Zettelkasten Forum


Struggling...

I’ve been using the Zettelkasten method for a few months now and am really struggling to get any use out of it. I feel like it should be life-changing and dramatically increase my productivity; I can see how it could do that, yet it’s been so hard for me for some reason.

I’ll provide some details and see if anyone has suggestions.

First of all, I struggle with knowing when to add something to the Zettel vs. not. I think I’m trying to keep it too “sacred” after first struggling with Roam Research as a giant dumping ground for everything (not useful, either).

Second, I struggle with linking ideas together. It seems part of the beauty of the system is in spontaneous linking of ideas; yet, how do you link ideas when you have hundreds or thousands? Do you have to go through each one of your note titles and see if anything stands out as a possible link?

Third, I struggle with creating “outlines” for work. I could simply search for “diversification” (I am very interested in investing), but that will only pull up things that are related to diversification. Perhaps there is something else that would be related to that particular topic. Yet, I don’t know how I can get that outline going in any way with notes that may have been related to diversification, but I didn’t realize it at the time (maybe something from Biology of Physics). And without any word “diversification”, it gets lost in my pile.

And fourth, I seem to be struggling with the titles vs. numbering system vs. date as UID. I know there’s been a lot written about it, but it does seem to me that the 1, 1a, 1a1, 2, 3, 3a, 3a1, etc. would help me create an outline as I go. I realize there may be some parts that would not be related and so am not thinking in a purely linear fashion; still, it seems that some organization around basically similar topics would allow for quick navigation through the system to find (possibly) relevant items.

Does anyone have any thoughts on any of this? Any tips to help me get more use out of my Zettel or structure it in a better way so that it’s more conducive to creative work (i.e.: books, articles, YouTube scripts, etc.)?

Comments

  • I am reading a book: how our mind works. The author explains how does
    cyclopean eye work using a technique called constraint satisfaction.
    It offers a way of thinking to solve a puzzle or hard questions.

    When a problem cannot be solved at one time, one can make it into
    several small problems. Then one can guess for different parts of
    the big problem. Some guesses might be a good solution for one
    problem, but they might be inconsistent with another small problem.
    If so, one can change another guess until all the answers are
    consistent with each other.

    Four questions that are related to your struggling. I will
    try to answer it.

    The first one is about the timing to write down thoughts.

    My suggestion is whenever you have the opportunity to capture a
    new idea. Just write it down. Do not worry about you will only
    write and left no time to do real things. The laziness of your
    brain will stop you from doing it all the time. There is a book
    dedicated to echo this idea: The Power of Writing It Down.

    The second one is about how do you link ideas.

    One connection for a new idea is necessary. Two is good. Three is
    excellent. The more the better.

    The third one is about outlines or structure notes.

    One of the key features of Zettelkästen is to reduce the stress
    of thinking about where to put the notes. For example, if you
    want to write a note:

    1 Metaphor
    1a Implicit Metaphor
    1b Dead Metaphor
    1c Mixed Metaphor
    

    Imagine you have a new card.

    You can still write a card with a title: Metaphor I create with an
    id number 1b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6.

    1a3c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9 Metaphor
    9f0a2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9 Implicit Metaphor
    2b0b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6d Dead Metaphor
    9d0a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6d8f2f1f5e6c4b Mixed Metaphor

    When adding the new thoughts into one's knowledge base, it is so
    natural to think where the new information should be placed.

    This is not to say that structural notes are not what the writer
    should be avoided. You write the structure notes when you see it. This
    is one of the reasons why Zettelkästen can help you write more.

    If considering writing "structural notes" as a happiness process, we
    should not focus on finding happiness, but instead on writing what
    your thoughts right now.

    The fourth one is about UID.

    Someone who uses physical Zettelkästen can be benefited using a type
    of UID, e.g., 1, 1a, 1a1, 2, 3, 3a, 3a1. It is super handy to put
    them back once the user has used up his physical capacity, i.e., no
    room to put new cards. The important thing is to correctly write down
    the UID in the new idea. Being able to see all the related cards on
    one desk is the physical version of transclusion. If you are using
    digital Zettelkästen, as long as the software remembers the location of
    the notes and knows how to open the notes next time, it is a
    functional Zettelkästen.

