Tag: note taking

  • Why and How I use Obsidian

    In the last few years, there has been an explosion of new note taking apps which only seems to be accelerating. This has been a wonderful blessing to those of us who got fed up with hearing about work chat (and even more fed up with jokes about work chat) and wanted something more than just the default Apple notes or…whatever Android people use.

    Table of Contents

      Why Obsidian?

      After exploring a few options I’ve settled* on Obsidian as my note taking/personal knowledge management application (*terms and conditions apply). I present this post not as a case for why everyone should use Obsidian, but why I like Obsidian and have chosen it. There may well be a better option for you (and there’s possibly a better option for me!) so if you want to keep exploring, go for it.

      It’s free to start

      I have no issue with paying for a good app but the main reason I settled on Obsidian was it’s free entry point. I had been playing with notion but wanted to try one of the new internal linking note taking apps. Roam seemed like the obvious choice but the $15 a month price point was enough to make me wait. As Obsidian was free, I had no barrier to download and play.

      Once I started exploring, it soon convinced me to stay thanks in part to it’s strengths over an app like roam.

      Interlinked notes works for me

      I had previously been exploring Notion which Anne-Laure Le Cunff aptly described as an “architect” style note app. That is, one which requires you to create a structure to organize your notes.
      There are some great aspects of a system like this such as tracking a project in a Kanban view or viewing all delivery dates in a calendar view. But, I don’t really need those for my personal notes. In fact, creating those layouts and organizing notes took more time than using those notes.

      Interlinked notes is completely different. It’s a bottom up approach where you don’t need to start with a grand structure. Instead you make a note (either just a thought or in reference to a topic) and think about what it might be related to. If you can think of a connection, link to that note (warning, you don’t want to link to everything. Eventually links can get overwhelming).

      This approach allows for topics and trends to emerge naturally and even unexpectedly as you follow your curiosity. I suspect this is better for most individuals with eclectic interests whereas something like notion is better for focused organizations but I know there are some people who prefer Notion/Evernotes approaches.

      It uses plain text files

      Plain text both makes it far easier to move note application in the future (if I so choose) as well as opens up compatibility with other apps. It’s very easy to save notes from drafts to obsidian, or edit and publish this article using iA Writer (I’m currently writing in Obsidian).
      I can even easily share these notes to a Jekyll based digital garden if I so wish.

      It’s cross platform

      Thanks to electron, there are PC, Mac and Linux apps. I was using the PC app for a long time while working on my company provisioned computer. Unlike an app like craft (which is just starting to provide a web client), this means I am not limited to windows or mac.

      This was another significant factor in getting me hooked on Obsidian. Now that I can use a Mac for work, I could switch to something like draft, but the assurance that I can move to my work PC whenever I need is persuasive.

      You can even use your own sync services

      Obsidian provides an end-to-end encrypted, paid sync service at a reasonable cost. But you can use your regular Dropbox or iCloud sync at no additional cost.

      The community

      I am a real lurker in the Obsidian forums and discord but I am really grateful for the people who are contributing fantastic work there. Some are simple ideas or tips on how to organize notes and sharing ideas they’ve saved. Others have provided really fantastic resources to help and a select few even create community plugins which can add some powerful functionality.

      Everyone seems very friendly and I don’t get an arrogance that I feel from some other note taking communities.

      What’s not great

      Obsidian isn’t without faults and there are certainly some aspects I dislike and envy in other apps including.

      • it uses electron not a native app
      • navigating the mobile app is very awkward (thanks electron)
      • it’s not as attractive as tools like craft
      • publishing is a pricey addon
      • you don’t get some of the organizational tools of an app like
      • you have to keep all your images and files locally (you can’t hide images etc in the cloud)

      How

      In this section I’ll explore the different ways I use Obsidian and take notes in general.

      With Evernote

      I still have a paid Evernote plan, in no small part because I have an exceptional ongoing discount as well as a significant backlog of reference notes.

      Evernote has become my storage locker for reference notes, pdfs and files (and even Twitter threads). It’s also the place where I may save a copy of a web page (you never know if a website will disappear). Obsidian is where I write notes and reflections on what I have saved.

