Zettelkasten Forum

Sharing structured notes from Sascha's Zettelkasten book

I recently took structured notes in English from Sascha's Zettelkasten book as part of Tiago Forte's "anti-book club" experiment, and I thought they might be of interest here.

@sfast I hope I'm not stepping on any toes by sharing this — if you're not comfortable with having it public, let me know and I'll take it down. I'd also welcome it if you'd care to point out any major points I missed or got wrong.


  • Incidentally, I made the notes using Tiago's "progressive summarization" technique, with a few tweaks to deal with producing digital notes in English from a hard-copy source text in German. The technique integrates well with the Zettelkasten method.

    As far as I'm aware, all of Tiago's own material on the technique is behind a paywall, but I can happily recommend dropping the five bucks a month for this and a wealth of other great ideas to anyone on this forum.

  • @Sascha I hope I'm not stepping on any toes by sharing this — if you're not comfortable with having it public, let me know and I'll take it down. I'd also welcome it if you'd care to point out any major points I missed or got wrong.

    No, I am fine with that. As an author, you are mostly anxious and paranoid about your work (you won't believe some stories of thought processes from writers :smile: ). I am not going down that road but rather don't pussy out. :smiley:

    I am not very sure what I should think about the utility of the first page. Is it mainly for others who want to access your notes?

    I am also not quite sure what the "structured" part of this notes are. They appear to me as notes in a chronological order.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited February 2018

    @Eurobubba said:
    I recently took structured notes in English from Sascha's Zettelkasten book as part of Tiago Forte's "anti-book club" experiment, and I thought they might be of interest here.

    Thank you for sharing your notes. This might be a bit off-topic but I glanced over your long notes and inferred from the top 3 points that you maybe would like to read more about the concepts of a Zettelkasten. Should that be the case then I can highly recommend, in addition to @Sascha 's book, to check out "how to take smart notes" http://takesmartnotes.com/#moreinfo, which awakened my interest in Luhmann's Zettelkasten in the first place and made me google until I gladly ended up here and also read Sascha's book. I think it will be worth your while. In that book the Zettelkasten ZK3 app is recommended, which I first tried and didn't like too much, hence my ST3 plugin. So where @Sascha 's book really shines is conveying the concept of a markdown / pure text based Zettelkasten. If you're still hungry, I think Mr. Ahrens' book complements that work quite well.

    And of course, we're all excited about @Sascha 's second edition which will hopefully come out sooooooooooooon :tongue:

  • @Sascha said:

    I am also not quite sure what the "structured" part of this notes are. They appear to me as notes in a chronological order.

    Loosely structured, to be sure. I mainly meant that I was using the template and format that Tiago developed for his book club project.

  • edited February 2018

    @Eurobubba this was really helpful, especially for someone who can't read German and gave me some flavor into @Sascha 's amazing work on the topic

  • edited March 2018

    @Eurobubba I'd be interested to learn more about how you have fit Tiago Forte's progressive summarization technique with your Zettelkasten method. Do you follow a certain workflow from summarizing until you reach atomicity and then enter it in as a note, for example, or do you just bring in the whole article into the ZK from the start and highlight / annotate as you go through?

  • Basically I see the ZK as a structure for organizing the notes at Tiago's levels 4 ("executive summary") and especially 5 ("remix") of progressive summarization. Although he addresses the design of individual notes in detail in the first part of his series on PS, he's (deliberately?) vague about actual tools and workflows for assembling and combining individual notes into larger structures. (It may be that he goes into more detail in his Building a Second Brain course, which I haven't taken.) That, for me, is where the Zettelkasten method comes in.

    One thing I find especially helpful in Tiago's approach is that it gives us "permission" not to go through the entire process of distilling everything all the way down into fully formed, tagged, and interlinked Zettels. Instead he recommends adding a layer of summarization to a given note as and when we actually revisit it and find it valuable. Only the most pragmatically important notes make it to the higher levels of summarization.

    In terms of mechanics, the system I use is still very much a work in progress. If it ever really settles down into a consistent workflow I'll probably write it up in a blog post or series one of these days. I make a distinction between reference ("information"?) and "knowledge". I capture a lot of the former in Evernote, but if I may want (not necessarily definitely intend) to do something with it in terms of "knowledge work" and/or client projects, I'll either capture it directly into DEVONthink instead or copy it there from Evernote. DEVONthink is where most of the processing through the layers of PS happens. My actual ZK is in The Archive, but I also have it indexed in DEVONthink so I can easily go back and forth. So far I'm finding that the value of having a wall, but not too high a wall, between fully processed Zettels and unprocessed or semi-processed notes and source materials is well worth the added complication of using two (3 counting Evernote) different applications.

