For the longest time, I've been using Notion for all my work. Note-taking, personal systems, task management, calendar - you name it.
But some things began bothering me about Notion. Recently it's been slow and less reliable than it used to be. This is to expected with online services that receive a massive influx in users. But it started bothering me.
What if I couldn't access my data?
That's when I started looking at other tools. It's not that I wanted to leave Notion - even partly - but I wanted to see what other tools were available.
First, I looked at Roam Research. I fell in love with the backlinking feature, which allows you to connect your notes. But Roam is expensive. And even worse, there's been a lot of buzz about data loss recently. That's a no-go.
I went back to Notion. I tried to emulate backlinks using Notion's backlinking feature. It worked fine, but it has a lot of limitations.
Then I stumbled upon Obsidian. At first, I thought it was a watered-down version of Roam and that I wouldn't even consider using it. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
What is Obsidian?
In short, Obsidian is a free tool that allows you to work with local markdown files.
It sounds pretty simplistic. And it is. But at the same time, it's super powerful. Instead of listing everything you can do with Obsidian, I'll list what I especially like about it - and why I like it.
Your data belongs to you.
Every file you have in Obsidian is a file on your computer. You are in complete control over them. That also means you are in control of keeping them safe on your computer. What if you spill coffee and your computer stops working? Well, that's on you.
Luckily, you can sync your vault using your favorite cloud-sync provider. I'm pretty paranoid about data loss. That's why I use both Obsidian Sync, which is their native sync along with a Git integration. This is a pretty redundant solution, but it works, and I can sleep at night because of it.
Customizability: Plugins and Themes
Obsidian has a lot of options for customizing your workspace. You can customize the look using themes. You can customize everything else using plugins. And if it doesn't exist, you can make it yourself.
This is one of my favorite features. The community can build things that they find useful and share them.
For example, you can embed your Todoist tasks on any of your notes. You can make a plugin automatically extract flashcards from Obsidian to Anki.
All this makes automation for lots of things possible. It's exciting to see what will be developed. Heck, I've even played around with it myself.
Of course, this is one of the most powerful features of Obsidian. You can make connections between your notes.
Explaining why this is great deserves its own post. But I can't leave you hanging, so I'll try to make it brief. By abandoning the top-down structure that most note-taking apps compel you to, you're free to connect ideas and concepts. The idea that you can take a concept from one school of thought and apply it in another is very powerful.
These are some of my most favorite features so far. Obsidian encourages a whole new way of thinking about notes. I'm not completely there yet, but I already feel lots of benefits.
It feels like Obsidian encourages you to think more on your own. To think freely. Connect ideas. That's my favorite feature of all. Because that's what any note-taking program should: facilitate thinking.
With other note-taking programs I've used, I felt as if I were collecting hordes of information and resources. I didn't get to process them. It ended up feeling as if my notes were not my own. And that's because they weren't. They were collections of other people's thoughts.
Looking at them, I didn't feel any joy. I didn't feel that I had accomplished anything. But looking at my graph, I get that feeling. I feel like I've earned every single dot and the lines between them.