Obsidian When You Don't Care About Knowledge Graphs
Before we get started
I am not an Obsidian expert, productivity expert, or anything related to that. I just want to keep track of stuff in a way that makes sense to me.
This initial post is all based on Obsidian Version 1.1.9 (Installer 1.1.9), the version I started with and still the current version as of this post (February 20, 2023).
Updated February 26, 2023 Of course the day after I hit publish, Obsidian is updated to Version 1.1.15 (Installer 1.1.15) 🤣
Lastly, this post will be a moving target as I use Obsidian more, so things will be updated, added, and removed, and the software will change!
Themes and Plugins
I should start here as these items can affect the rest of how Obsidian works in some cases. Some people like themes and others don't care. I love themes because they give me a way to feel like I am at home when using an application. The theme I use will surprise approximately no one. Dracula. More accurately, Dracula Gemini (with a few personal CSS tweaks). And with that, we already we have one of the neat things you can do with Obsidian, modifying themes! Themes are just CSS, so if you have ever done some styling on your website, you are good to go!
These are the plugins that come as part of the standard Obsidian install. For the core plugins, I have all but five turned on. The following are currently off:
- Daily notes
- Publish (This is an add-on you can purchase to publish notes publicly)
- Random note
- Sync (This is a sync service you can purchase. I will touch on this down below in the Sync section)
- Unique note creator
If you turn off Restricted Mode, you can install plugins from the community. I don't see any reason not to do this. You can add some great functionality with them. I suggest only adding plugins as the need to solve an actual problem arises. Don't just start browsing and installing because "oh maybe that will possibly somehow be a thing I might do some day". If you come across a shortcoming, and a plugin will solve that, go for it! Here are the community plugins I have found helpful in solving said shortcomings:
- Advanced Tables
- Editor Syntax Highlight
- File Color (great for making files in your sidebar stand out)
- Obsidian Icon Folder (Add visual icons to folders and files in your sidebar for easy scanning)
- Paste URL Into Selection
- Readwise Official
- Tag Wrangler
So where am I using Obsidian? I create data in Obsidian on the desktop mostly and reference this info on Mobile. Fortunately, the mobile side is excellent for creating, too, so it's really up to you. I use it on the following:
- iMac (Primary)
- MacBook Pro (Secondary)
- iPad Pro
- iPad mini
Using Obsidian on multiple devices means you need a way to keep things synced across them all. If you are using all Apple devices, like in my case, you have two main options for sync. I say "main" because there are undoubtedly several other ways you can manage this syncing. Still, for the average person who doesn't want to drive themself insane, these two are reliable and don't require anything special.
You can use the paid sync service from Obsidian, or you can simply use iCloud. I tried iCloud first since it was already there, and I also tried the paid sync service to see the differences. After trying both, I just went with iCloud. It keeps everything in sync and is on all my devices, so what else did I need?
Updated February 26, 2023 After the most recent update, sync with iCloud still felt kind of slow to get going every time I launched on mobile. So I wanted to try the first party sync solution to see if it was the same. After getting everything moved from iCloud sync to Obsidian Sync, I can definitely say it's a faster sync that feels more realtime. I am going to continue using it for a couple months and see how it goes. I do like the additional benefit of version history for a year on each file.
Mobile is where some may fall out from wanting to keep using Obsidian. With the version I am currently using, I would bring up two things for you. Unlike the desktop app, the mobile app makes you open a single vault at a time. So if you are moving between vaults, this can be annoying. I address how I am handling this below in the Notes Structure section. The second item is when you open Obsidian, it will take a couple seconds to make sure it has your latest config files/settings pulled in from iCloud. Once it does, it will then make sure all your files are displayed as well. It was weird at first, and I suspect it will get more streamlined over time, but worth bringing up.
You are creating super essential documents, so how do we keep them safe!? Part of the magic is that it's just markdown files, so you can back them up any way you backup files in general. You can do it manually by copying them to an external drive. You can use a tool like Carbon Copy Cloner to back up your vault files every night, day, hour, or minute. And you can always pay for the sync service, which keeps versions of your files for up to a year. There are so many options; you have no excuse ever to lose anything!
Again, notes are just markdown files inside folders on your computer! So, the number of ways you can add new notes is almost infinite. I generally just start creating inside Obsidian, but I also send stuff from Drafts. There are two special kinds of files I really enjoy as well.
- Canvas. This is an infinite wall that you can zoom and scroll around on to create content and connections. Think of it as a big mindmap but the nodes can be cards, other notes, or images. It is very helpful when diagramming complex things and finding how they all work together. Updated February 26, 2023 Now on mobile as of Version 1.4.2.
- Kanban. This is one of those Community Plugins I mentioned above. This will take a standard markdown file and display it as an interactive kanban board. Very helpful for tracking projects. If you have found kanban boards helpful, this is for you.
Separate vaults vs. a single vault? I use a single vault because I wanted to avoid vault-switching on mobile constantly. Within that vault, I made folders to separate the various parts of my note life.
Bonus Item: On the desktop, you can Symlink other folders to be accessible within Obsidian but not required to be stored in your vault. I do this with my git repo of blog posts, and it's very handy! Caveat: These will not show up on mobile!
Bonus: The icon
The icon on the Mac is a little plain, so here is a thread of some alternates to swap out if you like.