How I Use Obsidian: A Brief Overview

Obsidian Today Page

One of my all time favorite apps for my Mac and my iPhone is the note taking app Obsidian. In this post I am going to give you a (hopefully) brief overview of what this amazing app is and how I use it.

Obsidian: What the Heck is it?

Glad you asked! Obsidian is a connected note taking app that uses Markdown as a way to format text files. Text files are great because they are lightweight and work anywhere (even if Obsidian goes away you will have access to your notes). These notes are stored on a folder on your device, not in the app. If you place those files in an internet connected folder such as in iCloud or Dropbox, you can access and edit them on any of your devices.

Markdown

Markdown is a markup language, similar to HTML but much simpler. If you are anything like me and tried using HTML and got confused don’t let that scare you. If you can style documents using a word processor (like adding bold text) you can learn Markdown in about 15 minutes.

Connected Note Taking

In addition to being able to organize notes using folders and tags, Obsidian has a number of ways that you can connect notes together and then find them.

a backlink is a link in a note that leads to another note. Say you are researching something to buy, like a car. You could create a note about what you are looking for in a car such as type, price, features, etc. Then you start looking for cars and taking notes on cars you like. You could create a note for each car that you like, and put a back link to the original note about the type of car you are looking for, like this: [My Next Car]” If you put an !” before the square brackets it will show you an image of the note instead of a link.

Plug ins

This is where Obsidian starts to get down right magical. Obsidian has a gazillion plug-ins that let you add all kinds of features to your note taking system. For example all Markdown editors let you create tasks, but there is a Tasks plug-in that lets you create tasks with due dates, start dates, or recurrences, allowing you to create much more detailed to-do and project lists. Tasks can create lists of your tasks in your notes using a simple programming structure (don’t worry, you don’t have to be a programmer to create lists of tasks). Tab Example

As you can see here, this is a list of tasks created with the tasks plug-in from three different tags.

Themes let you change the look of your notes

Another feature Obsidian has similar to a website is the ability to change the theme of the app. In the preferences you can go to the themes section, browse through the themes that are available, download and enable the one you like. I use the Minimal theme which lets you control how menus and other elements of the app look and adds color to text like colorful headings. There are themes for both light and dark modes, themes that make Obsidian look like other apps such as Things and Notation, a red and green Christmas theme, and even a Windows 98 theme (for those of you that like to punish yourself, LOL).

Fantastic Community

Obsidian has a fantastic community of developers and users that are always willing to help. In addition to lots of other blogs writing tips and tricks for Obsidian, they have a great forum and a Discord server with lots of answers and quick responses if you can’t find what you are looking for.

What I use Obsidian for

Obsidian is my primary note taking system for almost everything, but there are four main things I use it for: Bible study and other personal notes, work notes, task management, and a daily note that encompasses almost everything I need to know or remember for the day.

Bible Study

As a Christian, I put in time studying the Bible and taking notes in church during sermons. I have a folder in Obsidian that has the entire WEB version of the Bible divided into folders for each book and each chapter on its own note, with designated headings for every verse. I didn’t create this myself. Another member of the Obsidian community went through this process and made it a downloadable file for Obsidian.

With this set up, when I am taking notes and I want to add a reference to the specific scripture being discussed I can use an internal backlink to add the text to my notes. For example typing John-03#16” surrounded by double square brackets creates a link to John 3:16. If I add an exclamation point in front it will print out the verse with the proper reference. The only problem with this method is that it produces one verse at a time. There is a Bible Reference plug-in that uses a simpler syntax and can display multiple verses, but it is not currently working on mobile. This later method requires having an internet connection.

Work Notes

I take notes in meetings, cataloging what is currently going on and turning action items into tasks using the tasks plug-in. I copy notes of instructions on how to complete tasks. This is helpful for the reports I create once a week or once a month that would be easy to screw up if I didn’t check the instructions.

Using the Dataview plug-in, I have created a dynamic note that catalogs all those notes into sections based on how I tag them, giving me an evergreen list of information separated into sections that make things easier to find. I’ll get into Dataview in another post. It’s a powerful plug-in and there’s a lot to it. It deserves its own post.

