Zettelkasten Forum


How to Make a Habit of Reading for a Zettelkasten

This is a little insight that came to that I think might be helpful for some. Please let me know what you think.

If you have a Zettelkasten, you need to constantly create Zettels so it grows to give you richer connections. A day in a Zettler usually looks like this:

  1. Create Zettels and make connections.
  2. Read sources.
  3. Proofread Zettels.

However, you need to manage the overall process so working with a Zettelkasten doesn't become all you do everyday. E.g.: In the worst case scenario, you'd spend the entire morning, afternoon, and evening creating Zettels, reading, and proofreading respectively. That gives you no time for anything else!

The part of the process to manage is reading time because everything else depends on it. E.g.: If you don't read, you can't create Zettels, and without Zettels, there's nothing to proofread.

I think that we can manage reading time in the same way that we adapt the routine of short knowledge cycles:

  1. Start with 1 hour of reading.
  2. Read, create Zettels, and proofread. Keep track of the time spent on each activity.
  3. Reflect on the overall process.
  4. Based on your reflection, change the time alloted for reading.
  5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you reach a point where you are satisfied with the work you do for your Zettelkasten, and don't lose time for other things in your day.

Comments

  • We are all different. I could never work in such a regimented way. But if it works for you, that is all that matters, really.

  • @MartinBB

    It certainly works for me.

    I wonder, what about you? What's your workflow?

  • Like @sfast said in the last livestream it is a "problem" in our "field" that the ZK doesn't come with a defined workflow attached to it. This is an important topic, thanks for starting the thread @Dilan_Zelsky!

    As you wrote in the OP there is an element of an "anchor" task involved in your example 1h of reading time.

    If you like to work in such time blocks, I'd like to recommend the system of Cal Newport. In my experience his system of daily time blocking, a free-form weekly plan and quarterly goals works very well.

    I myself do all my work with Mark Forster's Autofocus time management system which means for our question that I engage in the next action of reading at more or less irregular times during each day, always prompted by my Autofocus list.

    Having a reading task on my autofocus list happens because a writing goal of some sort has been set. Out of some other obligation or starting point of adventure it became clear that the best course of action is to write something up. This can be a book to promote an ideal you want to foster, a paper in order to get that degree, and advertisement for your success in business or a letter to bring forth better relationships in your family, just to name a few examples.

    Say, I decided to write an article to post on Facebook to boost some action in my circle of friends there. Now I have the task "Facebook article" on my Autofocus list and at some point that gets actioned. I'll start writing, maybe a good passage about something I already now that I want to have it included. Maybe brainstorm some ideas. After a while it becomes apparent what things I have to research in order back up my argument put forth in that article. I'll find stuff on the web, I discover some videos, some books etc. I search my Zettelkasten, maybe I already have something relevant in there? It becomes clear what I'll have to read in order to finish that article. And on the way there, of course everything goes through the Zettelkasten…

    I'll work on that article whenever Autofocus prompts me to work on that task. That always happens in relation to all other things I have on my list. Sometimes I move faster, sometimes I move slower. Potentially I'll produce zettels for various writing projects simultaneously.

    The big question of course is one of scope. How much reading is warranted for each writing project?

    At some point you have to decide when enough is enough.

    This should IMHO happen on a per project basis.

    How much "reading resources" are allotted on a given project gets decided by perceived importance of the outcome of that project for my life as a whole.

    • If you have a Zettelkasten, everything looks like a Zettel.
    • Or even potentially many Zettel!
  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    What's your workflow?

    I don't have one. I do things as the fit takes me, or as need arises. Or perhaps when I have the energy and enthusiasm. I've worked that way my whole life (retired now). I tried the regimented approach, and I could never do it for more than about a week. As I said, we are all different :)

  • @Dilan_Zelsky, I too am a fan of Cal Newport's suggestion to time block reading. Combined with reading three books at one time, one physical, one ebook, one audiobook, I can read anywhere I can grab a micro-moment to read. I also have a philosophy book with 102 short (2-4 pages) chapters, where I've committed to reading one each morning before journaling. I'm currently on Chapter 22.

    You are right to suggest "The part of the process to manage is reading time because everything else depends on it. E.g.: If you don't read, you can't create Zettels, and without Zettels, there's nothing to proofread." I don't know what to think of non-readers. I recently met a person who is a long-time library worker and told me he doesn't read anymore and sounded proud of it. 😧

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

  • edited August 15

    @MartinBB said:

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    What's your workflow?

    I don't have one. I do things as the fit takes me, or as need arises. Or perhaps when I have the energy and enthusiasm. I've worked that way my whole life (retired now). I tried the regimented approach, and I could never do it for more than about a week. As I said, we are all different :)

    Haha; well said!! I follow this approach as well, mostly because I don't have the energy (any more) to be constantly "at it" all the time. However, I have learned over the years not to be distracted by "getting things done" and trying to be super-productive. Have you ever read "Four thousand weeks - time management for mortals" by Oliver Burkeman? It gives you a different take on life. It would actually be a useful ZK exercise for people learning about and starting to create a ZK.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    Have you ever read "Four thousand weeks - time management for mortals" by Oliver Burkeman?

