Turn your notes into a “second brain” with Obsidian for Windows

There are dozen of note-taking applications out there, and you will likely use one of them. So why should you invest the time migrating to obsidian? Isn’t it “just another note-taking application”? How is it better? How can it help you and why should you care?

In contrast to his colleagues, Obsidian presents itself as “your second brain”. This may sound presumptuous and typical advertising, but as we shall see in this guide, it is entirely justified. You see, unlike its competitors, Obsidian also offers several ways to link your notes together.

It is precisely because of these links that Obsidian can help you spot patterns from your notes. In turn, these patterns can help you see how some of your notes are behaving in ways that you didn’t consider. And before you know it, you’ve created a “second brain”. So let’s dive into obsidian and how it works.

Enter the safe with Obsidian for Windows

Obsidian doesn’t work like Notepad, which lets you take and save notes anywhere. Instead, it’s closer to a wiki and a better way to store, organize, and retrieve information. It will be easier to understand their logic once you know a little about wikis – check out our guide to internal wikis and how to set them up to learn more about them.

Obsidian stores all of its notes in a specific folder, which it refers to as a “vault”. However, you can create multiple vaults and store them in any location.

To the example, here’s a helpful tip: use Cloud-Storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive? Save a vault in their folder and you can access your notes on all of your devices.

Obsidian treats each safe as an independent system with its own notes, plug-ins and settings. A limitation with this approach is that you cannot link notes between different vaults.

By using several safes, you can set up individual workflows, each with their own settings and plug-ins, which are optimally adapted to different projects or applications. You could have all of your personal notes in one vault, all of your work-related drafts in another, and all of your research for the book you are currently working on in a third.

So, after downloading Obsidian from its official site , click to install and run Create to set up a new vault in a folder.

Obsidian works with Markdown and can directly open Markdown files normally saved with a “.MD” extension. If you’re not familiar with these files, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to teeing off.

If you have Markdown files in a folder, possibly from another note-taking application you used, you can click Open minded and use that as a safe.

For this tutorial, however, we’re going to be creating a new vault from scratch. Give it a name and choose where you want to put it, then click on the new one Create Button at the bottom of the window.

How to create linked notes in Obsidian

After you’ve selected or created your vault, you can fill it with notes. You can blame Obsidian’s versatility for its admittedly kinky user interface. You will eventually get used to it. For now, however, it’s easier to do that CTRL + N Keyboard shortcut to create your first note.

Give it a title (which is also the filename) and start typing like you would in any other text editing app.

If you create a second note and type the title of your first note enclosed in double brackets, you are linking to it. However, one of Obsidian’s super powers is that you can also create links to non-existent notes. If a phrase in double brackets doesn’t match the name of an existing note, Obsidian will automatically create one when you try to open it.

You can also use aliases to change how links are previewed on a note. To do this, add the “|” Pipe symbol immediately after your link, followed by alternative text.

To “style” your notes, Obsidian fully supports Markdown syntax for adding headings, quotation marks, etc. You can always press the standard key combination CTRL + E to toggle between edit and preview mode. This is particularly useful for previewing what your note will look like when it is exported to an application such as Office, Google Docs or even WordPress.

How to put tags in obsidian

You can also use tags to organize your notes. However, unlike most note-taking solutions, Obsidian follows that Twitter Approach: you can enter your tags anywhere you want.

Some prefer to keep their tags separate from the “main” text and add them all on a single line. Others find it more “organic” to include them in the text.

Thus, both of the following approaches are valid:

                      
                        #muo #note #obsidian
                        
This is my first #note in #obsidian, thanks #muo!

You can search for specific tags using several of the Obsidian tools:

  • The search function ( Ctrl + Shift + F ).

  • The Tag Area (which is displayed in the top right by default when enabled).

  • The graphic (which we’ll see later).

As you keep linking more and more notes, you can use the backlinks section in the right sidebar to see everything related to the active note.

Here’s another brilliant feature of Obsidian: it can recognize mentions of a note’s name even when they aren’t real links. So you can find all the links to the active note in the backlinks area, but also everything that refers to it.

Like any other Markdown editor, you can add links to websites and online resources to your notes using the following syntax:

                      
                        [Word or phrase for link](URL)
                        
[MUO](https://makeuseof.com)
[...do some basic research](https://wikipedia.com)

You can also embed local content and online resources in your notes. Drag a PDF, image, or other markdown file into one of your notes and Obsidian will automatically copy it to your vault and add a link.

For online content, you need to use what web developers refer to as “iframes”.

We won’t go into details as it can get complicated and this is not a web development article. The easiest way to do this is with the following syntax:

                      
                        <iframe src="URL"></iframe>
                        
<iframe src="https://makeuseof.com"></iframe>
<iframe src="https://wikipedia.com"></iframe>

By adding notes, your vault can soon turn into a maze. Helpful? Obsidian offers several ways to understand potential chaos.

Organize your notes with folders

At the top of the navigation area in the left sidebar you will find a button for creating folders. You can freely create folders and subfolders and move notes between them.

However, you can also use your preferred file manager, which is probably better at moving files and folders around. Obsidian uses simple folders and Markdown files and doesn’t mind if you change their paths. It will re-locate them and update the internal links. At least as long as all of your notes and associated folders stay in the same vault.

Using the chart in obsidian

Press CTRL + G anytime and you will see Obsidian’s Chart replace your active note. The diagram visually represents the links and tags between your notes and helps you uncover relationships between notes that you didn’t know existed.

Using the Map of Content (MoC) concept in Obsidian

Maps of Content provide a manual way to organize your notes, and they’re growing in popularity thanks to Obsidian. Also known as MOCs, they are “key notes” that you can create to help understand the rest.

A MOC is a typical note that may have a title, a section describing a topic, and links to all of your other notes, tags, and possibly related online resources.

Justification of the Monster “Second Brain”

What we saw should be enough to help you use obsidian as your second brain. With enough notes added and relationships established between them, each diagram even looks like a visualization of brain neurons!

However, we have only scratched the surface. You can also tweak the look of Obsidian, rearrange its user interface, or tweak its look using simple CSS rules. And we haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of plug-ins, many of which are complex enough to warrant specific articles.

Hopefully, however, by now you have a good understanding of how to use this “second brain” and how it can help you.

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