Zettelkasten Forum

Putting in time to create a Zettelkasten though what is your output?

edited May 2020 in Random

This is one of the best groups of people. So many walks of life with great insight into the Zettelkasten system. So many great suggestions and feedback to each other. I was just curious to hear what your Zettelkasten has done for you as far as output. What have you produced or plan on producing? What is your primary purpose for your Zettelkasten? If it is not helping to produce something actionable then is it just storage?? I was lead to it because I was sick of not remembering what I read. I need a process to help extract knowledge and place it in some type of system that would help me come across it again, spaced repetition.

Post edited by VDL1516 on


  • I love to tinker, that's one of my main drivers of progress at the moment. For example, in one of my apps, it turned out that the file extension would sometimes change. Discovering why that was the case led me down a path of research, experiments, and writing to make sense of it all and keep track over the course of 6 weeks working on it for about a day per week. This resulted in a little blog series and all these findings form a very small interconnected department in my Zettelkasten, too. My structure notes on programming for the Mac point to them as well for reference, and thus the clusters begin to form and expand :) And these turn into more articles for the web, and end up in my technical programming books eventually.

    The "current projects" subforum is a great place to share individual journeys, by the way!

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

  • What have you produced or plan on producing?

    Three books and I don't know how many articles are published. The unpublished material dwarves the amount. This year, I will focus on writing and will greatly increase my published output.

    What is on the table for the next years:

    1. A five book series on health, fitness and self development (first is published)
    2. The second edition of the Zettelkasten Method (... :smile: )
    3. Working title "Modernity as sickness" (I use the method of "Consilience of Knowledge" by E. Wilson along with some self-developed tools to integrate quite some material like "mouse utopia" by Calhoun, The Standford Prison Experiment, The Milgram Experiment, Deviance in the dark by Kenneth Gergen and some more along with the work of Jablonka/Lamb in Evolution in Four Dimensions)
    4. A book on dogs
    5. I have over 100 book projects in my Zettelkasten so far. As I can focus more on writing they will be more and more relevant. And: Then I can sort them into some kind of order of priority.

    Some things are not planned with any clarity as my Zettelkasten grows organically and I am suprised sometimes by an explosion of an department.

    What is your primary purpose for your Zettelkasten?

    1. As a thinking tool.
    2. As a creator for rough first drafts.
    3. As a method to streamline my actions.

    If it is not helping to produce something actionable then is it just storage??

    I think so.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited May 2020

    @ctietze @Sascha you are both inspirational in your drive, accomplishments and planned future endeavors. Thanks for providing your work here.
    I want to back up to the question I posed that if your ZK is not helping to produce something actionable then is it just storage? @Sascha said “I think so” and I am in line with your thoughts as well. This is why I have yet to start my ZK and am embarrassed to say so. I know I have spoke of this in the past though what lead me to the ZK system was my frustration in reading and not remembering the content. Though a second question arises and that is what purpose would it serve to remember this content/knowledge if it was not producing something? In the overall picture the hopes are that the knowledge will improve my thought processes and decision making through application. I do not want to become an information junkie or have a system that acts as storage for notes. Any recommendations and thoughts are appreciated.

  • I quench my unlimited thirst for hoarding by collecting stuff in my Zettelkasten. In 2007 or so, I'd have bookmarked an interesting page. Now I create a Zettel with a link and comment about why I find this interesting or useful. -- And this, ironically, reduced my hoarding :) Because it's simple to click the "Bookmark" button on a whim, but once I begin to evaluate the real use of an article, I often find that I merely agree with something someone wrote, but there isn't anything else to it, nothing to capture, so away with it. The stuff I do collect this way opens up an opportunity to work with it later, though, when you're just starting out. And if you have a substantial amount of notes already, you can probably connect whatever you deem worthy of keeping to something existing.

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

  • Though a second question arises and that is what purpose would it serve to remember this content/knowledge if it was not producing something?

    Just working with your Zettelkasten would improve your memory and understanding of things. It's well worth just for this.
    You don't have to have the goal of producing something using the Zettelkasten. The desire or opportunity (or both) can just emerge on its own over time. But you're denying yourself this opportunity right now.

    Maybe you're looking at it too seriously? I know I do. Which makes it much harder to write Zettels for me. Recently I've discovered Andy Matuschak's public Zettelkasten* which has interesting twists that make it much easier to write "serious Zettels".

    [*] He calls it his working notes because there are differences with the Zettelkasten method.

  • @sigod thank you for your input. I appreciate it. You have many valid points. I am too serious about getting it right, an all or none approach which is not good too have. You are right in saying “you’re denying yourself this opportunity right now.” I need to get in high gear and at least try it. I know it will be good for me !!! Thanks again.

