I’m pretty bad at being an employee. I openly despise meetings, I say exactly what’s on my mind, and I sincerely believe that many managers exist only to waste the time of otherwise productive people. I also could not be less interested in how my work impacts quarterly projections—I want to write things that people find helpful and entertaining.

So, yeah, I’m a freelancer.

I write for five publications, including the one you’re reading now (obviously my favorite). The upside: I’m never in meetings. The downside: There’s a lot to keep track of. I have to manage relationships with five editors. It’s a challenge, and I’ve tried a full array of systems over the years, from spreadsheets to index cards, apps like Trello, and way too many to-do list apps.

None of them quite did the trick, until I discovered Obsidian a couple of years ago. This application has slowly gone from being a weird app I didn’t understand to one I can’t imagine functioning without. It’s where I do all of my writing, yes, but also how I keep track of my ongoing articles as they move from brainstorming to pitching to publication.

This isn’t a review of Obsidian (I already wrote one). This is an outline of how I use this tool to get things done. Hopefully reading it gives you some ideas for how you could use it.

Everything Offline All at Once

First of all, what is Obsidian? The application bills itself as a “second brain,” but you could it put in the same category as note-taking apps like OneNote or Evernote. Unlike those applications, though, Obsidian stores everything—notes, attachments, and even plugins—as simple text documents in a folder on your computer. This means you can use the application fully offline or sync the documents using the cloud storage service of your choice.

This has a few advantages. For one, your files are fully in your control: If Obsidian stopped existing tomorrow, I would still have access to my notes. For another, everything works offline. My favorite thing about Obsidian, though, is the extensive plugin ecosystem. There are over a thousand Obsidian plugins, and I depend on several of them. There’s Kanban, which allows you to create a board of cards you can move between tiles. There’s Extract URL, which can grab all text from any website and turn it into a note. I could list plugins for a long time. But the point is that you can customize Obsidian to work basically any way you want it to. I’ve done this to create a perfect setup for my workflow—one that allows me to do my planning and my actual writing in the same application.

My writing process has a progression: brainstorming ideas, pitching those ideas to editors, researching, writing, editing, and invoicing. Here’s how I move through these steps in Obsidian.

Brainstorm

Every article starts with an idea. I get these from all kinds of places. Sometimes I’m just using my computer, notice something that annoys me, endlessly research a solution to that issue, and then decide to write about it. Sometimes I notice a cool-looking app while reading the news or browsing Reddit. And sometimes I just spend a few hours brainstorming ideas. Whatever the case, I compile my ideas in a dedicated Kanban board on Obsidian. Every card on the board links to a dedicated document where I include any relevant links, expand on the idea, and note a bit about possible angles for the article.

When it comes time to take these ideas into the world, I decide which ones I’m going to pitch to which editors and drag them to a column for that publication. If the pitch is approved, I drag the card over to my “article queue” board, if not, I consider pitching it to another publication or put it in my “idea jail” to potentially revisit later.

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