# Zettelkasten purity

Hey Friends!

I am happy to join your community as a new member.

About me (49), I am a veteran productivity nerd - constantly looking for ideas, best practices, "aha-moments". I went through the usual path... Filofax, Palm Pilot, todo.txt, XLS to do lists, reminders, then multiple filofaxes again, then Devonthink, Evernote, Omnifocus, Bear, nvALT, then Wunderlist, Bear, again Omnifocus, then EMACS org, and Things the recently Notion, then Roam... and lately The Archive...

You might think (rightly) that I am just jumping ships, but actually I went really very deep in the GTD and note taking topics. For example the Omnifocus journey lasted for at least 6-7 years... But I always have an urge to optimize further and create new structures.

After the long intro, my question is the following:

Does any of you constantly has the issue of looking for the "ultimate" solution while recognizing that it is a big mistake to combine the usual big items (notes, to do lists, documents) into one system? Only EMACS was the only system where I felt I can keep everything in one place all in plain text format, but it was a pain in the butt the sync and the lack of access via web (e.g. from the office). So I am contemplating, that maybe I do need to split all my activities into separate applications (again...), and for now I shuld use The Archive only for pure Zettelkasten and nothing else. Going "full pure" instead of going "all in".

What is your experience, advice?

Thank you in advance!

## Comments

• Welcome @Pathfinder!

I can relate to your app hopping. Before I got my first Mac, I actually assembled a list of "must have" applications that looked way beyond what I knew from my Windows PC in 2007, and OmniOutliner with Ethan Schoonover's Kinkless GTD was just 🤯 -- Once I got around to affording a Mac, I got OmniFocus v1 as quickly as possible and was quite happy with it for about a decade. I jumped ship and switched to Emacs org-mode some time after The Archive v1 got released. I used OmniFocus to organize tasks, issues, bug reports, feature roadmaps, etc. during app development. But with org-mode, I could have my to-dos and start writing long-form right beneath the to-do items. That helped to capture research progress a lot! I still love it and end up writing nested outlines of approaches, pro's and con's right there in the currently expanded task, and then put the results of the research and deliberation in my Zettelkasten for later reference.

As I pointed out elsewhere on the forums in a similar context, I think that having separate applications that each to one thing well is a good idea: when the tool breaks, the makers go out of business, or you switch operating systems or whatever, you have an easier time finding a replacement for a very specific task. (Emacs, of course, can run on your toaster or room thermostat, so you'd be pretty safe from getting locked-out of this text editor if we can trust that Emacs stays around for another 30+ years)

-- So far, with emacs being able to back me up for anything that's not my Zettelkasten, I feel quite content with my current split of applications. That's all I can really say for now.

Surprisingly, the most app hopping and time spent migrating data from A to B for me was in the realm of task management, aka getting stuff done, which I didn't while I migrated my data Some things get in the way of playing/messing around with/completing my daily tasks. It's good to be able to mold the app to your needs, like you can do with emacs, if you basically live inside your computer. I'm not saying everyone needs this kind of configurability -- and the cost that comes with it. I believe I'll continue to tweak the system here and there forever, but I don't see a reason to move out of it any time soon.

I don't recall I ever hopped note-taking applications in the same way. I one day went straight to NV, then my own fork and nvALT, and much later The Archive. It's more an evolutionary progression than hopping.

Regarding sync and accessing your emacs-managed plain text files from other computers, that'd be an interesting "software & gadget" discussion. I bet we have quite a few people here who can come up with solutions to that

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

• Welcome to the forum, @Pathfinder!

I too spent a lot of time with GTD, though eventually I settled on Bullet Journal. My biggest "looking around" was probably the size, thickness, paper style, etc. of my different notebooks. I appreciate a good notebook as my Swiss-army-knife kind of tool, but as my needs evolved, so did my choices of notebooks. When I had a desk job, I often had a small pocket-book and a larger desk-book. When I was teaching and lecturing on three different campuses at one point, I had a medium-sized single notebook that went with me everywhere. Eventually, I've settled on Field Notes notebooks, in graph paper (so that I can sketch diagrams as well as have lines when working in portrait or landscape page orientations). It fits in my pocket (good for fieldwork), and is ideal for what Sönke Ahrens calls fleeting notes -- things that later get put into one's ZK.

