Op zaterdag 12 maart vanaf 20:00 vindt weer een online Nederlandstalige Obsidian meet-up plaats. In een goed gesprek elkaars werkwijzen vergelijken, tips & tricks delen, en over het waarom en nut van persoonlijk kennismanagement met een tool als Obsidian. Iedereen is welkom. De link wordt op 12 maart hier, en in de Obsidian discord #nederlands aangekondigd.
Iedereen die Obsidian gebruikt of geïnteresseerd is in persoonlijk kennismanagement is van harte welkom.
Thank you for writing that! I too find it highly interesting to see how other people arrange their workflows, choose their tools and what they do with them. Often there are things that spark an idea or suggest a useful tweak to my own workflows. So thank you for making a comparison between how you work and what I wrote about how I work.
A few reactions to some of the things you mention.
My perspective on (personal) knowledge management is centered around the notion that I should have everything under my fingertips, and should be able to fully determine my own choice of tools. Tools one can preferably tweak, reshape or replace easily. I started taking notes in the early 1990’s and local text files were the most basic choice I made (and one of the few I then could make). Later convenience lured me into other things like Evernote, and Things for tasks, but I’ve returned to that basic starting point of using text files more recently.
At the core are these notions I hold:
Local first. I’m from an era that connectivity can’t be taken for granted, and regularly work in settings where that is still true. It is also a dependency that even when it is usually reliable, probably carries a high cost if it does fail, as that most likely is in key moments (basically a version of the demo effect).
Agency over tools. Tools must provide actual agency. A key part of it is being able to fully control it’s deployment and use, being able to tweak it etc. Tools must be smaller than us in that sense (not in a literal sense). Convenience may make me ignore this factor up to a certain point, but in the end having control over my tools always comes back up as an issue. Not having such control ultimately always turns a tool into a single point of failure. (Gmail and Evernote are prime examples to me) That drives me to simpler tools within my own scope of control and power to manipulate, and only allowing more complexity if it increases my personal agency significantly. It also means to me that tools need to be useful on their own, and more useful when networked.
Personal tools. Tools need to be adaptable to the person using it. That makes it easier to make those tools smarter. As personal preferences can be assumed as the defaults, and personal routines are predictable to the person itself. Predictable routines plus preferences equal functions and parameters, i.e. code.
Personal agency is always in the context of networked agency. In most settings the unit of agency is not the individual but a small group of connected people trying to solve something that is important to the group itself. Whatever tools the group uses should be within the scope of control of that same group. As a group’s notion of local is usually a networked notion, my local stuff needs to be able to connect (yet not depend on it). Distribution is important here. Centralisation is mostly to be avoided as it carries a cost in overhead, control and resilience.
Put that all together, and indeed POSSE basically becomes the prime directive for everything.
On WordPress: I used to handcode my sites, until I started using Movable Type shortly after I initiated my blog (hosted on a webserver at home). That was written in Perl which I was comfortable with having written my then employer’s first intranet in it. A decade later I switched to WordPress when my Movable Type install suddenly stopped working completely. I see you use Ghost, which ran a kickstarter I supported shortly after I switched to WordPress (self hosted on an external hosting package). By the time Ghost saw its first release I didn’t act on my earlier idea of running that on a home server. I’m not particularly attached to WP (also used Drupal heavily for other sites), and use it pretty bare bones, but it has served me well for the last 10 years. The switch to Gutenberg and blocks though has me thinking I might maybe go for something simpler.
On Obsidian / Joplin: I also use Joplin, but haven’t tweaked it like you have, I use it out of the box. It’s where my Evernote exports live, which from there I export to md files as needed. I treat Obsidian as a viewer, and Joplin too. Because of that I dislike that Joplin stores stuff locally in an sqlite database, obscuring the contents from my filesystem that way. From a viewer it then becomes an obscurer. Currently Obsidian has my sympathy, that may change, no tool is forever. So in my choices of e.g. plugins for Obsidian I avoid things that provide functionality that comes with a type of lock-in, where if you stop using a plugin part of your information disappears or is hard to get at because it was in a database not in the notes. I dislike YAML frontmatter too. For the Dataview plugin I use inline datafields (key:: value) which makes them a regular part of the note itself. Only when for some automation I need to know where to easily find a data field, I will put it at the top (but still not as YAML frontmatter).
In het past weeks I struggled to get to action. I didn’t have the sense that I was in the pilot seat. Too many little things budding in, not being able to get started on bigger things, and no sense of overview. Or rather, a too overwhelming overview, and no easy way for myself to bring the scope of that view down to something manageable for the day.
