A Reply To August Bradley’s Obsidian VS Notion Video

With a new year, there is always a sense of starting fresh, or for me having another stab at it. For me, it was August Bradley’s PPV (Pillars, Pipelines and Vaults) System – though I knew from the outset that I needed a few things tweaked for my system. It was to my surprise when I went onto his youtube channel that I found his latest upload (at the time) to be, Obsidian vs Notion for Knowledge Management? With Life OS. I knew I wanted to create my own response to it and after seeing Santi Younger’s video, I had a springboard in which I can do so.

Originally published: 31 December 2021

My Background with PPV and Notion

Before deciding that I needed a better PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) System, I was aboard the Notion train. There was a lot I liked, and still do like, about Notion. I decided to take on the mantra that ‘it is all in Notion’. It was great to start with, after trying multiple setups for organisation I settled on a mix of August Bradley’s PPV, Building A Second Brain, and Marie Poulin’s templates.

However; over time there was one major flaw. The more you put in Notion, the more it slows down. As you connect more databases and have more rollups – the longer it takes to load. Also, what I found with having over one year’s worth of days in my daily log database – there was a lot of friction starting to happen.

I love the idea of August Bradley’s PPV system – but as I was beginning my journey, I found that some of the things that you could do in Notion (Tasks and Habits for me) could be done easier if I had my own dedicated app. It was here that I felt conflict as I felt like I was betraying the system by wanting to cheat on Notion with other apps.

Toolbox instead of Swiss Army Knife

It was Ali Abdaal, in a video, I rewatched that he mentioned an article by James Struber called Use The Right Tool For The Job: The False Dichotomy Of Evernote Vs Roam. In this article he uses the analogy of how the carpenter has a toolbox, each tool having a specific job and doing it well; however, in the productivity world, we are always in the search for that swiss army knife.

To seek such a tool is fraught with danger. Not only do we waste time switching to the new tool, we feel good while doing so. Exporting tasks and importing notes feels like progress, but nothing actually happens. We become Program Hoppers for productivity tools, only moving sideways.

James Struber

This brings me to my thoughts on August Bradley’s video.

I will first say that there are a lot of positives to the PPV system. I am just someone who outgrew part of it (partly due to the friction in Notion) and who likes to visualise my knowledge – Obsidian was fantastic.

There are a few main things that August says that could be seen as misleading. He says that the knowledge you have is harder to find in Obsidian than in Notion. My experience of that is quite the opposite. In Notion – I had to either relate tables to each other via relations or rollups to get that information. The ability to backlink was not a function. By the time I moved my knowledge over to Obsidian, backlinks were in Notion soon after. Though the backlinks work differently in Notion as well. This is also the same deal when it comes to tags. If I compare my searchability in both Notion and Obsidian – Obsidian wins. I can search for things faster and in multiple ways.

He mentions that the graph view can get cluttered. Yes, it does can get that way; however, by searching in graph view you automatically cut out the notes that aren’t to your specific query. As far as organising them by categories, I use the Dewey Decimal System to slot each new page in a category. When I am in my graph view, I use the colour filters on my tags that give me an easier way to navigate where certain pages are.

My Zettelkasten as of Sunday, January 2022.

I will agree with August that doubling up on notetaking in different apps is not wise. However; unlike August, a lot of my thinking and writing happens in a place that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. But if I want to manage a project or keep track of it – then Notion is great.

The final point I want to hit on is August said that if you are using the zettelkasten system then you are treating your notes like homework. At the beginning of migrating my notes – yes there were a lot of backlogs that I had to sort. However, now that I have a system in place it works. When I was in Notion taking notes, I was spending way too much time creating templates for different notes. Now, with Obsidian – I have a set of templates for each note type and that’s it. I found myself organising beyond belief 1000 different ways in Notion – what I have found is the constraints in Obsidian help me become a better knowledge learner and manager of my system.

I realised when rewatching the video is that one thing is being unsaid: like everyone in the world, August wants to tell you that his system is the best system. There is an added factor that he wants you to invest in PPV because it’s an investment in him. August has done an amazing job at creating a system that works for him and thousands of others. For a while, it worked for me too – now, like with everything. I will take what I like and leave what doesn’t work for me. Taking from James Strubers article, what will work for one person will maybe not work for another. Productivity is like people, it is all individual.

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