Zettelkasten Forum


Inbox overflow

Hi everyone.

I began using ZK several months ago and encountered a following conundrum.

I divide notes into two generic classes: core notes and inbox. Inbox consists of notes I might need to work upon in the future. My inbox keeps growing much faster in volume than my core notes. There're three main sources of its growth.

Firstly, I regularly read professional feeds with a wide range of information that I have no time to integrate right now. Mostly this is a specific momentarily info that might be unavailable in the future (or simply hard to find) so saving it seems pretty important to me.
Secondly, I began dumping into ZK the notes, that I made for several previous years. There's a lot of them. I "kinda organize" them in the process, e.g. sort them by wide categories, add some wide-range tags, etc. But realistically, I have no time to process them properly.
Thirdly, I tend to dump my own one-off thoughts into the inbox, because I don't have a specific category or zettel to add them to. I guess that later, when more organized note groups would emerge, I'll distribute my notes between them.

On the one hand, this inbox propagation seems natural to me - I find that diving into that knowledge dump from time to time turns out pretty useful. And the power of weak connections works with notes as much as with people.
On the other hand, I'm concerned that the process is something of a shuffling the garbage from one corner to another. My inbox grows and I'm not sure it's a useful thing.

Maybe somebody wants to comment on this? Have you been in a similar situation?

Comments

  • I had a similar problem when I first started developing my zettelkasten. I had (and still have) years worth of notes from academic literature, mostly that are extracted highlights. I also have a large number of ideas I've quickly jotted down. These lived in Devonthink. My inclination initially was to dump everything into my zettelkasten folder. They are all "notes", right? But I soon figured out the value of thinking of the zettelkasten as where only the finished, processed notes live. I have a group in Devonthink that houses both my indexed zettelkasten folder AND the other notes, so that I can search and find relationships. But within my zettel programs (I use both The Archive and Obsidian), I only have fully processed "permanent" notes. I think it is important to keep your zettelkasten from becoming a "junk drawer" of notes.

  • My personal view, for what it is worth, is that there is no such thing as a finished note. At least, not in my way of working. I cheerfully dump just about anything into my notes archive, and don't feel the need to separate them. But perhaps that is because I mainly work in both psychology (plus counselling/psychotherapy) and history, and there is not much in human experience that does not fit into those fields of study. Anyway, there was a post on the forums not long ago to the effect that the thing to aim for is permanently useful notes rather than unchanging notes. I forget who wrote that, but I heartily concur. I want my notes to change and develop, not be frozen at some point. My whole notes archive is an Inbox, and is in a constant state of flux. Much like knowledge itself, I suppose!

  • edited May 27

    Welcome to the forums.

    We all fall prey to the The Collector’s Fallacy at the beginning.

    Slowing down and separate nutritious ideas to feed your zettelkasten from the avalanche of new and shiny trinkets and junk foods, like those hawked at a carnival on country fairs days.

    Keeping a separate place for "Read it Later" junk and to satisfy the collector's urge. As time permits and the mood stricks, read and process the higher quality stuff into your zettelkasten. Waiting has the advantage of letting the ideas ferment. Most will spoil and not be worth the time to process, and a precious few will become nutritious morsels of flavor that can be savored as the idea spreads.

    Treat prior notes the same way. Don't import all prior notes blindly. Too much wasted time and diverts focus from progress. Reprocess and refactor the ideas from your old notes. Do this when working with an idea in your zettelkasten, and the muse speaks to about some prior note in your prior note-taking life. Search for it and bring it into your zettelkasten.

    Treat your inbox with tender care as if you were giving your younger self work assignments. Time is a funny thing.

    </cliche time>
    
    * Time is a funny thing.
    * We don't have much time. 
    * We can't be experts in everything. 
    * Opportunity costs want consideration. 
    * There is a cost/benefit ratio in everything we do.
    * Magic happens when you focus on the one thing.
    
    <cliche time/>
    

    Thirdly, I tend to dump my own one-off thoughts into the inbox, because I don't have a specific category or zettel to add them to. I guess that later, when more organized note groups would emerge, I'll distribute my notes between them.

    When "one-off" ideas strike, grab them like Zeus would grab thunderbolts. Put them in your quiver as they have special powers and are unique to you. What makes you, you. These are not a bother but instead the meat, the protein of the zettelkasten method. Let them guide your zettelkasten.

    On the other hand, I'm concerned that the process is something of a shuffling the garbage from one corner to another. My inbox grows and I'm not sure it's a useful thing.

    You've answered your own query. You are "shuffling the garbage from one corner to another," and your treatment of your inbox is "not a useful thing."

    Post edited by Will on

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

  • I personally opted against any inbox. If I process something it happens either so diligently that I can put it in my ZK or I just don't do it. But this requires some therapy to combat FOMO. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • I'm getting therapy! FOMO and the Collector's Fallacy and married and are abusive parents.

