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Timothy Miller
Timothy Miller

Posted on • Originally published at timothymiller.dev on

My Favorite Thing about Obsidian

The last year I’ve been obsessed with a new tool called Obsidian. I’ve spent countless hours with it, gleefully creating and refining. It has revolutionized every aspect of how I work and live, and I want to talk about why.

What is Obsidian?

Obsidian is ostensibly a note taking app. But it’s so much more than a note taking app.

It’s the best note taking app I’ve ever used, and it has gradually taken over many different aspects of my work. In fact, it has really become an entire operating system for my life.

Obsidian has become my personal operating system

Obsidian has become:

  • My personal assistant
  • My project manager
  • My writing and brainstorming tool
  • My friendship tracker
  • My system for remembering important dates and events
  • My second brain
  • My guard dog, keeping safe all my most important dreams, goals, and ideas

Much of this has been revolutionary and life-changing. But most importantly, Obsidian has saved me from the nightmare that is information overload.

Information Overload

We all consume too much information in the 21st century. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it has evolved to encourage gross consumption, and it’s making us all mentally obese.

Information gluttony can be just as harmful to your health as overeating, and it has similar side effects: when you consume too much, you cease to enjoy it. It becomes something you do rather than something you enjoy.

Even the most entertaining YouTube channel ceases to entertain when you overdo it.

And I’m guilty of it. The act of creation is far more difficult than consumption. It’s so much easier to sit and watch a video than it is to create one. But satisfaction and fulfillment ultimately rests in creation, not in consumption.

Writing improves memory

When you consume too much, you also start to forget things. You become a college student again, cramming too much information into your head, and forgetting it all after the test.

I recently wrote about a new-ish CSS technique that I haven’t been using as often as I should. I wrote that article specifically to try to change my own behavior, because I know myself: when I run into a problem that I solved years ago, I tend not to think about it. I use the old solution, rather than looking to see if there’s a better way to do it now.

But now that I’ve written about it, I don’t think I’ll forget it. Next time I search my brain for the solution to that problem, I hope that I’ll remember the new solution, rather than the old one.

This is the magic of writing. When you write about something, you’re forced to really think about it, and that helps you to remember it. Writing makes you a better problem solver and sharpens your memory.

And you don’t need a blog to write. You can write for yourself, which not only improves your memory, it has a host of other benefits. I personally do both: I start my writing projects in Obsidian, and if they seem useful for other people, I publish them elsewhere.

Association improves memory

But writing isn’t enough. Our brains work by association, and whatever you write about has to be connected to another idea in order to remember it.

Obsidian also works by association, and that’s one of its most powerful features. You can connect any note to any other note by using [[wiki-style links]]. This feature alone is incredibly powerful.

Coupling related ideas helps you to create a cognitive scaffolding that reinforces your own hardwired memories. This is why people often refer to these types of tools as a “second brain”, because they truly are attempting to create a structure similar to your own hardwired brain.

Is Obsidian a second brain?

Honestly I was skeptical of this claim when I first heard it. How could any tool come close to matching our own incredibly powerful (if a bit lazy) brains?

But now I see what they mean. Obsidian has become an extension of my brain. Not only does it safeguard important ideas that I want to keep, but it helps to clarify and strengthen my own thoughts, memories, and associations.

Writing alone can do this, but the associations between thoughts takes it to the next level. I clarify my thoughts through writing, and then I remember them by connecting them to my web of existing ideas. Then if I do forget something down the road, I can always find that idea again by looking through my web of related ideas.

Obsidian also has a visualizer that shows you a representation of your current web of ideas. Here’s what mine currently looks like:

My graph view in Obsidian.
My personal graph view in Obsidian. It can be chaotic, but surprisingly useful.

Getting Started with Obsidian

If any of this sounds interesting or valuable to you, then you can try it yourself! It's free for personal use. Download it here, and start by creating a home note. There are many different styles of home notes, but you can start with a simple list of linked notes.

Nick Milo has an excellent beginner’s tutorial here, which I recommend watching. He walks you through the interface and how to get your first vault set up.

Additionally, I’ll be sharing more details about how I’ve created my own “Life Operating System” over at Obsidian Rocks.

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