Zettelkasten Forum


Second Edition of the book: How comprehensive do you want the integration into life?

Dear Zettlers and Zettelnauts.

The draft is growing. Next week I shall finish the chapter named "Lift treasures out of your Zettelkasten" which is dedicated to pulling ideas and texts out of your Zettelkasten. Then I'll have the following chapters left:

  • Choosing Software
  • The Zettelkasten and the life of a knowledge worker
  • Zettelkastens Theory

Choosing software is simple to write. Zettelkastens Theory will be blown out of proportion during the first drafting phase just to be victim to heavy editing with severe shrinkage as a result.

But: I am not sure what is the right amount for the chapter about the integration of the Zettelkasten. Keep in mind, that I wrote a short book on that topic already. Topics like Deep Work (as coined by Cal Newport), habit building (based on my own work), attention management (based on my own work) and overall controlling (based on my own work) are part of this chapter. But also: Extensive use cases on how to use the Zettelkasten Method as a student, a researcher, a fiction writer, for personal usage (timely example: Use it as an assistance for martial arts practice) etc.

With that in mind, what are your suggestions? What do you wish and what don't you want to be part of the chapter? (Just say it. I don't have this fragile artist's soul that can't handle different opinions. :) )

I am asking because as I observe this topic unfolding in the internet I rarely see a holistic perspective on knowledge work. Mostly, it is theory on how a Zettelkasten works, sometimes it is complains about the lack of practical manuals to the method and rarely it is integration into the general workflow and lifestyle.

I am asking because I was thinking about GTD and why it resonated with so many people. I think the exact reason is that David Allan made the same decision: It is not the why which is so important but the how.

Concrete example: I have quite some material on how to apply the concepts of deep work to the Zettelkasten Method but also borrow from GTDesque workflows. But does anybody wants it to be part of such a book?

I am a Zettler

Comments

  • I've read my share of "self-help" style books over the years and one trope I loathe, absolutely loathe, is when the author takes everything a step too far and puts their method up on a pedestal as a panacea. If find it dishonest; nothing works for every scenario and life-style (I felt that Deep Work by Newport was especially bad in this regard.) And when part of the message is dishonest it casts doubt on the rest.

    There is no shortage of methods and techniques promoted to heavenly levels. The same applies to blog posts and videos about Zettelkasten. But when you read posts on here, Reddit and chat rooms, newcomers are invariable asking about how to do it: how to formulate notes? How to use links? How to build up a collection of notes?

    With that said, I do think the broader perspective is important. Zettelkasten is helpful in more ways than just academic research and that is worth talking about in detail. And I think detail is the point I would dwell on. Raise your hand if, in some book, the author mentions and anecdotal example in passing without going into any detail about how they actually did anything. So I would suggest to stick to a few interesting examples and then diving in: show how Zettelkasten and martial arts combine (I think that sounds extremely interesting!) Give both the ups and downs. How does it complement other methods and techniques. Show, don't tell.

  • I don’t know if this is an area your book will cover but what I personally would find useful is a ton of examples

  • edited August 15

    I’ve just reread more carefully (apologies) noticed your comment about martial arts, how wonderful. I was thinking about this more carefully yesterday and can imagine a system for BJJ with some zettels representing positions (e.g. I am in mount), which link to transitions from that position into other positions, and also link to submissions from that position, and zettels representing new positions which could be reached from that position depending if your attempted transition / submission goes well or badly.

    Using an approach like this would ultimately lead to a huge ZK due to the huge number of subtle variations for each position, transition and submission. These variations would depend not only on subtle differences in hand and feet positions but also differences in relative body size for example. It is this complexity I am looking to represent, for interest but also in the hope that it will help me to commit to unconscious memory something like a gameplan, e.g. ok I am in mount against a heavier opponent, he has one arm up and one arm down, my options are A, B and C.

    I hope this makes some sense!

  • @sfast I'll take a different tack here and suggest that a million examples of how to "do" ZK wouldn't have helped me much. I read a couple of good articles about ZK (one of them referenced somewhere in "Getting Started" on the blog for this site and the other recommended in this forum), read a couple of (at the time confusing) articles about ZK, and then decided I wasn't going to get very far unless I just dove in and started creating a ZK myself. As I encountered different questions, then comments on this forum would come to mind - I'd go back to them and say "Aha! Now I understand".

