The 3 worst mistakes I made when I started with Obsidian

Romell Avendaño
5 min readSep 30, 2023
Image generated by DALL-E via Copilot

Yup, I know it’s very difficult to learn based on someone else’s experience. Typically, experience and learning are first-person games. However, being able to understand and in some way visualize another’s path is useful to be able to generate our insights and incorporate them into our path, or simply let it pass.

Here I leave you the 3 mistakes I made when I started my journey with Obsidian, although they could also be useful for similar tools…

1. I have taken notes incorrectly my entire life.

Image generated by DALL-E via Copilot

Like many of you, I have been using and experimenting over the years with many digital note-taking tools, and I can say that each of them (Onenote, Evernote, Notepad, Word, Google Keep, Digital Post-Its, Noteshelf, Bear, Obsidian, Roam, Capacities and Notion among others) have their light and darkness: some really WOW functionality that makes you stay hooked for a long time, an excellent user experience or a free version fits you like a glove, that is, something that works for you for some (or many) reasons and you love it. But they also have a dark side, something that doesn’t work for you, some half-baked functionality, things that other applications have had for years and that you hope one day this one can have, in other words, something that you simply hate.

And between this light and darkness we move and exploit the tool of our taste (with its light and darkness) to do what we want to do: take notes.

My problem occurred when I tried to use Obsidian as I usually use Onenote and Evernote (two apps that I have been using for many years) with this hierarchical organization philosophy like Notebook/Folder/File/etc… and to put it in a single sentence: my system crashed. James Clear says it well in his book Atomic Habits, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” …and that happened to me.

It is difficult to recognize this, but understanding that perhaps our notes are inefficient has nothing to do with the tool, and everything to do with the way we reason to take those notes.

This of course was like a kind of epiphany that helped me see very clearly the disaster of my notes up to that point…..disaster that I had intelligently distributed in every one of the digital tools I had used throughout my life.

Antidote:
Take a step back and understand how to take notes differently. In what way? Well, although there are important references such as “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens, and thousands (or millions) of videos on YouTube, references on Medium, and on any other platform that talk about strategies for how to take notes, the important thing is that You can find that way that works just for you, it doesn’t matter if it is the orthodox form of that framework or line of thought, or on the contrary it is the sum of many great functionalities that adapt to your need. This is a path that I recommend you follow, discover, and enjoy so that regardless of the tools, your notes are truly useful and valuable.

2. Keep thinking inside the box

After using Obsidian for over a year avidly for all my activities (reading, research, work, reminders, meetings, projects, ideas, etc.), I began to recognize a pattern of behavior that was totally inefficient and stupid (although in its moment made complete sense to me). I was using Obsidian as if it were Outlook which integrates a calendar with the ability to use meeting minutes. I created a template to have a daily log of my activities (so far nothing strange, there are many templates about it) but in this one I replicated all the day’s activities scheduled in Outlook, meeting by meeting, with all the meeting participants, the purpose of the meeting, who had arrived or was absent, what happened in the meeting (many times nothing exceptional happened), and all the detail around the meeting that I never used again for any reason, that is, it was replicating the behavior and functionalities of another application (in this case Outlook) in Obsidian in the most precise and neat way possible, that is, I had found a new way to waste time and NOT use Obsidian.

Antidote:
When I think about this what comes to mind is what drove this behavior, it is how I have been indoctrinated for so many years about certain technologies or the “correct” use of how they should be used. In conclusion, if Morpheus could see me he would tell me: Free your mind.

3. The vanity of the BigBang

No matter how many useless and superficial notes we have, they certainly look very cool in Obsidian’s graphical view, all that bunch of little dots floating in the air intertwined with each other (or not), and very cool colors according to a certain criterion, folder, or tag. , with different sizes and with an animation that recreates the BigBang and is the irrefutable and “tangible” proof of how my knowledge is growing and how intelligent I am……pleaseeeeeee. I mean, does it look cool? Yes…..but is it really the focus of what Obsidian or we want to obtain? I don’t think so. It’s this greed or vanity that motivated me to have a grade for every stupid, meaningless thing I wrote down, as it simply made the graph look cooler. Certainly, this feature is a very seductive hook that many YouTubers have been selling by promoting their content and gaining followers, but luckily the majority have shown a real interest in showing the potential of the tool far beyond this cool feature.

Antidote:
Immediately after this revelation, I searched and erased forever (including some stupid templates that I had made very meticulously) all those useless and silly notes that fed my vanity, and I was left with only those that really provided knowledge and value. Now my graph view is much smaller but also much more realistic.

Final thought: It’s not your obsidian, it’s me!

As you will see, my mistakes have nothing to do with Obsidian, but on the contrary, they have to do with my form, my understanding, and my approach to using this type of tool for a long time, with my own beliefs, habits, and ways of working.

Although this may be a bit frustrating in the short term, recognizing these shortcomings allowed me to have greater learning in many different areas, allowing me to rethink my ways of working, taking notes, and facing certain paradigms, of course, this helped my experience with Obsidian (and any other tool) is now different, better, more productive and truly generating value.

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Romell Avendaño

Life is a DIY project, that's why I write about technology, innovation, knowledge management, agility and more. Also I'm Obsidian Fan. I'm not a Robot! ;) 🤖