Zettelkasten Forum

The state of your Note Archive at the end of 2021

I haven't found a particular "blog-type" topic, so I'm making one.

I'm going to share my experience working with personal ZK at the moment. Maybe you'll find something useful about it (especially if you're newbie). Maybe you'd like to share in the same manner.

I was very inspired about ZK last March, when I found out about it. My first idea was to migrate all my notes there (and get information superpowers).
Very soon I've stumbled upon a lack of time and desire to do it - I had thousands of unsorted notes (pretty much from newsfeeds). Migrating them to ZK properly would've been a herculean task. So I've changed the tactic (guided by advice on this forum - https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1839/inbox-overflow). Most of my archive remained as it is, I've refactored old notes into ZK only when need arose. I still have a still growing infodump with those "fleeting" notes. I'm pretty sure that I'm enforcing my collector's fallacy this way. But those notes come handy for my job from time to time, so I can't completely give up on them either.
So right now I have three "note archives": weakly structured feed with current info, fleeting notes on the phone or pieces of paper and ZK with notes structured into topics.

The second topic I wanted to mention is ZK structure. I came up with three main sections in my ZK: archive, inbox and ready (details are here - https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/12683#Comment_12683).
I find that this structure helps me to handle my collector's inclination, as well as control what I was going to work at even when I don't touch ZK for several weeks.
Only recently did I began actively using structure notes. Before that I connected notes with individual hyperlinks and that was enough. As the number of notes increased I felt that it becomes easier to cluster them into coherent arguments that might warrant a structure note.

Third topic is a workflow. I don't have one. I found that I find enough interest to work with ZK only when worthy topics are available (and I manage to "fight lazyness" to do so). For me working on notes is a tiresome process, akin to work - so the notes have to be interesting enough to be worthwhile spending time on. Also I tend to gather data little by little and then make a bunch of notes in one go when those notes begin to form a wholesome something. Then I think about connecting that group of notes to the ones that already exist in ZK archive.
I know that some people here work on their ZK daily. I can't find enough motivation to do so - as I said, addition of new notes occurs in leaps, and I find that my ZK is too small now to produce a proper "network effect" with weak connections leading to unexpected conclusions. It occurs sometimes, but definitely not every day. It might be a consequence of having notes spread among many topics or a consequence of the size of the note archive.

The size is the fourth topic. After 9 months I have about 700 notes worth about 3.6 MB (so 3.6 mln symbols; ~1200 A4 pages). I'd say that 50-60% of that text are quotations and 20% are notes in progress or "trash data" (unfinished notes, headers, household notes, etc.), so I wrote about 200 pages of "pure notes" in a year. It looks significantly more than the volume Luhmann wrote (see https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/12531#Comment_12531).
OTOH, Luhmann made significantly more notes (~5 notes daily vs mine ~2) - his notes were more granular. I think that's the consequence of the chosen notemaking medium - he was forced to fit smaller notes on index cards and be more concise in writing while I often dump a paragraph-long quotation and then cut meaning out of it.
Luhmann's granularity might lead to clearer thinking. Or maybe not. I found that I tend to think "in blocks", so I don't necessarily need to split an argument into very short statements.

I'm comparing myself to Luhmann, because I don't have any other note archive to compare to (I remember seeing some numbers somewhere on this forum but I wasn't able to find them). If you'll share your numbers, they might be interesting to compare.


  • This is an interesting discussion you bought up, @emps! I would like to share the state of my Zettelkasten as well.

    I began on March too! Unlike you, my Zettelkasten began from scratch. Also, I was a poor learner, so it took me a while to understand the Zettelkasten Method. However, we do have something in common: A backlog. In contrast to yours, mine appeared during the use of the Zettelkasten and in the form of unread material.

    All this time, I've been working on projects dealing with topics such as learning, the Zettelkasten Method, fighting games, LGBTQ+, education, and others. I work with my Zettelkasten every day since I have plenty of time. The exceptions are Mondays, the ocassions where the Zettelkasten is unnecessary, and my... dark month.

    I've measured my Zettelkasten. I have 774 items, some of which are images, totalling 12.6 MB. These numbers are meaningless to me, but they might be of interest to you. What matters to me is that I've managed to make some sweet progress towards my goals. All thanks to this awesome tool!