      RRR approach

      I want to share about this properly but I came across this approach to help learn and remember a topic called Read, recite, review. The basics theory is the best way to develop knowledge/a skill is to DO that skills, but we often do limited forms of it. So most people just read and reread their notes and never actually practice recalling information. As such, they don’t really take the information in.
      This approach involves

      • reading some material
      • reciting (or in this case writing a note from memory)
      • Once (and only when) you have finished writing a note, you go back and review the material.
      • Add any information you forgot (from memory)

      This results in making a personalized note, with only the key information (or information that resonated with you) and helps embed it in your memory.

      Book notes

      I enjoy reading a wide range of non-fiction but especially christian books. I use a book note template to save my reflections and thoughts.

      I will also make individual notes with key points and ideas from a text and link those back to the main book note.

      Random ideas

      Sometimes I have a random idea or theory and save it as a note to investigate and explore. For example, I came up with the idea of “superhero syndrome” as an alternative to “impostor syndrome”. My vague idea is that we should imagine ourselves as Clark Kent, who seems out of place and an impostor, but really we are superheros who have to hide our true identities.

      I have no idea how realistic this idea is and maybe I need to refine it, but I like the name and I certainly struggle with impostor syndrome, perhaps it will become something in the future.

      Meeting notes

      I recently started saving my meeting notes in obsidian. I have a simple template that adds a link to my daily note (below) and fills in the topics I plan to discuss and do discuss as well as listing next actions. It helps make sure I prepare for meetings and can check who is responsible for what.

      Daily notes using the storyline productivity schedule

      I’ve used the Storyline Productivity schedule since about 2013 and Don Miller has updated it for his new book and course; Business made simple.

      Everyday I press the button to open the daily note, fill in my primary tasks and answer the question “If I could do today again, I’d…” This simple practice has been fantastic for me.

      You can watch a video on how it works here.

      Study notes

      I’ve taken a few courses recently and I use Obsidian to take notes on readings, tutorials and general ideas. These are all linked back to a central page which keeps track of my module and progress.

      Sermon planning

      In the last year, I’ve started preaching at my church. Preparing for a sermon takes a lot of research and work to come up with suitable examples, applications and illustrations (and then organize them together). Obsidian works fantastic for putting ideas down, embedding illustrations, and then exporting a finalized PDF that I can preach from.

      Want to start with Obsidian?

      If you are interested in getting started with Obsidian, I made an Obsidian starter kit that provides an opinionated set of files to help you structure your Obsidian system.

      Sign up, get the set and watch the tutorial. It’s free!

    1. The Best Way to Save Twitter Threads to Evernote

      Recently, I found myself wanting to save a tweet storm to Evernote but I wasn’t sure how. Would the standard web clipper produce the results that I wanted? Or should I use a different service first to get a simplified view. After some investigation, I came upon the best way to save twitter threads to Evernote.

      Table of Contents

        What are Tweetstorms and why should you save them?

        Tweet storms (or twitter threads) are a form of publishing where you write a longer item of content by connecting tweets together. Each thought is limited to 280 characters but by grouping them together, you can write a much longer message.

        This provides some of the brevity of Twitter (each part is constrained to 280) while also allowing a larger thought to be expressed.

        Skilled practitioners can turn it into an art form, where the reader enjoys moving from tweet to tweet. They may imploy Gifs and images to highlight emotions, or end tweets with unresolved questions, inviting you to contiune reading.

        With the decline in personal blogging, tweet storms have become a common way to share written content. Even bloggers may condense a long post into a more direct thread with a link back to the blog.

        It’s no wonder I, like many others, would want to save a tweet storm for later.

        The issue with saving tweet threads to Evernote

        The only issue is, each tweet is separate.

        While Twitter does a good job of grouping tweet storms together, This isn’t always recognized by third-party services. Twitter also often includes responses from other users at the end of the thread. Sometimes these can be valuable, but often they either agree with or attack the writer.

        This can lead to you to either save notes that are only a link to the thread or only save the first tweet from the thread. In some cases you may have a note that contains a mixture of different users tweets.

        So what is the best way to save a thread from twitter that keeps the content you want, without the scruff. Let’s look at some options.

        The Evernote web clipper

        Evernote provides two default tools to help you save items from the web into files and notes. The first is the Evernote web clipper, a browser extension for PC and Macs. The second is the mobile extension for iOS and Android.

        Saving twitter threads with the desktop Evernote web clipper

        There are several options to save a note using the Evernote browser web clipper.

