Zettelkasten Forum


Frictions for thinking and creating with my Zettelkasten

First some context:

As I understand Luhmann workflow...

  • He put every interesting thoughts he have as a permanent note without worrying too much. (Like a skeptic tank)
  • His notes are really short (generally 1 to 3 sentences).

I see nobody else using the Zettelkasten in this way. Lot of people create longer notes and try to synthesize before putting the ideas into the system.

Last but not least: the system is created for academic research in mind.

My frictions:

1) When I think and want to create new notes... having to search existing notes in the Zettelkasten stops my thinking flow.

I am wondering if it’s not better to just create note without connection when I think... and only then look at the possible connections. But that will create a lot of duplicates.

Or thinking more deeply before putting the note and find the connections. (But I feel I don’t leverage the Zettelkasten fully by this way)

2) When I want to create a new content... going to the Zettelkasten kills my creative flow. As I am not creating academic content (but marketing content)... The most important in the content isn’t the information, but the emotion (you can only put emotion in a content with your first brain in a specific mood)

Because of this 2 things... I am wondering if a Zettelkasten is the best tool for me.

And if it is... I am wondering why only luhmann work in a very atomic way without bothering of the quality of the note. And why mainy people create longer note with digital zettelkasten.

My question:

I deliberately don’t ask a specific question because at this point, I don’t really know what is the good question to ask myself.

Maybe: How to determine the best way of organizing the process and scope of permanent notes ?

Thanks for reading.

Damian

Post edited by damianrocks on

Comments

  • @damianrocks said:
    1) When I think and want to create new notes... having to search existing notes in the Zettelkasten stops my thinking flow.

    I am wondering if it’s not better to just create note without connection when I think... and only then look at the possible connections.

    Switching context from creating to linking comes with unbearable costs if not carefully planned and watched. These costs run a spectrum. Sometimes there is little toll when switching especially if there is some familiarity with the topic. Sometimes, as you describe, the costs are stifling and prevent a smooth transition.

    Separating the two modes can help. This period of separation is almost a requirement. It can be conducive to creativity to let the subconscious work unmonitored. The steps would be, create a zettel, set it aside for fermentation like a baker would, in a proofing oven, and returning to link it into the full zettelkasten.

    The most important step is returning to link the zettel. Without this step, you have fallen into The Collector’s Fallacy. This is the discipline required to be successful. Without dedication to this step, you'll flounder.

    When I want to create a new content... going to the Zettelkasten kills my creative flow. As I am not creating academic content (but marketing content)... The most important in the content isn’t the information, but the emotion (you can only put emotion in a content with your first brain in a specific mood)

    1. When you create content that is non-text think of your zettelkasten as an instruction manual. Notes on how a photo was manipulated, a poster was drawn, a marketing package format. Things like that, that might be repeated in the future and mixed in different contexts.
    2. Mostly and ideally a zettelkasten is full of ideas and memes, with little or no data. I'm not sure how your idea of information lands here. Maybe we're equating emotion with ideas and information with data. In which case love the emotion with a zettel and jettison the information.

    ... I am wondering if a Zettelkasten is the best tool for me.

    Hum? Maybe. Other tools have as steep, if not steeper learning curves and require their own levels of dedication.

    ... And why mainy people create longer note with digital zettelkasten.

    Because we can, we are not limited to A6 and have a full-text search.

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

  • @damianrocks

    I create zettels either because I am:

    1. Processing fleeting notes I have taken while reading an article or book, or listening to a talk. In that case, I am trying to identify ideas that I want to store in my ZK, and state those ideas as concisely as possible. This usually involves a defined process - while it may involve some creative thinking, and may require a certain state of mind, it is done in a block of time and in an organized manner, or...
    2. Some idea pops into my head and I want to capture it. In this case, I quickly create a "blank" zettel, with just a title and some basic metadata (using one of @Will 's Keyboard Maestro macros - literally takes 30 seconds). I might then write down whatever ideas are in my brain, trying to capture them in a "flow of consciousness" manner. After that, if I still feel inspired, I'll go back and try to process those quick thoughts into a proper zettel. But I might let the ideas stew in my brain for a few hours or days, before coming back for the last step.

