In Parts 6 and 7 of my Obsidian Setup series, I explained how I created a system to save Safari webpages and YouTube videos as ‘rich links’ in Obsidian thanks to a combination of Dataview and Shortcuts. For this first week of Automation April, I thought I’d add two more examples of content I’ve been tracking in Obsidian via cards in a grid powered by Dataview with interactive buttons: articles and Apple Music albums saved for later.
Both flavors of this workflow are largely based on the same techniques and structure I first shared in January; however, the shortcuts that make the creation of these ‘cards’ (i.e. notes in Obsidian) have some unique aspects to them, and I’ve also created additional helper shortcuts to retrieve these items from the Home Screen, so let’s take a look.
The last time I wrote about appending text to my Dashboard note in Obsidian in November 2021, I shared two distinct methods to do so, both based on shortcuts. The first one relied on the QuickAdd plugin and its ability to insert text into specific sections of notes in Obsidian; QuickAdd doesn’t support passing text to its input field from Shortcuts via, say, a URL scheme, so my shortcut worked by asking you to type some text first, which it then copied to the clipboard so you could paste it into QuickAdd’s UI. An ingenious workaround, but not an elegant one.
The second method was based on Shortcuts’ native Files actions in iOS 15, and it worked by directly inserting text into the Dashboard.md document stored in the Files app (I keep my Obsidian vault in local storage and use the Obsidian Sync service). Over time, I’ve grown to prefer this method of appending text to my Dashboard: it’s faster, I don’t see the QuickAdd interface when Obsidian launches, and, more importantly, I don’t have to tap ‘Paste’ in the QuickAdd input UI.
In last week’s issue of MacStories Weekly, I explained how I turned my Dashboard note into a richer, more interactive hub thanks to Dataview snippets displayed as cards, which show me a grid of links I’ve recently saved, plus a collection of recently modified notes. As I covered last week, the cards displayed in my Dashboard are an alternative look for a Dataview table made possible by Minimal Theme; those cards feature an interactive ‘Mark as Done’ button that takes advantage of the Buttons and MetaEdit plugins to change each linked note’s status from new to done.
It’s been fun watching members of our Discord as well as the Obsidian forums tweak and adapt my setup to their needs, so this week I want to share something else I’ve built with the same system that has fundamentally changed my Obsidian workflow: a watch-later system for YouTube videos powered by Shortcuts, Markdown files, and, of course, Dataview.
I’ve spent a good portion of my holiday break studying and playing around with Dataview. If you’re into Obsidian and its plugin ecosystem, you’ve probably heard of Dataview already and seen the examples of people who use this plugin to create all sorts of custom views in the app. But in case you’re not aware of it, here’s how I would describe it: Dataview lets you visualize notes from your Obsidian vault with tables and lists that support advanced filtering and sorting criteria. These tables are generated by Dataview snippets, which are code blocks that you drop into a note and that turn into a table when you switch to Preview mode in the Obsidian editor. Here’s what’s even more special about Dataview though: it’s based on an incredibly fast query engine that lets you find hundreds of notes with a syntax that supports all sorts of note metadata, whether they are implicit to a note or explicitly declared by you.
What I just typed above is a lot to take in, right? I totally understand, which is why I’ve put off learning about Dataview for a long time, until I had a couple of weeks to tinker and experiment with it. It’s tricky not to get too conceptual and high-level when covering Dataview, so for the next few installments of this series on MacStories Weekly, I’m going to try my best to give you practical examples and guidance on what you can achieve with this plugin.
In Part 4 of my Obsidian setup series, I described how I’ve been using a single ‘Dashboard’ note to quickly capture all kinds of links, ideas, and bits of text to process at a later stage – sort of like an inbox for my thoughts. In the story, I also detailed how I configured the incredibly powerful QuickAdd plugin with a menu that lets me easily append text or internal note links at the end of specific sections of my Dashboard note. I’ve been using this system for the past four months; being able to see at a glance what I’m working on or what’s on my mind for later has greatly improved how I can make sense of all the ideas I have.
The menu system I created in QuickAdd, of course, can only be triggered inside the Obsidian app. However, I wanted to remove as much friction as possible from the act of capturing an idea, so months ago I created a shortcut that launches Obsidian and instantly triggers my Dashboard Menu macro inside the app.
I installed this shortcut on the Home Screen of my iPhone and iPad, and I also enabled it as a menu bar shortcut on my MacBook Pro. With a single click, Obsidian launches and displays my custom QuickAdd menu, ready for me to save an idea or reopen the Dashboard note.