I have about 35 areas of activity, this includes projects, general tasks, both business, volunteer work and personal. For each of those 35 or so activities I keep a running list of things to do. Some lists have a few items, others have a few dozen. If on average they hold 10 tasks each, it means a tasklist of 300 to 400 items to choose from. That makes for an overwhelming overview. It gets better if I dive into the scope of a specific project or activity area, but then I don’t see the small things I can do to keep the other activities rolling. When I was still using Things I had the same effect, so this isn’t something particular to my current use of Obsidian for tasks.
The result has been that, because the overall list is too overwhelming, I haven’t been using it much. Which means I have even less sense of overview or being on top of my stuff.
In an attempt to regain that sense, I’m now trying to each morning go through the entire list and pick a handful of things for the day. That small curated list has a more manageable scope, without being limited to a single activity.
I don’t want to copy tasks from one place to another. I want them to stay on their respective project or activity list, but marked and summarised on my daily list. I’m aware there are various task oriented plugins for Obsidian, but they will prescribe me a certain mode of working, and it isn’t certain that in their absence the same information will be as usable / findable (a type of functional lock-in or dependency I always want to avoid)
What I came up with is I mark every task I choose for the day with ‘t::’, in whichever line of whichever file I want. This can be an existing tasklist, but I can do the same while making meeting notes, to quickly mark something as a task resulting from the meeting. The Dataview plugin I already use sees ‘t::’ as an inline datafield and is able to extract them into a list using the following brief piece of code:
TABLE t as Vandaag
SORT File asc
I display that at the top of my daily note. It allows me to quickly jump into a task list or other note to delete it when done, and to copy it over into my daily note in the ‘done’ list.
In the coming days I will test if this improves my days and activities.
A brief list of selected tasks from other files. Also note that at the top t:: is mentioned inline twice, and both show up as task items in the list.
Donald Clark looks at what we know about whether handwriting is better than taking digital notes, and mentions 4 papers in that context. The 2014 “The pen is mightier than the keyboard” paper by Mueller and Oppenheimer, has been easily adopted in broader pubic conscience, probably as it fits neatly in a bias. I never bought into that because my own experience with 4 decades of handwritten notes, and 3 overlapping decades of taking digital notes did not bear that difference out. (I know, I know, ‘n=just me’ is no base for critique on a paper, but still) If anything, to me my speed and ease of making digital notes is more effective and less distracting (I can type blindly and without looking at the screen, but who can write blindly?). The key is what happens afterwards. Which is about active engagement with the notes I make. Hence the selected quote below, in which I would replace the final word learning with engagement.
The 2014 study has been replicated in 2019 by Morehead, Dunlosky and Rawson showing no difference at least, and the opposite at worst.
The 2022 paper by Voyer, Ronis, and Byers, “The effect of notetaking method on academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” “showed no effect of method of note taking on performance under controlled conditions. It considered 77 effect sizes from 39 samples in 36 articles, showing no effect on note taking approach.“
It would seem that writing notes in your own words, and studying your notes, matter more than the methods used to write your notes. This makes sense, as the cognitive efforts involved in studying are likely to outweigh the initial method of capture. It is not note taking that matters but effortful learning.
Research Rabbit is a tool that, when provided with some academic paper you already are familiar with, can suggest other related material as well as provide that material. By looking for material from the same authors, by following the references, and by looking at the topics. This can speed up the discovery phase quite a lot I think. (And potentially also further increases the amount of stuff you haven’t looked at but which sounds relevant, thus feeding the collector’s fallacy.).
I’ve created an account. It can connect to Zotero where you already have your library of papers you are interested in (if you use Zotero with an account. I use Zotero standalone at the moment I added a Zotero account and storage subscription to sync with Research Rabbit).
Multiple elegant ideas (and practices) in that post, about the use of Excalidraw within Obsidian (which I previously described):
1) creating icons from basic forms (such as sketch noting teaches as well) and iterate each time you use them
2) keep your icons in a library in Excalidraw for various forms of re-use and for iteration
3) add #keywords to your icon, because in Excalidraw/Obsidian these behave as active searches for those keywords just like regular # in a text.
Because I couldn’t even get past the level of drawing stick figures, I have always felt intimidated by friends who could draw well. The idea of developing my visual vocabulary was a game-changer for me…… I added hashtags to each icon because, this way, if you add them to your sketch in the Obsidian-Excalidraw plugin, your drawing will be tagged with the relevant keywords.