Zettelkasten Forum


Can Zettelkasten be used for project management?

edited February 2022 in Workflows

Hi,

I have recently discovered Zettelkasten in my search for an information management tool. I have used TiddlyWiki and TheBrain before, and I'm a great fan of the idea of interconnected "atomic" thoughts. I'm trying to adapt this system to my work. Unfortunately, it is far from academic literature research which seems to be the classic application of Zettelkasten.

I manage reliability test of semiconductor products. I deal with a lot of interconnected information for product reference and project tracking. For example, a product is made using a certain technology and may have several part numbers using different package types. The same package types or technologies can be used for other products. Qualification includes several reliability tests, each done on several lots. Each lot/test is associated with test data. Lots are shipped between the test lab and test supplier. Each shipment may contain samples from several lots. There is also test hardware, test conditions associated with each test, not to mention meeting notes and action items associated with different people. All emphasized words can be represented with Zettel linked with each other.

My primary source of information is email. How do you reference emails in your system? I've read Will's post 3 Quick Ways to Create a Markdown Link from Mail, Safari, and Finder — Zettelkasten Forum but I'm locked into using Windows and Outlook for work.

I read that people create ~800 notes per year (2-3 per day). In my use case, if I atomize all events and pieces of data, I may create tens of notes per day.

The relevance of information changes with time. Some details may become unimportant, but I may still need them (e.g. dates and lot numbers) to write reports. Other information (e.g. technology details) may be used for other projects, so it's hard to say how "permanent" the notes should be. In your experience, is ZK a good tool for keeping a log of events considering that the events may be relevant to projects, lots, and other information in ZK?

Is anyone in this forum using Zettelkasten in a similar context? If so, I'm very interested to hear the use case and suggestions for the organization and workflow. Thank you for the insights.

Comments

  • I don't think I have the knowledge necessary to be of much help here, but let me ask you this: Have you checked out all of the posts from the blog? There might be an answer for you somewhere in there.

    Otherwise, the Zettelkasten works for pretty much anything. For example, I learned a bit about a fighting game some months ago. Some of my Zettels describe combos, techs, how-tos, and so on.

    Most of these Zettels lack connections. Also, I can do without some of them if I just practice the ideas. For example, a combo. However, making Zettels on this allows me to: 1) Think about the mechanics more in depth and 2) connect to other related mechanics. Thus, the Zettels aren't entirely useless.

    As an example, I have a Zettel on a combo for a character called Peacock:

    5LPx2 2MK 2HP 5HK OTG 214HP
    dash 5LPx1 5MK
    jMP jHP
    ADC jLP jMP
    5MP 2MK 2HP 236MP 236PP
    

    One of my comments in the Zettel is this: You can replace 5MP 2MK 2HP 236MP 236PP by 5MP 2MK 2HP 236LP 236KK then DHC into Hatred Install for... EXPLOSIVE DAMAGE[Insert link].

  • @Annabella said:
    Have you checked out all of the posts from the blog? There might be an answer for you somewhere in there.

    I found a relevant discussion here reference management for project notes? — Zettelkasten Forum. If there are other places, I'd appreciate if someone directs me there.

    I may also need to read the Ahrens' book - this question is likely not original. I just see a lot of information on how to use ZK for research, but not much on specific techniques for project information management.

    Some people recommend to avoid "polluting" ZK with TODO lists. I think, more generally, it's a matter of the scope of relevance of the notes. In my case, notes on product technology is relevant across multiple product qualification projects. Notes on test or failure analysis methodologies may be relevant for me throughout my career. Notes on shipment dates and tracking numbers are only relevant until the package is delivered. Notes that lose relevance need to be deleted or archived.

    I'm interested to learn how people approach this issue.

  • I'm fairly new to Zettlelkasten, but have been doing project management and list management for a long time in a few different contexts, including tech. That said, although there are lots of aspects of Zettlekasten that overlap with good task management (and by good, I mean simple; because complicated task management usually suggests more of a fascination with methods than outcomes), they are not the same thing. I use Obsidian (with a Getting Things Done approach to task management), which offers more flexibility in cross-method workflow (including community plug-ins, if that's your thing; it isn't my thing) than does The Archive (to my inexperienced eye), which seems more focused on a purer Zettlekasten workflow. However, I'm sure The Archive can be hacked to your purposes just as can Obsidian. For example, both systems should allow you to turn your email into an object (say, a PDF file), store those objects in some kind of Object location, and link to that object, as necessary, in a note that can be used for all other note-like purposes (tagging, searching, cross-linking, etc.). Hope this helps.

