In this fifth post of the series “Building a Second Brain with Emacs and Obsidian” I’m going to present the key aspects of my minimalist approach to handle non-actionable items with Obsidian. The discussion around how to select one app or another can be found in the third post of the series, where I concluded that Obsidian meets most of the requirements for most people to manage non-actionable items, including me. Most notably, Obsidian has a large community, it recreates the PARA system in your hard-drive out of the box, and your notes are not pay-walled.
Furthermore, you can also read this post by Tiago Forte discussing the criteria he would use to choose between the available apps.
It's been said that there are 4 note-taking styles: architect, gardener, librarian, and student. In my approach I somehow mix them all… does it make me a student?
I have setup the PARA structure in Obsidian’s Files tree, creating folders as containers to non-actionable information I gather for the projects, areas and resources. However, this poses no limitation to link between notes from different folders, on the contrary, it enriches the system. At the end, the needed containerization provided by folders Librarians would choose can perfectly coexists with the relationships capabilities Gardeners would prefer.
The picture below shows the first screen I find every day when opening Obsidian. There is a daily note generated with the Daily Notes and Templater plugin to capture whatever I want to.
One drawback I find here is the inability to have the three columns design of Joplin(and Evernote)-like application, where you can better see what’s inside the containers. But I think the pros and cons of Obsidian outplay those two by far.
Adding functionality with plugins
At this point we are almost all set, but some additional plugins may be of great help.
The Citations plugin allow me to set a BibTex file from where to insert any references into Obsidian, creating a new note in a specific folder with the metadata corresponding to the cited source. In my case this is really convenient, because I was already using Zotero with Better BibTex to export my entire library and then use it to generate scientific papers and reports with LaTex.
With the Templater plugin we can set the template we want the new notes in each of our folders to start with. This is really convenient.
The Calendar plugin shows the minimal calendar displayed in the picture above, and integrates with the core plugin Daily Notes so by clicking in one specific day the correspondent daily note popups.
Integration with Omnivore
Omnivore is a great alternative to Readwise. Of course Readwise has more functionalities and integrations as it’s a paid-proprietary software, but it is also highly invasive from a privacy perspective.
This was arguably the shortest post of the series, because there is not that much to say. Overall, Obsidian offers journaling, graph view, linking forward and back, draws, whiteboards, and rich text elements display much better that Emacs buffers are capable to handle.
We can create containers (folders) for grouping information around a project, and then move that project around to archives, but still use links to approach a gardener style.
And finally, we can be assured not only our notes and information, but also our data is not being exposed nor sold to the highest bidder for profits. Remember that when you trust an online service with some information, even in the case they don’t exploit it, data breaches happen frequently, and bad actors may collect their fee. There is not such thing as The Cloud, there is only other people computers.
This is the last but one post of the series. The next will be kind of a summary of the ideas exposed in the others. Stay tuned.
Thanks for reading the post! Do not hesitate to write me an email, and share your point of view 😉: firstname.lastname@example.org