Over the course of these episodes, one thing that I have stressed–because it is important to me–is creating my notes in a way that will make them easy to find. This goes for how I title a note, to how I associate the note with a person, or even the date the note was created or modified. And of course, there is the content of the note, which is the part I am looking for when searching for a note. When I need to find something, I want to find it quickly, with little effort. In some instances, I have a question to answer; in others, I don’t want to minimize interruption to my flow. In this episode, I talk about some techniques I use to find notes quickly.
Maps of Content (MOCs)
As my system evolves within Obsidian, I think of my notes as being divided into five major classes:
- Atomic notes: those notes that follow a Zettelkasten-like pattern of being about one thing, associated with a source, links, and context. My reading notes are one example of this.
- Attachments: images, PDFs, etc.
- Document notes: these is a level of abstraction above an attachment. An attachment transcluded into a note to add meta-data and other context to the attachment. I discussed this in detail in Episode 4.
- Writing notes: since I began drafting my blog entries and journal in Obsidian, I think of these notes as their own class.
- Maps of content (MOC): these are notes that tie all of the above together.
MOC notes are one of my primary tools for finding information quickly. It happens to be the beginning of tax season, and I have used this opportunity to begin migrating all of my tax-related notes from Evernote into Obsdian1 The actual tax documents (W-2s, tax returns, etc.) are PDFs and so these fall into the “attachments” class. For each of these I have created a document note so that I can include date information, tags, and any other meta-data I want to associate with those PDFs. At a higher level, I have an MOC for my tax information called “Tax Documents”
The first note contains links to all of my tax document notes (in which, the actual attachment files are transcluded). The documents are categorized by year with a table summarizing taxes year-to-year, as well as a section for frequently accessed tax documents.
To find what I need, I usually just need to go to this one note, and from there, I have a quick way of getting to any tax information I need.
I have other MOC notes that are like this for quickly finding documents. I have one for each of our cars, for instance. This document has important information about the car, and then a list of documents related to the vehicle, followed by a Vehicle History section, which is a timeline of events, service repairs, etc. for that particular vehicle. Again, if I need information about a car, I can start at the MOC and very quickly find what I am looking for.
I have an MOC like this for most services I use, and these include service calls I’ve had to make. Because I use markdown headings for the events in the history section of these service MOCs, I can link to a specific event from my daily notes as well. For instance, we recently had an issue with the battery in our home alarm system. This required two chats with the service department. Both of these are logged in the service MOC for our alarm service and referenced in my daily notes making it easy to find from either place.
For frequently-accessed notes, I’ll use the Star plugin and star the notes so that they appear on my Starred List. There, I’ll sort them in a way that is useful to me. I try to keep this list fairly short–really just the notes I use every day. I don’t want to turn to my starred list only to have to scan through a long list of notes to find the one I’m looking for.
Daily Notes Search
Now that my daily notes are in a single file, it is easy to things within that file with a simple search.
For more complex searches of my daily notes file, I’ll use Obsidian’s search instead of the find-within-file search. The former allows for regular expression searches; the latter does not appear to (yet). For instance, if I want a list of all of the articles I read on January 21, I can run a search like this on my daily notes file:
file:Daily.md section:("# 2022-01-21" /^- read/)
which gives me the following results:
For those who are curious about how this search works, here is what Obsidian shows for “Explaining the search”:
I can imagine similar searches for calls, meetings, and other things I do regularly throughout the day.
For searches, like the previous example, that I do frequently, I can create a “saved search” using the embedded query function in Obsidian. I can then star these notes to be able to access these searches quickly.
Another type of saved search that I use, becaues Obsdian does not yet provide a good way to do this within the app (so far as I can tell) are date-related searches. I have four OS-level searches that I’ve saved (I use MacOS):
- Notes – Created today
- Notes – Created this week
- Notes – Updated today
- Notes – Updated this week
When I open Finder on my Mac, this is how these saved searches appear:
I use these when I want to see what I worked on in a given day or week. I also use it when I know I worked on a note but can’t remember what it was or what I called it. I can go to my “Updated this week” saved search and scroll through the list until seeing the name of the note triggers my memory. Then I can open it in Obsidian.
Obsidian has powerful searching capabilities, but I wanted to illustrate how I use different methods to find things quickly. One thing I didn’t mention was the Data View plug-in. I’ve been playing with that and will have more to say about it in Episode 20. Next week will be all about note links–internal and external–and how I see them as one of the most powerful features Obsidian has. See you back here in a week!
Written on January 22, 2022.
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- This is an ongoing process, but I’ve got a good start on it. ↩