How to Organize Notes in Obsidian

September 28, 2020

Depending on who you ask, they might say structuring your notes is a horrible mistake, or they could say it’s a path to serenity. But, just like all other note taking tips, there is no right way to organize your notes. Whatever works for you, let that work for you. Justin from Effective Remote work said it best in this Tweet storm.


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Sometimes it is helpful to see the structures and systems others have, so let me show you how I structure my notes inside of Obsidian. If you’d rather watch the video, check that out here.

I - SORT

The foundation of my organizational system stems from a popular naming convention called Index and Map of Contents Framework (IMF). I came across this strategy in the Obsidian Discord and found it helpful to use as a base for my own system.

The “I” in I-Sort stands for Index. Think of the Index page like a table of contents in the latest Twilight novel. It’s a roadmap that shows what content can be found inside of my Obsidian. 

My index page is separated into five sections. I have:

  • Vault
  • Silos
  • Areas of Development
  • Projects
  • Zettels

Vault

The vault is my knowledge hub. I have a master page for [[Articles]], [[Books]], [[Podcasts]], [[Videos]], and [[Stories]]. Having these master pages helps me keep a list of each type of medium that I have taken notes on inside of my vault. 

If I come across an article I’d like to take notes on, I create a new page and name that page [[A - Article Title Here]]. When I’m done taking notes, I open up my [[Articles]] page and backlink the notes I just took.

Inside of the master [[Articles]] page, I have two headings. One for my own articles and one for articles other people have written. Sometimes, I’ll write or do a brainstorm on my own articles inside my vault, so I like to keep mine and other people's opinions separate. Helps with my confidence, ya know?

I copy this structure and system for each of the other mediums that are nested under the Vault heading on my Index page. 

Silos

Each area or responsibility of my life I name a silo. I got this idea from one of Jesse Showalter’s videos where he showed his Notion structure. Although I keep my organization and tasks in Notion, I like to have master pages for each silo in case I want to link one of them to a note I’m taking.

Areas of Development

My areas of development are the things I'm trying to improve in a particular season of my life. If you’re curious, they are:

  • Business
  • Personal Brand
  • Creativity
  • Writing
  • Family
  • Quotes

As you can see, they’re similar to how tags can be used inside Obsidian. They’re more general concepts I want to be working on or improving, so I have created master pages for each. This makes it easy for me to link back to an area of development when I’m taking notes. Plus, seeing all the backlinks when looking at one area is very helpful.

Quick note: Tags and pages can often cause confusion because they do similar things. Here is my rule of thumb: Use pages for specific ideas/thoughts (The Pareto Principle or The 80/20 Rule). Use Tags for general concepts (Productivity).

Projects

Each of my currently active projects live under this heading. I currently only have two:

  1. Content Ideas
  2. Obsidian Online Course (That’s right 😉)

Similar to my silos, none of the planning or structured notes live in Obsidian for the projects – they’re all kept in Notion. These are just master pages for the projects that allows me to backlink ideas, thoughts, or brilliant topics I come up with. So far, I’m still working on that last one.

Zettels

Ah, the big kahuna. Zettelkasten notes.

Some people refer to these as Evergreen notes. They are ideas or topics that don’t have an author and that no one has created yet. They’re just atomic, living notes that I want to further research and develop into structured ideas or long form articles.

I add a prefix of [[[zzz ….]] to all my Zettels and write the idea in all lowercase letters. This helps me do two things.

First, it helps me see how many zettel ideas I have. Using the keyboard shortcut CMND + O, I can navigate to any of my zettels by simply typing in “zzz”.

Second, it helps me see which ideas I’m still building and which ones have some structure. When I’ve spent some time developing an idea, I capitalize the first letter of each word. This helps me quickly see the ratio of developed to undeveloped ideas in my vault.

Folders

Along with the Index page, I also use three folders: “Daily Notes”, “Incubation”, and “Sort.

Daily Notes

As the name suggests, the Daily Notes folder contains all of my daily notes. If you didn’t know, Obsidian has a Daily Note plug-in. Navigate to settings > Plugins > Toggle Daily Note on.

The Daily Notes plug-in is helpful to keep your vault organized and can be used as a bullet journal as you go about your day. Some people use daily templates with their task lists embedded, or sections asking how you feel, what’s on your mind, and what’s making you nervous.

Whenever a new Daily Note is created, I drag that page into the Daily Notes Folder. This prohibits all my daily notes from crowding up my sidebar.

Incubation

The incubation folder works like a holding tank. If I’m working on an essay, an active project, or research a topic, I drag those pages into the Incubation folder. This helps me navigate quickly to any of the proper pages, but it has also become a good default for me to check.

Whenever I’m bored or have time to kill before my next meeting, I can open up my incubation folder and start reading the next article on a research project or edit an essay I’m working on.

I got this tip from Justin DiRose from Effective Remote Work.

Sort

Although some people argue against this strategy, I’ve found that having a Sort folder is very useful. As I mentioned in the opening of this article, some people think you should organize your notes while others say it’s wrong. A Sort folder is somewhere in the middle.

The Sort folder works like a catch-all. Whenever I make a new page, it appears in the sidebar. Instead of leaving them there to pile up and crowd the sidebar, I use the Sort folder to keep everything clean, organized, and out of site. It’s kind of like shoving things in a closet and saying your room is clean. Not the best habit to get into, but it’s okay when used in a program like Obsidian because you can link to anything from everywhere.

If this method can work for you, fantastic. If not, find something else 🙂. Again, there’s no right way to structure your notes.

FOOTNOTES