Thrilled! With Obsidian+Readwise+Zotero Workflow

I don’t believe I’ve ever been as thrilled with a research and writing workflow as I am now. The combination of Readwise, Obsidian, and Zotero is golden. I am finding connections and able to write efficiently, including the insertion of citations and references, with little or no friction whether on my iPad or MBP.

The book I’m working on is focused on private school leadership. One of my most recent resources is a booked titled, Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Make it so is not a great book on leadership, the writing is a bit tedious for my taste, but there are nuggets. Today Readwise surfaced one of my highlights in the book, that I just quoted in my own chapter related to pacing change and decisions. On the iPad I was able to copy/paste the quote from Readwise from my email and then quickly add the reference. This is a breeze and extremely helpful!

For those interested, here is the quote:

In space, it is rarely better to act quickly and err than to tarry until the time of action has past, as the time of action for any one thing is rarely absolute and many errors are fatal.


Coming from a stickler such as yourself, this is high praise indeed.

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And yet I think military (including naval) histories are full of examples of dawdling generals resulting in disaster but I suppose there are also famous examples like “General” Custer proving the adage about fools and angels.

I certainly agree.

For the purposes of my book, I’m making the point that most important, even critical, issues do not require immediate or even fast decisions. Obviously, if the barbarians are at the gates or the building is on fire, fast decisions are critical. But, in most situations, bad decisions are made because they are made too quickly, usually the result of emotion, a mistaken interpretation or incomplete understanding and/or the lack of information that would be forthcoming with more time, attention, and analysis.

I’ve often found if in the heat of the moment a decision is delayed and time is allowed to pass that sometimes the issue will resolve itself by other people deciding to take a different course of action. I would argue that most HR, legal, and systemic policy and program changes benefit from more time. As a rule bad decisions tend to be quick ones. Leaders need to take time to let decisions and ideas perk for a while, a bit like a cow chewing its cud. Sorry for the rather crude analogy but it is apt. :slightly_smiling_face:


OTOH Sometimes sheep happens and you 'd best be able to adjust, quickly. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy (or the REMF) and no code survives first contact with the sheep.

Yes, AnimalTrakker coding is in high gear again. We’re’ out of water so I’m coding more.

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Being out of water or in a battle requires immediate action. As I stated above, if the barbarians are at the gates or the building is on fire, fast decisions are critical.

Obviously what is not defined here is “fast.” I prefer timely. Adequate time is the time taken to make the best possible decision given the circumstances. That said, in most common situations there is ample time to let new facts surface, people adjust and for careful analysis to uncover unforeseen opportunities and unintended consequences that would be missed by hasty decisions.

I believe this is particularly true of strategic, personnel, and policy decisions. Obviously, taking too much time is also detrimental, e.g., not making hard personnel decisions when doing so is ultimately in the best long-term interest of the underperforming employee and for the organization. I have made the mistake of “kissing the frog hoping it would turn into a prince.” It doesn’t. I’ve learned to make these hard personnel decisions much more quickly but only after taking enough time to understand all of the facts and for the person in question to make the needed changes.

But, I’ve also learned to take more time, not less time, to develop and rollout major new technology initiatives to ensure they are properly piloted, the needed infrastructure is in place, and perhaps most importantly, sufficient time has been devoted to designing and implementing a scaffolded multiyear staff development program in support of the technology initiative. I can’t tell you how many schools I’ve consulted with in many countries that wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars because they make hasty technology decisions and devote far too much time and money on hardware and software without nearly enough time and money devoted to assessing the strategic and pedagogical role of the technology in moving the school’s mission and academic program forward. They make the mistake of focusing on hardware and software rather than on pedagogy and staff development.

Taking more time, not less, in making these decisions results in better decisions. Being fast, the first out of the gate, is not always best. In fact, it can be fatal, the second mouse gets the cheese. :slightly_smiling_face:


Great Discusion …. And I totally agree with @Bmosbacker …. Here is what I will add: the quick decision in this case is decide to deal with the frog now or employ the strategy of using time “to let new facts surface, people adjust and for careful analysis to uncover unforeseen opportunities and unintended consequences that would be missed by hasty decisions” ….

If I am being clear ?

You are but I may not have been. The “frog” is the under performing employee. While it is nice to be nice, in the long run, it is harmful to the employee (and the organization) to prolong the hard decision hoping that if one kisses “the frog” long enough it will turn into a prince. I’ve learned over time that that rarely happens. While being fair, ethical, kind, and legal, it is best to go ahead and make the decision and let the employee move on. I highly recommend the book, Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

Kim Scott is the cofounder and CEO of Candor, Inc. Kim has been an adviser at Dropbox, Kurbo, Qualtrics, Shyp, Twitter, and several other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google. Previously, Kim was the cofounder and CEO of Juice Software, a collaboration start-up, and led business development at Delta Three and Capital Thinking. Earlier in her career, Kim worked as a senior policy adviser at the FCC, managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo, started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow, and was an analyst on the Soviet Companies Fund. She is the author of three novels, Virtual Love, The Househusband, and The Measurement Problem.

