Zettelkasten Forum


Time Blocking and the Zettelkasten Method

Hello to everyone

I am very fond of the time blocking technique supported by Cal Newport according to which you give a task on each hour of working day. It allows me to do a lot of work and stop at 5 pm so as to focus on other aspects of my life.

The problem is that I have abandoned Zettelkasten altogether. I am sometimes so absorbed to my work up to 5 pm, that although I take some fleeting notes, I find myself not inserting them to the Zettelkasten at all. I tried scheduling a time block called Zettelkasten but I almost always ignore it since I find myself in this flow state.

I wanted to know if my approach to Zettelkasten is wrong. Should I use it as a constant tool by my side as I progress on a task ? In this case, there is no use for having a Zettelkasten block since every block includes working with your Zettelkasten. I am relatively inexperienced with this method. Although I know it for more than a year, every time I try to follow it, I find myself abandoning it.

Comments

  • Don't take what is called fleeting notes. Take a bit more time and make proper notes in your Zettelkasten. This fleeting notes thing is only creating an additional inbox to empty.

    I am a Zettler

  • @ulver48 said:
    every time I try to follow it, I find myself abandoning it

    You don't say what field you are working in, nor what sort of pressures you work under. If you have a lot of short deadlines, I can see how it would be more important to meet those than to think of the long term. I have come to regard my repository of notes as something for the long term, something that I will build slowly. I tend to follow the process described by Miles and Huberman in their book on qualitative data analysis. The diagram here shows the iterative, cyclical process. But it is a model that suits the kind of work I do. It may not suit others.

  • edited January 27

    @MartinBB said:

    @ulver48 said:
    every time I try to follow it, I find myself abandoning it

    You don't say what field you are working in, nor what sort of pressures you work under. If you have a lot of short deadlines, I can see how it would be more important to meet those than to think of the long term. I have come to regard my repository of notes as something for the long term, something that I will build slowly. I tend to follow the process described by Miles and Huberman in their book on qualitative data analysis. The diagram here shows the iterative, cyclical process. But it is a model that suits the kind of work I do. It may not suit others.

    I am a PhD student working on neural networks. I have a lot of research to do, so I think that Zettelkasten is really suitable for my type of work.

  • @ulver48 said:
    I am a PhD student working on neural networks. I have a lot of research to do, so I think that Zettelkasten is really suitable for my type of work.

    I would suggest you persevere. You are not going to see much benefit until your Zettelkasten reaches a certain size. A neural network with ten connections is not a lot of help!

    And to go back to your original post, I would say keep the Zettelkasten open all the time, rather than having a separate block for it. You want to integrate the method into your work, not keep it separate from it. I conceptualise knowledge work as a system, which includes student, software, material to be studied, etc., all as part of a network of elements. Getting them to work together in synergy is the powerful way to work. In my view!

  • I would suggest you persevere. You are not going to see much benefit until your Zettelkasten reaches a certain size. A neural network with ten connections is not a lot of help!

    Quite the contrary. The Zettelkasten Method provides benefits many benefits beginning from the first notes. Being something akin to a neural network is just one of the beneficial traits of a Zettelkasten.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    Quite the contrary. The Zettelkasten Method provides benefits many benefits beginning from the first notes.

    Interesting. Perhaps I should have said that it wouldn't seem to provide much benefit to me! I'm about 18 months into my present effort at building a Zettelkasten, and I've managed to put in some 428 notes so far, and I feel I'm only just beginning to get used to the method and feel the advantages. I have been a bit haphazard and experimental over that period (trying out different software and solutions) and I have a lifetime's habits (and accumulated material) that I am used to. Perhaps if you are starting with a clean slate it is easier. But I have notes I took on my first Mac in 1993, which I still need to refer to. For over a decade I kept my notes in DEVONthink or in nvALT, and used search inside them for finding material. Now I often use HoudahSpot when I don't remember where I have put something. The bulk of my material is outside my Zettelkasten, and is only slowly migrating there as I need to work with it. The mix of the old and new leads to uncertainty and lack of clarity, at least in my case. I expect it will take time to sort out.

  • @MartinBB said:
    I would suggest you persevere. You are not going to see much benefit until your Zettelkasten reaches a certain size. A neural network with ten connections is not a lot of help!

    I also want to encourage you to persevere. It's not that there are no discoveries to be made early, as @sfast says, and they grow and can be profound as you build connections.

