Twenty-plus years ago, I read an article detailing one professor’s experiment on creating a database system that cataloged his life. He had a team of assistants digitizing his calendar, photos, receipts, and journal entries. From this he could review a day a year from now and know there was a sale on Twinkies at the local gas station.
It was an interesting idea, and I had time on my hands, so I started trying to build a similar system. I fired up a database and a web server and started creating my version of this Second Brain. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t ready for hobbyist at least not for this hobbyist, digital cameras were priced for professionals, and scanners were just as expensive, the workflow just wasn’t there yet, we didn’t have decent cameras in our phones, no apps that tie everything we do together, no it was difficult since it relied on me scanning, cataloging, and linking the data. It just became too much. Although the idea stuck with me – still does.
Then there was Evernote – this application had everything, multiple platform support, offline folders, syncing between devices no matter what the underlying OS was. Evernote became my second brain. It had web page snippets of technology reviews, how-to on everything from drywall repair to how to build a water sprinkler for your kids out of PVC pipe. It was how I tracked and reported on project and tasks for work. I enjoyed this application so much that its yearly cost was paid for without review or thought.
Time rolled on and the platforms age began to show. Offline folders went away and became more of a web application. This next point isn’t the application’s fault, but my 9 to 5 blocked communication at the firewall, so it wasn’t as useful for work anymore. The web snippet may work, it may not depend on factors I couldn’t determine. It was aging – reviewing past notes was difficult, the search functionality was limited. Which means it is living on life support – and it was time to look for something different.
Obsidian to the rescue. This software is a powerful knowledge base application that uses a local folder of plain text Markdown files. The benefit of this is the markdown language is simple to use. I’ve just started working with it and in the past month I’ve incorporated it into my daily routine. It is literally the first thing I open to plan my day. With a growing number of community plug-ins, I’m able to quickly get my day planned using templates and mermaid charts. I’ve used dataview and the tagging system to create custom datasets for my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly tracking. With its built in PDF export function, I can quickly generate a weekly report for my boss, or an agenda for the regularly scheduled One on One review. So far, I’ve been able to keep track of meetings, and project status and daily re-occurring tasks with ease just by using the tags and dataview plugins.
I just finished creating a vault for my achieved data (2010 thru 2017) and I look forward to importing in the rest of my Evernote data, so I can see the links and patterns that emerge from years of data collection. Obsidian is a tool that allows me to see the connections between my interest, hobbies, work and family in a way that Evernote just couldn’t do. If you are looking for a way to manage everything that life throws at you, I recommend looking at Obsidian. After a small learning curve, you could create your own personal second brain.
The image below is a graph of the data so far – looks very PlanetTash to me.