Task Management

I use the Tasks plug-in to track all my tasks and projects. You can create tasks without the plug-in, but Tasks allows you to add start, scheduled, due dates, and tags to all your tasks and projects. This allows you to create persistent searches in your notes that can show you tasks grouped in various ways such as by tag, status, or date. I create tasks at the end of meeting notes (action items) and in other notes, then collect them in daily notes to keep track of them.

This method of task management is not for everyone, as dedicated task management apps have other features that Obsidian lacks and can be easier to set up. But for me it’s a great way to keep everything together in one place.

Daily Notes

A daily note is a note generated every day for calling specific information for that day and taking notes for the day, similar to a diary or journal. These notes are generated automatically using either the Daily Notes core plug-in (Core plug-ins are included with Obsidian and can be turned on or off) or the Community plug-in Periodic Notes (Community plug-ins are built by Obsidian users and have to be installed). You can see an example of my daily note at the top of this post.

The banner at the top is generated by the Banner plug-in to add flair to the note. You can use any banner image you want and change it anytime in your template.

The Task section (see the other image) is generated using a simple Dataview script. It displays tasks that are due today or previously due, and organizes them by tag.

The Journal section is a section for writing out notes from the day or new tasks that come up.

The Files section is 2 other Dataview scripts that show new files created or files that have been edited that day. I added a Projects section where I put links to other notes for projects that I am currently working on.

There you have it. A basic overview of how I am using Obsidian. If you are a notetaker or have lots of information you need to keep track of I recommend looking into Obsidian as a way to do it.

If you have any questions about Obsidian, note taking, or would like to discuss how you take and keep notes drop it in the comments below.

August 20, 2022 obsidian productivity

My Men’s Ministry Story

Rugged Cross

I grew up in the church. As a kid we went almost every Sunday, prayed at Sunday dinner with the grandparents, and I was confirmed in my parent’s denomination. I knew the Bible stories and basic theology. I love the Lord, and believe in His life, death, resurrection, and His atoning authority. But I knew there was more. I was missing that fellowship of believers.

In my mid to late twenties I met Bob (not his name) at a new church I was attending. He invited me to his men’s small group. I thought it would be interesting to meet with a bunch of other Christian men and discuss and do Bible study. I was right, but it was much more.

I started attending the meetings, which at first were every other Friday at a local restaurant before work. Everyone would order breakfast, then we would pray, discuss a topic, and then everyone that wanted had a chance to speak. This is where things got interesting.

These guys attended the same church, and knew each other for a long time. They trusted each other, and they shared what was on their hearts.

Their sins.

Their fears.

Their joys, and their sorrows.

It was amazingly powerful. For the first time I saw men being vulnerable and blatantly honest about what was going on in their lives. When it came around to my turn to talk at first I was scared, fearing judgement or condemnation. But I received none of that. I received compassion, understanding, and importantly, prayer.

Our group moved to a more private location when we realized that we were discussing serious and private topics that people in the restaurant could inadvertently overhear. This allowed us to go even deeper.

Over the years our group grew and eventually split into smaller groups that allowed more time to share. I looked forward to those meetings every time they were coming up, because I knew that I had a safe space to share everything that was going on, and receive prayer and wise council from men I knew I could trust.

That is one of the reasons why I write this blog. I want to help and encourage other Christian men to form small groups that help them grow in their faith, and talk about things they can’t talk about with their co-workers, neighbors, or sometimes even their wives and girlfriends. In a perfect world we should be able to discuss anything, but we live in a fallen world where people get hurt, and not everyone has the background to understand what we are going through.

It is my prayer that this blog encourages you to step out of your comfort zone and find trustworthy Christian brothers to stand with you in your effort to imitate Christ.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Pr 27:17)

August 14, 2022 xtianstudy men's ministry

How to Work from Home Everyday

My Office is cooler than yours

I work from home. Not only since the pandemic started, but since December 2010. I love it. I wouldn’t go back to working in an office unless I could find no other way to support myself. And I would turn over every rock until I found something I could do from home.

