Tried Obsidian, what am I missing?

So I’ve been hearing so much about Obisidian on MPU and other places I finally decided to give it a try. I’ve been working on my Productivity workflow, so I decided to create a Vault in Obsidian and write about that. I spent over an hour describing my system and creating links to other notes that described how I use each app in my workflow. It was nice being able to quickly create a link to another note. I ended with about 10 notes all linked to each other. But I still don’t see how this is a transformative way of taking notes. What am I missing?

I’ve been taking notes in Markdown for a few years now, currently using iA Writer. So I’m already a big fan of markdown notes, how is adding this one feature of an easy way to link notes such a big deal?


Notes beget more notes. Links to notes provide context , elaboration, and perhaps a deeper understanding which could lead to more thoughts and interconnected notes-- this was the idea behind Luhman’s Zettelkasten

It’s an unusual system for developing ideas over long periods of time by slowly iterating on thousands of atomic slips of paper, all densely linked to each other. Over time, it evolved into what Luhmann considered to be an independent thought partner in his research, capable of carrying on a conversation with him and eliciting ideas which genuinely surprised him.

Obsidian provides an easy way to create links. But, more importantly it creates backlinks. With backlinks, even more notes can be connected, as well as indexes - creating an emergent structure. Obsidian can create some beautiful graphs of linked data, giving a more visual aspect to notes and connector notes and overall organization. If you have not checked out Linking Your Thinking resources, it is work reading just to have examples of how people are using note-taking/Obsidian.

However, it depends on the type of notes you take as well. Notes that technical and describe processes that I need for work, live in DevonThink without too much linking. I need to find information quickly through search, tags or DevonThink’s AI mechanism. I am not really looking to have a conversation with my notes, so much as a have a reference.

Notes that I want to ponder or muse … those are the notes I want to have connections and conversations with…

As an aside I have written as if these two systems are completely separate - but given DevonThink’s linking and indexing as well as Hook this in not really true at all.


I, too, have been struggling with Obsidian. It looks like a LOT of manual work is needed to prepare data for potential future use. So while I understand its features, what I really struggle with is this:

What problem does Obsidian solve for you that your previous note taking system could not solve, or you could not solve at all?

Idea emergence. But that’s the magic of the Zettelkasten and any linked notes app will provide this. It’s just that Obsidian excels at this.

Ideas, projects, « unclear scale » endeavors in the words of Kourosh Dini (where the rules of the project are discovered in the making, which is the essence of creative endeavors) grow on their own with no preestablished structure. Linked notes allow you to create networks of ideas and notes that grow as crystals or constellations, with no prerequisite as to what goes where and whether it’s important or not in the moment you have an idea. That’s invaluable, compared to a classic app which silos things and requires you to determine what the content is at the same time as it comes to you. In many creative projects, you cannot ascertain the value of an idea as you’re having it. Thinking in links allows you to think freely and make sense of your thoughts in a fluid manner.


These are excellent explanations, certainly helpful to me as well. I’m currently experimenting with Obsidian. I think @NiranS’s explanation is outstanding. I’m beginning to conclude that Obsidian is best for notes related to ideas arising from books, articles, research, and pondering whereas other note taking apps., take your pick, may be more suitable for work related reference notes.

The thing that pushed me to try Obsidian for my writing related work was the Kindle plugin that scrapes all of my annotations and notes from my Kindle books and imports them into Obsidian with reference information. What a great tool for “linking our thinking!”

Up until all of the “hype” around Obsidian I’d settled on Craft in combination with DEVONThink. I still think that may be the best solution for my work/project related notes and materials. Obsidian, on the other hand, may become my hub for all things related to writing, research, and presentation projects.

That said, ideally, I’d like to rely on ONE note taking app for ALL notes. I have created a writing vault and a work vault in Obsidian so I can experiment to determine if Obsidian can serve both purposes: linking my thinking and project note reference.


Craft is not designed for Zettelkasten type workflows but links and blocks certainly make it possible. You might also want to keep in mind that down the road, Craft is supposed to have a plugin ecosystem. It’s certainly shaping up to be a very serious Obsidian contender with the native advantage (but no native E2EE).

In the past I’ve aspired to find the One Note Taking App to Rule Them All :ring: . My thinking has changed (although I still briefly revert sometimes).

