Why I moved from Notion to Obsidian as a Engineer

Divyanshu Negiā€¢


šŸš€šŸš€šŸš€ 5 min read

I have been a big fan of Notion šŸ¤Ÿ

It has helped me manage 100s of meeting notes, manage enormous databases for interviews, and create a template to be re-used and whatnot. When I joined my current company, the founder was a notion nerd šŸ¤“, and I became one too.

I always found some issues with Notion. Here are they:

  1. Notion is slow as an App
  2. Notion is Slow to display content and search content
  3. Notion only works if you are online (Notion goes down. Your whole document database is down)
  4. You cannot add custom themes on Notion easily
  5. No extensible plugins system
  6. Cannot code custom functions as we can do with google sheets

Having all these cons, it does have some benefits compared to a tool like Obsidian.

  1. Notion sync well with multiple devices (iOS, Android, Mac, Linux, Browser)
  2. Has good support for Inline database and page management
  3. Can work collaboratively with the team on a single document
  4. Can customize each page with templates (a powerful feature)
  5. Sync Blocks are handy when working with documentation which keeps updating.
  6. Learning curve is almost 0

Apart from being one of the best writing tools and the Darling writing tool for 100s of startups, the Notion still lacks in these domains.

I started looking for solutions like Roam research, and it's super expensive for someone who wants to try the software out. Also, the design of the product does not appeal to me. Some niche Twitter writers have a cult around that software and do not want to hear any critics about that app, which is fine, but I had to move on, and my search continued.

Enters Obsidian

[!NOTE] Obsidian a hard, dark, glasslike volcanic rock formed by the rapid solidification of lava without crystallization.

https://obsidian.md/ is the product previously called Zettelkasten; the name sounds complicated. Still, when I learned more about what exactly is Zettelkasten, I found that it is a unique method to make things less difficult.

The Zettelkasten method was made famous by Niklas Luhmann, 
who was a German sociologist who published over 70 books and
Four hundred academic articles (Ahrens, 2017, pp.30). Luhmann credited
his achievements to his Zettelkasten, which contained 
over 90,000 ideas that helped him develop topics by knitting
together ideas into a cohesive whole. His books wrote themselves,
Idea by Idea. Even after his death, Luhmann's ideas were combined
to publish more books on his behalf.

The word Zettelkasten is German for "slip box", which refers
to a box containing many slips of paper (Ahrens, 2017). 
Each slip represents a single atomic idea that makes sense by itself,
and also in combination with other concepts (similar to how our brain works,
but with a better memory).

Obsidian was made from this similar Idea, or you can say you practice this Idea much better with a tool like Obsidian, Roam Research, etc.

These tools are widely popular among scholars who are writing thesis and creating tons of notes.

How does Obsidian Helps make better notes?

Obsidian has a backlinking feature, which helps keep track of your Ideas from one note to another and link them together without writing everything in a single note; I know this could be unclear and not easily understood when we read it like this. I had a similar feeling when I came to know about it.

So let's explain with a simple example how I use it in my workflow.

Example : Taking meeting notes

Let's assume I have a meeting with Kevin, our FullStack Engineer in the team, and it is a 1:1, where we will discuss the last two weeks.

  • Obsidian supports Markdown editor, so as a developer, it is easy to edit notes.
  • I Start with a Kevin 1-1 Document. I can press a command like CMD+N on a mac.

  • I start making a list of notes in this. An example is here (All are hypothetical notes).

  • As you can see, a lot of other devs mentioned in the notes, and also some suggestions provided. If I take notes like this, and in another meeting, I have to share suggestions by Devs, I will have to 1 by 1 go into each note and read the suggestions or copy-paste them.
  • But with Obsidian, I can do one simple trick, I can add [[text]] this around the important notes like this.

By adding the brackets, now each topic is a new page. Also, as you can see in the suggestion, I added #, which will help me filter it out in my other weekly syncs with managers.

  • Now, let's assume I have to see what's happening in Sprint 29; I can directly go to a page called Sprint 29, which was created before, or I can create it by simply clicking on the noted link above.

Now, as you see here, when I open the sprint 29 pages, I can see all the linked notes with this page, So I can see in sprint 29 Kevin worked and implemented a new TDD approach.

Similarly, here, When I open an already created page with Shiv, I can see that Kevin mentioned Shiv in a note and mentioned the improvement suggested by Shiv. These simple techniques help make mind maps and also help in future meetings. You have all the context about the conversations and can take better notes this way.

  • This backlinking is one of the most favourite features while using Obsidian, apart from how fast the app is compared to Notion.

Customization in Obsidian

Obsidian comes with a default theme, but with a custom plugin universe, you have a plethora of themes and plugins to choose from. If you are not able to find a plugin, you can create one yourself easily with little knowledge of Typescript, node and React.

Themes :

As you can see here, you have 100s of themes to choose from in the community, and it depends on your taste.

Plugins :

There are 100s of Plugins available, and I found I can do almost everything possible on Notion with Obsidian much faster.

I can create a table, can make a workflow like Kanban in a note, etc.

I use 10s of different plugins for my workflow in Obsidian, and recently, I developed my Plugin to post these blog posts directly from the Obsidian editor to this website.

I will be writing a series of blogs where I will explain the process of developing and deploying a plugin in Obsidian.

One of the plugins I need to build is a GIF selector for these blog posts; I like blogs with animated gifs. It's coming soon.

I hope you liked this blog post, and I will be writing a lot more as now writing and publishing have become super easy for me with the help of a self-made plugin.


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    Divyanshu Negi is a VP of Engineering at Zaapi Pte.