I have heard a lot of criticisms and complaints about working from home, but today I want to focus on one particular one: Working at home is weird and I don’t get anything done.” I have heard this several times from friends and it breaks my heart because working from home can be much more relaxing and eliminates many anxiety causing problems. When people say this, I have noticed a couple of common issues:

  1. They work from home periodically, like once a week or twice per month.
  2. They rarely have their own dedicated space to work.

Let me tackle these two issues and see if I can help. {more}

Working from home occasionally is weird

Bad Home Office

I’m no doctor, but I have noticed that the human brain is not good with change. Sure, people can be spontaneous and make split decisions, but in general humans thrive when they have set routines. When you get up in the morning and go to an office 20 days a month and your boss says you can have 2 of those days at home, the brain gets confused, which leads to anxiety, which leads to distraction to try to forget about the anxiety. Has this happened to you?

It’s similar to getting into a groove of ordering pizza every Friday night for months, and your significant other suddenly says hey, let’s order tacos!” That can create anxiety or even anger, because you had a rough week, and have been looking forward to that pizza, even though you love tacos.

I’m getting distracted because I haven’t had lunch. Lets get back to working. Your boss says you can work from home 2 days a month. You schedule it for Friday. That Friday rolls around and you get out of bed, think about showering, getting dressed, hopping in your car to start your commute, and suddenly remember that you are working from home. Part of you is happy, but part of your brain is thinking: Hey, I’m home, there’s a TV and a couch over there.” Or someone else you live with comes to your desk and wants to chat because they love you and you are there. Or the one I have dealt with: your Mom calls and says I know you are working, but…” and then wants to pull you away from work to do something else because you are home, and they don’t get that you have to work.

Things will try to distract you because you are not in that office that provides a work zone” for your brain. And if you do not have work that is due to be completed today, your brain says you can always get it done tomorrow when you are back at the office. You know, that place where you are supposed to work.”

What’s the solution? Cut the cord and go all in

My grandfather used to say When you eat, you eat. When you play, you play.” This was a reference to me trying to bring toys to the dinner table, or turning my fork into a sword to battle an imaginary Storm Trooper, but the principle is the same. If you want to work from home, find a way to work from home exclusively. If the company you currently work for doesn’t allow for that, you may have a life change coming.

Once you start working from home full time, everything changes. Maybe not everything. Your TV and couch are still there, and your Mother is still your Mother. But your brain reroutes it’s routines into a new system. Instead of getting up and driving to work, you go get your coffee and breakfast, then go to your home office to start working. I do recommend you still take a shower, maybe even put on some comfy work clothes (especially if you have Zoom meetings. Your hair looks terrible and they can’t smell you, but your family can). Set up your phone to block out distractions from apps and people that you would not pay attention to in the office, and tell your family that unless something is on fire, they can tell you about it after work. 1

Now, let’s tackle problem 2.

You need your own dedicated space to work

This is another issue that could potentially require a life change, but let’s talk about it. When the pandemic hit and people were told to work from home, office workers did not have work space set up. Many people plunked their laptop on their dining or kitchen table, and started working from there.

The problem that arose is similar to the first. Your brain is confused because you can’t eat the object that is sitting in front of you, causing your brain to ask what the heck are you doing there? In addition, everyone in your household can either walk by and make noise, or walk right up and start talking to you, as if you have nothing better to do.

What’s the solution? Define your space and set boundaries

Now That’s an Office!

You have to find space that is for working. Ideally, it’s a room that you either aren’t using (like we all have those lying around), or a room you can convert to be for this purpose. This is tough to justify if you are working from home occasionally. But if you work from home full time, it’s a justifiable necessity.

When my wife and I first got together, we lived in an apartment that had one extra bedroom that could be used as an office. She was working at an office and that worked fine. But then she changed jobs to work from home full time. When we bought our house, we made sure we got a four bedroom which may sound crazy, but we each have our own office, a guest bedroom which our kids have used to live with us periodically, and a bedroom for sleeping.

