Zettelkasten Forum

Focus on the topics much or not

Hi All

I have just discovered the Zettelkasten method a week ago or so, reading on it, going to try it and also just curious how people use it. In particular it is interesting to see stories of people who tried Zettelkasten much yet.. it didn't work for them - https://reallifemag.com/rank-and-file/

As much as I can read this post without being a Zettelkasten practitioner it seems like just having a relatively random set of thoughts and ideas connection (even good ones!) is not exactly enough for helping with producing something useful in the end. If Zettelkasten is to work similar to your second brain, is it somewhat similar to having yourself learned really well many topics in the area yet none of them deeply enough for producing some sort of a "big significant new idea(s)"?

So I am curious of whether this sort of issues are common with [new] Zettelkasten practitioners? Is it happening often that you end up with looking at a wide topic exploration when you need a deep one for e.g. developing your and world knowledge in some area?

Do you somehow consciously keep your zettels more focused on some certain topic(s) and avoid something that is likely to be not very related (for example, keeping off zettels learning on how your kids develop over time or just sudden revelations on the random topics that you discovered in a random blog post found on the web)?


  • @Artem I am a relatively new ZK practitioner (6 months). Something I have realized just recently is that while the general concept of a ZK is great, and you can usefully accumulate and connect ideas in a general sense, it really helps to have some purposes defined for your Zettelkasten. Then you can apply some of the organizational tools available to you that help you to focus your efforts and, I believe, be able to use your ZK to produce say an article or a book or a thesis.

    Partly it depends on what you mean by "...it didn't work...". Certainly, producing a written document is one measure. But another measure is simply that you have captured, organized and connected a lot of the ideas that are normally (and often randomly) floating around in your brain.

  • The adult human brain is thought to have about 85 billion neurons, and interneurons are thought to be capable of each making 10,000 connections to other neurons. It takes about 25 years for the human brain to complete its physical development. So I wouldn't be all that confident that a Zettelkasten could compete with a real brain! :)

    I don't see anything magical or mysterious about a Zettelkasten, or the methodology. It can help you to find material you have saved, and it can help you to discover connections between items. But a Zettelkasten is basically inert, and is incapable of thought and action. The thinking and the acting have to be done by the user. A Zettelkasten can be a useful tool, in my opinion, but like any tool you have to learn how to use it. And like any tool, it will be good for some things and not for others. In English, a hammer used to be known as "a Birmingham screwdriver", which is a kind of illustration of the issue. Though I've never been quite sure if this was just a joke or not.

  • @MartinBB Sounds like a jab at the Birmingham-ites to me :smile:

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