  • Ooooh, a year in review. Nice :)


    Here's the output of my ""trusty"" montly stats for beginning of the year (sometimes the script was broken and I didn't notice until February ...) since 2012, plus the past 3 months. Seems I'm adding in the ballpark of 60k words per year, with an uptick in recent years as I've found a more productive groove for my technical/programming notes.

    date total filtered word count
    2012-01-29 1463 1215
    2013-01-01 2471 2107 464570
    2014-01-02 3061 2710 520121
    2015-02-02 3457 3113
    2016-02-16 3724 3380 575852
    2017-01-24 4048 3709 624037
    2018-01-01 4692 4353 701736
    2019-01-01 5101 4762 754273
    2020-01-01 5513 5174 804568
    2021-01-01 5924 5587 858940
    2021-10-01 6395 6059 926255
    2021-11-01 6473 6137 935702
    2021-12-01 6517 6181 942061
    2022-01-01 6562 6226 951923


    I looked at changes in the fourth quarter of 2021:

    In 2021, I noticed that I've added more topic overviews/structure notes for technical topics. I always had a lot of very isolated snippets in a how-to style that explained to my forgetful future self how to do this and that on a computer. In 2021, I organized more of these snippets into guides that have an over-arching topic, as my Q4 review revealed. There's still ways to go to if the goal was to bring together years of isolated snippets. -- But like @emps pointed out, doing such things in bulk takes a lot of effort. It comes with opportunity cost: you can't do anything new and potentially more useful with that time. And the payoff of cleaning house is questionable. That's why I follow the boy scout rule instead and clean up a mess when I encounter it, thus not spending (wasting?) time cleaning up notes I never look at. (Which might eventually mean I won't find these notes again precisely because I never cleaned them up and integrated them in structures. That's the price I pay.)

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

  • edited January 2022
    ...............Date All Notes Without dummy words
    2016-11-04 3438 3435 316608
    2017-12-27 6657 6654 666376
    2018-11-05 8094 8091 936277
    2019-11-01 8959 8956 1143394
    2020-09-15 9479 9476 1272584
    2021-12-09 11813 11812 1510279

    The second column is the note count without a certain type of file that is generated by software or something like that. (ask @ctietze why this is more acurate)

    In 2021, I added ~1300 notes that are empty from the upcoming bible kit for The Archive. So the years increase is misleadingly high.

    Post edited by Sascha on

    I am a Zettler

  • You know I love the quantitative look.

    I spent some time this morning learning more about jupyter lab. This is a cool easy presentation tool that uses python. I learned new things about CSV extraction and math manipulation along with new graph formatting tips.

    Here is a copy of the jupyter lab notebook.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • Here is a list of my brain statistics

    My database is governed by the singular “One brain to rule them all.”
    Therefore, everything I do, I do inside of a single database.

    • The database is divided roughly into five areas.
    • First, I write a personal daily journal, with entries dating back to 1975. I have older journal entries, but I have yet to digitize them. A year is broken down into months and linked to individual daily entries. I don’t make journal entries every day, but skipping a day is rare.
    • Second, my database contains activities by quadrant. In the United States, each state is divided by county, and each county is divided by quadrant. I plan my hiking, climbing, camping, and other activities by quadrant. If I climb a mountain peak or hike a trail, it is cross-referenced with my journal by date and linked to any personal prose created for a trip report blog. The report contains a UID and is part of my Zettelkasten. International activities are linked by country, city, and action.
    • Third, my database contains source material. Database libraries keep book titles; libraries separate fiction and non-fiction. Books are then divided by chapter and into individual notes with UID’s. Articles, PDFs, webinars, etc., are all broken down into personal messages with UID’s.
    • Text is cheap storage in database cost, so I try to capture as much original text as possible, especially outside blogs, articles, or text. There is nothing worse than attempting to review an original article only to find it is no longer a valid link.
    • Fourth, a Zettel notes entry point typically starts from a keyword and threads its way through any of the above. It is not untypical for me to link a Zettel note with a journal entry, for example, where I have captured some thoughts as I ponder an idea.
    • Goals, someday/maybe lists, are sprinkled liberally throughout the remaining database, and I link time spent on each goal by creating a Pomodoro tracking link by year.
    • For example, in 2021, I spent 347 Pomodoro’s on my Zettelkasten (Project) activity. At 25:00 minutes, per Pomodoro, that equates to 145 hours of acknowledged Zettelkasten (Project) activity. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t record every Zettelkasten Pomodoro activity. However, this will be extremely close.
  • Here is list of my zettel totals by years.

