Zettelkasten in Obsidian

Zettelkasten in Obsidian – #5 My Experience

Greetings and welcome to the fifth blog post of: My Experience. In this blog series I give insight into how I apply knowledge gained. For more information about this series click here. In this blog post I describe my experience with Zettelkasten in Obsidian

For those who want to know more about my experience with other applications for zettelkasten, including: Evernote, OneNote and Notion. There is “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” here you can find all our zettelkasten content:

Zettelkasten the ultimate guide
Click on the picture to open the guide.

The zettelkasten blog posts are the most read posts of the website. Know Act Invest Readers want to know how to use Zettelkasten. This blog post will use a comparable writing structure. Using the same two Zettelkasten principles, the principle of atomicity and connectivity. More about this further down.

Every application has it’s pro’s and con’s. In these blog posts I try to discover what they are. Also I will tell you if my preferred zettelkasten app changed at the end of every post. This time I try out Obsidian. The building of the Obsidian app started during the Corona Lock-down period, it focuses on three directions:

  • Local-first and plain text
  • Link as first-class citizen
  • Make it super extensible

The goal of the creators is to create a knowledge base/second brain. They call it the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) for notes. “You can think of an IDE as a powerful frontend that tries to understand your code, such as where are functions and variables stored, what are their types, and by doing so make it super easy to navigate code and get suggestions as you type.”

The aim of the makers is to create an application that integrates tools for programmers. So note takers can use them. Some examples: syntax highlighting, code autocomplete and Git integration. Don’t worry, you don’t need any coding experience. As you will see in my first steps with this app.

How to access Obsidian

To get you started I will describe how to access Obsidian. In essence it is a local first and plain text application. This means that the application is an installed program on your computer. It uses files that are located on your computers hard drive. The application is available for different operating systems:

No account or sign-up is necessary, the computer application is free to use. As of 2021/04/26, the mobile apps (Android and iOS) are in closed beta. The mobile apps are currently available to Obsidian Catalyst license holders, for more information about the licenses; click here. For this blog post I will be using the desktop version, since this version is easily available for free.

During the installation you need to select a file location on your computer. This location will be used to store the notes, images and folders that are put in the app. I have selected a folder that is in my cloud drive, changes will therefore be synced. This means my notes won’t be lost when my computer dies. Also I can use the same notes on my laptop. This can be achieved using Google Drive, Dropbox or similar software.

Apply Zettelkasten principles in Obsidian

The main goal is to use the software as described by the Zettelkasten system, to see how we can apply this in Obsidian. The Zettelkasten system uses two principles. The first: the principle of atomicity, based on an unique numbering system. This means that you put information that belongs together on a single note with an ID. The ID can be used as a reference. The second is the principle of connectivity. In other words, connecting notes about similar subjects.

Principle of atomicity

The goal of this principle is to group related information. This makes notes easier to find. In the Zettelkasten system this works by giving an ID. By example the ID: 1A for a note about Value Investing. Then 1B for a related note about a valuation method. ID 2A for the first note about active investing. And so on. This grouping method works great if you have physical drawer with notes. But nowadays there are different ways to go about this, in the examples I use the same notes that I put in Notion.

Obsidian uses two components for structure: Notes and Folders. The notes can be placed into folders. Folders can be placed into folders. This is how related information is grouped together. As you can see in the picture below on the left of the screenshot. The words with a little arrow in front of it are folders. By example, I created the Investing folder containing the following sub folder: Value Investing > Intrinsic Value. Within the Intrinsic Value folder I placed two notes; Capital Asset Pricing Model and Discounted Cash Flow Analysis. The files with PNG in front of their name are photo’s.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian, note example

As you can see in the following picture, the folder structure is stored on your computer:

Zettelkasten in Obsidian

By placing files in the folder they can be accessed from within Obsidian. After adding the you can type ![[ within a note and then select the attachment to reference. This is just one of the many operations that can be performed using Obsidian. For more info about commands, click here.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian, select the file

Beside the structure, tags are useful. You can use tags by typing # and then the name of the tag.

Principle of connectivity

The principle of connectivity has the goal to create new ideas from connecting notes. By example, In EverNote I used tags to do this, separate from the layered structure. Obsidian also has a tag system. Alongside a linking function. This is where Obsidian really shines. You can link notes by typing [[ within a note, then you can select the note you want to reference. After this you can visualise your connections by clicking the Open Graph View button on the left.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian, references

This view let’s you navigate by clicking on the notes(grey) or filter on specific notes by clicking the tags(brown). The lines between the dots are references. I think this is really useful for generating new ideas.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian, linking

Hold your mouse on one of the dots to highlight the references. In the example I used some notes. I can imagine this helps see connections if there are a bunch of notes.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian, structure

You can adjust the graph view settings to change it to your liking.

Zettelkasten in Obsidian conclusion

In conclusion, Obsidian shines if it comes to visually representing connections between notes. The graph view is an original addition to note taking. Especially the combination with tags is great. In the past weeks I have transferred from EverNote to Notion. Because the structure is really flexible. I do miss the tags in Notion. Therefore I will try out Obsidian, alongside Notion. I will transfer notes to Obsidian on my computer occasionally. If I like obsidian enough I will get a license to use the mobile app. I will keep you up to date about my Zettelkasten journey.

Want to learn more about Zettelkasten?

Then I recommend the following book. This is the step-by-step guide on how to set up and understand the principles behind the note-taking system that enabled Luhmann to become one of the most productive and systematic scholars of all time: How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) You can also first read my blog post about the book, where I describe the core concepts, so you can better determine if it suits your needs: How to Take Smart Notes – #7 My Experience.

What are your experiences with Zettelkasten?, Which software do you use? Let me know in the comments, I am eager to hear from you.

Thanks for taking an interest in this post, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment with feedback. This helps me to continuously improve the website.

Further reading on Zettelkasten

Obsidian website

More about the method