Zettelkasten Forum


How to avoid becoming a "collector"?

Over the past year or so since discovering the Zettelkasten method, I have been doing my best to read more and to try and capture ideas that interest me. I've explored different mediums trying to find one that fit and for the most part have enjoyed the journey.

But, there continues to be one lingering concern... that I am just collecting and not making any real use of my notes.

I do my best to take quick notes while reading, putting them into my own words before adding these ideas to my slip box and expanding on them... but even after that, it still feels like I am just creating collection of other people ideas.

This leads me to ask two questions. First, what are some strategies that you use to combat this? And, second is this sort of feeling fairly common as your system grows?

Comments

  • Id create a list of daily or weekly habits:

    • Probe your notes for connections between two different ideas
    • Probe your notes for conceptual/abstract connections between sets of notes
    • Define what your end goal is than make sure you are doing it every week

    Well all knowledge is built on prior knowledge, so I wouldn't worry about it feeling like creating a collection of other people ideas. You can apply bloom's taxonomy to these ideas you've collected:

    • Is this idea worth memorizing? (Remember)
    • How does this idea connect to others? (Understand)

      • Bottom Up Connections
      • Top Down Connections
    • How can you apply this idea? (Apply)

    • What are the subcomponents of this idea? (Analyze)
    • How much solid evidence does this idea have? (Evaluate)

    And lastly, the end point of a zettelkasten is output (e.g. to create). So create something using this idea. When creating I use the remix framework:

    • Copy (what you are currently doing)
    • Transform (create variations on the idea)
    • Combine (combine the different ideas to create new ones)

    Hope that helps!

  • I suppose that sometimes I part ways with other more directive devotees of the method by simply saying that I have no idea what my future self will need or want. So long as I'm not passively throwing links and papers into a hopper then I feel that I've done my due diligence with respect to my future self's needs.

    To me the distinction between succumbing to the collector's fallacy and just being generously open to my future needs for information and ideas is this:

    I do my best to take quick notes while reading, putting them into my own words before adding these ideas to my slip box and expanding on them

    There's another sentiment that lingers though, which is something like this: "given that I want to avoid the collector's fallacy, is the only evidence of my success that I have some product to show? And if so, what is the nature of that 'product'?"

    Personally, I do my best to "think in public", blogging, writing in other venues; but even if it leads me to have more thoughtful conversations or even more skeptical analyses that I keep to myself, the system is a success... Sometimes, I wonder if touting Luhmann's large number of academic papers does a disservice to the method. I mean one of my former professors has many more papers to his name and as far as I can tell never used anything resembling the Zettelkasten method. But I wonder if there's not some expectation that we create some equally impressive opus...

    Slavic languages, natural language processing, etc.
    Writes at ojisanseuichi.com.

  • The most effective method, if you can call it a method, is to set aside as much time on a fixed schedule to process what you collected.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited June 4

    @ldomingues said:

    This leads me to ask two questions. First, what are some strategies that you use to combat this? And, second is this sort of feeling fairly common as your system grows?

    I think the difference between "collecting ideas" and creating a Zettelkasten is that:

    1. You have stated ideas as succinctly as possible, in your own words, in each zettel. These could be the ideas of others, as you understand them, or they could be your "own" ideas. But keep in mind that we only occasionally have a truly unique or new idea.
    2. Your zettels are connected as much as possible, or as much as makes sense to you, in the normal Zettelkasten manner (i.e., direct links between zettels). These need to be continually reviewed and updated as we create new zettels. But sometimes we will realize new connections just by reviewing a series of zettels.

    I think this is what @sfast is referring to when he said that you should spend as much time as possible processing what you collected.

    We can also apply "external" organizational tools to our Zettelkasten, such as using Structure notes and/or creating an index (e.g., each entry in the index referring to the first zettel in a string of connected zettels). These help us to feel organized and to more quickly access our Zettelkasten, but they don't of themselves avoid the collectors' fallacy.