    I also believe it is important to get your zettels linked to others as quickly as possible, before your forget what was important with these ideas, or why you wrote them down. To make sure I don't forget, my basic zettel template contains two tags: "unfinished" and "unlinked". I search on these terms at least once a week, sometimes more frequently, and as "inspired" complete those zettels that are still half-baked and link those that have less than 2 links already. Note that zettels are never really "finished", but I like to get them to a certain level before I go on to other items.

    Once I meet minimum standards for "completeness" of a zettel, I remove the "unfinished" tag and once I've created more than two links to other zettels, I remove the "unlinked" tag.

    If you don't link your zettles, you miss all the magic of a ZK.

  • I'm totally chaotic in my approach, and it doesn't really bother me. After all, my notes archive is for me, not for anyone else. So I don't worry about anything much except recording where something came from (be it a book, article, website, or my own head). I take the view that I will probably discover things that would benefit from linking as I am reading through what I have gathered, quite possibly long after I originally recorded them. I regard this as being likely to be a never-ending process. This view probably stems partly from my background in psychology, so I see the process as being like organic growth in which ideas will float to the surface when they are ready, not when we want them to. Others have a more "engineering" approach :) -- which is equally valid!

    As I always say, I think we have to find a method that works for us. The fact that something works for others is not really a guarantee of effectiveness in our own particular case. And I also think that the effort put into finding our own method is very useful. Even the failures teach us valuable things -- perhaps especially the failures. We may eventually come back to the method that we first read about in whatever book or website that it was, but the journey will have taught us things. And in my own case, I don't think I've ever come across a method that suited me 100%. I always have to modify it in some way. So I suppose I would say that I take elements of the Zettelkasten method that I feel are useful to me (especially having UUIDs for items, and trying to keep notes limited to a single/concept/topic/whatever, though that is quite difficult at times), but I am not religious about the method. Maybe because I don't need to be, because I am not building some great knowledgebase for myself or others. I'm just pottering around and picking up some interesting bits and pieces. Collecting, probably. But I quite enjoy that :)

  • First, wow. Thanks for your feedbacks guys.

    I have read them 3-4 times each.

    @Will So, what I understand is: you create a Zettel without thinking about what is already in the Zettelkasten. Then you create the link.

    You don’t bother that much with duplicates right ? What is important is the emergent structure of the notes.

    I am not sure if I really grasp the subtility of this 2 paragraphs :

    When you create content that is non-text think of your zettelkasten as an instruction manual. Notes on how a photo was manipulated, a poster was drawn, a marketing package format. Things like that, that might be repeated in the future and mixed in different contexts.

    What do you mean is: Look at the final product and ask yourself what is the different pieces ?

    Mostly and ideally a zettelkasten is full of ideas and memes, with little or no data. I'm not sure how your idea of information lands here. Maybe we're equating emotion with ideas and information with data. In which case love the emotion with a zettel and jettison the information.

    Do you mean : capturing the emotion inside a Zettel directly ?

    @GeoEng51 question for you:

    I might then write down whatever ideas are in my brain, trying to capture them in a "flow of consciousness" manner. After that, if I still feel inspired, I'll go back and try to process those quick thoughts into a proper zettel. But I might let the ideas stew in my brain for a few hours or days, before coming back for the last step

    So you don’t put all your idea inside your Zettelkasten like a skeptic tank (Luhmann’s words) ?
    But you process the fleeting notes, than create a proper Zettel right ?

    And my real question : When you create the « real » Zettel... this is when you look for duplicate and connection ? (Or you write, and then connect)

    I ask this, because I feel lot of friction to take new notes because of the need to feed a connection before creating the note.

    Maybe it’s better for me to just create a Zettel (with an UUID) and then connect the notes to other Zettel.