    And to go back to your original post, I would say keep the Zettelkasten open all the time, rather than having a separate block for it. You want to integrate the method into your work, not keep it separate from it.

    Keep your zettelkasten open and warmed up at all times! I've experimented with keeping an informal "Daily Log" note open and record anything that sparks interest. Then at different times, I'll review the "Daily Log" and pull anything out of it that wants its own zettel or to be added to an existing zettel. I'll extract the nugget of gold immediately in a creative moment, or I know that my workflow will present the opportunity to review this later. I can relax as the nugget is captured.

    This workflow looks like - in the morning, I start today's "Daily Log" and take a few minutes to review yesterday's log. Making new zettel and thinking about process/workflow improvement. I'm retired and wish I would have had this mindset when I was working. I'm applying this to learning to write, and it is working. I have a different use case than "a Ph.D. student working on neural networks [with] a lot of research to do." This might be marginally helpful. I hope so.

    I searched for a sample to show, and I found that most of my "Daily Logs" have only three or four entries. Some entries are just personal reminders or reflections. And some meaningful notes about what drives me creatively. And a few that have grown into zettel.

    I started from this "Daily Log" (Sorry, I can't remember where I stole this idea from and didn't record it. My bad.)

    Ended up with this zettel.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I've refactored the 202101260748 Design Discoverable Notes zettel. Here is how it now appears, till the next refactoring.

    I found the reference, added deeper links, and I tried to expound on the meme presented. I've taken it out of the inbox, but it likely will end up there sometime in the future. This is such an interesting topic to me. It goes to the nuts and bolts of good writing.

    Still under 200 words.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited January 27

    @sfast said:
    Don't take what is called fleeting notes. Take a bit more time and make proper notes in your Zettelkasten. This fleeting notes thing is only creating an additional inbox to empty.

    @ulver48 I'm pretty familiar with Cal Newport since he was an undergraduate like me. The advise Cal gives must of the time for this sort of personal development and productivity habits like time blocking is; Capture first your information (just like fleeting notes) and then schedule some other time when you're not capturing information to process the information. He usually gives the example of going to the library, research and capture good information by collecting photocopies of books. Then leave the library and schedule time to process that information blocking outside distractions.

    It's an additional inbox, and I've found scrum methodology to be the best way for me to create better notes. That means, capture anything that seems interesting, then decide which notes deserve your time and delete what isn't worthy, and then time-block as a dedicated activity the creation of permanent notes based on those notes.

    Following Cal's way of thinking, my advice will be for a student,

    1. Keep jotting fleeting notes during the school days (friction free, paper or plain text, written well enough but not trying to produce essay-like prose)
    2. Mondays, wednesdays and fridays do administrative work on your notes. For example, that you're not writing excessively non-essential information. Look if you're fleeting notes follow a pattern that might suggest you to read some kind of books or articles, or maybe you need to have more diverse sources, etc… It's like using this time to see a broader view of your week-by-week information.
    3. Lastly, during the weekend schedule time to process diligently those fleeting notes exclusively with out adding more new information. (This is hard deep work).
    4. Next monday repeat your administrative time-block for your zettelkasten and decide if notes from the previous week need more sources or if you need to focus on gathering new information during the week.

    Hope this is useful and good luck with your studies

  • @Splattack I have a few issues here. First of all you talk about doing hard work during the weekend by analyzing the collected notes. The problem is that this is opposed to Cal's fixed schedule productivity plan. He claims that during his successful MIT years, he worked only from 9 am to 5 pm every week day and that he rarely worked on weekends.

    Also I would like to know what @sfast would have to say about your suggestions, since his advice is not taking fleeting notes at all. Well, I worked having his style of not taking yesterday just for a change and to my amazement I came up with two new solid research ideas.

  • edited January 28

    @ulver48 said:
    First of all you talk about doing hard work during the weekend by analyzing the collected notes. The problem is that this is opposed to Cal's fixed schedule productivity plan. He claims that during his successful MIT years, he worked only from 9 am to 5 pm every week day and that he rarely worked on weekends.