    Thank you for the reference. Somehow I had missed his writing. I went and had a look at his Guardian article of last year: https://theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/sep/04/oliver-burkemans-last-column-the-eight-secrets-to-a-fairly-fulfilled-life

    I have a strong dislike for the Protestant Work Ethic approach to life (which seems to be so deeply embedded in the USA -- I'm English, so I haven't been indoctrinated in the same way) and GTD was something I never saw as useful to me. In academia I feel it has limited application. Nobody can judge how long it will take to understand something, and merely shifting piles of work from one place to another is not the answer to that particular problem.

    I have mentioned this before somewhere, but I will do it again, because I like the story. When I was at school, which is over 45 years ago now, my maths teacher told us a story that was intended to inspire us to look for simple solutions to mathematical problems. It concerned a (no doubt mythical) German general who was asked to investigate the officer corps of the army and give his recommendations. He reported that the officers were of four types: lazy and intelligent; lazy and stupid; hard-working and intelligent; and hard-working and stupid. His recommendations were that the lazy and stupid should be dismissed the service, the hard-working and intelligent should be given minor positions, the lazy and intelligent should be given the highest positions because they would find simple and easy solutions to problems, and the hard-working and stupid should be shot because they would work on things that were unimportant and would create work for others to do.

  • @Will

    To be fair, I didn't know about time blocking but it sounds like an interesting method. I foreshadow some sweet connections too. Thanks for pointing it out!

    Also, I really like what you said about having something to read on the go. I'll give it a shot.

    WIth regards to non-readers, I think that it's a shame that they don't read. I've grown so much thanks to non-fiction books. But, I can't fault them. There's something about reading that puts one off if you're not a good learner, like it was for me pre-Zettelkasten.

  • I have a rule of thumb: The more consecutive hours you can manage to block for processing read sources the more productive your Zettelkasten work will be.

    In normal weeks, I block two 6 hour time periods for purely working with my Zettelkasten. These account for the vast majority of my productivity.

    I am a Zettler

  • The angle surprised me:

    However, you need to manage the overall process so working with a Zettelkasten doesn't become all you do everyday

    I personally never had that problem so far, to not being able to stop processing stuff (even if there's still things left to do). Do you?

    We have this on the blog regarding "knowledge cycles" that I think covers a similarly cyclic nature of work: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/knowledge-cycle-efficiently-organize-writing-projects/

    It tackles the topic from a different direction, though -- one where e.g. you'd be spending all time reading and no time processing. Blocking time is useful to make sure you push everything forward at least a bit.

    Processing notes eventually has to slow down if you run out of steam (if we're dealing with non-fiction). Unless your backlog of unprocessed stuff is so huge you'd never finish before retirement :) But what's the point in adding more to the pile, then? Would love to hear more details on this.

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

  • @ctietze said:
    Processing notes eventually has to slow down if you run out of steam (if we're dealing with non-fiction). Unless your backlog of unprocessed stuff is so huge you'd never finish before retirement :) But what's the point in adding more to the pile, then? Would love to hear more details on this.

    Ah, but that's just when I'm getting going on a ZK, in semi-retirement. And it has great value - more so because I am pursuing purposes of my own devising :smile:

  • @ctietze I'm aware of knowledge cycles. I embrace them, but the part about processing reading notes and proofreading them is what I struggle with. Then, this idea came to mind, but I see that the shot backfired instead. Maybe I should be given a less important role, like some of the officer corps from @MartinBB's story.

    I really appreciate the feedback because it makes me see that the solution is elsewhere, and I think that I know where it might be. I'll be reading chapter 3 of "How to become a straight-A student" by Cal Newport soon for a writing project, and I saw from my first pass on the book that it seems to have some information that might help me with this. As soon as I get a better handle on life and manage to read that chapter, either I'll add the feedback and anything useful from the book to my OP, or make a separate post.

    Thanks for everything!

  • @Dilan_Zelsky wrote:

    The part of the process to manage is reading time because everything else depends on it. E.g.: If you don't read, you can't create Zettels, and without Zettels, there's nothing to proofread.

    My personal perspective is fundamentally different - if I were stranded on a desert island without a single piece of literature but a supply of suitable writing material, I would still start a zettelkasten. Some of the reasons are discussed here.

    I suspect that the dominance of Luhmann, his practices, the demands and perhaps non-demands from his domains of expertise and his accomplishments obstruct the view on the more general question "How can we use writing as a bundle of methods to gain insights?". I am by no means an expert, but perhaps we could learn one thing or another if we open our eyes to a much broader scope of practices, used by different people in different times in different domains. Almost any famous name from history can give as a clue - Leonardo da Vinci combined sketches and text and seemed unwilling to cripple his skills by using "plain text", Newton was bold enough to look at nature and not rely on reading alone and Leibniz had his own ideas about atomic notes.

  • edited August 22

    @thomasteepe You've started quite an interesting discussion in that link. Thank you for sharing it.

    Since I'm focused on learning, my Zettelkasten is literature-driven, but I'd like to learn more about the other approach. Thank you for bringing up the topic!

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