for it.
        1. Longform - this one allows me to turn folders into writing projects. It tracks drafts for me automagically, and has a nice little panel view where I can look through all my scenes in my current book(s). It also has an export function but, I haven’t really done much with this yet. I am hoping it will make a decent .doc file when I am ready that can then be imported into Vellum (my formatting software)
        2. Obsidian Git - already covered above
        3. Dataview - I use this to create various views for my story data. I have a timeline view, which is what I use most. I also use dataview to create a project tracking . This shows my current progress on the stories I am actively working on on the stage I am at. (Herald & Harbinger shows the stats for my current revision draft, while ARV & AHOC are both in first draft stage)
        4. Related to dataview, I also use the Tasks plugin and the Checklist plugin. These allow me to track tasks as you can also see on the dashboard screenshot below. I use the Tasks plugin for tracking and organizing tasks in a nice way both on my Library dashboard and also on a dedicated ‘all tasks’ dashboard which is sorted by Areas in my life (writing, research, admin tasks for websites and other things, concept art, etc). The Checklist plugin I use to have quick access to my tasks by Area from anywhere without having to switch to Tasks page. Although, honestly, it would be just as quick to just swap over to that page as it is to click on the Checklist pane. But! Having a visual reminder in the UI about my tasks is important if the Scientist side of my brain starts taking over when I am mid task.
        5. Fantasy calendar - I use rather than the ‘normal’ Calendar plugin. I have both a Gregorian calendar and the calendar for the Array configured. I can use this to link scenes I write to specific dates on my Array calendar, which populates metadata which I think use for my Timeline page with Dataview queries.
        6. Homepage- which opens my Dashboard below by default. It also sets it automatically to reading view, which is nice.
        7. Multi-Column-Markdown - for the shiny.
        8. Natural Language Dates - augments Tasks & Checklist
        9. Novel Word Count - Puts word counts on all my folders and documents. This makes it really easy to track and input data that I use to track my progress. For drafts, I do not move words over from previous drafts until I am editing them. I have a metadata field that has the goal wordcount, which is set to the actual word count of the last draft for drafts and to a rough goal (like 180k) for the projected project length for first drafts.
        10. Activity History - the shiny at the top of my dashboard that tells me how much I have been fucking off on what days without being annoying.
        11. Prompt - this allows me to create a note dedicated to writing prompts. I can customize this so its asking questions when I am stuck. One line in the note is its own question, so they need to be short and sweet. Clicking the icon or using the hotkey I set up will pop up a random prompt like a notification.
        12. Templater - this allows me to keep consistent metadata across different note types, which is my primary usecase. I also use it to insert HTML comments where I want them. This hides that content from being public on my digital garden , but allows me to see it in a grey text in Obsidian. Primarily used for notes to myself or unformed ideas that are likely to get tossed out later.
        13. Sliding Panes & Obsidian Tabs - I theoretically like both of these, but have found them quirky. Sliding Panes has a tendency to open a new pane, but hide it, which means I end up with a ton of open panes I can’t see and eventually Obsidian bogs down. When I restart, I can suddenly see them all (until the next time this happens). I am pretty sure this is because of my theme (ITS theme), but to me, the theme is more important than the pane functionality. Similarly, I really like the Obsidian Tabs plugin as an alternative, but the tabs are pretty ugly on the ITS theme and it drives my inner designer nuts. I also dislike that I dont have the option to split panes vertically anymore with it. Often I do want to look at things side by side, and doing that with the Tabs plugin is too cumbersome. I would like to find a better pane management system eventually that works with my theme, but at this point its not a big enough pain point to put in the time and effort.
TLDR : Obsidian is an Amazing Extensible App to Customize for Your Workflows

If you are willing to put in the time (or just tweak as you go) then I highly recommend it to anyone who is keeping a PKM or digital garden AND has a lot of writing work to do. Start small with the base program and add plugins as you need them.

Last but not least:

My Librarian’s Dashboard