    Yes, time-block hard deep work during the process stage of information on the weekends. That's because you said "the problem is that I have abandoned Zettelkasten altogether. I am sometimes so absorbed to my work up to 5 pm". That means you don't have time for Zettelkasten during your ideal "fixed-time productivity" and therefore you either follow Cal's philosophy and drop stuff off your plate like projects or classes to make room for the Zettelkasten stuff, or the other option, which is my suggestion, do it outside the school work hours planned efficiently to spread your Zettelkasten stuff throughout the week. I know what Cal wrote about not working during weekdays during his school days, and he has also said multiple times in his podcast that he breaks the rule sometimes even as a tenured professor, also he works on other projects during the weekends.

    Also I would like to know what @sfast would have to say about your suggestions, since his advice is not taking fleeting notes at all. Well, I worked having his style of not taking yesterday just for a change and to my amazement I came up with two new solid research ideas.

    Fleeting notes just means a non-friction way of jotting down information. In Cal Newport words, you collect information consciously with out switching gears. Usually the advise Cal gives to students, in his podcast and as I recall well from his three books for students, is to make plans or information-gathering in days separately from the actual work. And yes, it's an additional inbox, but if you time block efficiently you can produce pretty good notes for your Zettelkasten instead of abandoning it.

  • @Will said:
    I've refactored the 202101260748 Design Discoverable Notes zettel. Here is how it now appears, till the next refactoring.

    I found the reference, added deeper links, and I tried to expound on the meme presented. I've taken it out of the inbox, but it likely will end up there sometime in the future. This is such an interesting topic to me. It goes to the nuts and bolts of good writing.

    Still under 200 words.

    @Will do you still use Progressive Summarisation (particularly the bolding and then highlighting steps)? Do you find the approach works with the ZK methodology/mindset where highlights are seen as of low value in and of themselves? I can see the PS method being a duplication of work in that sense if the "real" value is in writing in your own words.

  • @jameslongley said:
    @Will do you still use Progressive Summarization (particularly the bolding and then highlighting steps)? Do you find the approach works with the ZK methodology/mindset where highlights are seen as of low value in and of themselves?

    I don't know what is meant by "Progressive Summarization". Don't let the term trap you in a fixed and regimented workflow, constantly checking to see if some external standard has been met.

    I re-read my notes from time to time, and where I see they can be improved, I make any changes I see fit.

    This workflow can be gussied up and labeled progressive if you consider re-reading notes from time to time progressive and re-writing to clarify a note summarization.

    But still, it is your note, your writing, your mind, your life.

    I can see the PS method being a duplication of work in that sense if the "real" value is in writing in your own words.

    I'm not sure I understand. There is the work of creating notes, and where is the duplication. If a note is re-written, the re-writing is part of the creation, not a duplication. I guess I don't understand.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will said:
    I re-read my notes from time to time, and where I see they can be improved, I make any changes I see fit.

    This workflow can be gussied up and labeled progressive if you consider re-reading notes from time to time progressive and re-writing to clarify a note summarization.

    But still, it is your note, your writing, your mind, your life.

    This was my ah-ha about collecting my notes—they are mine, and do not need to be like others. Take what works, and discard what does not. I know this seems obvious, but I think that is the part where I tripped up getting stated.

    There are many ways and variances on how people collect and manage their notes and not all use scenarios will work for every situation. I was distracted by the format and the process to a fault, scared of getting it wrong. I thought I had to have my process perfectly organized and ready before I began and went down rabbit holes of how everyone formatted their notes and processes of keyboard shortcuts and scripting (etc. etc.) — forgetting the reason why I started my note box to help me remember and make connections. Once I let go of thinking I had to have perfect notes from the get go, and I started actually collecting my writings and notes the process for me began to make sense. — It isn’t perfect, or flawless, and I have to edit and delete notes all the time and may change how I organize again once I have more to connect to, but that is okay.

  • edited February 3

    @Will said:

    @jameslongley said:
    @Will do you still use Progressive Summarization (particularly the bolding and then highlighting steps)? Do you find the approach works with the ZK methodology/mindset where highlights are seen as of low value in and of themselves?

    I don't know what is meant by "Progressive Summarization". Don't let the term trap you in a fixed and regimented workflow, constantly checking to see if some external standard has been met.

    I re-read my notes from time to time, and where I see they can be improved, I make any changes I see fit.

    This workflow can be gussied up and labeled progressive if you consider re-reading notes from time to time progressive and re-writing to clarify a note summarization.

    But still, it is your note, your writing, your mind, your life.

    I can see the PS method being a duplication of work in that sense if the "real" value is in writing in your own words.