    Some Zettel are just draft of little thoughts... and with emergence some sharper concepts Zettel emerge naturally in a structure.

    @MartinBB

    I don't need to be, because I am not building some great knowledgebase for myself or others. I'm just pottering around and picking up some interesting bits and pieces. Collecting, probably. But I quite enjoy that :)

    So you are using your Zettelkasten not as a thinking tool... but more as an ideas collecting tool ?

    This is interesting in my case, because as I am not an academic researcher... my job is more about finding good ideas to mix and share... than theorizing new concepts.

    Thank you for your amazing feedbacks. (This forum and his members are really high quality)

    Have a nice day,
    Damian

  • I just read, listen to podcasts, or it and ponder things and then write my notes before even looking at other notes. My new notes don't depend on existing notes. I only consider existing notes when trying to number and place a new note in the box.

  • edited June 4

    First of all, thanks for all your answers. They are of very high quality. And it's rare on a forum.

    Then yesterday I already wrote a long answer, but after clicking on "Edit" ... it mysteriously disappeared.

    @zhanzh3ng : you have responded to the main question i have asked yesterday in my ghost answer :)

    @Will : what are you saying is to look at the final product to define the content of the notes?

    1. When you create content that is non-text think of your zettelkasten as an instruction manual. Notes on how a photo was manipulated, a poster was drawn, a marketing package format. Things like that, that might be repeated in the future and mixed in different contexts.

    @Will : I am not sure if I understand that. Do you mean saving emotion on a note ?

    1. Mostly and ideally a zettelkasten is full of ideas and memes, with little or no data. I'm not sure how your idea of information lands here. Maybe we're equating emotion with ideas and information with data. In which case love the emotion with a zettel and jettison the information.

    Have a nice day,
    Damian

  • @damianrocks said:
    @Will : what are you saying is to look at the final product to define the content of the notes?

    1. When you create content that is non-text think of your zettelkasten as an instruction manual. Notes on how a photo was manipulated, a poster was drawn, a marketing package format. Things like that, that might be repeated in the future and mixed in different contexts.

    My spelling mistake may have caused confusion - 'think/thing'.
    No. I am saying that procedures or steps to reproduce a non-text thing can be recorded and saved to a note for remixing in a new context. I see you create marketing content and I interpreted this as ad layout and stuff that isn't text. I thought your question was what value a zettelkasten has in a non-text world.

    @Will : I am not sure if I understand that. Do you mean saving emotion on a note ?

    1. Mostly and ideally a zettelkasten is full of ideas and memes, with little or no data. I'm not sure how your idea of information lands here. Maybe we're equating emotion with ideas and information with data. In which case love the emotion with a zettel and jettison the information.

    Mutual confusion. I'm try to suss out what you mean by:

    The most important in the content isn’t the information, but the emotion (you can only put emotion in a content with your first brain in a specific mood)


    How to determine the best way of organizing the process and scope of permanent notes?

    Processing ideas

    1. It most important to capture the ideas.
    2. Vomit the idea onto the page, not worrying about spelling, grammar, appropriateness, titling, format, or anything that might slow and blunt the capture phase. Slay the distractions as they try and steal attention. Let nothing stop you.
    3. After it is roughly planted on the page, letting it germinate is important. During this phase, the subconscious works with the idea, and you get to go to a party. The germination time is variable but shouldn't be more and one or two days.
    4. Editing the note is where the action is! The next morning, spend time editing the note. Clean up spelling and grammar. Massage the notes formatting. Re-read and re-word where you see further explanation will be needed by someone else reading the note. (Think about the questions your future self might ask.) Connect it by using the same terms and phrases.
      1. This is where the fun is if you don't push things. Stop while still excited. Leave something for later.
      2. Put note back in the greenhouse and forget about it until tomorrow, then repeat. Sessions will be a mix of short caretaker sessions where a few grammar errors will be changed, and because of low energy, the session is kept short. The next session, with higher energy, will see the idea blossom and vine its way though-out your zettelkasten.
    5. Repeat this process until you have two sessions in a row where you can't find anything the add or subtract.