I agree, that is really the key point. So an inflexible, act only after deliberation mode, is just as bad as a flexible act on first impulse mode if you only use one or the other.

Being well informed generally allows for better fast decisions when required.

I think you could replace schools with business and government. All those entities are more willing to spend on tech stuff that will “fix the problem” rather than on the things that are less tangible but that might make a bigger difference.

One possible reason, at least for places that depend on grant money or money for special projects is that it’s almost impossible to get any sort of funding for non-tangible things. It’s so much easier to say I need X many $ to by something countable and easily measureable like X many laptops or tablets or something.

We get a Dilbert calendar every year, the one page a day kind and the latest set of cartoons are his about how horrible Radical Candor can be so I have to admit with that as a catch phrase/book I’m leary. Dilbert cartoons shed much light on corporate practices that are often used inappropriately.

One possible reason, at least for places that depend on grant money or money for special projects is that it’s almost impossible to get any sort of funding for non-tangible things.

Agreed but the biggest failing I see is lack of sustained professional development leading to systemic change. While there is cost to PD, it is not prohibitive and should not depend on grants.

As to Radical Candor, trust me on this one, the book is very good. It’s applicable to those who hire, manage, and evaluate employees but it also has carry over application for anyone who needs to learn to be more forthright.

To use a biblical phrase, we are to “speak the truth in love.” What we typically struggle with is the balance. On one hand, we want to be nice so we are not candid. Other times we are so focused on candor/truth, that we are not nice or loving. And, I’ll add, it is not loving or kind to let an employee struggle and suffer in a position that he or she is not performing well in. Help, train, mentor and evaluate but if that is not working, move them to a different seat on the bus or off the bus–in the long run that is the kindest thing one can do for them, for other employees who know that that person’s performance is subpar, and it is the best thing for the organization.

I wish that were so. I agree that it should be that way but my own reality is that in very small non-profits jus the basics of keeping the lights on often takes all the available cash.There isn’t even any money for staff so PD of the volunteers is non-existant.

On your recommendation I’ll take a look at it. :smiley:

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Obviously, that is a different situation. I’m referring to non-profit and for profit organizations that have resources for staff and training. My point is that I’ve found in too many of these organizations, too little time and investment is devoted to staff development relative to the hardware and software. The hardware and software is only as effective as the people using it. :slightly_smiling_face:

I think you will like Radical Candor. :crossed_fingers:

I should say, one of the great things about Star Trek is that it almost always solved problems by thinking rather than the more typical macho shoot first or get an even bigger gun.

I agree. I had actually considered rewatching all of the episodes and taking notes for a book on leadership but I was beat by a decade by someone else. :slightly_smiling_face:

Bmosbacker – Would you, please, go into some of the details of this workflow (Readwise, Obsidian, and Zotero). How exactly do you hand off content from one platform to the next?

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Here is a concise summary of my workflow.


  • Although I have a large physical library in my study at home, I’ve been reading digital books from their inception. In fact, I’ve purchased digital versions of many of my physical books. I highlight and add notes to relevant sections of my books. Prior to Readwise, I downloaded my highlights from Amazon and saved them as plain text files in iCloud. Now, with Readwise, I can sync all of my highlights directly to my Obsidian research vault.


  • I’m using Obsidian for all of my research utilizing its superb linking feature. I’m also creating MOCs for major research topics, e.g., epistemology, pedagogy, theology, human resource management, school finance, strategic and systemic organizational change, apologetics, etc.
  • I write articles, chapters of the book I’m working on, and presentation notes in Obsidian linking sections to the appropriate research.


  • I add all bibliographical information into Zotero as I go. I also imported hundreds of books/article references from Papers 3 and Bookends into Zotero.
  • As I’m writing I will copy and paste a citation into the text. Depending on the document, I may also copy and paste the bibliography citation into the document. For the book, all of this will be exported to Word so that my citations and references can be processed correctly.

I hope this is helpful!


Coincidentally, it seems like you have a Noble Laureate on your side:


Very wise words, thank you.

Very rarely subpar business performance is caused by technology. Most of the time, the cause is human, either by management, or professionals (major subpar performance is always caused by senior management).

So, yeah, it helps to be candid and act soon.

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Thanks for the article reference. After reading the article I ordered Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

I’ve been using Zotero to add books to my Obsidian Vault. I’m curious about how you are integrating Readwise into the mix of what goes to Obsidian.