note app

  • Why and How I use Obsidian

    In the last few years, there has been an explosion of new note taking apps which only seems to be accelerating. This has been a wonderful blessing to those of us who got fed up with hearing about work chat (and even more fed up with jokes about work chat) and wanted something more than just the default Apple notes or…whatever Android people use.

    Table of Contents

      Why Obsidian?

      After exploring a few options I’ve settled* on Obsidian as my note taking/personal knowledge management application (*terms and conditions apply). I present this post not as a case for why everyone should use Obsidian, but why I like Obsidian and have chosen it. There may well be a better option for you (and there’s possibly a better option for me!) so if you want to keep exploring, go for it.

      It’s free to start

      I have no issue with paying for a good app but the main reason I settled on Obsidian was it’s free entry point. I had been playing with notion but wanted to try one of the new internal linking note taking apps. Roam seemed like the obvious choice but the $15 a month price point was enough to make me wait. As Obsidian was free, I had no barrier to download and play.

      Once I started exploring, it soon convinced me to stay thanks in part to it’s strengths over an app like roam.

      Interlinked notes works for me

      I had previously been exploring Notion which Anne-Laure Le Cunff aptly described as an “architect” style note app. That is, one which requires you to create a structure to organize your notes.
      There are some great aspects of a system like this such as tracking a project in a Kanban view or viewing all delivery dates in a calendar view. But, I don’t really need those for my personal notes. In fact, creating those layouts and organizing notes took more time than using those notes.

      Interlinked notes is completely different. It’s a bottom up approach where you don’t need to start with a grand structure. Instead you make a note (either just a thought or in reference to a topic) and think about what it might be related to. If you can think of a connection, link to that note (warning, you don’t want to link to everything. Eventually links can get overwhelming).

      This approach allows for topics and trends to emerge naturally and even unexpectedly as you follow your curiosity. I suspect this is better for most individuals with eclectic interests whereas something like notion is better for focused organizations but I know there are some people who prefer Notion/Evernotes approaches.

      It uses plain text files

      Plain text both makes it far easier to move note application in the future (if I so choose) as well as opens up compatibility with other apps. It’s very easy to save notes from drafts to obsidian, or edit and publish this article using iA Writer (I’m currently writing in Obsidian).
      I can even easily share these notes to a Jekyll based digital garden if I so wish.

      It’s cross platform

      Thanks to electron, there are PC, Mac and Linux apps. I was using the PC app for a long time while working on my company provisioned computer. Unlike an app like craft (which is just starting to provide a web client), this means I am not limited to windows or mac.

      This was another significant factor in getting me hooked on Obsidian. Now that I can use a Mac for work, I could switch to something like draft, but the assurance that I can move to my work PC whenever I need is persuasive.

      You can even use your own sync services

      Obsidian provides an end-to-end encrypted, paid sync service at a reasonable cost. But you can use your regular Dropbox or iCloud sync at no additional cost.

      The community

      I am a real lurker in the Obsidian forums and discord but I am really grateful for the people who are contributing fantastic work there. Some are simple ideas or tips on how to organize notes and sharing ideas they’ve saved. Others have provided really fantastic resources to help and a select few even create community plugins which can add some powerful functionality.

      Everyone seems very friendly and I don’t get an arrogance that I feel from some other note taking communities.

      What’s not great

      Obsidian isn’t without faults and there are certainly some aspects I dislike and envy in other apps including.

      • it uses electron not a native app
      • navigating the mobile app is very awkward (thanks electron)
      • it’s not as attractive as tools like craft
      • publishing is a pricey addon
      • you don’t get some of the organizational tools of an app like
      • you have to keep all your images and files locally (you can’t hide images etc in the cloud)


      In this section I’ll explore the different ways I use Obsidian and take notes in general.

      With Evernote

      I still have a paid Evernote plan, in no small part because I have an exceptional ongoing discount as well as a significant backlog of reference notes.

      Evernote has become my storage locker for reference notes, pdfs and files (and even Twitter threads). It’s also the place where I may save a copy of a web page (you never know if a website will disappear). Obsidian is where I write notes and reflections on what I have saved.

      RRR approach

      I want to share about this properly but I came across this approach to help learn and remember a topic called Read, recite, review. The basics theory is the best way to develop knowledge/a skill is to DO that skills, but we often do limited forms of it. So most people just read and reread their notes and never actually practice recalling information. As such, they don’t really take the information in.
      This approach involves

      • reading some material
      • reciting (or in this case writing a note from memory)
      • Once (and only when) you have finished writing a note, you go back and review the material.
      • Add any information you forgot (from memory)

      This results in making a personalized note, with only the key information (or information that resonated with you) and helps embed it in your memory.

      Book notes

      I enjoy reading a wide range of non-fiction but especially christian books. I use a book note template to save my reflections and thoughts.

      I will also make individual notes with key points and ideas from a text and link those back to the main book note.