    So I guess what I'm saying is that you might have a chapter where you:

    1. Introduce different "how-to" concepts, one at a time.
    2. Give people assignments to go away and apply the first concept.
    3. Then have them come back and "discuss" what they learned from the assignment (obviously, you are not really having a discussion, but you can pretend that you are).
    4. Introduce the next concept.
    5. Repeat the process.

    For example, you could introduce the idea of how to write a short, concise, pithy statement that summarizes a person's understanding of a particular concept; have them read a 1 or 2-page long post and then do the exercise of writing the Zettel; and then discuss how the act of writing that statement helped them to think about the concept, understand it, and put it into long term memory.

    Of course, you could have just skipped from step 1 to step 3, and the reader would likely have gone away confused or with little comprehension.

    As a separate concept, do you recognize that your description of how you are going to write your chapter on Zettelkasten Theory is highly ironic? It sounds like you are going to just throw a bunch of stuff together and then leave it to later editing stages to reduce its size and get the flow of ideas right. Is that taking maximum advantage of your Zettelkasten to write the chapter?

  • @GeoEng51 said:

    As a separate concept, do you recognize that your description of how you are going to write your chapter on Zettelkasten Theory is highly ironic? It sounds like you are going to just throw a bunch of stuff together and then leave it to later editing stages to reduce its size and get the flow of ideas right. Is that taking maximum advantage of your Zettelkasten to write the chapter?

    I would call it the most Zettelkastenisch approach! What could be more so then taking a bunch of Zettels — the product of all your reading and thinking on the subject — combining them, and then editing it to get a completed text? That’s truly letting your Zettelkasten do your thinking for you.

  • edited August 15

    When it comes to software there are no one size fits all solutions. Then, suddenly you are dealing with two problems: how does Zettelkasten work? and how does this software work? I am currently in this situation.

    If you want to go this route then I think it would be best showing concrete and minimalistic software solutions of essential aspects: introducing the good, the bad and the ugly.

    Of course, there is a great interest in how to use a complete software solution on this topic but I would rather buy a separate book with the title "Using Evernote for Zettelkasten - a practical cookbook for dummies".

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • “Keep in mind, that I wrote a short book on that topic already.“

    Where would we find the 1st book, in order to read it and then make suggestions for the 2nd book?

  • Brief comment: The why, for me, is inextricably part of the how. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. The Zettelkasten is a practical expression of that insight to knowledge work which is, I suspect, why it resonates with so many. When I started with my own ZK, that connection hit me like a ton of bricks.

    Started ZK 4.2018. "The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on."

  • @henrikenggaard said:
    I've read my share of "self-help" style books over the years and one trope I loathe, absolutely loathe, is when the author takes everything a step too far and puts their method up on a pedestal as a panacea. If find it dishonest; nothing works for every scenario and life-style

    For me, this is a very important point. The ever lurking danger that I observe in discussions about the Zettelkasten method is the extent to which it is based on one man's approach. Statements that should really badged as 'this is how Luhmann would have done it' are often stated as 'this is how it should be done'. There's a very important difference between the two: Luhmann had great success with it, but that does not mean that an exact replication of it will work in other scenarios or for different brains.

    I think some examples and use cases would be very useful and I think you ( @sfast ) are on the right lines to ask different people for examples to include. As I know from my experience of developing training courses, when we generate our own examples we tend to think of things that reflect our own ways of thinking or that we can solve easily.

    One of the things we've discussed on here is the difference between the kinds of notes one takes at the start of an investigation when very little is known and the kind of notes that one takes when one already has (or has developed) a reliable mental model of the key concepts. It seems to me the level of existing knowledge dictates the level of notes being taken, but then over time as we develop the level of notes change. When we previously discussed this, you mentioned that you often start out in a very granular way and then refine as your knowledge grows (this may not reflect your exact point, but it was something along these lines, I think). The articles we read on Zettelkasten most comfortably fit the case when we have some existing knowledge and indeed some existing slips. I think it would be useful to cover the process of learning a topic from scratch and then growing, adjusting or pruning existing Zettels when we have gained enough information for them to be less relevant.