If you can’t do that, consider designating an alcove, or even a closet that is large enough to fit a desk, chair, and enough air/room so you don’t feel like you are in a cage (you know, like a cubicle like at work!). Anything that you can do to tell your brain that this is the place where work gets done so that when you are there, it switches into that mode. A place that when you are there, the brains of the people in your household will know not to bother you except in the case of the aforementioned fire. It won’t do anything about your Mother, but that’s where the phone’s focus mode comes in.


  1. I know the phone solution is for iPhones. There may be a solution for Android, but I’m an iPhone user.↩︎

August 13, 2022 working

The Rules for Engagement

In the military servicemen have rules of engagement,” which determine when they may attack the enemy. In a small group, it is important to have rules for engagement, which help foster a quality and safe conversation. Part of the idea for this article comes from Common Courtesies: Small Group Rules to Follow by Amy Nappa, and part from my experience.

The purpose of these rules is to fostering trust, courtesy, and fairness. A small group does not need to be over-structured, but there does need to be structure, kindness, and fairness to keep everyone feeling safe, heard, and taking part. These rules are also good for other types of meetings, such as at work.

1. The Vegas Rule.

This rule is at the top of my list because without it in this type of small group, no one will come back if we violate it. If you remember the old tourism commercials for Las Vegas, you know it already: what happens or in group, stays in group. In a healthy small group, people share private and emotional topics. Topics they would discuss nowhere else because they are embarrassing, emotional, or private. This rule applies to we need to pray for Bob, because I heard he said [fill in the blank] in men’s group.” This is sin, and there is no place for it in the church.

2. The John Wimber Rule

John Wimber was the founder of the Vineyard Church movement. He was famous for saying everybody gets to play,” referring to everyone in the church being encouraged to exercise their spiritual gifts, not just pastors.

In my version of this rule, I specify we should encourage everyone in the group to take part and share, provided they want to. When I do sharing time, I make sure we go around the room and ask every single person if they have something to say. It could be something difficult, like confessing recent or past sins, or easy like saying how blessed they feel because of positive things happening in their lives. If they are shy or don’t think they have something to say that’s okay, but we should afford everyone an opportunity. Everyone gets to play.

3 The Shut Up and Listen Rule

I don’t have a good name for this rule because it is simple. When someone else is in their time for sharing, it is important to let them talk and not interrupt. First, it is common courtesy. Second, people can share things that are difficult, and we need to let them be patient and get them out.

When someone finishes, if you have a brief word of encouragement for them or prayer, that is when it is appropriate to say something. But we need to not interrupt or give advice.

4 The Manners Rule

I hope this one is pretty obvious but please, be kind when people share. The only thing worse than gossiping about what someone said in a group is making someone feel bad when they share. Laughing at something someone did or happened to them, making fun of them, or criticizing will ruin a group dynamic.

Remember the group should be fun, and there should be humor, even guys giving guys a hard time like we do, but it has to be appropriate.

5 The Parliament Rule

There are going to be disagreements in any group discussion. No one except the Good Lord Himself has everything all figured out, and everyone is going to have differing opinions on certain topics. This is perfectly fine, in fact it makes the group discussion more interesting. But we must disagree in a friendly manner.

As a group leader, if someone gets agitated because of an opinion, it is important for you to turn down the temperature. Remind people that other opinions are valid and stop any name calling or abuse in its tracks. In my experiences I have not seen this problem much, as the Holy Spirit has guided the conversation, but it can happen.

The Cell Phone Rule

My last rule is for electronic devices. When someone is in the middle of sharing a hard story or topic, the last thing they need is to be interrupted by a loud ringtone. I like to ask everyone at the beginning of the meeting to take their phones out and hold them, then ask them to check and make sure they are at least on vibrate or preferably on do not disturb.” This may be a little obnoxious or over the top, but it prevents people from assuming their device is in one of these modes.

Conclusion

Using these rules over the years has allowed us to have great discussions, times of sharing, and build wonderful Christian relationships. If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

August 12, 2022 xtianstudy