  • edited February 2022

    @agru said:
    In your experience, is ZK a good tool for keeping a log of events considering that the events may be relevant to projects, lots, and other information in ZK? ... Is anyone in this forum using Zettelkasten in a similar context?

    I'm using it for analyzing economic data on a variety of subjects, some of it decades old and some from live feeds. From a helicopter view my situation resembles yours: I have several types of data, variable reliability, sometimes contradictory, on several partially overlapping topics.

    If so, I'm very interested to hear the use case and suggestions for the organization and workflow.

    Don't overdo the connections (tags, hyperlinks, whatever). Create only relevant ones. The idea of a good info-management (like any model creation) is to determine important data, not to trace everything.
    Have some note ("table of contents", "structural note") where you'll dump irrelevant info that still has a chance to get useful in some undetermined future.

    How do you reference emails in your system?

    Kinda like that:

    Source

    YYYYMMDD, author, circumstances (if important)

    Then I quote all the relevant info.

  • @kmkwagner, I also use Obsidian. I'm also a fan of using the simplest tool for the job. I'm not averse to plugins and extensions as long as they are useful and simple. I'm looking into Zettelkasten because my project information is very interlinked, and I can benefit from reusing atomic notes. I'm discovering a lot of good things exploring it. Emails can be saved as .eml files. This is simpler than PDF, but still too cumbersome. Thanks for the insight.

  • @emps said:
    Don't overdo the connections (tags, hyperlinks, whatever). Create only relevant ones. The idea of a good info-management (like any model creation) is to determine important data, not to trace everything.

    This is a very good advice. I read this article The Collector’s Fallacy • Zettelkasten Method talking about collecting irrelevant information, and it occurred to me that it also applies to links. Not all links add value, and it's totally possible to over-link your notes so that the links lose meaning. I also created a rule to myself to link to the most specific relevant note. E.g. if you have a note about lions, a note about felines, and a note about mammals - link lions to felines, not to mammals, especially not to both. There are many articles about filtering irrelevant information, but I have not seen much written on how to make relevant links. Obsidian has a nice feature - it shows "Unlinked mentions" in the text, that is, text that matches the name of an existing note. It allows to see mentions without creating explicit links.

    How do you reference emails in your system?

    Kinda like that:

    Source

    YYYYMMDD, author, circumstances (if important)

    Then I quote all the relevant info.

    That's what I would do in a paper notebook. The email can be searched by the sender and the date. Good advice as well.

  • edited February 2022

    I'd highly recommend reading as many posts as you can from here, other posts from the blog, and other resources. I say so because I'm pretty sure you can find an answer to your question that way. I have found my own like this.

    For example, you mention the lack of stuff on making good links. Well, there's this. From this, you can figure out that annotated links set in stone a connection and allow you to find the connection or inspiration. It's always explicit, even if that doesn't seem to be the case. A structure note listing Zettels on definitions needs nothing more than a list of the terms followed by links. Because you know already why you're linking to the Zettels: They're definitions. Also, they need to be explicit or else you're not telling your future self why look at them. And following them wastes your time, just like surfing the Internet.

    From this, there's no reason to make connections between lions, felines, and mammals. Maybe you could link from the Zettel on mammals to those on lions and felines. Then, state that the latter are a subgroup of mammals.

    Doing this digging is what led me to understand what some people in this forum refer to knowledge, which I call scyketh: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/14203#Comment_14203 Look at what's below "How do you decide what is important?"

  • Can Zettelkasten be used for project management?

    Yes, you can use your Zettelkasten for project management.

    However, following the advice of this thread, I would also recommend separating project management from knowledge management.

    For example, in my case, I am developing a set of interdependent software tools. Each tool depends on another and has a specific version requirement. All this information could be managed with my Zettelkasten. But, in my case, it is not the most efficient tool for this job. In this case, I need to use a dependency manager (pip, requirements.txt files, git, etc).

    “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” —Isaac Newton
    eljardindegestalt.com

  • edited May 13

    Your request is a bit old, but I think that an answer could be useful.

    I think that in your case you need to use a combination of models, having Zettelkasten one of them.

