The War of Tools

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. - H. L. Mencken

Trying to answer complexity with simplicity will mostly go wrong. Complex problems, require different tactics. You can try to tell yourself that a simple answer solved all of your questions. The same goes for the choice of the right tools. There as a downright war of tools going on, about which is the perfect tool. Some claim it's Notion, some claim it's Roam, and some claim it's the new kid on the block, Obsidian.

While there is nothing wrong with using those, we should put our focus on using the right tool for the right job and not on how we can cram everything we have into the one tool.

On the Hunt

At the beginning of the year, I took part in the How to Write Better Class by Joshua from the Minimalists, and it was great. I already had a strong writing habit and had written for more than 300 days in a row, every single day.

This class strengthened my skills, my focus, and just about everything in my writing. After the class was finished, I set myself a goal to improve even more: I wanted to do better research for my articles and also put more organization into my ideas.

I went down the PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) rabbit hole. I dived deep into theories about the second brain, Roam research, progressive summarization, automatic syncing my stuff together into a "second brain" and so on. Furthermore, I over-did every single part of it, first with Roam, then Obsidian.

I tried to cram every part of my life into it. Well, some things worked, some not.

The sad part of this is, it cost me my publishing routine. Normally, it was fairly easy to me, to publish two posts a week. But if nothing gets ready and is somewhere in a "second brain", what should I publish?

Long story short, the rabbit-hole of PKMs swallowed me for quite a while, but I found the way out of it. And to get back to the beginning of the article: There is no simple answer to which tool is the right for me (and you), and it's definitely not Obsidian, neither Roam.

The Swiss Army Knife

The whole thought process about this article started when I watched a live stream where Shawn Blanc (my favorite writer) tried to switch from Ulysses (a wonderful writing app) to Obsidian.

I was going to do the same. In the end both accept Markdown as an input, and in Obsidian organizing things is way fancier.

At the time of watching the stream, I already had all of my PKM stuff set up in Obsidian and already had written quite some tutorials on it. Definitely, I wasn't a newbie, but I wanted to wait how Mike Schmitz and Shawn Blanc did it. I followed along and remixed some of Mikes concepts with my own, and had set up a quite impressive writing setup. It felt good!

The next morning when I sat down to write I opened up Ulysses, copied a draft to Obsidian, turned on Focus mode and started to write. (If you are reading this blog for a longer time, you will know that I am easily distractible and value deep work a lot). And what I can tell, it didn't feel right.

I tried to make it work, other people also made it work.

As I like to tinker around and build intentional ways of working, I thought about it for a long time and remembered that I had even written a little thread about it on Twitter.

And indeed, damn, I like to have my different buckets. In the tweet I am mentioning Roam, now it's Obsidian, I love it for serendipity, but I don't want that while I am writing or journaling.

When I am writing my journal about what I feel, I prefer not to discover something I wrote a year ago about Hanlon's Razor. That's cool when I am researching and plumbing together notes for an article I want to write. But at the moment of writing itself, I don't want to see any of that.

I think about it this way. A Swiss Army knife can have quite an impressive collection of tools: a screwdriver, a saw, a tooth-pick, a bottle-opener, scissors. But would you consider them real tools? Would you be willing to use them all day?

Do you see a lumberjack using a Swiss Army Knife cutting down a tree? Do you see a hair-dresser using it for cutting hair? Or have you seen a carpenter using the screwdriver?

Yes, it would potentially work, but it's not the right tool for the right job. I am considering myself a professional in front of a screen; therefore I need the right tools for the job, and that's not the Swiss Army knife.

Conclusion

There is not one-size-fits-all when it comes to tools. If you're an average user this may work, then you can also keep your tasks in a text file, but if you want to get more from it, get your tools right.

Don't try to cram every aspect of your work in one little tool.

That brings me to a little announcement I have to make: the toolshed.

I love tools, and I love to try to perfect them and write about them. I haven't done it for some years, but I threw all my good resolutions overboard, and now there will be again stuff about the tools I use on this blog.

This is the first post in a new category, and you will be hearing more about it soon. It will include a small course about Obsidian, maybe even in video format, stay tuned.

Daniel Hauck

Daniel Hauck