Zettelkasten Forum


How long is a piece of string?

I'll preface this question with a disclaimer: I realise that the answer to my question is 'it depends (on a whole series of factors)' but I'm going to ask it anyway.

The question is: How long does it typically take you to read an average book while taking notes that will end up in your zettelkasten? To aid ballpark-figure responses, I'm thinking about a book like Atomic Habits by James Clear - very readable, full of actionable insights/useful points worth noting down.

And to build on that, do you typically have many books on the go at once (incremental reading style) or do you go deep on the one you're reading before moving on to another one?

Comments

  • Also, if anyone knows how long a piece of string is, I'd be keen to know.

  • @jameslongley said:
    How long does it typically take you to read an average book while taking notes that will end up in your zettelkasten?

    It's a spectrum!
    I've not timed myself. But it feels like some books take a few hours to read and produce only one or two notes. Some take longer, a lot longer, and produce a lot of notes. Our friend @Phil meticulously documented the time he initially spent with Ron Purser's McMindfulness, Here is the link. I spent what felt link weeks with Loy, David. Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis. Wisdom Publications, 2019. It produced 36 zettels created from reading and made an interconnection of 67 zettels.

    The initial onboarding of a book is only part of the work. Some of the notes will get future refactoring, and their interconnectedness will grow as time is spent with the ideas they contain.

    @jameslongley said:
    Also, if anyone knows how long a piece of string is, I'd be keen to know.

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

  • @jameslongley said:
    The question is: How long does it typically take you to read an average book while taking notes that will end up in your zettelkasten? To aid ballpark-figure responses, I'm thinking about a book like Atomic Habits by James Clear - very readable, full of actionable insights/useful points worth noting down.

    I don't take extensive notes while reading. If Indistractable by Eyal is comparable the first reading takes me about 2--4 hours. The actual processing (create notes in my Zettelkasten) could take up to 40 hours.

    I am a Zettler

  • I'm not sure I can claim that I really read books nowadays. I dip into them, extract bits and pieces, move on (often because I have to), circle back to them, extract more, or reinterpret what I have already extracted. It is fairly messy. I very rarely "finish" a book, because I usually realise that parts of it are not going to be very useful to me, so I don't bother with them. Over the past twenty years or so I think the only books I have read cover to cover have been novels, and not many of those have held my attention. In fact, I begin to wonder if my discipline (psychology) has "trained" me to read only short passages (since much of psychology is found in short articles rather than books). You often "pillage" articles for nuggets of information and ignore the rest. Which is not good, because there is a bit of a tendency to leave checking the data until a later time -- which doesn't come, unless you are really interested in the topic.

    So I suppose I don't use string any more -- I use elastic.

  • Anything between a week, a month and "never". And I have several books in progress, but I try to keep it to one fiction book at a time.

    If I am reading for entertainment, then I take notes as needed, which really depends on the book and what I am doing. I recently read some novels by Haruki Murakami and only made a few small notes on themes, but nothing which went into my Zettelkasten. Currently I am reading a book on the Space Shuttle* (I am a massive space nerd) and try to summarize chapters after having read them. Weeks to several months depending on the book.

    Books/articles related to work are more like @MartinBB , I dip my toes and feel the waters -- then I dive in as needed. Notetaking is indispensable to me here.

  • edited May 12

    @MartinBB said:
    I dip into them, extract bits and pieces, move on (often because I have to), circle back to them, extract more, or reinterpret what I have already extracted. It is fairly messy.

    These sentence fragments struck me lyrically. Maybe a poem is being born?!

    Reading Books

    Dip into them
    extract bits and pieces
    move on
    circle back
    extract more
    reinterpret
    It's all fairly messy.

    "Pillage." What a great metaphor.

    I've been reading a short book Richardson, Robert D. First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. University of Iowa Press, 2009. I highly recommend it for its convergence with the zettelkasten method.

    This note originated from a blog post by Austin Kleon that I found so completing that started me down the rabbit hole of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his biographer, Robert Richardson. Which, so far, has lead me to read and enjoy the book above. Here is the note where I captured the quote.

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

  • Thank you, @Will! Love the poem. That's yours, I think!

  • Here are some random ideas on the topic of note generation and book processing.

    • Longer times, interacting with a book and its author, are better. Maybe, maybe not.

    • Why be fixated on time and number of child notes? Try and keep your approach open and free of self imposed constraints.

    • Fixate on the ideas that connect, leaving the rest for someone else.

    • The author took thousands of hours to research and prepare her arguments and we read and process the ideas in tens of hours or less. This seems a bit of a mis-match in intentions and goals.

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

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