  • The information/knowledge distinction reminds me of a discussion with DutchPete in the comments a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly, I tried to make a point that information is the data you want to have from a text, and knowledge is your produce. Which would bring me to the conclusion that collecting information in Evernote equals nourishing one's Collector's Fallacy, or in other words: it might feel good and be cheap to capture it, but if you don't intend to make anything with it, there's no need to hoard. Like our physical response to sugar in modern times, our drive to hoard is not a good adaptation to the information age and its information overload. (Stress: information overload, not knowledge overload.) If that's all there is to it, maybe the permission to not process things thoroughly is doing you a disservice in the long run.

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

  • @ctietze I wonder, do we fall victim of Collector's Fallacy when we keep old notebooks or journals with the thought that we might want to look at them later?

    One could make the argument that anything that wasn't deemed worthy of processing and putting into the archive but is still kept is a result of human's tendency to hold onto things unnecessarily...

  • What do you put inside these notebooks and journals?

    Diaries tend to be different, so it depends on what you write. It's a point Marie Kondo of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up would make us ponder: Her go-to example are gift cards. They are meant to produce a feeling upon receipt, but there's no point in keeping them around. Throw them away. Are your journals memorabilia like that? Or, worse, are they softcover versions of reading notes you'll never look at again?

    Records of past sense-making can be helpful; knowing that I mangle with the things I remember when I remember them, looking at diary entries from past me helped set me straight once before. That's why I keep them around, exaggerated: I don't always trust myself. But these journals are already interpretation and records of personal events, which e.g. web clippings are not. I did not collect weather data, for example. That'd be rather useless to keep around. I can always look that up online, just as I can look up websites.

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

  • edited March 2018

    Hi, my name is Michael, and I'm an information addict.

    Maybe the distinction is that I use Evernote to collect the sort of reference info that's potentially useful in its raw state but wouldn't pay off to process further, and that's not intended for "making" anything with. It's actually pretty rare for me to capture something in Evernote and then later move it to DEVONthink for further digestion as an incipient piece of "knowledge". Typical things I keep in Evernote include bus and rail timetables, software manuals (that I've either already read or don't intend to), recipes, titles of books I may want to read someday but not now, other items I may consider purchasing in the future, work logs or troubleshooting notes that I'll probably never need to refer back to, etc.... I'm even starting to use it for ephemeral things like grocery lists, rather than having separate apps for those.

    I do think Tiago's point is important: at any given time, we can't know for sure how important a given piece of information is going to be in the future, so it's a waste of time to go through the entire process with everything. But we also can't predict what little nugget might become salient and worthy of further processing in the future. It's wise to have a middle ground between "capture everything and then forget it" and "process everything", and that's what Tiago's progressive summarization offers.

  • Does this middle ground result in a higher productivity? Tried and tested?

    I am a Zettler

  • Not sure how you'd even measure that. Identical twins in the same postdoc program?

  • I have a couple of measurements:

    • Written individual notes.
    • Written words (per day and per week)
    • Complete or nearly complete potential books in my archive
    • Frequency of eureca moments. (1)

    and more.

    (1) An example for such a moment: I read about the emergence of hierarchy in lobsters and that we inherit the same neuro-endocrine base. It is a mechanism to outsource individual assessments of dominance into the social sphere. (Something like that)

    I did the research on primary literature (learning a bit about behaviour and neurology of lobsters), build on that and... EURECA! I had the idea of a mechanistic model that explains on a game theory level how different substrata of hierarchies depend on each other, connect it to different neurological mechanism but also connect it with my historical research on traditions like monarchy, problems of complexity of modern human mating rituals, self development problems and more.

    1. I made changes of my approach in the end of 2016 and my (measured like mentioned above) productivity increased substantially. Especially, the frequency of eureca moments increased.
    2. I have a mechanistic model on why the changes had this effect.

    This is my approach to tackle the problem of uncertainty. I measure and build mechanistic theories of how my behaviour connects to my goals (two main goals of my knowledge work: eureca moments and hypothesis to test empirically)

    I am a Zettler

  • That makes sense. I can see how that would work if research and writing are your main activities. But that's not the case with me. I'd probably have to try different approaches for several months each for the "signal" of actual differential productivity from different methods to outweigh the "noise" of my constantly changing day-to-day schedule.

  • So, my question would be: What is the product you are trying to produce?

    I am a Zettler

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