Zettelkasten Forum


When your Zettelkasten is a mess !

Hello everyone,

What do you do when your Zettelkasten is a mess ? I started building a Zettelkasten in Obisidan a couple of months ago and finally ended up with a confusing web of notes.

Do you start from scratch, or do you continue with what you have, while refining your approach to Luhmann's method ?

Comments

  • My zettelkasten is a mess too. Life itself is messy. I have a review workflow as part of my daily routine, and I'm continually amazed at my past ineptitude.

    But don't give up. I haven't. I'm continually refining my approach. Becoming organized is an incremental process. When we know better, we make better notes.

    I continue to revise and refactor messy old notes as I encounter them and try and up my game as I make new notes. Making better notes is a learning process like others, and why wouldn't we expect to start a little messy and get better with practice. It is like thinking going to the gym will instantly make us fit. No, we start of pathetic and develop with practice.

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @ulver48 Can you describe in more detail where your impression of "messiness" comes from?

    For example, my >6000 notes, when I look at them just so, would be overwhelming. I couldn't do anything with 6000 isolated ... things. I can barely hold a couple of ideas in my head at the same time.

    But since it's not a bucket, but a web (just like you write), there are traces from here to there, and between topics and ideas. That is some kind of order, but it's certainly not neat. Not like a stamp collection.

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

  • @ctietze said:
    @ulver48 Can you describe in more detail where your impression of "messiness" comes from?

    For example, my >6000 notes, when I look at them just so, would be overwhelming. I couldn't do anything with 6000 isolated ... things. I can barely hold a couple of ideas in my head at the same time.

    But since it's not a bucket, but a web (just like you write), there are traces from here to there, and between topics and ideas. That is some kind of order, but it's certainly not neat. Not like a stamp collection.

    Yes. I have multiple notes that are not linked to each other since I cannot determine any good connections between them. Most of my notes are ideas that proved to be inefficient or plain wrong and thus they stay there as isolated dead notes. Yesterday, I was reading a scientific article and after making some literature notes, I tried to think about how they could be related to my existing notes in the Zettelkasten so as to expand it. However, nothing was relevant and once again, I started something from scratch.

    Its not that I find a fault in the Zettelkasten method in general, but more in my approach to it since I have a love/hate relationship with this method. I haven't immersed myself fully in this method and as a result, I only add to it two- three times per month ( I literally started measuring how many new notes I add as a daily metric). So, now I ended up with a collection of multiple isolated notes that is not quite helpful and I would like to see, how should I continue from here, if I am to fully commit.

  • If notes that aren't linked to from anywhere else are "orphans", then some of us have huge orphanages without any state funding :)

    It gets better with time. Because at first, everything is new, everything must be new.

    When I process a technical tip, something I want to remember later about something pertaining computer maintenance, then this is an isolated "fact" as well. But nowadays I'd also look for a topic that I might want to group this under. Like, well, "computer maintenance", if there's nothing better than that. These topics have to start somewhere, so starting an """"overview""""" with just 1 link to that one tech tip is possible.

    Why do you collect your isolated notes? Computer maintenance is a topic I cannot avoid, so that's my prompt/trigger/motivation to think of starting a structure note as an overview. Maybe your reading that article yesterday has nothing to do with anything your ZK knows, but you may know what this could be used for.

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

  • @ulver48

    Orphans, I have them too. I'm looking at you, dictionary structure note... :unamused: But I've realized ways to avoid them.

    One way is to try to make something meaningful out of every Zettel. Since I do directional work, meaning I do projects, there's always something meaningful to come up with.

    For example, I need a convention for where to place links. So, I'm reading about footnotes, citation styles, and so on. Once I'm done, I'll probably make a Zettel combining everything to describe my convention. That's something I look forward to.

    At the very least, I make an analogy, visualization, explain a difference, make a comparison, add examples, elaborate, or clarify. The Zettels in my dictionary structure note are an example of this. They're all about definitions. They're hardly useful for anything. But since they're important to understand other things, such as arguments, I need to understand them deeply. For example:


    # 202111241343 Workflow
    #workflow

    Workflow [noun]: A repeatable process with a goal [cambridgeuniversitypressw].

    An example of a workflow would be the Drilldown Method: It is a repeatable process that aims to learn fast [[202106271041]].

    Usage examples:

    • "The right software tools can improve workflow and productivity" [cambridgeuniversitypressw].

    You could visualize a workflow as a dot that goes full circle. Depending on the goal of the process, one of two things happen:

    1. Every time the dot does a full circle, the circle sparks.
    2. The trace that the dot leaves sparks.

    The spark is the outcome of the process. That outcome is achieving the goal.

    Relationship with other terms:

    • Different from a system [[202111301255]].

    [cambridgeuniversitypressw]: Cambridge University Press, “workflow,” Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed: Nov. 24, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english-spanish/workflow


    The types of connections I described above are all written in the same Zettel, unless they benefit from having their own.

    I hope you can take something out of this.

  • @ulver48 said:
    I have multiple notes that are not linked to each other since I cannot determine any good connections between them.

    Yet! Give yourself time. As you capture more ideas and look to link them into your zettelkasten, these currently unconnected notes will present themselves as link candidates. A zettelkasten naturally develops from an unconnected state becoming connected.

    Most of my notes are ideas that proved to be inefficient or plain wrong, and thus they stay there as isolated dead notes. Yesterday, I was reading a scientific article. After making some literature notes, I tried to think about how they could be related to my existing notes in the Zettelkasten to expand it. However, nothing was relevant, and once again, I started something from scratch.

