Why I switched from Notion to Obsidian for almost Everything

July 16, 2023


I have to admit, I used to avoid taking notes. If I needed to take a note, I've always just grabbed a pen and a legal pad. Those notes served their purpose, and were then lost forever in time (or some drawer somewhere). So you can imagine the improvement to my personal documentation when I started using Notion, the extremely popular note taking application.

My notes were cross platform. They were saved in the cloud. They were powerfull. I could put a graph or chart in my notes. Images and even videos were easy to drop in. I could created wikis to organize all my notes pertaining to one topic. I could create spaces for my notes and group them together. And it went beyond note taking. I could use Notion to create task boards for personal projects and track progress. I could create databases with custom views to track things like pages read in my ebooks. Needless to say, I could do nearly anything with Notion. And that, ultimately, became a problem.

Notion was great. Honestly, it still is. I was using it a ton, and really enjoyed it's features. However, one day I went to pop open a note on my phone, and I tried creating some formatted content. It didn't really work well. The slash commands for content blocks don't really work on mobile. Furthermore, I was on vacation in a remote spot, and I kept losing access to my notes on the trip because your notes aren't stored locally. I was going crazy. I couldn't create notes and get everything out of my brain, and I couldn't even access the notes I already had.

When I got back from the trip, I stumbled upon this video from No Boilerplate. He was used a note taking app called Obsidian as his second brain. A location to write down as much as he could, which helps with retention and clarity of thought. Watch that video if you're interested in brain hacking. I was (since I'm into hacking pretty much anything), but I was more taken with the note taking app. I decided to take a break from Notion and give Obsidian a try.

I've been using Obsidian for three weeks now and I am in love. It's an amazing note taking application and I've barely scratched the surface.

Why I Love Obsidian

Obsidian is about one thing. Note taking. Not task tracking. Not personal finance templates, or databases for tracking the watering schedule of your house plants. Notion can do that. Obsidain is about taking notes.

In this regard, the two apps do compete, and in that particular competition, Obsidian is winning. Let me tell you why.

1. Obsidian works offline

Obsidian takes an offline first approach. It stores your notes on the device it's operating on. That means that you can create, read, and edit notes in the middle of nowhere, with no service or connection to wifi. It's like a legal pad and a pen, and I like that.

"But what about syncing notes across devices?" you ask. Well, there's a LOT of solutions for that. You can use plugins to check your notes into source control or you could sync them with a storage service like Dropbox or Google drive. Personally, I'm paying the monthly subscription for their sync service. This flawlessly syncs your notes in realtime across all devices, and it's super easy to setup a new remote vault, or create one from a pre-existing vault. If you ever lose service or wifi connection, you can keep working with the guarantee that your notes will sync whenever your back online.

Speaking of vaults...

2. I really like vaults

Obsidian has three levels of organization. A Vault, a Folder, and a File. Working backwards, a file is a note itself. It's like the page of the legal pad. The folder is a way to group notes together within a vault, like the legal pad itself. The vault is a space in which folders and files are logically grouped together. Consider it the drawer you throw the legal pads into.

This system makes sense to me. With notion, it was constantly making wierd, top level pages outside of my spaces when I didn't want it to, and page nesting felt weird. I know this is strictly user preference, but I like the more rigid organization method of Obsidian. It still lets you organize things how you like, but the levels make more logical sense. For me, I currently only need one vault, which I call "Knowledge Base", but I'll likely separate some of my folders for things like game dev and web dev into their own vaults.

3. Markdown, thank god

Have I ever mentioned how much I love markdown? Of course I haven't, you probably don't know me. If you do, I doubt we've talked about markdown. Anyways...

Markdown is great. It's not explicitly rich text, so it always works on mobile. I don't need slash commands for a header like I do in Notion. I can just type three *, followed by a header, and I have an H3. I know how to bold, italic, list, link, etc. all in my document. No fancy content blocks needed. This gives Obisidian the advantage of being a powerful note taking app regardless of the device that you're using it on.

4. Appearance Extensibility

I am kind of a freak about application theming. I have 15-20 themes installed in VSCode, and I switch between them all day long when I'm coding. Keeping what I'm looking at fresh and stylish helps me stay focused on what I'm looking at. I really REALLY like when apps let me change their themes easily.

I don't much about theming in Notion, because I never really gave it a try. This was mostly due to the fact that I couldn't even get it to retain my dark mode preference between launches. However, the first tip I found online about Obisidian was it's theming. It has an awesome theme repository with hundreds (maybe thousands, I haven't checked) community themes that you can download and install. I'm currently a big fan of Obsidianite, and I'm using it on all three devices I have the app installed on. However, I'm sure I'll download some more to flip through when I get bored.

The Bottom Line

The easiest way to explain why Obsidian is better than Notion is with a metaphor. If Notion is a swiss army knife and note taking is the knife piece, Obsidian is a sharpened bowie knife. The application is meant to do ONE thing the best, and that's note taking. I encourage you to check it out if you haven't.