        • Article: Saves the HTML version of only the tweets but the layout is… strange.
        • Simplified article: saves a note about the cookie notice.
        • Full page: saves the whole web page including replies.
        • Bookmark: saves the URL with a preview of the content.
        • Screenshot: saves a screenshot

        As I’m sure you can agree, none of these are really perfect. They either include aspects you might not want or they are so minimal that they don’t include aspects you want.

        An example of a twitter thread saved using the desktop web clipper
        An example of a twitter thread saved using the desktop web clipper

        Saving Twitter threads with the Evernote iOS Share Sheet

        Unlike the desktop browser extension, the Evernote iOS Share sheet doesn’t provide you with a selection of options. Instead, it simply shares a web clip with only the first tweet selected. Admittedly, this includes a link so you can check out the rest of the thread. But you don’t get the full tweet storm in your Evernote cup.

        A twitter thread saved into evernote using the IOS share sheet
        A twitter thread saved into evernote using the IOS share sheet

        What about using the Android Share Sheet?

        I’m afraid I don’t currently have an android phone, so I can’t say what if any difference there is with the android share sheet.

        If you are an android user, perhaps you can test it out and let me know.

        Saving Tweetstorms using an app like Threader

        Apps like threader or threads provide services to save threads for later reading with only the content from the post’s writer.

        A twitter thread saved into the the threader app
        A twitter thread saved into the the threader app

        For some people, a service like this would be enough. Threader removes distractions and allows you to save threads to read later. It also features collections of popular threads from other users.

        If, however, you like to bring everything into one place, then these services can be a temporary storage, and triage on your journey.

        Once saved to threader, you can access it on the desktop and use the Evernote web clipper browser extension. This gives you the same options as before with article, full page and simplified article saving the whole thread. In this case, the whole thread will be saved and visible in Evernote.

        A twitter thread saved to evernote from Threader app using the desktop web clipper
        A twitter thread saved to evernote from Threader app using the desktop web clipper

        If you use the iOS share sheet extension from the iOS threader app, it will only take the start of the thread. You won’t get the whole thread.

        A tweetstorm saved to evernote using the iOS threader app and iOS share sheet
        A tweetstorm saved to evernote using the iOS threader app and iOS share sheet

        Personally, I am surprised that saving to Evernote, notion or roam research isn’t one of the premium features. However, the fact that Threader is an indie project powered by two developers might explain this omission.

        Regardless, adding this functionality would be a great idea.

        Trurn a thread into markdown with The.Rip

        The rip promises to turn twitter threads into markdown, so they are easily imported into Evernote, Notion or Roam.

        Unfortunately I was unable to get the rip to work. Whenever I tried to log in to the site, it revealed an error message.

        Error message from The.Rip when trying to log in.
        Error message from The.Rip when trying to log in.

        This was a real shame as it seemed like a great, flexible solution.

        Saving twitter threads with Readwise

        Readwise is a service that helps you save highlights, review what you’ve saved, and then share or store your highlights. It includes features like automatic import for Kindle book highlights and has export functionality for Evernote with Notion and Roam Research in beta.

        Readwise can also save tweets and twitter threads. All you need to do is reply to (or better DM) @readwise and say “save” (to save a tweet). Alternatively you can message “Save thread” to save a thread. You can read more details on the readwise help page.

        Now, the tweet or thread is saved to your readwise highlights to review and it can be automatically or manually exported to Evernote. This is by far the simplest way to save threads and you can still review items you save before you export them.

        Saving Tweets with IFTTT

        IFTTT is an internet service that connects multiple services. It follows simple programming logic of “If This, then that”. One common actions is to save tweets you star to Evernote (or another service). You can even set a specific notebook and tags with static and dynamic characteristics.

        Unfortunately, IFTTT only works with the first tweet, so it can’t save a whole thread. IFTTT will, however, save a link to the thread. Not an ideal solution, but certainly easy to use.

        What is the best way to save Twitter threads to Evernote?

        It really depends on your needs but personally, I’m sticking with readwise. I already use it to save and review other highlights and notes so applying it to twitter threads makes sense.

        The easy, universal nature of its functionality is another plus. As long as I’m logged in to my twitter account, I can save a thread easily.

        If you’ve settled on a different choice or found an alternative method, I’d love you to leave a comment, so I can know why.