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

  • (Bumping this up because the original reply was stuck in the moderation queue and upon accepting was buried in this discussion way down)

    @damianrocks said:
    Then yesterday I already wrote a long answer, but after clicking on "Edit" ... it mysteriously disappeared.

    Comment is restored 👍

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @damianrocks said:
    So you are using your Zettelkasten not as a thinking tool... but more as an ideas collecting tool ?

    This is interesting in my case, because as I am not an academic researcher... my job is more about finding good ideas to mix and share... than theorizing new concepts.

    I am a "sort-of" academic (now retired). My main work has been in history and psychology (nowadays counselling and psychotherapy). I have had to do an enormous amount of collecting over the decades, and for a long time I used DEVONthink as a repository for the material. Much of it was original source material (transcriptions of letters, documents, and so forth, that I had found in archives), much of it was quotes from books, and there were maps, pictures, and I don't know what else.

    When you have to travel 300 miles to visit an archive, and spend three expensive nights in a hotel, your work is more like a commando raid than anything else. At the archive you ask for as many documents as they will let you consult at a time, copy as many of them as you can, send them back, ask for more, copy those, and eventually you travel back home with the vague idea (hope?) that you have some useful material, but you are not really sure, because you probably haven't read much of it very carefully. You dump everything into your own archive, and depending on where you are in the process, you may collect some more material, or you may start looking at what you already have.

    The whole thing is very cyclical, or iterative. What you collect can often set you off on collecting more. I once looked at the reference section of a book and was thunderstruck to discover a whole ton of material that I didn't know existed. It took me about nine months to work through what I found that day.

    Anyway, I am very familiar with collecting, as it has been an essential part of my work. It is very difficult to say in advance whether something will be useful for a piece of writing I may be planning. And in any case, if it is not useful for the present piece, it might well be useful for some piece in the future.

    I would hesitate to say that I have a "genuine" Zettelkasten at the moment. I think of it as a notes archive that is gradually morphing towards a Zettelkasten, though I doubt it will ever be a "proper" one. I am not a social scientist like Luhmann, and my needs are probably different from his. It is useful for me to have a note with a verbatim quote from Freud, or Napoleon, for example, because I may need to quote it myself. And if it is in my notes archive, I know where I can find it, and if it has a UUID, I will always be able to go straight to it from another note that refers to it.

    So, I would agree that my notes archive is not really a thinking tool. For me it is a finding tool. And that is OK for my purposes. I'm not trying to do what Luhmann did. My ambitions are much more limited. I just want to find that blasted quote/idea/concept that someone came up with so I can quote it or refer to it myself. And I know from experience that it can take me anything from a few seconds to several days to find the text that I wanted. I'm trying to cut down the search times.

  • @damianrocks PS: I rather like the idea of a "sceptic tank" (skeptic in the American spelling), but what I think you mean is a "septic tank". I'll leave it to others to consider how closely the two might be related!

  • @MartinBB i believe you are mistaken. "skeptic tank" or "septic sink" means "kitchen sink" used as a metaphor. It describes a setup that allows you to put in anything you like and forget about it. A Zettelkasten is associated with a kitchen sink due to its storage solution. Any note is stored with an id in a common place.

    The metaphor of a kitchen sink is related to american culture, because a kitchen sink in american households are used to dispose any kind of rubbish. Inside the sink is a mixer which cuts the rubbish in small peaces, the rubbish is then removed with the waste water.

    This is why placing your hand in a kitchen sink is such a horror in american movies. The fear is not to get your hand stuck, it is to put your hand in the mincer.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 Well, I'm English, and rather "traditional" in my use of my native tongue, and I often find American either startling or amusing depending on mood or circumstance. But if Americans really do use "skeptic" and "septic" interchangeably, I really do find that quite funny. And perhaps dangerously misleading at times!