  • My main motivation was to help me remember what I read. I was tired of reading a book and three months later being unable to articulate anything more than the most vague idea of what the book had to say, let alone what I thought of the material.

    It's not about writing papers or books for me. What you mean by output I'm not sure, but the difference it has made for me is that it has helped me remember what I read, yes. But it has also deepened my engagement with the material. I find that I can bring two or more books to the table, ones read months apart, and put them into dialog with each other and engage with them myself as well. The result is that my awareness of the topics and my opinions on them has become more focused and evolves as I read more and engage with my past notes in the context of new material.

    Part of the process is that when you create new notes you review old ones to find connections with the new ones. I also have a function mapped to a keyboard shortcut in my desktop environment for opening a random zettel. I use that to review older notes and the notes they link to.


  • @sbicknel thank you for adding your input here as it is motivating to know we are both sought out a system to remember what we read. I guess the output question is more about me or an individualized question to answer. I other piece to this is that I am by no means tech savvy so I am not only learning the ZK system I would be learning the tech piece as well. This is why I originally wanted to create a ZK by hand as it seemed to be the easiest approach as far as simplicity. I am going to do it on my ipad.

  • @VDL1516 A formidable brain is something you can produce.. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha, most definitely true..

  • Atm I think about three different forms of output

    1. Sharing what you've learned in a blog post, paper, or book

    2. Using the model around a subject you've created to reference during future decision making

    3. Alternative is to crystallize the model and add it to a spaced repetition system. This is key for important for information that you won't have time to reference (Emergency Room Doctor) or information that is frequently used, so it saves time by memorizing.

    Option 3 is what also happens naturally throughout your life. You go from having to think hard about how to drive a car to eventually having it so well internalized that it becomes intuition and you can drive home, only to realize that you don't remember any of the drive :|

  • Adding to @Nick 's post:

    The Zettelkasten Method is not an end of itself, neither is learning, writing and similar stuff. Doing could be fun and is hopefully so. Using the Zettelkasten Method increases effectiveness of one step in the production of value: Knowledge work. It improves recall, depth of processing, creativity (as in create ideas and hypothesis), formulating arguments, structure in texts and many more.

    However, what you do should be guided by your overarching goals. This sets limits to the return of investment ratio. Personally, I am writing in very diverse topics and push my mind frequently to its limits (either because my mind is very limited, my stuff is hard to understand or both.. :smiley: ). That is one reason why I developed many tools of knowledge work and integrated it into the Zettelkasten Method with Luhmann's Zettelkasten as a base. An example, is my Lindyfilter which is based on Nassim Taleb's work and E.O. Wilsons to combine time-based filtering and interdisciplinarity on the basis of something I call The phylogenetic imperative.1

    But what if you are an scientist and specialise on the norepinephrine turnover in the locus coeruleus? Or if you are blogger on beauty and wellness? Or just super interested in lepidopterology (moths and stuff)? Then you don't need complicated methods and tools.

    Your goals should guide what you do with your Zettelkasten and how high you climb the tech-ladder of the method. Or, in simple words: Just write your first Zettel and see where the journey leads you. You always will be suprised where life will lead you to.

    1. In short: If you accept that the earth is part of the evolution of the universe (beginning from the Big Bang, continuing with the abiogenesis and so on and so forth) everything can only be if it emerged during this process. If even time and space had a beginning we should be humble enough to accept that morality and values are not something that are part of the platonic world but either real or fake. Even if you only take a short time frame and stick to only the evolution of life one need to make it somewhat plausible how a sea of bacteria can give (over billions of years) birth to dignity or freedom of speech. ↩︎

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha that was a wonderful comment.

  • edited May 2020

    @Sascha absolutely excellent!!!

  • @Nick this is great and really applies to what I would like. Having a mental “latticework” of information that drives good decisions based on mental models of reality.

  • Tied in with part of what @Sascha was saying, the value of the zettelkasten is that it structures your workflow to be developing many ideas at once. So if you are not someone who deals with disparate ideas and reads widely than it is going to be of minimal use. Use Luhmann as an example, he was developing a "grand theory" of society. It doesn't get more "connecting disparate ideas" than that. Well unless you are developing a theory of everything.

    If you are only a specialist, where the Zettelkasten might come in handy is tracking the development of ideas, so you can follow what has already been said. But usually at that point, if you are a true specialist, you probably have the models deeply ingrained in you, so you don't need an external method to track development and references.

    The key point here is to ask yourself if you need to have an externalized form of "long-term memory"? Or does the long term memory just naturally happen because the topic at hand is one you are intimately familiar with? What is a note? It is a piece of information you don't want to forget? So there is the expectation that you will forget it. So you want to capture the information that will surprise the future you.

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