    I have an inbox.
    I keep it small.
    I keep it current.
    It helps with maintaining my focus where I want my focus pointed.
    It helps things not fall through the cracks in the force, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

    Today its queue is nine notes. It contains a writing project that's almost finished, two structure notes that are slowly building as I complete two books which will be completed within the week, two articles that I'm partly done onboarding to my zettelkasten, an ideation note. Two project notes that are tied together, and the project comes to fruition this weekend.

    When I review my inbox (daily), notes will be either deleted or the tag removed after a few days of inactivity. It is proof that I'm not really interested. I move on as time is short.

    I hope this helps.

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

  • Inbox is an abused and loaded word tied to '4356 Unread Messages' and '13045 Notes' in the collection dump called Evernote Legacy. Inbox's definition as morphed into 'a place to bump and hide from work'. Instead of trying and take back "inbox" from the snarl of the internet, I'm switching the name of what I've previously called my inbox.

    I'm switching the metaphor from an office desk to a bakery kitchen. (The aroma is lovely!)
    Henceforth this group will be referred to as my "PROOFING OVEN."

    Wikipedia says (They say)

    In cooking, proofing is a step in the preparation of yeast bread and other baked goods where the dough is allowed to rest and rise a final time before baking. During this rest period, yeast ferments the dough and produces gases, thereby leavening the dough.

    Will says (I say)

    In zettelkasting, proofing is a step where a rough zettel is allowed to rest a short time before being turned loose in the archive. During this period, ideas ferment, and the note editing bubbles producing a more precise expression of the idea for a future self.

    Notes roulette in and out of the proofing oven, there only for a short time, too long, and they spoil.

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

  • @Will said:
    In zettelkasting, proofing is a step where a rough zettel is allowed to rest a short time before being turned loose in the archive. During this period, ideas ferment, and the note editing bubbles producing a more precise expression of the idea for a future self.

    Right now, I have 5 notes in the proofing stage. They're written, atomic, but not linked to other notes notes, nor do any other notes link to these 5 notes.

    I'd be interested in how you handle these notes? And is being unlinked valid to equate to proofing?

  • Too many "inbox" or fleeting notes is akin to all those bookmarks that you will never visit again. If it's not important enough for me to process a thought, or a piece of info from reading within 72 hours then it's obviously not that important.

  • @r1tger said:

    @Will said:
    In zettelkasting, proofing is a step where a rough zettel is allowed to rest a short time before being turned loose in the archive. During this period, ideas ferment, and the note editing bubbles producing a more precise expression of the idea for a future self.

    Right now, I have 5 notes in the proofing stage. They're written, atomic, but not linked to other notes notes, nor do any other notes link to these 5 notes.

    I'd be interested in how you handle these notes? And is being unlinked valid to equate to proofing?

    I'm a proponent of incremental work. I'll slowly work on each in the proofing oven. Spending a few minutes with one as long as my energy and attention is sustained, then switch to the next and work it as long as energy is sustained. Then I'll leave them for tomorrow, not forcing any work and repeat this tomorrow. After a few days there'll not be anything I can add and the text is massaged enough and I'll turn it loose.

    I think it is important to establish this as a habit and work in small manageable chunks. I review yesterdays, new notes, last years new notes and 2 years ago notes and that turns out to be between 3 and on a big day 15 notes. This process takes me between 10 and 30 mins and is some of most enjoyable time I spend with my zettel. Some reviews are more thorough than other.

    Here is an example
    Notice
    1. The title is changed and there are now two notes.
    2. Originally it was just highlights, exported from a 2 page PDF markup.
    3. In the 'post incremental work' below you can see how I rephrased some of the highlight, eliminated others, and kept a few because I though the verbiage itself captivating.
    4. Links to relevant notes are interspersed.
    5. UUID of the two notes are identical. The Original was edited in place and for this post had to be fetched from backup. The miniphors note got a new UUID.

    What you can't see is that all this work was done between 8:30 and 9:45 and then these notes 'proofed' over night and had a couple of grammar/spelling errors correct the were turned loose.

    Original - As note went into proofing oven.

    Post incremental work. The Megaphors note as it is today.

    Post incremental work. The Megaphors note as it is today.

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

  • Everyone, thank you for your replies!

    I've thought a bit and decided to split my inbox into a long-term storage, and a short-term inbox for current work. We'll see how it goes.

    I'm still not ready to give up on my old notes. There were cases when those turned out to be very useful, saving me dozens of hours of work.
    Their main problem is indexing - when I needed to find something specific in them, there was no reliable way to do it. So putting them into something zettel-like, and at least loosely organized, seemed like a good idea. Even though it's tiresome and requires a lot of work.

  • @emps said:
    I'm still not ready to give up on my old notes. There were cases when those turned out to be very useful, saving me dozens of hours of work.
    Their main problem is indexing - when I needed to find something specific in them, there was no reliable way to do it. So putting them into something zettel-like, and at least loosely organized, seemed like a good idea. Even though it's tiresome and requires a lot of work.