  • @nathanwinklepleck said:
    Third, I struggle with creating “outlines” for work. I could simply search for “diversification” (I am very interested in investing), but that will only pull up things that are related to diversification. Perhaps there is something else that would be related to that particular topic. Yet, I don’t know how I can get that outline going in any way with notes that may have been related to diversification, but I didn’t realize it at the time (maybe something from Biology of Physics). And without any word “diversification,” it gets lost in my pile.

    Just a suggestion. Choose derivatives of "diversification" like diverse or diversify or diversity or biodiversity. These had hits in my zettelkasten. Also, use synonyms like various or assortment. I'd try some phrases like investment variety or portfolio mix or safety strategy. I'd focus my attention on the notes that stand out as not seeming about "diversification" exactly. Then use these notes as springboards for a deeper and more distant search in the archive. Developing a deeper search strategy is a big help when working with your zettelkasten

    Here is a screenshot of my notes containing the words diverse or diversify or diversity or biodiversity. I have no notes containing the term "diversification."

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • So this actually forced me to think about my own views and process a bit so I wrote down what works for me. I hope you find some useful bits as well.

    @nathanwinklepleck said:
    I feel like it should be life-changing and dramatically increase my productivity;

    This seems to be about expectation management. I don't think any method can deliver on this.

    First of all, I struggle with knowing when to add something to the Zettel vs. not. I think I’m trying to keep it too “sacred” after first struggling with Roam Research as a giant dumping ground for everything (not useful, either).

    For me, my Zettelkasten helps me think. I think of it as a person with lots of (sometimes) weird and contradictory ideas, not a garden. This means it's messy. It also means that I'm more interested in keeping track of why I'm thinking something rather than just documenting ideas. I'll summarise the idea and track the source ( if/when I care about that). This shows up in your next point.

    Do you have to go through each one of your note titles and see if anything stands out as a possible link?

    Each idea gets asked what else I would like to remember in the future. Stuff that's atomic to the idea gets added to the note, other ideas get linked. I do linking as part of the text to help explain the context. Remember this is about me thinking, so links for me are usually conclusions: "this idea kinda looks like that idea, because ...". I follow links for this "adventure for related ideas" primarily, search second. Keep in mind I may miss things, but it's a messy place anyways so I don't really care. I can always link more ideas, later. There is an awesome article about lattices on this site which inspired me thinking in this way. Follow the links and you may end up at some completely different idea, with an explanation on how you came up with that.

    Third, I struggle with creating “outlines” for work.

    Are you expecting your Zettelkasten to be an essay generator? I never got this to work. What did work for me is pulling all related ideas (following links) for a single idea, shuffling them around in (what feels like) a sensible order and start writing. During writing I will prune, remember things and write some more. I will have notes explaining an idea, and then a note disproving that idea, which helps me figuring out what the subjective "truth" for my final essay should be. This requires lots of work still, but I think that goes with writing anyways.

    And fourth, I seem to be struggling with the titles vs. numbering system vs. date as UID.

    I started at ID "1" for my first note. My second note became ID "2". Note 2 is linked to note 1, which creates the lattice "1.2". By following the links I can recreate any chain, so I don't bother quantifying this in the actual ID. I do care about manageable ID, which is why I use small numbers. Notes themselves contain the creation date as metadata, should I become interested in that at a later date.

  • @r1tger said:

    @nathanwinklepleck said:
    I feel like it should be life-changing and dramatically increase my productivity;

    This seems to be about expectation management. I don't think any method can deliver on this.

    I fully agree. The Zettelkasten method is essentially a way of creating a network of ideas, and there is nothing really magical about it. There is a lot of work involved in creating the network, and it tends to be cyclical. You are always going back to things and tweaking them, adding to them, branching off from them. I find myself adding keywords or tags when I realise that a Zettel relates to a subject that does not appear literally in the text. That is one way of building the network. But a really good network takes time -- and tweaking it will never end.

  • This is incredibly helpful everyone; thank you so much! I’m going to just start going with it and letting it be messy. I’m putting too much pressure on the system and myself. The pursuit of “perfection” is getting in the way from me doing anything at all.

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