Using Obsidian as a planner
In an attempt to find balance between the digital and analog on my life, I've inconsistently maintained a bullet journal for the last couple years. I initially fell in love with the analog approach to staying organized, but as time went on, I couldn't help feeling as if something was lacking. Also, I'm accepting that, while I love the idea of writing more by hand and unplugging when possible, the practice is quite time-consuming and inefficient, especially if I plan to later type my writing to archive digitally or post online.
Recently I tried migrating my bullet journal practice to iA writer. While writer is a great app, it's focused on one thing: writing. Unsurprisingly, this experiment didn't work, so I found myself wanting something better. This searching is what led me to give Obsidian another shot, primarily as a planner.
I had also considered giving Notion another look but settled on Obsidian for two simple reasons:
- Obsidian is free.
- My files are saved locally, so I don't have to worry if I need to work offline. (That said, I am using iCloud to sync between my Mac and iOS devices.)
This post is not intended to serve as a tutorial for Obsidian itself, so readers are expected to have some previous knowledge:
August 2021 is just around the corner, so let's set up our planner as if we're trying to get ahead for the new month.
I started my 2021 planner with a file I called 2021 Future Log.
Basically, I use an H2 for each month's heading and then list things I expect to do in the appropriate months.
Next, I create another file for the week and fill it with some tasks I think I need to do in the next seven days. This one is called 2021-W32 (because 08.01.2021—08.07.2021 is the 32nd week of 2021).
And then, I'll make entries for the individual days of the week. I'll start with Sunday with a file named 2021.08.01 Sun.
One thing I love about Obsidian is the ability to embed notes within notes. I start each daily note by embedding the monthly note and then the weekly note.
Since I put my monthly notes in one file (2021 Future Log), I want to make sure that I embed only the portion that pertains to August, as opposed to the whole future log. Once I embed my monthly note, I want to be sure to type a hashtag (#) after the title so that I get a dropdown with options for other headings to choose and embed.
I select the heading for August and then proceed with embedding the weekly note.
Note: Before we proceed with the rest of the template, let me explain why I like embedding the monthly and weekly notes into the daily notes.
With a traditional notebook bullet journal, to get the full picture, I would basically have to look at three different notes: the daily note, the weekly note, and the monthly note. I would have to search my index in the beginning of my bullet journal to locate these three notes and then read over them and combine in my head what needed to get done on these three different time spans. But, thanks to the embeddings, I have all three time frames on one page, in an order that makes sense to me.
Also, I love that, within my daily note, I can check off one of the events in my monthly or weekly note and the change will be made in the source note and in all other notes in which that note is embedded.
For an example of what I mean, check out the following gif:
Now that my monthly and weekly notes have been embedded, I proceed with the rest of my template.
Explanation of remaining headings
I'm using Agenda for events and tasks scheduled for a specific time. This is where I would usually put meetings.
I like breaking To-Dos into Personal and Work subcategories so that I can keep some separation between the two.
Notes is where I document things that happened that weren't exactly planned or required.
And finally, Recap is a longer form journal entry—a reflection upon the day.
I repeat this set up for the other days of the week and then repeat the set up each week and month and, eventually, year.
The main reason I think this system can work for me going forward is due to the fact that Obsidian now has mobile apps, as opposed to my first run—in either late 2020 or early 2021.
Maintaining a bullet journal has meant trying to carry a notebook of some sort with me everywhere I went and then feeling lost if I didn't have it with me. Because my cell phone is with me almost everywhere I go—the shower and swimming pools are a couple exceptions that come to mind—I don't have to try to keep my planner with me; it already is with me, in my pocket.
During my last run with Obsidian, I tried to keep everything in the program, to grow my digital garden and my second brain. This time, I plan to keep my writing (blog posts, short stories, attempts at novels, etc.) out of Obsidian and in iA writer. In the short term, I plan to focus on making Obsidian work for me as my planner. If I can make that work, then I will consider brancing out and throwing more at it and seeing what else can stick.