Zettelkasten Forum

help needed: should these notes go in my zettelkasten?

edited November 2020 in The Zettelkasten Method

hi everyone,

in the first months of 2020 i dedicated several days to thinking about my files system and, in general, my laptop and phone setup. i was quite happy with my system, but i always felt like i was missing a piece. now that i've found the zettelkasten method i've found that missing piece.
in my dropbox i have three folders:

  • docs
  • scripts
  • zettelkasten

the 'scripts' folder is pretty self-explanatory, and i'm sure i don't need to tell you what's inside the 'zettelkasten' folder. the docs folder contains every file i own. there is basically no subfolder structure, since i hate categorization and i use command line tools to quickly find whatever i'm looking for without the need of folders.
my problem is this: in building my new zettelkasten, starting from the notes i have taken up until now (which stayed inside the 'docs' folder up until now), i'm finding several notes that don't "feel like" zettelkasten notes. they are situational, sometimes temporary, stupid notes. i've read quite a few blog posts here, but couldn't find an answer to this last doubt i have.

do you think that these 10 random (but actual) examples should go in my zettelkasten? how would i distinguish between a zettelkasten note and this "something else"?

  1. a note consisting of quick tips on how to use the thermostat of the apartment i've recently moved in
  2. a note with the code of a padlock i rarely use, so i always forget the combination
  3. addresses i want to keep (i don't use any proprietary bullshit like google maps if i simply want to save an address or a link)
  4. a list of the email aliases my email provider allows me to use
  5. a log of my body weight over time (again, no apps or anything like that, when a simple .txt file is enough)
  6. a picture of the daily schedule of the members of my family, so that i know when i can call them or stuff like that
  7. various recipes (i'm not a pro nor an amateur cook. i have 5 recipes top)
  8. a note with the multipliers you need to convert between cooked vs uncooked rice weight, depending on the type of rice
  9. a "cv" text note i update every time i do something that might be cv-worthy; a bullet point list of things i can choose from while writing an actual cv
  10. links of useful web pages (again, i don't want to use bookmarks or other browser-specific features when i can just copy and paste useful links inside .txt files i can access from everywhere)
    there are more, but if you could be so kind as to give me some pointers about these notes, i guess i can figure out the rest. thanks in advance to everyone who will take the time to answer!


  • edited November 2020

    Welcome, this is my humble opinion.

    @daud said:
    Do you think that these 10 random (but actual) examples should go in my zettelkasten?

    My short answer is NO.

    Others will say put everything in the zettelkasten. But you've developed a workflow that keeps all this stuff in your 'docs' folder and you have the command-line scripts to work efficiently with this stuff. Why change? I do something similar and have a macro for creating a link to my external file system when appropriate, which I'm finding is rare. I still maintain this repository of the flotsam and jetsam of life, but I choose to keep it separate from my knowledge work.

    Here is a sample of a link (at the bottom) to my other repository.

    Will Simpson
    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.

  • edited November 2020

    @daud said:
    do you think that these 10 random (but actual) examples should go in my zettelkasten? how would i distinguish between a zettelkasten note and this "something else"?

    I like the advice from @Will as I did something similar myself. I've been building a ZK for 6 months or so. Before that, I had a lot of "stuff" stored in Bear, using nested tags (a system Bear has), in a hierarchical structure, for access. That still works just fine and I haven't changed from that system to access all these minor items that I want at my fingertips and don't want to forget.

    However, I did have some real zettels stored in Bear and over time, since I encountered the Zettelkasten method and The Archive, I migrated what I thought were the most important of those into my ZK.

    Welcome to the AK community and to the forum!

    P.S. to @Will - good example, but I particularly like the content of your zettel! Very similar idea to one of Stephen Covey's "7 habits": Work within your circle of influence, as that is all that you control, and it will expand. Waste time outside of your circle of influence and it will contract.

  • edited November 2020

    My ZK is still young and i have little experience. I also have thousands of documents in a running system prior to Zettelkasten. I'd take years to reorganize. I'm still feeding the old system, even more than my Zettelkasten, despite of it being deprecated.

    But if there is pressing need to migrate i do that, too.

    how would i distinguish between a zettelkasten note and this "something else"?

    Based on the experience of others, you should also consider that this is not a set it and forget it solution. Some have reported to move out certain documents from their ZK (although it is rare).

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • I will add them to my Zettelkasten folder. In my case, it is made of 3 folders;

    1. Projects; contains structure notes, lists, plans, resource lists for projects, workflows for things like how I do my backups or a workflow on managing my photographs and edit them ready for print, how I write my zettels, things I wanna visit in Europe when we'll out of the pandemic.
    2. My Work; in this folder is all my notes, thoughts, and everything I have written on my own even if the original work is from somebody else but has my effort and my words.
    3. Collected; contains quotes, in your case it will have recipes, stuff from a manual like how to clean the inside of my printer
  • @Will said:
    My short answer is NO.