  • @sfast said:
    But also: Extensive use cases on how to use the Zettelkasten Method as a student, a researcher, a fiction writer, for personal usage (timely example: Use it as an assistance for martial arts practice) etc.

    With that in mind, what are your suggestions? What do you wish and what don't you want to be part of the chapter?

    As a new Zetteler or Zettelnaut (would love to know the difference), I would curious about how different personas would approach using the same method - not theoretical, but HOW as @henrikenggaard noted.

    I embody three personas (so far) in my own Zettelkasten use:

    • I am a PhD student feeding my ZK for my dissertation,
    • I am a researcher feeding my ZK for future writings on organizational consulting psychology and other topics, and
    • I am the leader of a five-year corporate initiative feeding my ZK for how to cultivate an environment within a 150+ year old organization where creativity and innovation may thrive.

    As a reader, I would be curious to know how people in other roles are leveraging the same process (ZK) as a way to cross-pollinate ideas for my own usage. Does this need to be its own chapter? I don't think so. Rather, it could be powerful to introduce the personas up front in the book, then use them to illustrate the how of each section before inviting we readers to do for ourselves. The "treasures" chapter is where those personas could do some heavy lifting and share their unique ways of finding treasures in the same system.

    Happy writing to you! Sounds like you're almost there!

  • edited August 21

    @henrikenggaard said:
    I've read my share of "self-help" style books over the years and one trope I loathe, absolutely loathe, is when the author takes everything a step too far and puts their method up on a pedestal as a panacea. If find it dishonest; nothing works for every scenario and life-style (I felt that Deep Work by Newport was especially bad in this regard.) And when part of the message is dishonest it casts doubt on the rest.

    Very interesting that you use Deep Work as an example. To me, he was like "Deep Work. Take or leave it but without it you leave best on the table." I didn't notice any pedestral putting.

    Can you elaborate? Or, perhaps, give a sample quote that stood out to you?

    There is no shortage of methods and techniques promoted to heavenly levels. The same applies to blog posts and videos about Zettelkasten. But when you read posts on here, Reddit and chat rooms, newcomers are invariable asking about how to do it: how to formulate notes? How to use links? How to build up a collection of notes?

    You mean praise without giving the actual how?

    With that said, I do think the broader perspective is important. Zettelkasten is helpful in more ways than just academic research and that is worth talking about in detail. And I think detail is the point I would dwell on. Raise your hand if, in some book, the author mentions and anecdotal example in passing without going into any detail about how they actually did anything. So I would suggest to stick to a few interesting examples and then diving in: show how Zettelkasten and martial arts combine (I think that sounds extremely interesting!) Give both the ups and downs. How does it complement other methods and techniques. Show, don't tell.

    I will be guilty of skipping some of the discussion (e.g. thorough explanation of ups and downs) because the aim of the book is not to follow any path (promising or dead end) to its final conclusion. I will tighten things up because the book should be the laying the ground work for what works 90% of the time and is formally correct.

    But the last point, the showing how is one of the main pillars of the book. So, at least, I will make that happen. :smile:

    @ronnymuk said:
    I don’t know if this is an area your book will cover but what I personally would find useful is a ton of examples

    Good. There will be a lot of examples. :smile:

    @GeoEng51 said:
    So I guess what I'm saying is that you might have a chapter where you:

    1. Introduce different "how-to" concepts, one at a time.
    2. Give people assignments to go away and apply the first concept.
    3. Then have them come back and "discuss" what they learned from the assignment (obviously, you are not really having a discussion, but you can pretend that you are).
    4. Introduce the next concept.
    5. Repeat the process.

    Exercises will be part of the book. I have an old programming book of mine in mind (for learning Pascal... very old...)

    As a separate concept, do you recognize that your description of how you are going to write your chapter on Zettelkasten Theory is highly ironic? It sounds like you are going to just throw a bunch of stuff together and then leave it to later editing stages to reduce its size and get the flow of ideas right. Is that taking maximum advantage of your Zettelkasten to write the chapter?

