Maps of Content: Effortless organization for notes

A hand placing a pin on a map.

One of the biggest hurdles that you must overcome in order to take good notes is organization. The more notes you take, the harder it is to find things when you need them.

A good organization structure will free your mind. Creating notes will become as easy as breathing, and as a result your creativity and productivity will skyrocket.

Improving your notes can improve everything else in your life. From improving relationships to getting promotions, your ability to take notes will either aid you or hinder you.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to organize your notes, but there are some helpful frameworks for you to keep in mind.

One concept that has been hugely beneficial for me is the idea of MOCs,
or Maps of Content.

What are Maps of Content?

Maps of Content are special notes that you can create to help organize your notes.

MOCs are the key to building a digital garden.

What is a digital garden?

Some say there are three different types of note-takers. They are:

  • The architect
  • The gardener
  • The librarian

In a nutshell, architects like to plan, gardeners like to cultivate, and librarians like to collect.

A digital garden, in the note-taking sense, is a collection of loosely organized notes that you allow to grow and develop over time.

Your notes become like houseplants that you watch and care for as they develop. You plant the seed, and continue to revisit the idea again and again, until it either withers and dies or grows to be something truly spectacular.

It may sound wasteful to treat your notes like this—after all, why revisit a note over and over again?—and if it sounds wasteful to you, then perhaps you’re not a gardener. But most of our ideas and thoughts change and evolve over time, and creating a digital garden allows you to see that change and control it.

Back to Maps of Content

One of the inherent problems with digital gardens is how digital they are. It’s easy to keep track of your plants in a real garden: you simply walk around and look at them.

But in the digital world there’s nowhere to walk. If you start to plant a digital garden, you will quickly realize that it’s hard to keep track of all your ideas.

Enter MOCs. Maps of Content are a tool that allows you to structure your notes organically. You have a gigantic garden of ideas, miles wide. If you want to find a single flower inside miles of gardens, doesn’t it help to have a map?

Keeping track of plants in your digital garden

MOCs look a little bit different for everyone who creates them. But there are some fundamental principles that you should keep in mind when you’re creating your own maps.

The first is to keep it simple. Remember that we’re gardening here, our ideas can and will grow over time. Your first MOC could look no more complicated than this:

# My First Map

This particular map links to two more MOCs: my “Home” map and an “Interests” map. Links are the key to creating good maps, the ability to click from one map to another allows you to “walk through” your garden.

The beauty of MOCs is that it allows you to create first and worry about structure later.
The key to creativity is to eliminate as much friction as possible,
and MOCs are a great way to do this.

Eliminating friction with MOCs

One of my favorite MOCs that I’ve created is my Fleeting MOC.
This is an MOC that keeps track of all my notes that I haven’t organized yet.
When I create a new note, my template automatically includes a link to my Fleeting MOC:

%% #-🪴weedy %%
parent:: [[Fleeting MOC]]

Then in my Fleeting MOC I can check the backlinks pane and it will instantly show me the notes that I haven’t organized. Once I organize a note, I change the MOC to something more appropriate.

Again, this allows me to reduce friction and make it as effortless as possible to add new notes. The simpler you can make your note creation process the better.

Maps of Content-FAQs

Who created MOCs?

MOCs were pioneered by Nick Milo on his excellent Linking Your Thinking YouTube channel. If you want to dive deeper into MOCs, that’s the first place I would go.

Why not folders?

Why would I create MOCs when I have folders?

Folders are great for some things, but not for organizing a garden.

Folders are binary. A note is either in this folder or that folder. A note can’t be in two folders at once, nor can you add headers or other structure to folders. Folders lack flexibility.

MOCs by contrast are infinitely flexible. You can add one note to multiple maps, or to none of your maps. You can convert any note into a map. You can link maps together, or embed maps. You can even make a map with an Obsidian canvas.

That said, it’s not a bad idea to use folders in addition to MOCs. They are not mutually exclusive, so if you like folders, you can use them in addition to your maps of content.

Why not tags?

How about tags? It’s true that tags are much more flexible than folders. The problem with tags is that they generally require institutional knowledge. For tags to work, you have to have a system, and know exactly how the system works.

I have a few tags scattered about my vault, and I also have a “Tags” note that explains the purpose of my tags.

MOCs don’t have these challenges. MOCs are infinitely flexible, they encourage good repetition, and they don’t require institutional knowledge. With folders and tags you might need a note explaining your file structure to a new initiate (or a future version of you). With MOCs, the links speak for themselves.

What if I’m not a gardener?

Even if you’re more of an architect or librarian, you should still consider using MOCs.
They might not be as useful for you as for a gardener,
but there are still benefits to MOCs that you don’t get with other organizational methods.

When is the right time to create a MOC?

Any time you start to feel overwhelmed by how many notes you’re trying to juggle, create a map of content.

Nick Milo calls this the mental squeeze point. If your brain is getting overloaded, create a new MOC. It’s as simple as that.

Are MOCs permanent?

Yes and no. They are as permanent as you want them to be.

Not getting any value out of a MOC? Feel free to delete or change it. Add something new to your vault that relates to one of your maps? Add it to the map, and move on with your day. No need to worry about whether you’re missing a tag or a folder, just add a link to your new note from the map that is most relevant.

In Conclusion

Maps of content are a great tool for organically structuring your notes. No matter how you organize digital files, MOCs can help.

If you already use Obsidian but haven’t used maps of content before, a great way to start is to create a home note. If you’ve never used MOCs before, I would start there, and allow your maps to grow outward from there.

2 responses to “Maps of Content: Effortless organization for notes”

  1. Hi, Tim! Great blog entry, as always!

    I have a question. When you say that whenever you create a new note your template automatically includes a link to your fleeting MOC… Does this mean you don’t have to manually apply a template to your new notes? How do you configure it, this automatism?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Luis! Good question, and glad you’re enjoying the site!

      I was referring to the template there, saying that by using a template my notes all automatically inherit a link to the Fleeting MOC. Sadly you can’t apply a template automatically in stock Obsidian currently.

      What I do is use a keyboard shortcut to insert templates: “ctrl+T”. Then I name my default template “0 Default”, so it shows up at the top of the list. Then I trained myself to always press “ctrl+T+enter” anytime I create a new note. Not quite automatic, but it feels automatic after a few days.

      There are ways to automate this with the Templater plugin, but it’s a little technical. I might have to write an article to show how to do that.

      Also, you might be interested to know that my Fleeting MOC does automatically update with any new notes that link to it. Here’s how that works.

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