This has been great for me, but earlier this week I realized I could potentially make the entire process even more seamless and integrated with the Shortcuts app. With the QuickAdd plugin, the actual typing of text occurs inside Obsidian, which means there is no integration with the share sheet or, on macOS, text passed by other apps. If I could create a shortcut based on Apple’s new Files actions that appended text at the end of a specific section, I could potentially type text directly from the Home Screen and append it to my Dashboard note without using QuickAdd at all. Such a shortcut could even accept text input from the share sheet when used as an extension, or from Mac apps when triggered via the shell or AppleScript.
The only problem: by default, Shortcuts can only append text to the very end of a document. It has no idea what “appending to the bottom of a specific section” means. So if I wanted to replicate QuickAdd’s functionality in Shortcuts, I knew I had to do it all manually with regular expressions and conditional blocks.
The result is a shortcut called Append to Dashboard, which I’ve designed in a way that can scale for different kinds of users and Markdown notes. Once pointed to a specific note, the shortcut can check whether it contains sections (formatted as Markdown headings) and gives you the ability to append text at the end of a section. If the note doesn’t have any sections, text will be appended at the end of the file instead. Append to Dashboard takes advantage of a new feature in iOS and iPadOS 15 to use text passed as input or ask you to manually type some text; furthermore, the shortcut is fully optimized for macOS Monterey and I’ve created PopClip extensions to quickly append text selected anywhere on a Mac. Plus, I’ve created a companion shortcut to clip webpages from Safari as new notes in Obsidian and append their internal links to the Dashboard note as well. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s dig in.
In the last installment of My Obsidian Setup series from August, I described my Dashboard note that served as a centralized hub for saving ideas and quick links, navigating to different projects, and embedding Todoist tasks. That article predated the launch of Club MacStories+ and my annual iOS review; I was in the middle of finalizing both, so I was clearly prioritizing those massive, one-off projects over regular, day-to-day writing and note-taking tasks. Now that both have launched (successfully, thanks to all of you), I’ve adjusted to a “normal” usage of Obsidian again that doesn’t involve huge projects with a looming deadline that consume and take over my life.
In this week’s installment of the series, I’ll be taking a look at how I manage templates for MacStories Weekly posts in Obsidian and explain my approach to the mobile toolbar with pinned commands on iPhone and iPad. Let’s dive in.
In previous installments of my series about Obsidian, I covered the basics of the app, its core plugins and options offered by third-party developers, plus advanced settings and my approach to sync and hotkeys. Today, I want to get into the juicy part of this series and explain in detail one of my favorite aspects of my Obsidian setup: my Dashboard note, which is rapidly becoming my second brain for everything that’s on my mind and has to be archived somewhere more reliable.
While I take plenty of notes in Obsidian and am also writing my iOS and iPadOS 15 review in it, the Dashboard is the single note I keep going back to the most; over the past few months, I’ve modified it to my needs and preferences, and now I think I have something that could potentially be useful to other people too.
In the first installment of my new Obsidian series I published last week, I covered the basics of the app to get started with its (many) settings, built-in core plugins, and different types of sync. This week, we’re taking a look at the Obsidian theme I’m using right now, options for customizing command activation on iPhone, and a collection of third-party ‘community’ plugins I’ve been using for the past few months. Let’s jump back in.
The Theme I’m Using (and SF Mono)
I want to cover this one right away since you’re going to notice that screenshots in this story feature a new Obsidian look compared to last week. The theme I’m using right now is called Minimal; it was created by Stephan Ango with the goal of bringing Obsidian closer to Apple’s macOS HIG by using native system fonts, rounded corners for panels and popups, pill-shaped tags, and more. The theme was recently updated for iPhone and iPad, and it is, in my opinion, one of the best looks you can install for Obsidian on Apple platforms at the moment.
Earlier this week, after a long beta period I’ve participated in for the past few months, the official Obsidian app for iPhone and iPad launched on the App Store. I’ve covered Obsidian and my approach to writing my annual iOS review in it on both AppStories and Connected; because I’m busy with that massive project and an upcoming major relaunch of the Club (hint hint), I don’t have time right now to work on a proper standalone, in-depth review of Obsidian for MacStories. So, given my time constraints, I thought it’d be fun to do a multi-part series for Club members on how I’ve set up and have been using Obsidian as my Markdown text editor and note-taking app of choice.
Obsidian has a steep learning curve on all platforms: there are a lot of settings to choose from, and there’s an incredible third-party developer community responsible for hundreds of plugins that can fundamentally alter the functionality of the app. The recently-launched iOS and iPadOS also matches all the core functionalities of the desktop app, including the ability to install custom plugins, themes, and CSS snippets to customize the app’s behavior and look. As a result, it can be quite challenging to get started with Obsidian and know what to tweak in the app’s preferences.