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  • Episode 10

Second brain tool: Obsidian

In today’s episode, I talk about my current second brain tool, Obsidian.


Hello, hello, hello. This is the ADHD for the Wind podcast. I’m Chris Ferdinandi. Thanks so much for joining me. Today, I’m talking about my current second brain tool, Obsidian. Last episode, I talked about the one I used for over a decade, MS To Do. Now I want to talk about what I switched to, why I switched to it, Some of the cool things you can do in it.

So let’s dig in. Uh, so I, about a few months ago, I switched over to a gooey app that sits on top of your markdown files called Obsidian. Uh, and one of the reasons I did this is I, a lot of times for quick notes, I’ll just literally open up a text editor. As a developer, I always have a text editor like Shortcutted on my desktop.

So a lot of times I find myself just opening that up to take quick notes and then I have to move them. Elsewhere. And so I thought it might be useful to skip that step and just have an app that lets me kind of do that and sync them everywhere. And after doing a bunch of research, I stumbled into obsidian.

I had looked at this a while ago and moved, like kind of didn’t really consider it because it does a lot. And one of my big kind of issues with a lot of productivity tools for people with ADHD is that they do too much and they become a thing you fiddle with. Instead of actually doing your work, right?

Um, it’s like, if you look online, you will see some really fancy setups for obsidian. There are folks who’s like, their whole thing is like coaching you on how to use tools like obsidian and notion. Um, and the reason is because they do so many things. You can create these crazy, powerful, robust, nuanced workflows, but I don’t do that.

Any of that, because I honestly, I think it’s a distraction. Um, and it’s just like I am like with my coat, my whole focus with like web development is simpler is better because it’s easier to manage and maintain in the long run. And I feel that way about my productivity tools too. I mostly treat obsidian like a digital notebook.

My setup is completely stock with the exception of two plugins that I will talk about. ADHDers have a tendency to get into tricking out their productivity tools because it’s fun and new and then they never end up actually doing the work. And so I deliberately, deliberately avoid all of that because I know myself I would do that too.

Simple bulleted lists are basically the only thing that’s worked reliably for me over the years and I’m sticking with it. So I use two plugins. The first is homepage. This opens up a specific file that I use for capturing random thoughts throughout the day. So anytime I open obsidian, it doesn’t matter which tab I had open before or what I was in, it loads up my inbox note for me to just kind of, it’s my, my quick, like, I just need to dump ideas down.

I can process them later. We’re not as often as the case spot. Um, and then the second plugin is tasks, which lets me drop to do items in any note, and then provides a, um, a special shortcut you can use to pull notes based on, or pull to do items rather based on different criteria into one spot. And I use this a little bit like how I used to use Microsoft to do’s my day view that I talked about in the last episode.

And I’ll drop a link to that episode down in the show notes as well. Um, but, uh, you know, I cannot stress this enough, skip the complicated setups. They’re fun at first, but they will make your life measurably worse in the long run. Uh, for my setup, I have four main notes that sit at the top of the Level of my file system.

Uh, inbox. This is the digital version of the piece of scrap paper that you use to jot random ideas down that come into your head. If I don’t write things down, they often disappear forever. So this is how I capture things. I don’t want to forget. Uh, I have a goals note. This has three to five big things that I want to achieve this year.

Uh, my list for 2023 included launching an updated or new workshop, which I did taking a big road trip, which I also did and organizing the house, which I definitely did not do. I revisit this list throughout the year. All to dos is a page that automatically compiles all of my to dos from all of my different notes into one spot.

And then today, which is the things I want to get done today, I pick one to three big items and a handful of smaller ones. And I slap some tags on them and they automatically show up on this page. I also use emoji in my file names because it makes me really happy. So I’ve got like a pencil icon, a bullseye, a star, a unicorn.

Um, use more emoji. They’re super fun. Um, then. The rest of my system is folders and notes. So I have a handful of context specific folders like work, clients, home, travel. And then inside those folders, I have collections of notes around specific topics. So every one of my clients has a dedicated note, not more than one, just one note where I have bulleted lists of things we’ve talked about.

Um, it’s kind of sorted by date. If we’re talking and they give me a task, I just slap a little checkbox on that. so that it gets pulled into my to do’s. Um, I have separate notes for my daily emails, my workshops and so on. And what I love about notes and obsidian is that I can intermix to do items, literal checkboxes with bulleted lists, code snippets, URLs and so on.

Um, it all fits really nicely with how my brain works, which is one just big jumbled mess. And then it provides me with tools to kind of Where Obsidian really wins for me, though, is the ability to embed queries into other notes. With the tasks plugin. I use these to pull all of my incomplete to do’s into one spot display to do’s flagged for today, show me high priority items so I don’t forget them and more.

And I use tags to power most of this, uh, tagging in obsidian is prefixed with a hash or a pound sign. And I use emoji for my tags because they stand out and look fun. So I tag important items with a star, things I want to do today with a unicorn, and items that are pending someone or something else with an hourglass.

Uh, and, um, I will drop some snippets down in the show notes of what those look like in an Obsidian note, so you can see how those work. Um, so I have ones for, uh, All of my to dos, and then I have those sorted by important items, pending, and just literally everything. Um, and then in my today file, I have a few different categories for incomplete to dos that I need to do right now, pending to dos, um, that are also flagged for today, but are pending something else and can’t get done.

just yet. Um, and completed to do items because I like at the end of the day being able to look and see all the stuff I got done. But I will drop little like code snippets in the show notes on how you can drop those into your obsidian files. Um, I use iCloud to sync my markdown files from one device to another, but you could also use Google files and obsidian has their own syncing service as well.

But this means that when I make an update on one device, it shows up everywhere. All my computers. Well, I don’t have more than one computer, but my computer, my phone, my tablet, it’s just, it’s everywhere. Um, and, uh, you know, could I make this more sophisticated? Definitely. But by keeping things relatively simple, I have a fast, easy to maintain system that lets me offload my brain and make sure I don’t forget important stuff.

If this at all seems interesting to you, go ahead and check out obsidian for yourself. I’m going to drop a link to that in the show notes as well. But that is it for today. If you feel like your ADHD is holding you back, I send out a short email each weekday on how to unlock your neurodivergent superpowers.

Head over to ADHDFTW. com to sign up, and I will see you next time. Cheers.