    No, I think I didn't explain the process properly:

    I will take my freedom to just expand and write freely on the theory. I have the tendency to inject too much theory and follow to much side trails. (Talking to me is not fun when I begin to go wild..) However, I accept that much of it will just be written to be processed back into my Zettelkasten and will not be part of the book. Perhaps, a small booklet or just a bunch of blogposts.

    @zk_1000 said:
    When it comes to software there are no one size fits all solutions. Then, suddenly you are dealing with two problems: how does Zettelkasten work? and how does this software work? I am currently in this situation.

    Got you. The software will not be esssential.

    However, I think individuality of the solution is highly overemphasized. Yes, if you use Windows you will have to have a different set of tools than a Mac user. But the issue the Zettelkasten is that after some years and with increased complexity it shows you a very different set of characteristic. I hope people will adapt but I fear a lot of disappointment some years into the future.

    @Daveb08 said:
    “Keep in mind, that I wrote a short book on that topic already.“

    Where would we find the 1st book, in order to read it and then make suggestions for the 2nd book?

    Not available because it does not meet my standards any more.

    @Phil said:
    Brief comment: The why, for me, is inextricably part of the how. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. The Zettelkasten is a practical expression of that insight to knowledge work which is, I suspect, why it resonates with so many. When I started with my own ZK, that connection hit me like a ton of bricks.

    I hope I can capture some of that. I think that the fascination for the Zettelkasten is not very rational but highly emotional.

    @GBC said:
    For me, this is a very important point. The ever lurking danger that I observe in discussions about the Zettelkasten method is the extent to which it is based on one man's approach. Statements that should really badged as 'this is how Luhmann would have done it' are often stated as 'this is how it should be done'. There's a very important difference between the two: Luhmann had great success with it, but that does not mean that an exact replication of it will work in other scenarios or for different brains.

    I think I need to adress this individualisation thing. There is a very important phase in learning to do mostly anything: You copy and imitate for quite an extensive period of time.

    • In martial arts, you drill a lot.
    • In arts, you learn technique a lot.
    • In craftmenship, you practice crafting the basics a lot.
    • In music, you learn best if you imitate a lot.
    • Even in dieting, you need to have a longer period of just eating a specific diet (paleo, Zone, whatever) before you learn to read your bodies needs.

    I see a lot of skipping the basics in the domain of knowledge work, tbh.


    Thanks for the suggestions, so far. (But don't stop if you have more)

    I am a Zettler

  • I think case studies are good for people to see real-world applications. In the areas of productivity for work such as a problem resolving exercise would be worthwhile in my opinion. More often than not people jump at solutions without knowing what the real problem is.

    Also may learning applications would be a good addition.

  • @davidrcalvert said:
    I think case studies are good for people to see real-world applications. In the areas of productivity for work such as a problem resolving exercise would be worthwhile in my opinion. More often than not people jump at solutions without knowing what the real problem is.

    Also may learning applications would be a good addition.

    Got you. Thanks.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:.

    I think I need to adress this individualisation thing. There is a very important phase in learning to do mostly anything: You copy and imitate for quite an extensive period of time.

    • In martial arts, you drill a lot.
    • In arts, you learn technique a lot.
    • In craftmenship, you practice crafting the basics a lot.
    • In music, you learn best if you imitate a lot.
    • Even in dieting, you need to have a longer period of just eating a specific diet (paleo, Zone, whatever) before you learn to read your bodies needs.

    I see a lot of skipping the basics in the domain of knowledge work, tbh.

    I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing, tbh, since I don't disagree with any of these points. I think you're talking about learning the basics as imititation before moving on to make it work at an individual level, I think? I totally agree that learning the basics is necessary and possibly overlooked. And I think that the contents of your book as you have suggested with the foundations and then examples will help with that.

  • @sfast I wanted to "remake" a point that I made before, as I may not have been very eloquent last time around. It is this: examples or case histories are good and most people agree they would be useful and instructive. However, I believe that we should go one step further and turn them into "exercises", doled out one step at a time, so that people first learn the principle, then see an example, then have to complete an exercise that forces them to apply the principle themselves, then finally come back for a discussion of what they have learned. I believe that in the process of doing or applying the principle, much more is learned.