For me, Obsidian is best for thoughtful notes, notes that promote the thinking process. I think of the notes as an investment in the future - each note-taking session won’t necessarily be revelatory, but maybe a future session will be.

I’ve seen people that use Obsidian for task management and project notes. Most notably Francisco Bricio’s system, which is wonderful for him, but doesn’t work for me. So instead I’m using Agenda NotePlan for project management and project-related notes.

I’m embracing the “multiple notes apps” life style. It gives clear context to what I’m working on at the moment, and avoids polluting my “external brain” with things that are perhaps related, but not relevant at the moment - things that divide my attention. “In thinking about blah-blah, oh, that’s a task, I should create a task and link that back to the blah-blah note, and also to that thing I did last week where I made that change to the blah-blah process. And now I need a snack.”

Maybe I am the place where all things converge, and external to me are different tools with clear demarcation as to their responsibilities.



Would someone buy a hammer with the thought “this will make me the next Nakashima – my furniture will be legend”? Why would software be any different? The skill, or satisfaction, or insight, or joy, or whatever is needed from “note taking” is not in the software. It’s in the user.

If someone tries Obsidian (or anything else) and thinks “huh? why?”, then delete it. It’s not worth it.


I get the spirit of what you’re saying, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not as clear cut and that some tools need time and learning to truly get. Things like OmniFocus and Obsidian do not always come naturally and their power is revealed through effort. I certainly did not get those apps first when I installed them, it took me a year and a few books to truly understand what OmniFocus could do for me and now I am sincerely relieved that I put in the time, because this app does so much for me that I wasn’t able to take care of before. Same for Obsidian, through studying the Zettelkasten method.

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But the point is: what you needed to accomplish was real and existed before you used the software. Your requirements have nothing to do with the software. It’s also unfortunate that it “took … a year and a few books” to understand the software. That sort of effort makes sense if the software is Mathematica … but OmniFocus? Hmm. Something’s amiss with the software then, perhaps?

All I’m trying to say (very very unsuccessfully) is: glomming onto software without a glimmer that using it might be scratching an itch, is a signal that the effort is best abandoned. Move along; nothing to see here. I’ve seen too many people post in this and other forums their pain, and later anger, at software recommended by others, when just quitting it after the first few attempts would have been the best advice.


Totally agree with the time lost with Next Shiny Object Syndrome (unless you’re researching this for fun, and recognize it to be so). It’s usually better to try and use your tools better than to switch from the one to the other in the hope one of them is going to make you suddenly a genius :sweat_smile:

In the case of OmniFocus, it was more a case of an issue with my life. :sweat_smile: This app forces to confront yourself and to design how you really need to work and what you really want to achieve. I had understood very quickly how it worked, but how to make it work for me was an entirely different thing, due to its open ended nature. The same can be said, to some extent, about Obsidian.
Software which is more opinionated in its design offers a model that either works for you or doesn’t (Things Vs. OmniFocus is probably the best example of that) and if the model works, you’re set. But if you don’t, you have a lot of clarification on your hands to find out what it is exactly you need out of the tool. Which is, that’s absolutely true, not work on the software per se. The software only reflects the level of confusion of your life, both in goals and methods.


What practical advantage does Obsidian has over mvUltra? Currently using nvUltra for lightning fast notes search and creation and Obsidian seems to be more work and slower to access.

nvUltra does not support renaming files and updating links automatically, for starters, which was an immediate deal breaker for me when I tried the beta (and the devs said they had no plan to support this).

Also, no mobile app so far, while Obsidian’s are close to general release.

I’m going to counter all the mentions of zettelkasten here.

Does the zettelkasten in obsidian work great? Heck yeah!

Do you need to do the zettelkasten to benefit from using obsidian? of course not.

I’m on my 3rd try at obsidian and this is the first where it stuck. (2 weeks in)

Here’s the main reasons I’m sticking with it:

  1. It’s sooo flexible. It feels like I can have notes in whatever way works for me and obsidian will just handle it. I could decide tomorrow I’m going all in on PARA, zettelkasten, using plaintext as my task manager and obsidian won’t even flinch.
  2. This is the first app where I feel like I have a holistic view of my notes. I can drop into the graph view and actually see that most of my notes relate to software development with some interesting strands related to HCI or functional programming. In theory you can do this using folders and tags but by having auto-suggest make it easy to link notes I don’t have to really think about those connections until I want to see them.

