How to Take Smart Notes and Santosh Thottingal’s Digital Garden are the two reasons that made me try the Zettelkasten method and attempt a Knowledge Management project. Before that, I had a personal wiki powered by Dokuwiki, an overgrown Evernote with 10k+ notes (and 1000s of tags!), and a brief Notion period.
I wanted to have a digital garden where I can publish half-finished, ever-evolving notes connected contextually. It’s a long-term project, and I wanted the technology to be as minimal as possible. (Another learning, thanks to Evernote and Notion). Obsidian felt like the perfect choice. It used a simple folder + markdown text files to organize and an excellent graph view option. I used Dropbox as storage space, making files available from multiple devices, and the Simply Jekyll theme made publishing markdown an easy affair!
Note-types and folder structure defines the information architecture of my Obsidian vault.
I learned from Evernote usage not to use too many hashtags, as tags are not an effective way of structuring information. Instead, I use them to mark the “type of note.” Currently, there are five of them.
- #Fleet, the rough notes, primarily highlight from kindle, blog post, or part of what I read. These notes lead to seeds. (These are not published online!)
- #Seeds are the atomic notes. These notes contain my version of what I learned, from multiple sources, in my own words, citing all sources and linking to other atomic notes.
- #Evergreen notes are what seeds grow into. They are atomic notes with a strong foundation, clarity, and depth. I have very few of them for now, but the intention is that all seeds will become evergreens one day!
- #Topic notes are notes created for categorization. All seeds are connected to a topic note (unless there is a seed parent). I have prepopulated some topics and numbered them in the Dewey system to reduce duplication and control over-categorization. (FYI: Topic can be a seed or evergreen too)
- Finally, there is #archive. Archives contain notes with a completed purpose. It might be outlines of my presentations or emails, or meeting notes, or even a recipe. It might lead to Seed, but not a must. (I don’t see it as a part of Graph)
I use three other hashtags, #water to mark Work In Progress (water the seeds), #quote inside Kindle Highlight fleets for great lines, and #book-fleet-missing for books with no fleets, but a source to some great ideas!
There are four folders: Public, Private, Topics, and Templates. Templates are Obsidian Markdown templates for consistent markdown style. Topics contain empty topic files (one day, that folder will become vacant, as every topic turns to seed or evergreen!), Private notes stay with me, in my Dropbox (90% are kindle highlights or email drafts), and Public gets published at my working notes!
Earlier, I used the Daily Journal feature inside Obsidian, but I felt it overcomplicated the graph. Also, I used to have Inbox as a folder for WIP, but it was replaced by the Workbench plugin, which provides me with a single draft file for every WIPs, and that works like a charm!
For any consciously consumed content (book, videos, courses, blog post..) I create a fleet note and try to find #seeds from on them. Also, while it’s not a habit yet, I try to spend some time on these notes to complete notes with #water, break seeds into smaller notes, or start at the graph to find new connections.
Make fleets, turn takeaways from the fleet and create seeds; water them periodically! Connect every seed with the Topic so that there is some context to it. And wait as it grows to a great forest of evergreens!