  • @sfast I think practical examples are good, especially for beginners. I think the best way to learn Zettelkasten is to actually do it, but at the beginning it can be hard to start. I was writing my first note for 3 weeks - nothing was good enough. Providing some examples would be great to provide some model and sort-of template for people who are still unsure how to structure their notes. That being said, I think those exercises you mentioned are going to be even more valuable. I am a huge in believer in learning by doing. You mentioned copy and imitation as part of the process, and I have to admit that I literary re-created a part of Luhmann's slip-box just for the sake of learning and understanding. A lot of details that were confusing while I was just reading "clicked" once I had a good example in front of my eyes.

    I would also appreciate an example of doing Zettelkasten as a passionate reader/learner even if I have zero interest to write, publish or do formal research. I shared Zettelkasten with my dad when I discovered it, and he takes notes every day, but he doesn't write, he just uses it for thinking and keeping track of his thoughts. Currently, Zettelkasten is not mentioned too often like something that someone who is not knowledge worker can benefit from, so it seems like it is reserved only for knowledge workers, researchers, etc.

    Regarding software solutions, I think software is secondary to workflow. I think we can reproduce the same workflow in more than one app. But discussing digital format of Zettelkasten means discussing adjustments we have to make, so it is interesting to learn what rules people are bending to fit Zettelkasten in digital environment. As @GBC said Luhmann's way is just one way, and changes are sometimes for the better.

    I think one problem people have with Zettelkasten is that they get overly excited when they discover it and they want everything asap. It is hard to be patient, building Zettelkasten that will be able to produce results takes time and a lot of effort. I was one of those people :smiley: I think that initial period of just putting notes inside and getting nothing in return because everything is still blurry is the most challenging period. A lot of people will give up during that phase. If your examples can provide some confidence that it is worthwhile to stick through this phase, I think a lot of people would appreciate it.

  • @GBC said:

    @sfast said:.

    I think I need to adress this individualisation thing. There is a very important phase in learning to do mostly anything: You copy and imitate for quite an extensive period of time.

    • In martial arts, you drill a lot.
    • In arts, you learn technique a lot.
    • In craftmenship, you practice crafting the basics a lot.
    • In music, you learn best if you imitate a lot.
    • Even in dieting, you need to have a longer period of just eating a specific diet (paleo, Zone, whatever) before you learn to read your bodies needs.

    I see a lot of skipping the basics in the domain of knowledge work, tbh.

    I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing, tbh, since I don't disagree with any of these points. I think you're talking about learning the basics as imititation before moving on to make it work at an individual level, I think? I totally agree that learning the basics is necessary and possibly overlooked. And I think that the contents of your book as you have suggested with the foundations and then examples will help with that.

    I just reacted to your stressing the importance of not making any orthodoxy out of Luhmann's approach. :smile: I just read to often that everything is an issue of individualisation.

    @GeoEng51 said:
    @sfast I wanted to "remake" a point that I made before, as I may not have been very eloquent last time around. It is this: examples or case histories are good and most people agree they would be useful and instructive. However, I believe that we should go one step further and turn them into "exercises", doled out one step at a time, so that people first learn the principle, then see an example, then have to complete an exercise that forces them to apply the principle themselves, then finally come back for a discussion of what they have learned. I believe that in the process of doing or applying the principle, much more is learned.

    I think I got you from your first statement. It was eloquent enought. :)

    @ethomasv said:
    @sfast I think practical examples are good, especially for beginners. I think the best way to learn Zettelkasten is to actually do it, but at the beginning it can be hard to start. I was writing my first note for 3 weeks - nothing was good enough.

    This is an important point. I hope I can slip enought of this into the book. The emotional challenge of the Zettelkasten Method is very real. It is about trust and having confidence, enduring the delay of gratification and being cool with making some mistakes and see the them rather as learning experiences.

    Providing some examples would be great to provide some model and sort-of template for people who are still unsure how to structure their notes.

    I hope I will provide enough of those templates without creating some sort of cage of orthodoxy. I have some structure note forms prepared with some use cases and some examples of workflows for specific use cases (historian, journo non-fiction writer, student etc).

    That being said, I think those exercises you mentioned are going to be even more valuable. I am a huge in believer in learning by doing. You mentioned copy and imitation as part of the process, and I have to admit that I literary re-created a part of Luhmann's slip-box just for the sake of learning and understanding. A lot of details that were confusing while I was just reading "clicked" once I had a good example in front of my eyes.