This is good for me now, because my notebook can still handle the flotsam of daily life (my lists, etc.) but I can mark things that I need to process: university notes, diagrams to convert to digital form, lines of poetry. Different items go in different places. Some get filed away as Markdown on LaTeX files, others go into my ZK (which of note, I also save as .md). The takeaway here is that I focus on the processes, not the tools -- even as the tools I use are very future-proof. Frankly, that was probably my biggest lesson from the "jumping ship" that I did. Getting my data out of Evernote or Zoho Notebooks or whatever was a real nuisance, and some of it was lost forever because of how irresponsible I was with how I set up my PKM.

To your question on what applications to use, my best advice is to get comfortable with file formats. I agree with Christian's point to have applications that do something well, but that also isn't the same as saying the application will exist in perpetuity. For example, I currently use Zotero for my reference manager because it has some features I find very helpful and those details have saved me needless labor. But, the articles are all saved as PDF and the references themselves as BibTeX files. So if Zotero breaks or the organization making it abandons the project (although I did my research and that seems highly unlikely), I still have the papers and the reference database in a way I can use. Or another example: while I use iCal on my phone and laptop because so much of my life is screen-mediated right now, that doesn't mean I'll never use a paper calendar. The application is just a tool, the information is still my own.

On the other hand, I posted elsewhere here asking about people's writing workflows. Some of my best work started in my ZK and never really needed to be exported to a text editor, because I was linking back to my ZK anyway. That doesn't mean I use my ZK for everything, only that it is the heart of my system now. Even on days where I don't open my notebook, my ZK is always open and at the ready.

Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing what others post here on the topic.

• edited November 2020

@Pathfinder This may not seem like an answer to your question, or at least not a very direct one. I relate very well to your dilemma, having pursued similar rabbit holes over my life. I find, now that I don't have much time left, that I have less interest in creating and maintaining various kinds of databases, no matter how useful they seem to be. My current mantra is "minimal upfront effort and minimal overhead". That seems to have boiled down to simple, single-task tools that take little effort but are still effective, and I only use them when I need them.

For example, I am thankful for plain text files and markdown, and the simple apps that work with them (The Archive included).

There comes a point when you realize, truly realize, that your remaining time is limited and you start prioritizing your life to spend your time in meaningful ways -- whatever that means to you. To me, it means more time spent interacting with friends and family. I would say that creating a Zettelkasten is a departure from that philosophy for me and it only appeals in that I want to capture the learnings and thoughts rolling around in my brain, to pass on to my children, grandchildren (even one great-grandchild now).

So, I'd encourage you to ponder upon the "point of it all", as you plan the next phase of your journey. It will, unfortunately, at some point come to an end. What will you have left behind?

• Does any of you constantly has the issue of looking for the "ultimate" solution while recognizing that it is a big mistake to combine the usual big items (notes, to do lists, documents) into one system?

Yes. Emacs was my choise. But to me, it was obvious quickly that I couldn't stand mushing all modes of writing together in one environment.

I am a Zettler

• @Sociopoetic said:

Welcome to the forum, @Pathfinder!

Thank you so much! I already feel at "home" with friends alike! :-)

The takeaway here is that I focus on the processes, not the tools

I couldn't agree more! Absolutely true....

• @GeoEng51 said:
There comes a point when you realize, truly realize, that your remaining time is limited and you start prioritizing your life to spend your time in meaningful ways -- whatever that means to you. To me, it means more time spent interacting with friends and family. I would say that creating a Zettelkasten is a departure from that philosophy for me and it only appeals in that I want to capture the learnings and thoughts rolling around in my brain, to pass on to my children, grandchildren (even one great-grandchild now).

So, I'd encourage you to ponder upon the "point of it all", as you plan the next phase of your journey. It will, unfortunately, at some point come to an end. What will you have left behind?

This post hit me so hard deep into my DNS... oh my... you spoke so much to my heart...
I am exactly there what you mentioned... When I look into my fully organized, tagged 60k Lightroom photo library, to my video database to my books, to my notes, I always ask myself, "is this the best thing I should do"? Yes, I am archive freak, planning always for the future, to ensure that my kids will inherit my libraries... but will it happen? Will they appreciate? Actually, do I appreciate the same way what I inherited as the people who created it? I doubt it... Maybe I should rather spend time with the people instead of creating "my legacy".
Wow, this is deep...

Thank you @GeoEng51 for posting your note, it hit me really to the core.

I am glad to be part of these conversations...

