Zettelkasten Forum


Productivity

One little factoid that has stayed with me, and that seems to appear in every article about the Zettelkasten method, is the number of publications that emerged from Luhmann's notecard treasury: something like 60 books and 400 articles. (To be so productive, I'll admit, I once would have considered doing Faustian things. But short of that, I decided to try out his method and see what would happen.)

Since one of the "selling points" of the Zettelkasten method seems to be Luhmann's own productivity, I'm interested to know what kinds of productivity you all have been able to achieve since deciding to try it out.

Have you written more books, articles, blog posts, journal entries, poems? Or, have you written the same number with more clarity, peace of mind, time to spare, better quality?

I know not everyone is writing articles and books, so the Luhmannian measures of productivity need not be the standard. Mostly I just want to hear about any successes, great or small, tangible or intangible, that you've noticed. (And I say feel free to brag, boast, bluster, toot your own horn, etc.) Anyone?

Comments

  • Hi argonsnorts,
    I do not have direct answer to your question in terms of increased productivity but just several ideas. In the course of time when I have been trying to organise my knowledge (20-25 years) I tested many systems and organisational philosophies, finding out that many are marvelous for limited amount of information/knowledge but suffer when this amount increases = suffer by not being robust enough.

    Lets take a mindmap as na example: it is excellent for mental modelling of small problem domain but you cannot use it very effectively for creating ontology area or complicated knowledge network, as you drown in the sea of open/closed visual nodes and links. The same (from my experience and my cognitive needs) holds true for hierarchically organised knowledge, contextually organised knowledge (by subjects) etc. When such organisational system is growing, it clutters and becomes unusable.

    The only exception is approach inherent in ZK/Luhmann's system - but which is recommend and used by scholars/authors for hundreds of years (I recently linked to interesting book about history of knowledge management in this forum):

    1. atomising (decontextualizing) knowledge to individual elements (nodes) by subjective processing (adding or selecting personal meaning, rejecting personally non-relevant contextual information etc.)
    2. organising these elements systematically so that it can be found later (in terms of that new meaning as well as actual content)
    3. re-contextualizing them (and having instruments for this recontextualization)

    Before computers, you could do it (ad 3) best by having individual physical Zettels/index notes (which you could ad-lib order), you could assure reliable later retrieving (ad 2) by creating index or making manual links between them etc.

    What I want to say is that I personally try to separate Luhmann's specific system for organizing notes from general notion of creating individual Zettels with atomized (de-contextualized) knowledge. There are discussions among aficionados if it is "link" ability or "Folgenzettel" notion what is specifically effective in Luhmann's system. To be honest, I am not much interested in these discussions as we all have individual organizational needs and cognitive preferences and - mainly - because Luhmann's system was optimized for analog use, not digital (with today ability of fulltext search etc).

    But - the general notion of necessity to subjectivelly process knowledge (making excerpts, adding meaning, selecting some/rejecting other info - not only "read")--->atomizing the elements ---> record them systematically for later use ---> having instruments for retrieving and re-contextualizing is THE ONLY proces, which was ever effective for me when I tried to organise GREATER AMOUNT of interlinked knowledge. I thing that has much in common with how human cognitive system work (with limited capacity and focus) but it is other subject.

    I cannot measure my gain in terms of increase of productivity but solely in the ability for me to be able to master such a task. My primary goal is not to be mainly "productive" but to be able to organise knowledge to gain better understanding, ideas, solutions, worldview. Productivity (in terms of written external results) can be secondary, surely important gain but primary for me is - to become well-educated person.

    Other point is that we should not measure productivity in quantity, but in quality of results. And all above mentioned processes (organising knowledge, extracting meaning, making excerpts) is something what improves our cognitive abilities/decisions/thinking. So it is not only "system" itself, but also effort and process of creating it which has so important impact on our personal cognition (knowledge). We are transformed by creating this knowledge system and it is the reason why it is effective - it is not because of any inherent physical or organisational characteristic of the system only, but mainly because of our activity, which is the reason the effectivity - it is also something what is often not mentioned in discussions about "organising knowledge".

    In fact, Luhmann's catalogue is today available for everybody - why hundreds of sociologists do not publish tens of books using it? The reason is simple - because the catalog itself and its characteristics are not crucial and revelatory for insights - Luhmann's personal interaction (during creation and during use) with it was crucial.

    Hope this experience help even if I did not answer your question :-)

  • We are transformed by creating this knowledge system

    This is a really insightful point, among many in your post.

    I think you answered the question quite nicely, in suggesting that all of the work this method entails---creating, processing, connecting, etc.---has helped produce a well-educated person, independent of any tangible output.

  • edited August 16

    @daneb wrote:
    In fact, Luhmann's catalogue is today available for everybody - why hundreds of sociologists do not publish tens of books using it? The reason is simple - because the catalog itself and its characteristics are not crucial and revelatory for insights - Luhmann's personal interaction (during creation and during use) with it was crucial.

    1. The actual writings on his notes are very idiosyncratic. It would be a different story if Luhmann had written in sane language and not like a mad scientist. :smile:
    2. The actual state in the social science is kind of a "naked emperor or not"-situation. I attented to seminars that are given by people who don't understand that they don't understand. It is even possible to publish Mein Kampf rebranded as feminism. (Sokal Squared) Luhmann was not like this but is mostly used by people who use quantum physics with no understanding and not understanding that they don't understand.
    3. You have to work yourself in to oversee what is already published and what not. I don't think this is realistic for any human being. And not very promissing.
    4. In academia your reputation is quite important. Regurgitate what Luhmann thought is not very reputation building.

    I think there is a bit more to it. :smile:

    My experiences

    1. I used to aim for 2000 words on a productive day before the Zettelkasten worked smoothly. Now, if I can get the system running, I aim for 5000 words. 6000-7000 is a good day. 10000 words is exeptional.
    2. My writing is researched way better. No numbers available. (Sci Hub plays a big role, too)
    3. I mainly feed my archive at this moment. Therefore, no increased publishing on my part. But this step will follow. I am thinking of a process that is modelled after Rubens' Workshop.
    4. I am way better in seeing the bigger picture without losing details. (Scaling is a big thing for me)
  • edited August 21

    @argonsnorts said:
    Have you written more books, articles, blog posts, journal entries, poems? Or, have you written the same number with more clarity, peace of mind, time to spare, better quality?

    I am still in the "feed the archive" mode as well, having started my ZK in April 2018. I'm 7 notes shy of 1,000 in that time covering subjects as far flung as geopoetics, Marxism & critical theory, Zen Buddhism, aesthetics, the attention economy, writing, fascism, walking, psychedelia, microhistory...well, you get the point. I'm averaging 15,000 words a month, about 188,000 in the last year. A large part of my ZK-work at the moment is digitizing past analog notes from research/teaching and setting up decent processing flows for the books I'm currently reading. Over the summer it's taken me an average of about thirteen hours to 'process' each book I read, depending on the original source's complexity. No short cuts unfortunately, but the archive grows day-by-day.

    The impact--in terms of confidence, productivity, and clarity of thinking, not to mention simple eagerness to write--has been nothing short of revelatory. No, I haven't suddenly published more articles (although I am writing every month for a newsletter the agony and obligation of which has transmuted, thanks to my archive, into a pleasure I anticipate), but I feel a little akin to a dam filling slowly with water. At some point these thin concrete walls of self doubt holding it all back will crumble, and all those words will tumble down into the valley below.

    I often find myself wondering how things might have turned out differently for me had I discovered the ZK method ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. All that wasted and clueless effort.

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