Month 16 — First breakthrough — Combining linear note-taking with SRS using Obsidian and Anki

Siraj Samsudeen
5 min readMar 5, 2021

Though the last month was unsettling in a number of ways, this month I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Better note-taking

The key question I had was this: How can I capture my learning in a simple linear format that gives a full overview, but at the same time makes it easy for long-term retention using Spaced Repetition System (SRS)?

When I was learning any material in the past 1 year, my notes were mainly in the form of Anki flashcards which made it difficult for me to have a simple overview of the key points I have learnt from any resource. Also, not everything in my notes has to be drilled into my long-term memory. But since I had only Anki as the single place to capture my learning, everything got into Anki — hence as the volume grew, it became more difficult to review all the flashcards.

I also realized that the judgement about the importance of a certain piece of knowledge keeps changing. What seems very important when I am learning a new area does not seem important after some time. Sometimes, an entire topic becomes irrelevant after 1 or 2 projects. So, I needed a way to easily change my mind about what I want to get into the SRS system and an easy way to prune it regularly as I revisit the topic as I work on different projects.

Enter Obsidian

Simply, it is a text editor which stores the notes as markdown file — Nothing more. But I realized the power of the tool when I watched Bryan Jenks Video on his workflows with Obsidian which include creating Anki flashcards directly from Obsidian, which piqued my curiosity.

So, I decided to download and try the tool. It took me a few days to realize how beneficial the tool would be for what I was trying to do. So, I bought a Course by Santi Younger on Obsidian to quickly ramp up.

The key benefit I see with Obsidian is the ease with which I can create links between different notes, and refactor notes over time without breaking these links. Though many people are impressed with the graph view, I am not yet. But overall, the tool is so simple and beautiful and provides a friction-free experience to capture everything either into a Daily Note or to a named new note.

Obsidian to Anki Plugin

A plugin was available to automatically create flashcards in Anki based on the contents in my notes. Though this plugin was technically complicated to set up, once I customized it to my needs, it really gave me a lot of power to create notes and then later annotate/tag certain items to make them go into Anki. When I am in Anki, I am able to see the context of the card and I even have a link to the Obsidian file so that I can launch into that file, if I need to get a full overview of that topic for any reason. This is so beautiful.

Learn Core Concepts

I also wanted to take the time to learn Linux and other underlying concepts. I hit a problem with multiple conflicting versions of Python on my Mac when I was working on a project and I did not know how to resolve it. So, I decided to Delete current versions of python and start with a clean slate. I have attempted to do this twice in the past, but given my limited knowledge to really understand this topic, I did not succeed both times. But this time, I decided to take the plunge. I did succeed. It was such a beautiful feeling when I finally managed to clear this roadblock — the little Linux that I have learnt in the past month has come in handy to tackle this challenge.

What is more beautiful is that I have written a log of every article I have read, the key points from the article, what I have tried, what worked and what did not work. After I finished this task, I reviewed my notes the next day and added annotations to create flashcards for a few items. Here is the article on my Gitbook.

Once I have cleaned up python in my system, then the next topic was Which package manager for python — pipenv or virtualenvwrapper or conda? I have spent a lot of time in reading a lot of different articles, the topic does not seem to end. So, I decided to stop for now with Round1 on using virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper. I would revisit this topic later.

Obsidian to Anki works plugin by using Regex. Since I wanted to understand the regex to tweak it to my need, I started on this area with this beautiful series in YouTube — Bitfumes Regular Expression from Scratch to Pro.

I am still yet to crack the regex used in the plugin. Hence, launched into the best book on this topic — Mastering Regular Expressions

And before I conclude, here are some screenshots to show you how I have created different types of flashcards in Anki automatically from my notes in Obsidian using some minimal, unobstrusive markup:

Any Q: and A: is converted into a flashcard. No special syntax. Just looks normal to the untrained eye, but the magic is happening behind
Even tagging #flashcard would also create the flashcard (Neuracache style)
Anki flashcard automatically created by :: — this creates 2 cards one to test pattern to meaning and other in the reverse direction
Cloze deletion card. When the use highlight option with ==, then a cloze deletion card is created. Look at the context — so beautiful

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Siraj Samsudeen

An entrepreneur who is coming back to coding after a gap of 16 years due to love of coding.