• @Sascha said:

Yes. Emacs was my choise. But to me, it was obvious quickly that I couldn't stand mushing all modes of writing together in one environment.

I am with you. If I would be staring to one computer all day with no need to be mobile, sure, I would go full steam ahead. But having a work computer where I can't install anything (Corporate PC), then having a home computer, iPads and on top of it a hungarian layout keyboard, Emacs becomes a bottleneck rather than an enabler...

• Both posts really hit home! It makes me realise that I spend much more time organising/archiving than producing anything original, and is a good prompt to do some soul-searching about what is really important.

Thanks to you both.

@Pathfinder said:

@GeoEng51 said:
There comes a point when you realize, truly realize, that your remaining time is limited and you start prioritizing your life to spend your time in meaningful ways -- whatever that means to you. To me, it means more time spent interacting with friends and family. I would say that creating a Zettelkasten is a departure from that philosophy for me and it only appeals in that I want to capture the learnings and thoughts rolling around in my brain, to pass on to my children, grandchildren (even one great-grandchild now).

So, I'd encourage you to ponder upon the "point of it all", as you plan the next phase of your journey. It will, unfortunately, at some point come to an end. What will you have left behind?

This post hit me so hard deep into my DNS... oh my... you spoke so much to my heart...
I am exactly there what you mentioned... When I look into my fully organized, tagged 60k Lightroom photo library, to my video database to my books, to my notes, I always ask myself, "is this the best thing I should do"? Yes, I am archive freak, planning always for the future, to ensure that my kids will inherit my libraries... but will it happen? Will they appreciate? Actually, do I appreciate the same way what I inherited as the people who created it? I doubt it... Maybe I should rather spend time with the people instead of creating "my legacy".
Wow, this is deep...

Thank you @GeoEng51 for posting your note, it hit me really to the core.

I am glad to be part of these conversations...

• @petphi said:
Both posts really hit home! It makes me realise that I spend much more time organising/archiving than producing anything original, and is a good prompt to do some soul-searching about what is really important.

Thanks to you both.

Thank you @GeoEng51 for posting your note, it hit me really to the core.

I am glad to be part of these conversations...

@GeoEng51, I think you hit a nerve! I know you did with me. Thank you!

• edited December 2020

I never ever thought when I signed up that this forum will provide me so much wisdom and intelligent conversations about life. I am so glad to be part of this group.

• @Pathfinder said:
Hey Friends!

I am happy to join your community as a new member.

About me (49), Filofax, Palm Pilot, todo.txt, XLS to do lists, reminders, then multiple filofaxes again, then Devonthink, Evernote, Omnifocus, Bear, nvALT, then Wunderlist, Bear, again Omnifocus, then EMACS org,
For example the Omnifocus journey lasted for at least 6-7 years... But I always have an urge to optimize further and create new structures.

was reading this page after a search as I learn to zettel.
@Pathfinder, i seem to be you, (43 now) only two years later!
My path was the same! Palm - WinCE - Outlook - Omnifocus, Emacs …
moved to emacs a year ago, org a couple of months ago and now trying to figure out org-roam 😂

Does any of you constantly has the issue of looking for the "ultimate" solution while recognizing that it is a big mistake to combine the usual big items (notes, to do lists, documents) into one system? Only EMACS was the only system where I felt I can keep everything in one place all in plain text format,
What is your experience, advice?

Using search now to learn all I can this place has so much experience in here!

• I have The Archive and I'm also a heavy Devonthink user I'm also unskilled in the proper use of a Zettelkasten.

When applications work together that's always a good thing. Sometimes it's nice to see a subset of ideas arranged like index cards on a corkboard. Curio has recently added support for what it calls "file-backed text figures."

Omitting excessive detail, Curio projects (files) are like notebooks.

With file-backed text figures, you can put a file that's external to Curio into a Curio page.

If you edit the source file, what you see in Curio follows the edit, even if Curio isn't open during the edit.

If you edit the file as it's displayed in Curio, it updates the source file, even if the source application isn't open.

I've experimented with Curio as a sort of front-end corkboard for Devonthink, and a little as a front-end workbench for The Archive.

To me, that's pretty neat. I can have a large repository of notes, draw on a subset of them and organize them graphically. The notes can be editable text or clickable icons on mind map nodes.

If this goes against the grain of Zettelkasten philosophy, see above about my skills. This is new ground for me.

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