What I Learned from Attending Obsidian University

Obsidian University is a live-cohort-based course and community created by Mike Schmitz. He is also the co-host of the Focused podcast, which I have been a longtime listener of. Obsidian is a markdown-based note-taking app used by many to create Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) Systems. It is very powerful, thanks to its plugin architecture, which allows users to customize the app to suit their needs. With power also comes complexity, and it felt to me like I had to read books on PKM and watch a ton of YouTube tutorials to implement my own PKM system in Obsidian. Well, I did, and I still failed. So when Mike announced in his newsletter that he was going to start Obsidian University, I immediately signed up. The first cohort has now completed, and I have learned a ton. I have my PKM system set up, and this blog post is the first output I am creating using it. So here are the things that stood out to me when I attended the course:

Sense of Community

I was surprised by the energy and sense of community Mike was able to create from minute one. He was always early for the meeting, allowing participants who showed up a few minutes early to have an informal chat. My friends and family consider me somewhat whimsical for being so much into PKM, but here were so many people interested in the same thing and eager to share their ideas, stories, and approaches. I felt right at home. This feeling continued throughout the course, and I am really happy that Mike announced he is going to continue doing weekly Q&A calls where we can ask questions but also share our ideas and show our own setups. I am really excited for this to continue. I know there are a ton of PKM Slacks, Discords, etc. out there, but for me, it feels much nicer and safer to share my questions and ideas in this closed group of equally enthusiastic people rather than doing so on the open web.

My Aha Moment

I read many books and blog posts on PKM and also watched a lot of YouTube content on the topic, but I could never get it to stick. But when Mike explained Atomic Notes to us, it finally clicked for me, and suddenly everything made much more sense. Right away, I started breaking up my existing notes into atomic ones and was immediately able to uncover connections to notes in other areas. This realization alone made this course worth it for me. So much so, that I had to reach out to Mike afterward and share this with him.

Too Many Plugins

While plugins are the most powerful feature in Obsidian, they are also its biggest weakness. It is so easy to get lost in the sea of plugins and just fiddle with the knobs instead of making progress in our thinking. YouTube is full of content like "here are the 30 most important plugins for Obsidian." I don't blame creators for producing this kind of content. It resonates well with the audience. And so, it was also inevitable in this course that plugins were a big recurring theme throughout the sessions. Judging by the questions after the sessions and the topics brought up on Q&A calls, plugins were also in high demand. But still, I wished the PKM community, in general, would focus more on the systems level and less on the shiny stuff.

Obsidian University is About More Than PKM

Mike Schmitz is not only an expert in Obsidian, but he also leads an intentional and meaningful life. He has this whole system in place that helps him decide what to focus on and how to balance his different roles in life. It all revolves around daily notes and personal retreats. Every three months, he takes one day off to reflect and think. In one session, he shared with us his process in Obsidian, in which he uses the data from his daily notes to inform his thinking during the personal retreat. What made this session so powerful is that Mike made it very concrete by going step-by-step through his last personal retreat. I don't think that was strictly necessary, but it made the idea very tangible and turned the session into a very intimate and special experience. So thank you, Mike, for opening up and making yourself vulnerable!

My Hopes for the Future of Obsidian University

I am really glad that the community will exist beyond this course, and I am looking forward to continuing to learn from Mike and the members of the community. I hope, though, that we can shift a bit away from talking about tooling and towards talking about systems instead. Furthermore, I hope that we go beyond PKM and discuss how we can use these tools to lead more meaningful lives.

What do you think about Obsidian or the PKM space in general? Feel free to reach out via feedback@vidugloeck.com. I am here to learn.