    We are quick to blame ourselves as readers when we fail to comprehend. Consider the larger scope. The writer has failed to communicate the ideas in a way you could comprehend. You have a couple of choices, then. Ask the writer for clarification, which is not always possible. Or work to improve your comprehension by dividing the work into smaller chunks, looking for more fundamental work. In the case of a scientific article, finding one on the same subject by different authors ofter will trigger some comprehension.

    Creating a zettelkasten is not instantly a perfect game. Life is messy. Try one tack, then when that steers you afoul, try a different tack. Just don't give up. Things will get better if you don't jump off the boat.

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @ulver48

    One minor point that hasn't been touched on yet is the importance of performing "maintenance" on your ZK. Part of your feeling of messiness might actually be related to a feeling of lack of control of what is in your ZK.

    Regular maintenance of your ZK is essential. It will include things such as adding tags (if you use them), making connections between zettels, creating structure notes, and cleaning up poorly worded zettels or zettels with fuzzy thinking.

    To enable easier maintenance in my ZK, I use the tags such as "#unfinished" and "#unlinked". I set up saved searches on those terms and then about once a week, search on one or the other to find zettels that require some attention. Thus, bit by bit, I clean up my ZK. I have some zettels that continue to show up when I search on "#unlinked" because I have not yet found links to other zettels. They may continue to do so for a while yet. That is OK; eventually those zettels will connect, if I keep at it long enough. Once I have more than two connections from a zettel, I remove the "#unlinked" tag. And once I feel a zettel is sufficiently "mature" (whatever that means to me or to you), I remove the "#unfinished" tag.

    I think maintenance of your ZK becomes particularly important when you only contribute to it infrequently.

    But it's like any database that I've ever dealt with - for it to be useful, it must contain relevant data, organized in an accessible manner, and you must regularly maintain it.

  • Thanks for your comments.

    The way I see it, a Zettelkasten is meant to be give the illusion of an unimportant tool during its infancy. Multiple orphan notes, etc. In a sense, the Zettelkasten reflects the infancy of its author with respect to his field of expertise. But with patience and perseverance, both the Zettelkasten and the author will start to grow. A perfect Zettelkasten from scratch might be related to someone who has attained mastery.

    So, given your comments I will continue building on the existing notes.

    Also @GeoEng51, I try to build structural notes but they are not so many. My Zettelkasten therefore is not so deep. It has not so many layers. Perhaps, I should opt for a deeper organizing. Also, thanks for your idea regarding tags. Currently, the only tag that I use in that sense is a '#project' tag, which refers to a specific project on which I am working and contains notes about its progress. I will give a try to the '#unlinked' tag. I don't like the '#unfinished' tag, because all Zettels to me have room for improvement over time.

  • @ulver48 said:
    Thanks for your comments.
    Also @GeoEng51, I try to build structural notes but they are not so many. My Zettelkasten therefore is not so deep. It has not so many layers. Perhaps, I should opt for a deeper organizing. Also, thanks for your idea regarding tags. Currently, the only tag that I use in that sense is a '#project' tag, which refers to a specific project on which I am working and contains notes about its progress. I will give a try to the '#unlinked' tag. I don't like the '#unfinished' tag, because all Zettels to me have room for improvement over time.

    To be honest, I don't use that many structural notes. They do have a place but I feel that overusing them creates too much "top down" organization in your ZK. But everyone has their preference about the use of structural notes - some people really like them.

    I agree that all zettels are to some extent unfinished. The distinction I make is between a rough draft of a zettel and one that is reasonably mature and succinct (even pithy). That doesn't stop me from updating "finished" zettels at a later date; I just don't fuss over them so much any more.

  • edited December 2021

    The way I see it, a Zettelkasten is meant to be give the illusion of an unimportant tool during its infancy. Multiple orphan notes, etc. In a sense, the Zettelkasten reflects the infancy of its author with respect to his field of expertise.

    Sasha commented on another discussion that always resonated with me, "the Zettelkasten as a thing that does things for you but more like a training tool that mirrors your own knowledge work (for the better or worse)."[1] In this regard, I agree with your statement above that a Zettelkasten reflects the infancy of its author. However, I don't believe there should be multiple orphan notes. Remember "the slip-box forgets notes that are not an integral part of the web of interconnected slips."[2]

    As a knowledge mirror, I start a Zettel note on anything new I run across, and I mean anything that isn't part of my current knowledge. For example, if I'm reading an article and a new term or idea is used, I create a Zettel. My notes are non-linear, so first, I create a UID. Second, a title (after checking to make sure I don't already have a note on the subject,) and then I try to place the entry UID in as many places as possible, i.e., keywords, source files, etc. (some might think of these placements as inside Structure Notes). My first link is generally to a definition; the second link is to the note where the new term originated. If no other thoughts present themselves, I move on. For example, after watching a webinar today, I've made eight notes (quotes from the author of the webinar), four Zettel - Entry notes and linked one thread to an article I read in March 2020.

    ^1^ Fast, Sasha (March 3, 2020). Retrieved from https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/182/a-tale-of-complexity-structural-layers-in-note-taking#latest*
    ^2^ Thomas, E. (2020, August 23). Understanding Zettelkasten - What it means to communicate with the slip-box. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://medium.com/@ethomasv/understanding-zettelkasten-d0ca5bb1f80e

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