      Random ideas

      Sometimes I have a random idea or theory and save it as a note to investigate and explore. For example, I came up with the idea of “superhero syndrome” as an alternative to “impostor syndrome”. My vague idea is that we should imagine ourselves as Clark Kent, who seems out of place and an impostor, but really we are superheros who have to hide our true identities.

      I have no idea how realistic this idea is and maybe I need to refine it, but I like the name and I certainly struggle with impostor syndrome, perhaps it will become something in the future.

      Meeting notes

      I recently started saving my meeting notes in obsidian. I have a simple template that adds a link to my daily note (below) and fills in the topics I plan to discuss and do discuss as well as listing next actions. It helps make sure I prepare for meetings and can check who is responsible for what.

      Daily notes using the storyline productivity schedule

      I’ve used the Storyline Productivity schedule since about 2013 and Don Miller has updated it for his new book and course; Business made simple.

      Everyday I press the button to open the daily note, fill in my primary tasks and answer the question “If I could do today again, I’d…” This simple practice has been fantastic for me.

      You can watch a video on how it works here.

      Study notes

      I’ve taken a few courses recently and I use Obsidian to take notes on readings, tutorials and general ideas. These are all linked back to a central page which keeps track of my module and progress.

      Sermon planning

      In the last year, I’ve started preaching at my church. Preparing for a sermon takes a lot of research and work to come up with suitable examples, applications and illustrations (and then organize them together). Obsidian works fantastic for putting ideas down, embedding illustrations, and then exporting a finalized PDF that I can preach from.

      Want to start with Obsidian?

      If you are interested in getting started with Obsidian, I made an Obsidian starter kit that provides an opinionated set of files to help you structure your Obsidian system.

      Sign up, get the set and watch the tutorial. It’s free!

    1. My Favourite iPhone Apps 2021

      After sharing my favourite Mac apps of 2021, I thought I’d continue and share my favourite iPhone apps from this year. In truth, they’re quite similar to my favourite apps for the last five years or so.

      I haven’t included iPad apps and while some would repeat, there would definitely be some differences.

      Similar to last time, and again stolen from Ali Abdaal, I’m using the categories create, consume, connect, coordinate.


      These are the apps I use to make things, whether that is text, images, or physical activities.


      drafts app icon hand drawn

      Drafts is the marmite app of Apple nerds. Either you love it and it’s essential or you just don’t get it.
      For me, drafts is a text scratch pad; a place where I can put something down without worrying where it will go. OR, where I can write something with more control than trying to type in a tiny website text input box.

      The features of drafts that suit this are.

      Drafts opens in a fresh note

      I set a couple of minutes as my refresh time so I can go back and forth to webpages without losing a note, but when inspiration strikes as I walk, it’s a blank canvas.

      Drafts actions help me get text where it needs to go.

      The actions in drafts make it easy to transform text into todo actions, emails, references notes practically anything. This has become more important for me as the Obsidian mobile app still isn’t out so I rely on drafts to capture an idea and save it.

      iA Writer

      iA Writer

      a hand drawn version of the ia writer icon

      iA Writer is my long form writing application and is also connected to my Obsidian vault. So I can draft and outline for an article while commuting or write a whole piece if I really want.
      As I don’t have Obsidian on the phone yet, iA Writer also lets me find, edit and update notes in my “second brain” or whatever you want to call it.


      a hand drawn camera icon

      The camera is one of my most used apps. Whether it’s a quick photo or a little video of my family doing something cute, the camera app is easy to use, always there and does a good enough job 90% of the time.

      Filmic pro

      a hand drawn version of the filmic pro app icon

      I started making videos using just my iPhone and iPad (In fact, my whole 30 days of sketch noting course used those two devices). Filmic pro really helped raise the quality of videos that I could create with these devices.
      Recently, it added support for the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 which has been great for me as an owner.
      Admittedly, I shoot less with filmic pro since I got my Nikon z50 but it’s good to have as an option.


      This is a stupid little press-up counter (I know, press-ups in create? But it doesn’t fit any other categories). I love it because it just counts and tracks the number of pushups you do. While this isn’t the worlds greatest exercise routine, it’s such a small activity that It’s the perfect break during the work day.

      Oh and you can get it for free.


      This selection of apps are for taking in content, from audio, video, and text. There is one bonus item that is almost a connector.

      Pocket casts

      a hand drawn version of the pocket casts icon

      Podcasts means pockets casts to me.
      I’ve tried other apps like overcast but I’ve used pocket casts since I was an android user many years ago.
      The desktop app is a real bonus.


      I don’t often use the YouTube app on my phone and when I do, I usually what the screen off but listen to a video lecture (thank you YouTube premium).