    I think the more time you spend a) reviewing and updating the connections between zettels, and b) creating new material from your Zettelkasten (such as writing a web article or a term paper), the more you will see the value of your ZK and the less you will feel like you are just collecting information. To that end, you may want to schedule regular time to review connections in your Zettelkasten. People on the forum have shared different ways that they do that:

    1. You can add tags such as "unfinished" or "unlinked" to your zettels (when appropriate) and then search on these terms when reviewing your ZK.
    2. You could just search on a particular term (using the omnibar in The Archive), see what zettels show up, and then review for connections that you haven't yet made. I find this approach helpful when a term shows up in a zettel which is only peripherally related to the search term - that might be a valuable connection that hadn't occurred to you.
    3. You can randomly read through some zettels or randomly select zettels for review. Some people have gone to the extent of automating this, so that they spend time each day reviewing a few zettels.
    4. You may "find" new connections when creating a Structure note or index, although I find this approach less effective.

    Good luck with applying some of these concepts to your Zettelkasten!

  • edited June 5

    Thank you all for your input! I appreciate the different ideas and they have definitely given me some food for thought moving forward!

    I think that a lot of this feeling stems from me not using anything that I have written outside of my slip box. I know that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I sense that may be part of the reason I feel as if I am collecting.

    Maybe that is the next evolution in this journey, creating something from the ideas I have "collected" in a public forum.

  • My own approach is to focus on topics I really care about, write zettels with my thoughts and questions and try to dig deeper into them.
    From these starting points, I can decide what literature and other external materials could be helpful.
    Basically, for me it's a question of how to allocate my "time budget for ZK work", between literature-driven and problem-driven work.

    (I know next to nothing about the Enlightenment and its "sapere aude" motto, but I see my ZK as the best available, ready-to-use, evolvable tool to be obedient to Immanuel Kant. Imagine a smiley here.)

  • @ldomingues said:
    But, there continues to be one lingering concern... that I am just collecting and not making any real use of my notes.

    You're probably reading and making notes "just because". If you wan't to see a practical outcome for your notes, find a knowledge-based problem that can be solved with them.

  • edited June 23

    As @sfast said:

    The most effective method, if you can call it a method, is to set aside as much time on a fixed schedule to process what you collected.

    When I read what @sfast wrote. I remembered that when you, @ldomingues write about including your ideas on your slip box, you don't mention exactly what you do. I guess you link them at least to one other notes (which facilitate the process to go through the ideas contained in your slip-box and maybe find new links). If not something is missing. I'm new to zettelkasten and I'm in need to populate my slip box in such a way, as I have mostly fleeting notes unfortunatly (I've written fleeting notes but many are unlinked permanent notes, that is to say they are understandable even out of their initial context). It's about 5000 notes. Many conceptual links are inside my unlinked notes, some of which happen to be also in my mind but some of them have of course a bit vanished due to time (and my inexperienced use of notes). I've been working on some subjects that emerged from reflection from my teaching (principally about teaching-learning process in science education). This made me understood or think that I understood some few things that seems to solve some problems that I happen to have identified along literature readings I made. As I said, it was initially for teaching and then turned out to be research interests. My literature notes use to be both descriptive and critical except when I found that an idea I had was already published by someone else (or a very similar idea). Then it makes me dig a bit deeper in order to understand a bit more than what is already published in my area or at least make think that way! We may be mistaken but we have to rely on our thinking. I've been reading many literature mostly from 1990s and 2000s and then I happen to have been finding some more recent articles that were in harmony with the thinking I was building in my notes (sometimes I read article carefully to understand very finely the article and the ideas and sometimes I just seek specific ideas that are guided by my thinking process). During this process, 3 projects of article emerged. I spend times in order to define the scope of those articles, in order to be able at some point to focus on one article and then the other articles. As all ideas are linked, defining the articles was not easy, as it seems that for each article I would need to refer to unpublished ideas in one other articles. Now, I plan to spent times to creates links between my notes on one article that I selected in order to make it happen and then I would continue to focus on the two other article for which most of the ideas are already in my fleeting notes. Plans thought aren't fixed. It's just a proposal that seems rational to me at some point but may not be anymore the case as my knowledge evolve.

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