    @GeoEng51 said:
    I like the advice from @Will as I did something similar myself.

    thank you for your perspective. i'll answer to you both simultaneously since you have similar opinions.

    i have to say i tend to agree with you with on this. there are however a few problems with this approach:

    • if i'm looking for a note i know i have i will be in the condition of not knowing with 100% certainty where i should look for it . . . is it in my zettelkasten or among my other files/notes?
    • sometimes it's not clear where to draw the line between zettelkasten notes and these other notes. for example, i'm a PhD student in computational chemistry, so i believe it's quite appropriate to store software and command line tricks in my zettelkasten. don't you think? at the same time, since nowadays we use computers pretty much for everything, there are several notes about "computer tricks" that are quite limited and stupid like the notes i presented above as examples. e.g.

      sudo killall coreaudiod

      to add a new directory to the PATH in macos, all you need to do is modify (with adm
      priviliges) the file /etc/paths:
      sudo vim /etc/paths
      ... and add a new line.

    i understand the approach of "promoting" notes into my zettelkasten over time, but i'd like to start my zettelkasten with a somewhat clearer distinction in mind.


  • I am in a similar boat as well. I am more inclined to have separate tools for separate activities.


    1. The Archive - only Zettelkasten (e.g. research, knowledge building and linking them together)
    2. Any ToDo App (Omnifocus, Things or anything similar) for To Dos
    3. Apple Notes or similar PC app for generic documents (e.g. what movies you want to watch)
    4. Specific Apps for the rest (e.g. XLS, mind nodes, Mathematica, etc)

    I also wish there would be one unified application (like Roam or Notion being very close), but I always end up realising that the issue is not that the App is not good enough, but about the non-comparable data dump I want to drop and expect that will be perfect for everything. It will not, as we know....

  • I also wish there would be one unified application

    @Pathfinder This is meant half-jokingly, but it sounds like you are looking for an operating system. (Add web browsing to your list and you have like, what, 99% of regular computer activity covered? -- provided you mean MS Excel when you wrote "XLS")

    Also only meant half-jokingly is that emacs has a package for all these tasks and then some. Including web browsing. (Or if you install it as a "window manager" in linux, it can host Firefox etc.)

    What I want to hint at is that it's very unlikely you will get 1 thing that does everything to your satisfaction. (It's also unlikely because the points of failure are plenty in 1 app for all.) And that's where operating systems come into play that provide you with a semi-ordered space for all your things onto which you can put your tools, and where you can exchange your tools as your needs change.

    To me, your separation of tools doesn't sound bad at all :)

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

  • I absolutely agree with you @ctietze - there is no "one unified solution" (half jokingly: EMACS is almost a stand alone OS), so most probably we need to separate the individual tasks and find the best solution for them. This is very similar to the EMACS vs vim debate as well. One tool for all, or individual tools for individual activities.

    I think if we go back to the very basics, the simpler the system is, the more robust can be in the future. A metal screwdriver will be a screwdriven in 50 years as well, while an electric screwdriver will be in the trash in 10 years.

    That's why Luhmann was not inlcuding in his system his todo list, grocery list or peoject list. He just used it for one thing, the purest way, and consistently. His approach is very close to my heart, though is super hard to insist trying always new things...

  • thanks to everyone who replied. in case someone is interested, the system i ended up using is the following, since it makes the most sense for me.

    three folders:

    • docs (documents of any kind)
    • scripts
    • notes (notes of any kind)

    the fundamental distinction i made is between documents and notes. notes are like extensions of my brain, both for memorizing ("dumb" notes) and reasoning/studying (zettelkasten notes). in the following days i'll finish writing a script that, during my monthly backup, performs checks to delete those "low-level" notes and documents that are somewhat time sensitive and no longer useful. in the future, i plan on expanding the script to perform other interesting tasks, such as highlighting notes without links or maybe even suggesting new links.

    since @Pathfinder and @ctietze mentioned it, i too use three other files to cover other needs outside of the system outlined above.

    • a txt files for general todos
    • a vim-folded txt file to keep actionable ideas and tasks regarding my work
    • a txt file for logging my time
    • a txt file for logging my time

    @daud would you be kind to elaborate the above item, please?

  • @Pathfinder said:

    • a txt file for logging my time

    @daud would you be kind to elaborate the above item, please?

    oh, nothing fancy. it's just that as a PhD student my time is very unstructured and i've found i need to keep some kind of self-imposed schedule to be productive. so i log how i spend my time with a script that writes to a txt file and sets up a timer.

  • @daud thank you for the info!

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