    Are your old notes hand-written or typed? Do they include a lot of pdf's? I was reading an article recently about managing PDFs using DEVONThink. I've heard of but haven't used that program, but the article was interesting. It seems there might be other ways of organizing existing notes and referenced material as an interim step, before bringing some of them into our ZK in the manner described by @Will in his first response to your post. Here is the article:

    https://thesweetsetup.com/using-devonthink-for-managing-and-annotating-pdfs/

    I quite like this person's web site, by the way - lots of good information on knowledge management and writing. For example, he has an excellent course on Scrivener and another one on Obsidian.

  • edited May 30

    @GeoEng51 said: Are your old notes hand-written or typed?

    They're typed. There're about 6k (thousands) unsorted notes in an equivalent of about 3-4k A4 pages. Most are some economic facts: factories opening, sentiment descriptions, dialogue transcripts, etc. Some of that data isn't available in a public web any more (some never was).

    The problem is, my notes are sparcely indexed - no tags or categories at all, only date-time tags. Most notes are usually linguistically similar because of all the lingo. So, for example, searching for "exchange rate" gives about 50% false results and won't give some relevant results (for example, EURUSD, FX or similar).

    OTOH, even dividing those notes into wide categories results in about 400-800 notes per category. Sorting for approximate date after that narrows that result to about 20-50 notes, 10-40 pages long total. And that is a manageable chunk of data.

    So yeah, overall it's a pain.

  • edited May 31

    @emps said:

    @GeoEng51 said: Are your old notes hand-written or typed?

    They're typed. There're about 6k (thousands) unsorted notes in an equivalent of about 3-4k A4 pages. Most are some economic facts: factories opening, sentiment descriptions, dialogue transcripts, etc. Some of that data isn't available in a public web any more (some never was).

    Hmm...I see your problem. I still think @Will gave some good advice, which was to bring that information into your ZK in bits and pieces, as you have the need for it (or as you have time to process some notes). It's not too different from processing "new" notes to turn them into zettels - you still have to think about and atomize the various concepts and facts, then tag and connect to other zettels, etc. I don't think there is a shortcut for that process.

    I started out in a similar position to you about a year ago. I created zettels for about 30% of the material I had already accumulated, which took 4 months. Then I ran out of steam processing "old" stuff and decided I was just going to leave the other material where it resided (Bear and other, older apps and documents) unless I found it was relevant to some current purpose or line of reasoning I was pursuing in my ZK.

    In regard to information that used to be on the web but isn't any more, have you heard of the Internet Archive? It's an amazing place where you can search for old (no longer available) information using their Wayback machine. You can find more about them here:

    https://archive.org/about/

    About "inbox overflow" - I don't have a formal inbox. I have "fleeting notes" outside of my ZK (usually taken in iA Writer as I'm reading some article) that need to get processed into zettels, as described above. Some do; some don't. It's OK if they don't get processed; I don't feel obligated to get everything into my ZK. Some things that seemed interesting at the time turn out to be of little interest or use later, and so they just languish away. Sometimes I have an idea for which I create a Zettel (using one of @Will 's macros). They are automatically tagged with "Unfinished" and "Unlinked", and I use a search on those terms once a week, to maintain the database. I don't let things accumulate - I either have the time and energy to complete the zettel within a few weeks (or maybe longer if there is a valid reason) or I delete the zettel as it's not going anywhere.

  • To up the stakes, one could experiment with moving notes that are tagged #inbox or whatever into a trash/ subfolder, or delete completely. I tried this for email and it was weird at first but once you get into the rhythm, it could work out :)

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

  • The emptiest inbox is the one that never existed.

    I am a Zettler

  • @GeoEng51 I used DEVONthink extensively for around a decade, but the upgrade to version 3 introduced a change to the interface that threw a spanner in the works for myself and a lot of other people. It led to one of the longest threads I have seen on a user forum. I was never able to adapt to it. I stopped using the program, but I suppose the work I was doing also changed, which was also a factor in discontinuing using the program. It is still very capable, and if you are working on a project that involves lots of files in different formats, there is a lot to be said for it. I don't seem to have a compelling need for it at the moment. It has a lot of features which seem attractive when you read about them, but in practice I found I hardly ever used them. I didn't really gain much, if anything, over keeping files in the Finder, which is what I do these days. Other tools like HoudahSpot, Hazel, and Keyboard Maestro have got much more sophisticated since they first appeared.

  • @MartinBB

    Yes - thanks for the comment. I understand what you are saying, though I never used DEVONthink. I've had similar experiences with other software. It was a fortuitous day when someone introduced me to the simplicity of text files, Markdown, and other tools that work in that universe.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    I still think @Will gave some good advice, which was to bring that information into your ZK in bits and pieces, as you have the need for it (or as you have time to process some notes). ... I don't think there is a shortcut for that process.

    I completely agree here. @Will gave a good advice. And there's no shortcut.
    I hoped there was. :)

    In regard to information that used to be on the web but isn't any more, have you heard of the Internet Archive?

    Yeah, I use it sometimes. But it can't substitute the notes. They don't save data from social media and sparcely index non-english web domains. And some data in .com gets hidden behind subscriptions or bad interface.
    Finding old news in Bloomberg terminal, for example, can be exhausting. It's still better than their website. It's a dump like my notes. On fire. With a paywall on top.

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