The first two times I tried to go all in on zettelkasten and I just don’t have a need for more than a couple notes a month. I found it to be a process that requires lots of management that pays off later on.

And to be clear, none of this is unique to obsidian. But so far, obsidian has managed to package it up in a way that works best for me.


I see a mortarboard and tassel in your profile pic



Thank you!

Is it bad I’m excited to have a job and therefore a new workflow to try to automate and optimize :sweat_smile:


For me it’s two features. I also have a big library of notes in markdown, some are .txt unfortunately.

Unlinked mentions

The first is finding files that may have mentioned a topic that I didn’t link to anything. Obsidian searches my vault and finds everything unlinked. This requires that idea files be properly named. You can quickly link it and even read what was in that other file in a small window.



The search function also lets you so quickly find mentions of a topic in other files. Just love this feature, too.

Obsidian Search

Now I need to somehow empty years of Evernote into markdown files.

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Thanks, this is all helpful. I’m going to keep using it for a few weeks and see if it finally clicks. One thing I noticed today is when I started linking people, the graph view showed those relationships, which was actually very helpful to see!

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I think this is the kind of thing you don’t have to force. I tried Slite, then Notion, then Craft, and Notion stuck best, but the “blocks” paradigm just never really fit the way I take notes or brainstorm. Notion was “good enough” for me for a while that I didn’t feel like I needed to switch, but after all the Obsidian talk I decided to try it out, and it turns out that Obsidian matches the way I think and make connections.

There’ll be a learning curve with everything, but with something as personal as note-taking, it should be pretty clear early on whether it’s a fit for you. In this particular app category, there isn’t one app to rule them all.


For me some of the key features include the backlinks, faster easier note taking, automatic updating of note links as I move things around and the graph view.

My note system before Obsidian was DEVONThink. My general workflow was, take notes, tasks and ideas on paper in a notepad I carry everywhere. Back at my main computer process those scraps of paper into cogent notes in DEVONThink if it’s information or into Omnifocus if it’s a task or project. Sync both OF and DT with my 2 iOS devices, iPad and iPhone. In use, I almost never create notes on the iOS devices but I do reference them a lot. I check off tasks in iOS as they are completed.

Issues I had with this system. The biggest one is the data loss with DTTG where archived notes and information that I may only refer to once every several years got deleted with no warning and no indication that there was a problem. Another issue is that linking in DT is not nearly as easy so I very rarely linked my notes. That means that finding any specific note depended on me remembering how I was thinking when I created it so I could go to the group where it was located. Search in DT is good but still not flawless. That led to lots of near duplications in notes but not exact duplicates. I’d search for something, not find it or find one of the copies but filed in a different group and then edit that one. Then I have 2 “branches” of the same note and reconciling them is a PITA and that only happens when I realize I have 2 branches. No or very little linking meant I was stuck and could only access notes in the way I created them, no convenient way to build multiple access paths on top of the existing system.

Contrast that with the system I am moving to. Still starts with paper notes. But then instead of going into DT they get entered into Obsidian. I can quickly and painlessly create links. If I am unsure I can leave notes unlinked and easily find them. I can see clusters of related notes and see how the data correlate. Sync is possible and even though I do not use iCloud or Obsidian Sync I’ve got a procedure to move my vault back and forth to my iOS devices that works and keeps all my data local on my machine.

This is a key point. I may have an idea or take a note on simething and the value is not then but days, months, years or decades into the future. Linking and finding those in the DT system is hard. They are easy to locate and link in Obsidian.

The biggest majority of my notes in DT are reference notes. I found Obsidian far superior for that type of note for the simple fact that any gven note can “live” in multiple places at the same time. I can link to the same note from several views so I can slice my data in different ways. DT can do it with replicants but that gets really fiddly to make work and prone to disaster in my experience.

And that is probably partly why I’m moving into Obsidian. The DT model worked for many years but I’m finding I need more that it cannot do as easily or effectively as Obsidian and the data loss and the developer attitude of DT has finally used up my patience.