    Even using the same tool, I use Obsidian too and it is suitable for your goals.

    Zettelkasten can be one of the models, but maybe is not the primary.
    You need to include in your vault other constructs, using the Zettelkasten for the things in which is most effective.
    If you need to track your tasks in your projects you need a task manager model, if you need to track the status of your entities (products, parts, supplier,...) you need an entity manager function, and so on.

    If you don't need sophisticated models for these activities, you can build your models using notes, links, tags, properties and dataview that Obsidian provides, and integrate these notes with your Zettelkasten. If the power of Obsidian constructs is not enough, you need to use dedicated tools for some models.

    I use the approach that I've described, having simple requirements for task management, project tracking and entity management.
    Zettelkasten has the role of gluing the different parts of the system, having in different parts the orthogonal requirement of acquiring, managing and developing knowledge, and produce knowledge-based deliverables.
    It could be hard for me, instead, doing project management having only the standard constructs of Zettelkasten (permanent note, literature note,...). So, for a specific need that emerges I create the most suitable note. I have Meeting notes for tracking my meetings, Supplier Notes, To do list Notes.

    In the essence:

    • Zettelkasten can be a part of the process
    • If you have simple requirements, you can model all the process using notes. You need to build the most suitable notes and workflow for every subprocess.
  • No. What you want is a custom database or PIM information manager. While everyone has their own opinion about what ZK does or does not do, my view is that ZK excels at being "concept-centric", focused on concepts, theories and decisive ideas, not streams of data.

    ZK is better suited for PKM- knowledge management, not information management.

    It almost sounds like you need a hybrid of a custom database design to capture static data and maybe something like Basb-PARA to capture and organize the actionable portion of the information.

  • edited May 19

    Some projects have to proceed at their own pace when opportunity allows. Over time and by accident, I found that the Zettelkasten helps me pursue parallel projects and reconstruct the context of projects I set aside; that way, I can continue from where I left off.

    I didn't start using my Zettelkasten for project management per se. The Zettelkasten enables me to answer questions such as, "What did you believe about X, and when did you believe it?" I say believe rather than know since most of what I think I know is false, vague, inaccurate, or misleading. Since what I thought about X could be false (or worse, uninteresting), obsolete, said with greater clarity and concision, or shouldn't have been said at all, the Zettelkasten is the place to revise notes, provided I am aware of the need to revise and correct, and provided the relevant linked notes are also revised if necessary. Suppose I decide to start over rather than modify existing notes. In that case, I tag the obsolete notes with #obsolete, which means not erasing history, papering over humiliating and embarrassing blunders, and other unforgivable offenses. The Zettelkasten also provides a metacognitive function by helping develop a predictive framework for research.

    The term "predictive framework" is due to Carl Weiman, from "How to become a successful physicist" (Physics Today 75, 9, 46 (2022); https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.5082). Here is the relevant excerpt.

    Develop a predictive framework

    We found that all the experts organized their disciplinary knowledge in a way that was optimized for making decisions. We describe that knowledge-organization structure as a “predictive framework.” Such frameworks are mental models that embody all the key features relevant to the problem and their relationships via an underlying mechanism. The frameworks are used to predict the behavior of the system being modeled when any of the variables are changed. As our experts explained to us, when they made decisions, they continually ran thought experiments using the frameworks.

    A specialized project management software system doesn't provide those functions.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • edited May 19

    We need to consider that the term "project" can embrace works that differs enormously in size , nature, and role of knowledge involved.
    A project is set whether to build a skyscraper or write a book or a single article, too.
    I don't think evaluating if zettelkasten could fit or not at first glance is the best strategy.
    Maybe it's better analyze, case by case, what kind of activities the project involves and
    combine the most suitable tools for the case.

    I think that Zettelkasten can have an important role in personal projects that involve a relevant quantity of knowledge to acquire, develop and use (during the process, or as a resource of the project). But it has to be flanked by another process that manages other dimensions of the project (time, budget, constraints,...) when this type of management is required in the case.

    Post edited by andang76 on
  • edited May 19

    @ZettelDistraction said:
    The Zettelkasten also provides a metacognitive function by helping develop a predictive >framework for research.

    I totally agree on this point. Zettelkasten, along with the knowledge and the mental processes developed using it, creates an integrated framework much bigger than the single method itself. I have this experience, too, even if I haven't developed yet a big number of cases.
    I didn't have a term for that :smile: . And I think that Zettelkasten has other similar functions.

