Zettelkasten Forum

How do you Value your Zettelkasten Tasks?

edited August 2021 in Research & Reading

I am very interested in this topic/question, so I thought to spin it out to its own post instead of talking about it in a post where it isn't as relevant

I'm afraid I have to disagree. There is a difference, a sliding scale, a spectrum in ZK work focused on literature, just as there is a spectrum of other types of "X-driven ZK work." Moving my skills "up" the scales is a goal, and it is always possible to move on the scale. I have to be vigilant that I don't backslide. Thinking and writing about the processes used in ZK work help clarify meaning. Some processes are counterproductive to our goals and there is a good chance we are blind to this - from @Will comment here

How would you rank the different tasks in terms of their utility to your zettelkasten? Here is my current ranking from top (highest utility) to bottom

  1. Creating Combinations of Ideas
  2. Creating Variations of Ideas
  3. Creating Nonobvious Connections (e.g. conceptual connections)
  4. Reformulating Ideas from Literature
  5. Adding Notes to a Structure Note
  6. Creating Connections based on Keywords (Obvious Connections)
  7. Copying and Pasting Ideas from Literature


  • Creating Metacognitive Knowledge not for yourself, but for the zettelkasten
  • Clarifying Notes
  • Organizing Old Notes


  • @Nick did you omit any form of "add something new in a new note" intentionally to focus on ZK tasks that aren't also regular note-taking tasks? (I often start with a discovery of sorts in my programming and capture this as a new note, then of course sort it into structure notes etc., but the note has to be created first :))

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

  • @ctietze no, I just forgot about that one, which is a big one. I'd call that updating notes and put it between number 4 and 5.

  • Ok, that's a fun exercise :)

    In my mind, "Reformulating Ideas from Literature" is just one step in the creation process (there's no alternative), so I'll be skipping that.

    From a CRUD (Create/Read/Update/Delete)-perspective of actions/operations I perform:

    • C: I perform creations quite a lot to capture new things, often to capture fact-like information like "this is how to do X in programming language Y",
    • R: I read my notes even more often, like a personal hand-book for programming;
    • U: I update notes least often, but still perform changes to existing notes to improve style or make connections or add details/variants/pitfalls
    • D: I almost never delete anything. Usually I delete shortly after creating a new note when I find out that I just forgot I had this already :)

    Looking at frequency only, I have R > C > U

    But when it comes to most valuable tasks, updating would be the winner.

    I recently took a couple of notes about edible plants and crops. Capturing each new piece of info was valuable, but updating the things I created first with info I captured last (through linking) will, I believe, be more valuable than having unconnected atomic notes.

    Leaving the CRUD world and going a level higher, creating and updating structural overviews would probably be more important than creating and updating the leaf nodes in my network of things. Now I have a hierarchical overview of garden/crop related information, and can make higher-level cross-connections to notes about which animals go with which plant. Take for example the runner duck, I think it's called, that happily eats slugs, which in turn helps with a variety of things in the garden (salad, squash, ...) -- I can point out that these ducks are one way to reduce the amount of slugs in one's garden without having to do this on the lowest level (i.e. my salad note, my note about squash, etc.)

    Working with the aggregate information and tending to it is super valuable.

    But nothing of this would be possible without the foundation, the atomic notes about salad etc. -- making stuff at all is the conditio sine qua non, it's absolutely necessary, so it's probably the most valuable when we consider all the interactions in the ZK. Without input, there would be nothing. While that's a truism, it's also an incredibly boring answer :)

    Similarly, reading the notes is necessary to get any value out of the system, too, but that's equally boring.

    If we take constant influx of notes for granted, though, working on higher structural levels would be my contender for (a/the?) most valuable task.

    The CRUD stuff doesn't map well to your question of valuable (and interesting) tasks, I do realize. I wanted to bring this up to point out that most of my time isn't spent on the most valuable tasks, but the necessary grunt work to make the valuable stuff possible. -- Maybe @Sascha can add a good exercise metaphor here, like "it sucks to exercise lifting and running, but you reap the benefits of rescuing your loved one's from threats to their lives" or something ;)

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

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