    And it seems like the "kitchen sink" metaphor has got a little distorted over time, too (see this history of it). Not surprising, as idioms do sometimes get surprisingly distorted. (My present favourite is "the proof is in the pudding", which is a hilarious botch of the original.)

    And just to state my credentials, I spent ten years teaching English language and literature at two universities in Italy, and spent countless hours I would prefer to forget marking English exams for Cambridge Assessment! I don't claim to be any kind of expert on English, more an interested amateur with some knowledge and experience of the tongue.

    But perhaps an American can tell us if "skeptic" and "septic" do mean the same thing to them! They certainly do not to me :)

  • I've seen the "kitchen sink" metaphor used with the Zettelkasten before, a couple of times.

    "skeptic tank" or "septic sink" are expressions found in this forum, they are incorrect. I meant to say that the intention was probably to use "kitchen sink" as described above.

    I count myself to the kind of people that knows nothing about american culture. So, references like these are often not understood without further explanation. I don't know the wording Luhmann used to describe his Zettelkasten but i am 100% certain it is not a literal translation.

    I like collecting figures of speech of foreign languages, it's a hobby of mine. It's surprising and fun sometimes to learn about it. With this said i only share as it was explained to me, my explanations could be very wrong.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • Idioms seem to be prone to distortion. People seem to forget the originals, or don't understand what they really mean, so they alter them. It is remarkable how many native English speakers now write "nerve-racking" with a spurious "w" inserted before "racking". But I'm derailing the thread again. However, you might be interested in the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms.

  • edited June 10

    I always thought it was about wrecking nerves, like Monster Trucks wreck each other, oh well.

    @sfast didn't invent the concept of a 'septic tank', but I attribute the use of the English phrase to him as a translation of Luhmann. It's literally about a hole of ... refuse in the ground, intended to clarify the contents with time. (I think that's where Luhmann's awkward humor shines through, btw.)

    Second hand citation: https://www.uni-bielefeld.de/soz/luhmann-archiv/pdf/jschmidt-aus-dem-archiv.pdf

    Points us to: https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/zettel/ZK_2_NB_9-8a2_V

    9/8a2 Zettelkasten als Klärgrube – nicht nur
    abgeklärte Notizen hineintun. Aufschieben
    des Prüfens und Entscheidens
    – auch eine Tempofrage.

    DeepL prefers another word:

    9/8a2 Note box as a cesspool - not only
    put clarified notes in it. Postponing
    of checking and deciding
    -- also a question of tempo.

    Hope that helps.

    @MartinBB Appreciate the "skeptic tank" joke :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze said:
    I always thought it was about wrecking nerves, like Monster Trucks wreck each other, oh well.

    I think that is the probable reason behind the incorrect version of the phrase. In fact, the proper expression (nerve-racking) originates from the fact that the rack was a Mediaeval torture device, on which people were stretched (see here for a description). The Oxford Dictionary offers the example "his body was racked with coughs", which seems to focus on the idea of torture, while I suppose "nerve-racking" might be thought to suggest the idea of nerves being stretched to breaking point.

    Hope that helps! :)

  • edited June 10

    What an interesting mismatch of a term - "skeptic tank". It brings to mind a "shark tank", that is, a tank filled not with sharks but with skeptics. I could use one of those every once in a while, when I get carried away by unjustified optimism.

    I could even imagine a TV show by that name and premise.

  • Yes septic tank for sure haha !

    In this context, skeptic is the opposite of septic. Because Luhmann argue that you have to put your thinking BEFORE filtering.

    (sorry for my long absence. I have so much work.

    And thanks for all your answers !

  • @damianrocks said:
    In this context, skeptic is the opposite of septic. Because Luhmann argue that you have to put your thinking BEFORE filtering.

    Yes! At least, if you want to harness the power of the Zettelkasten:

    Me wrote:
    If we initially created the systematics outside of the slip box, we were actually doing exactly what we wanted to avoid: We took care of the systematization of knowledge ourselves instead of using the integrated thinking environment.

    I am a Zettler

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