  • Thanks, @ZettelDistraction, for rekindling my interest in Wieman’s ‘How to Become a Successful Physicist.’ My zettelkasten helped me quickly regain my footing, and this discussion highlights areas where I need improvement. The predictive framework proves to be another thinking tool. (Young)

    Predictive frameworks are “a mental model of key features of the [project] and the relationships between the features.” Predictive frameworks simplify and approximate the underlying key features of a project. (Wieman 12) This organizes the project structure, tools, and tasks, revealing gaps and opportunities as the project evolves. It shows gaps and opportunities in a continuously evolving process. This sorts the simulation and matches it to the project tasks. The application of predictive frameworks is a craft—a term for any cognitively engaging task where experts differ from novices.

    Predictive processing in this mental model uses a Bayesian-based approach, shedding light on the intersection of representationalism and active externalization while exploring the project's environment. (Miller) Much of the work of predictive frameworks happens in the extended mind. This work is not confined to the brain but extends into the body, the environment, and your tools. (Clark).

    Questions?

    1. How can I apply the predictive approach to enhance my notes on Visual Disabilities in YA Literature?
    2. What is the relationship between predictions and outcomes, given that humans predict poorly?
    3. What methods should I integrate into my note-taking process to incrementally improve my predictive frameworks?
    4. How should I design my note-taking system to capture key features and relationships identified by this thinking tool?

    References

    Wieman, Carl. “How to Become a Successful Physicist.” Physics Today, vol. 75, no. 9, Sept. 2022, pp. 46–52. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.5082.

    Miller, Mark, Andy Clark, et al. “Editorial: Predictive Processing and Consciousness.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology, vol. 13, no. 4, Dec. 2022, pp. 797–808. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-022-00666-6.

    Clark, Andy. “The Extended Mind” by Andy Clark and David Chalmers. 1995, https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/concepts/clark.html

    Young, James Webb. A Technique for Producing Ideas. McGraw-Hill, 2003.

    Will Simpson
    My zettelkasten is for my ideas, not the ideas of others. I will try to remember this. I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon, I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited May 21

    @Will Carl Wieman writes, "We found that all the experts organized their disciplinary knowledge in a way that was optimized for making decisions. ... As our experts explained to us, when they made decisions, they continually ran thought experiments using the frameworks."

    That's a hint. Let's try modifying what Sönke Ahrens suggests. He writes:

    If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.

    Let's run a Gedanken experiment about a researcher, Dan Gedken, who optimized his disciplinary knowledge as a predictive framework to run Gedanken experiments that instantly and effortlessly answer the 29 sets of questions in Carl Wieman's "How to Become a Successful Physicist." Dan Gedken lurks in the Zettelkasten.de forum, has committed Carl Wieman's article to memory, has internalized the quotation on writing from the second edition of "How to Take Smart Notes" by Sönke Ahrens, and has subordinated everything in his life below writing as Ahrens suggests. Dan decides to enhance Ahrens's advice by emphasizing the role of predictive frameworks and Gedanken experiments to support research directly rather than merely producing more writing.

    If experts continually organize their disciplinary knowledge as a predictive framework to make decisions by running Gedanken experiments, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than organizing disciplinary knowledge to run Gedanken experiments.
    -- Dan Gedken, Gedanken experimenter

    Instead of asking, "will reading this text, watching this video, or attending that event lead to more writing?" as Sönke Ahrens suggests, Dan Gedken asks, "will reading this text, watching this video, or attending that event facilitate Gedanken experiments? Will such activities help organize my disciplinary knowledge to make decisions?"

    References (not that they support my assertions)

    Wieman, Carl. "How to Become a Successful Physicist." Physics Today, vol. 75, no. 9, Sept. 2022, pp. 46–52. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.5082.

    Ahrens, Sönke. 2017. How to Take Smart Notes. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • Regarding referencing emails, since you're on Windows and Outlook, you might consider creating Zettel notes that summarize key points or insights from important emails. You could link these notes to relevant projects or topics. It's a bit manual, but effective for keeping everything connected.

    In terms of volume, creating tens of notes per day is quite ambitious! It sounds like Zettelkasten could be a great tool for logging events in your dynamic environment. The ability to link notes and update relevance over time could be invaluable for your work.

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