    I'm not sure I understand. There is the work of creating notes, and where is the duplication. If a note is re-written, the re-writing is part of the creation, not a duplication. I guess I don't understand.

    @Will Progressive Summarization is mentioned in your screenshot

    Here's a breakdown of the method from Tiago Forte: https://www.evernote.com/shard/s170/sh/9b2741fb-7e89-4d69-989f-1e2a331e28ae/

    In short, it's an approach of reading through a text first by bolding important parts, then highlighting the best of the bolded text, then creating your own summary and then creating an original work. There's certainly major overlap with the zk method, the potential for repeat/unnecessary work would just be in the bolding and highlighting steps.

    I like your take on rewriting being a core part of creation.

  • On second view, @Will, I realised that your note above is actually derived from a Tiago Forte article on the Progressive Summarisation approach, which is best summed up as 'Design discoverable notes'.

  • @ProfMac said:

    @Will said:
    I re-read my notes from time to time, and where I see they can be improved, I make any changes I see fit.

    This workflow can be gussied up and labeled progressive if you consider re-reading notes from time to time progressive and re-writing to clarify a note summarization.

    But still, it is your note, your writing, your mind, your life.

    This was my ah-ha about collecting my notes—they are mine, and do not need to be like others. Take what works, and discard what does not. I know this seems obvious, but I think that is the part where I tripped up getting stated.

    There are many ways and variances on how people collect and manage their notes and not all use scenarios will work for every situation. I was distracted by the format and the process to a fault, scared of getting it wrong. I thought I had to have my process perfectly organized and ready before I began and went down rabbit holes of how everyone formatted their notes and processes of keyboard shortcuts and scripting (etc. etc.) — forgetting the reason why I started my note box to help me remember and make connections. Once I let go of thinking I had to have perfect notes from the get go, and I started actually collecting my writings and notes the process for me began to make sense. — It isn’t perfect, or flawless, and I have to edit and delete notes all the time and may change how I organize again once I have more to connect to, but that is okay.

    @ProfMac I'd be interested to hear what the primary purpose of creating/growing your zettelkasten is for you. Is it to produce original writing or is it more to facilitate learning?

  • @jameslongley said:
    @ProfMac I'd be interested to hear what the primary purpose of creating/growing your Zettelkasten is for you. Is it to produce original writing or is it more to facilitate learning?

    It’s a combination of both actually it is where I attempt to articulate my thinking and try to draw connections with what I read, experience, and think about — to help me remember. But I also plan to use it for writings that are not for me including academic papers, blogs, and books.

    I also add notes for my Korean learning. My language learning notes are not as well linked as the other knowledge and writing notes, but that will change once I am able to see more patterns or connections as I get better with the language a structure will develop as needed. The screenshot is The Archive’s saved search for my language notes (Korean)

  • @jameslongley said:>
    @Will Progressive Summarization is mentioned in your screenshot

    Yes! The UID reveals the date of creation as 20190126 and the Design Discoverable Notes note 20210126 - Hey, a discovery! Exactly 2 years between notes! Cool but meaningless.

    Here's a breakdown of the method from Tiago Forte: https://www.evernote.com/shard/s170/sh/9b2741fb-7e89-4d69-989f-1e2a331e28ae/

    I processed the same article 2 years ago hence the Progressive Summation note,
    I get an Evernote Error selecting the above link.

    Here are the contents of my Design Discoverable Notes note. I think I've posted this elsewhere in the forum.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Side question (if I may): @Will I see you put the UID inside the body of your notes, not next to the title.
    How do you name your notes? I mean the name of the files.
    Do you put the UID in the name of the files, too?

  • @IvanFerrero said:
    Side question (if I may): @Will I see you put the UID inside the body of your notes, not next to the title.

    The UID at the top of the note is the 'self-referential' link. It is in the YAML header which is used with pandoc and scripting. This YAML header is created automatically with Keyboard Maestro.

    How do you name your notes? I mean the name of the files.
    Do you put the UID in the name of the files, too?

    My notes are currently named UID Note Name.
    202101260748 Design Discoverable Notes

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will said:
    The UID at the top of the note is the 'self-referential' link. It is in the YAML header which is used with pandoc and scripting. This YAML header is created automatically with Keyboard Maestro.

    Thank you!
    I've read a lot about Keyboard Maestro: I'll have a look.

    My notes are currently named UID Note Name.
    202101260748 Design Discoverable Notes

    I see.
    Thank you again!

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