      YouTube music

      a hand drawn version of the YouTube music icon

      YouTube premium means I get YouTube music too. While not the best music service, it is good enough. And if you like jazz, the live performances and covers are actually a positive thing.


      hand drawn scribd icon

      Scribd is like Netflix for books (and audiobooks). I love this app and it’s helped me read 3x more books last year.
      Use my referral code to get a 60 day trial (instead of the usual 30 days) and give me some free days too.


      hand drawn kindle icon

      Not every book is on scribd but there is kindle. I know the iBooks app might be better, but I’m in the kindle ecosystem after buying ebooks years ago for it (plus my Apple account is set to Poland and that is…tricky).


      hand drawn Instapaper icon

      Saving articles to Instapaper is a core part of my effective online reading strategy. While there are many options, Instapaper works well for me and has some nice design choices.


      hand drawn readwise icon

      Readwise turns my highlights (from kindle, Instapaper and other sources) into a reviewable and sharable stream. I love the daily review, graphics it create and it saves all my highlights into Evernote to review later.

      (p.s. the link below gives us both a free month)


      hand drawn logos icon

      Logos is a premium Bible app and Christian resource centre. You can access dictionaries, commentaries, devotionals, maps, courses, as well as create notes.
      Really it’s part of the whole logos ecosystem which is what makes it so powerful. It’s great for both reading a morning scripture and preparing sermons.


      The iPhone was primarily designed as a communications device and so it’s no surprise there are a good number of apps to contact people.

      Messeges and FaceTime

      FaceTime icon hand drawn

      Living abroad means video calls are a big deal for us. For the people who have it, messages and FaceTime are the best way to connect.

      I also use WhatsApp and Facebook messenger but I don’t really like using either.


      a hand drawn base camp icon

      Chad Moore and I use Basecamp for side project sprints. I don’t tend to use the iPhone app but I do sometimes. The main feature I find useful with the phone app is sending some causal messages back and forth as well as occasionally ticking off a task.


      a censored slack icon

      I’m part of a few fun slacks. Again, I don’t tend to use it on my phone but it’s a nice option especially for sharing pictures of Sketchnotes to the sketchnote army slack.

      Microblog + Sunlit

      hand drawn microblog icon

      Microblog was in my list of favourite Mac apps too and for good reason. The easy publishing and social network are fantastic for personal blogging. Sunlit provides a photo focused option for browsing and publishing images.


      I should hate Twitter, but I love it (while having moments of hate). I’ve left before but then come back for some reason and find myself sinking time in.
      Although I’m sure I ought to like an app like tweetbot, the official app caught me with its support for polls and threads.


      The key criteria in my first smart phone was a digital calendar. I wanted to address my natural poor organisation and so it’s no surprise that this category is still crucial to me.


      hand drawn streaks icon

      I track a string of habits in streaks, currently;

      1. Reading the Bible
      2. Walking 10,000 a day
      3. Reading for at least 10 mins
      4. Journal
      5. Brushing my teeth for 3 mins twice a day
      6. Doing at least 10 press-ups

      I occasionally add a new habit to try and make it stick and start with the lowest activation energy I need.
      I love the new widget.


      hand drawn todoist icon

      I don’t really like Todoist, but I’m happy enough with it and it works everywhere. This was a bigger deal when I was using a PC for work but since moving back to a Mac, I’m looking at moving all over to OmniFocus again.
      Still, Todoist keeps me organised and the karma aspect is a great little gamification. While it may not be perfect, it hits a good simplexity balance for me, where I can make it more or less complex depending on my needs.

      (If you sign up with the link below, I get two months of pro for free)


      I’ve really come to rely on Trello recently. I manage my works content calendar in Trello and being able to respond to comments on the go can be really handy in our flexi-work situation.

      And my personal status board in Trello helps me stay on top of work and life.
      The mobile app is really fantastic and Trello does a great job of making it simple to move cards around even on the phone.


      a hand drawn fantastical icon

      Fantastical is one of the first apps I bought due to its natural language input and great display. I’ve not paid for the subscription but have lock in to some of the premium features due to past payments.
      I really like how it looks and the controls it offers.

      Apps I don’t like, but have to use

      At some point during writing I started to include apps that I use a lot and then realised I don’t like them! So I created a new section.


      We use Skype a lot for work.
      I do not like Skype.
      Although the iOS app is better than the desktop one.

      Facebook (& business suite)

      My church uses Facebook a lot, so I use Facebook. That’s basically it. The business app is great for sharing updates or sending a message to a potential visitor.

      Notable absences

      Both apps that I don’t have, or don’t really use.

      No mail

      I frequently delete email apps from my phone to avoid the curse of the pings and temptation to dive into them. I’ve done the same with social networking sites, using the web versions when necessary.
      I just checked and technically I do have mail on my phone, but it’s with an email account that gets no email but lets me send stuff IF I need.


      I still have instagram but…meh, it’s there. Sometimes I find myself scrolling through it but it’s really not my social network.

      What are your favourite iPhone apps?

      I’d love to know any iPhone apps that you are crazy about which aren’t on my list.