    I did the same.. :) Christian often reminds me of the earlier methods of learning how to code. Much of the process entailed just typing out the code of the books.

    I would also appreciate an example of doing Zettelkasten as a passionate reader/learner even if I have zero interest to write, publish or do formal research. I shared Zettelkasten with my dad when I discovered it, and he takes notes every day, but he doesn't write, he just uses it for thinking and keeping track of his thoughts. Currently, Zettelkasten is not mentioned too often like something that someone who is not knowledge worker can benefit from, so it seems like it is reserved only for knowledge workers, researchers, etc.

    Got you. The first subsection of the 7th chapter (The Zettelkasten and the life of a knowledge worker) is especially aimed at non-scientists/non-writers.

    (Example: How to structure an annotated diary for any hobby that involves skill development. I use that technique for my dogtraining and my own workout regime. Works very fine to support ones personal endavour)

    Regarding software solutions, I think software is secondary to workflow. I think we can reproduce the same workflow in more than one app. But discussing digital format of Zettelkasten means discussing adjustments we have to make, so it is interesting to learn what rules people are bending to fit Zettelkasten in digital environment.

    Yes. Our whole premise to use software agnostic software development and pair it with heavy emphasis on the method. :smile:

    I think one problem people have with Zettelkasten is that they get overly excited when they discover it and they want everything asap. It is hard to be patient, building Zettelkasten that will be able to produce results takes time and a lot of effort. I was one of those people :smiley: I think that initial period of just putting notes inside and getting nothing in return because everything is still blurry is the most challenging period. A lot of people will give up during that phase. If your examples can provide some confidence that it is worthwhile to stick through this phase, I think a lot of people would appreciate it.

    Got you.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:

    @henrikenggaard said:
    I've read my share of "self-help" style books over the years and one trope I loathe, absolutely loathe, is when the author takes everything a step too far and puts their method up on a pedestal as a panacea. If find it dishonest; nothing works for every scenario and life-style (I felt that Deep Work by Newport was especially bad in this regard.) And when part of the message is dishonest it casts doubt on the rest.

    Very interesting that you use Deep Work as an example. To me, he was like "Deep Work. Take or leave it but without it you leave best on the table." I didn't notice any pedestral putting.

    Can you elaborate? Or, perhaps, give a sample quote that stood out to you?

    So, I should preface this by saying that Deep Work (the book) really didn't resonate with me, but that the Deep Work (the concept) seems okay. I happen to have quite extensive notes on Deep Work, as it was my "practice" for starting my Zettelkasten.

    Without going into too much detail, the parts that in particular try to "overexplain" with Zettelkasten were the parts on Jack Dorsey and the executive exception (p. 44). Because Newport attempts to herald Deep Work as the ultimate knowledge worker tool, he has to explain away why Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter and Square) manages to be successful. That is fine in itself, because of course nothing works for everybody. However, he attempts to explain this away, saying that deep work is a waste of time for CEOs. But in the same book Bill Gates is used as an example of an executive doing deep work. So which is it?

    In a similar vein, "journalistic schedule" of deep work (p. 102) is a similar "overfitting" of deep work onto a scenario that just doesn't seem self-consistent. In short, I think the “journalistic schedule” muddles the water and makes the concept of deep work even more vague than it already was.

    These are two examples. They are not deal-breakers in any sense, but they are the kind of overfitting that just sticks out to me.

    @sfast said:

    @henrikenggaard said:
    There is no shortage of methods and techniques promoted to heavenly levels. The same applies to blog posts and videos about Zettelkasten. But when you read posts on here, Reddit and chat rooms, newcomers are invariable asking about how to do it: how to formulate notes? How to use links? How to build up a collection of notes?

    You mean praise without giving the actual how?

    Exactly. Praise is needed to lure people in, but in order to apply it something more concrete is (usually) needed.

  • @henrikenggaard

    Ah, ok. Then we share the same sentiment. I do not consider the journalistic schedule deep work.

    I think Cal Newport tried to make Deep Work a new thing. But it is not. The book was best as inspiration.

    I am a Zettler

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