My Challenges with Atomic Notes

In my previous post, I covered what atomic notes are and how I create them. I have been using them for about six weeks now. The concept of atomic notes is simple, but for a beginner like me, it is not always easy. In this post, I want to share with you where exactly I struggle with atomic notes.

Scope of Atomic Notes

I am not always sure if I have chosen the right scope for an idea. It would be easy to break out each aspect of an idea into a custom note, but I worry that it could lead to over-linking and make it more difficult to make sense of my notes. I don't know how warranted this fear is, but for now, I have settled with keeping all aspects of an idea in the main note under sub-headings. This sometimes means that a note gets longer than an atomic note should. Only when I want to link to a sub-heading from a different note do I factor that section out into its own note.

Keeping up with My Reading Lists

Describing things in your own words and creating atomic notes requires intense thinking and focus. It has had an interesting effect on me: I unconsciously reduced the amount of content I consume. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel a bit agitated as I am falling behind on my reading, watching, and podcast lists. This means I need to overhaul my information diet and become more selective when it comes to which kind of content I consume.

Ensuring Long-term Success

It is not the first time that I try to set up a PKM System, and I am painfully aware of my past failures. To increase my chances for long-term success, I am doing three things differently this time:

1. Simple Setup

In the past, I had an elaborate setup to take notes from podcasts, YouTube, and so on. Here is an example: I created a fairly advanced Apple Shortcuts script that would connect my Podcast player of choice to my PKM system. It allowed me to share a podcast episode with title, source link, time stamps, etc. right into my note-taking system. But in the end, I spent more time creating and maintaining the script than making use of it. Every once in a while, the script would break because the Podcast App, the OS, or my PKM setup changed. After a while, I stopped fixing those "bugs," which, in turn, led me to eventually stop taking notes from those sources altogether. For this reason, I am keeping my PKM system simple this time. I minimize the use of plugins and avoid automations altogether. Once doing everything manually has become second nature to me, I'll start using automations again. The idea is that even if automations break, I can always fall back to my base system.

2. Scheduling Time for Note Processing

I kept just adding notes in the past, and only occasionally processed them for long-term storage. At some point, I had more unprocessed notes than processed ones. Of course, this made using my notes system more difficult as time progressed. This iteration, I've scheduled time (once per week) to sift through my notes and make the valuable ones atomic.

3. Creating Output in the Form of Blog Posts

This change has the biggest impact so far: I create these blog posts, not because I am an expert in Personal Knowledge Management or because I feel the need to share my journey with the world. I do this to use my PKM system right away and not creating notes in the hopes of using them someday in the future. The effects are immediately visible:

  1. I put more care into crafting atomic notes since I know what I need them for.
  2. The process of writing these posts sharpens my thinking.
  3. Getting feedback from people, even if it's from a very small audience, motivates me to go on.

All of this works very well so far. The only problem is these changes require a lot of time. Currently, I am powering this effort on "external" motivation, which I got from attending Obsidian University. I really enjoyed it, and right now, I can't stop myself from taking atomic notes and writing blog posts about them. But I won't be able to sustain this time & energy investment forever. I need to balance note-taking, note-processing, and writing with my other responsibilities. I'll start by time-boxing my writing effort and overhauling my information diet. Together with my scheduled time for note-processing, I should be able to get to a more sustainable pace.


Note-taking with atomic notes is extremely powerful. At the same time, it requires time, effort, and practice. Maybe it is possible to simplify my process, but for now, I'm going to do it by the book and spread my effort over time instead. Do you have suggestions on how I could make my workflow more sustainable? Or do you have note-taking challenges of your own? Feel free to reach out via I am here to learn.