    2019 = 127 zettels
    2020 = 814 zettels
    2021 = 775 zettels

    Total as of Jan 11, 2022 = 1,912 zettels
    Total storage size = 8.7 MB

  • edited January 2022

    Based on the data provided...
    @ctietze notes are almost constantly larger than @Sascha ones (150 words vs 130 on average). But Chrictian's notes became smaller with time, while Sasha's increased. You, guys, converge in your style.
    Have you noticed any change over time in the style you make your notes (besides their size) or think things through? I understand, that it might be a hard topic to answer, because your note sizes changed over several years and the memory is likely faulty.

    @Will notes are significantly larger with ~220 words per note.
    I'm even larger with 850 (I have some infodumps and fiction projects that skew things, so it's to be expected).

    Sasha and Will have/seem to have a regular notemaking workflow. I definitely can appreciate having a free schedule. :)
    I'm completely flabbergasted by the way Luhmann managed to find time for daily notemaking, IIRC, while being a single parent with 5 kids. I can imagine managing that only with a slew of household servants.

    @Steve625 You have a very sophisticated organization. Do you find that tracking geodata and pomodoro time management is intellectually helpful?

    And since we're showing off charts, here's my zettel activity. It's sporadic. :)

  • @emps

    Do you find that tracking geodata and Pomodoro time management is intellectually helpful?

    I track Pomodoro time management as physically helpful, not necessarily intellectually beneficial. I'll explain; I conducted a simple quantitative study with N=1 (me). I found that I simply didn't exercise if I had planned to exercise on any given day that my Pomodoro's > 10 (given Pomodoro's = intellectually challenging material). I was too exhausted. I keep track of Pomodoro's to accomplish all the things I want to do in a day and not become so focused on something intellectually stimulating that everything else goes out the window (which still occurs on occasion regardless).

    The geodata is collected to allow a richer experience when visiting an area. A simple illustration is the Utah Redwood. The only Redwood tree known to exist in Utah is near the old abandoned Dixie National Forest hut at Browse. Many trailheads for Pine Valley Mountain walks have their starting point at this same hut. I have hiked many of the trails, never knowing that the Redwood existed nearby until I read about it in another article. Now I try to capture these little-known, unusual locations be its ghost towns, hot springs, caves, petroglyphs, etc., that add value to my traveling experience.

  • @Steve625 said:
    My database is governed by the singular “One brain to rule them all.”
    Therefore, everything I do, I do inside of a single database.

    I love this. Dumb question. I'm not a programmer. What do you use to manage your database? Is it all text files or something else? Forgive my ignorance.

  • edited January 2022


    What do you use to manage your database? Is it all text files or something else?

    I'm not a programmer either, which means I can't follow half the threads on this forum. I've used TheBrain since December 2005. I hesitate to mention my base software because the topic often shifts to the application versus the discussion at hand. As Sascha says in his 2nd edition teaser, "All too quickly, we believe that we need this or that software because it does something unique, something irreplaceable for us. This makes us dependent and puts shackles on our thinking. This is harmful to our minds." I couldn't agree more. TheBrain has some unique bells and whistles, most of which I don't use. I don't know much about the inner workings; however, TheBrain acts more like an interface creating files on my hard drive (which I love versus the cloud) and then allows me to put whatever I want into the file, i.e., pdf's, pictures, text, etc. TheBrain also offers a scaledown version of Markdown as a text editor, which is helpful.

    I've played around with Notion, reviewed Workflowy and Roam Research, and frankly, I'm so comfortable using TheBrain everything else seems like a waste of time. The bulk of what I do could be done with any system that allows hyperlinks, primarily if that system provides auto backlinks. Even this response to your question I first captured in TheBrain via a unique id (UID) and tied to today's journal entry via hyperlink. I'll then hyperlink the note with any Zettelkasten.de forum threads that seem appropriate. Relatively simple and straightforward, with hyperlinks connecting all my disjointed thoughts spread across my brain.

    p.s. I just watched your video. I loved it, and very well done.

    Post edited by Steve625 on
  • Thanks @Steve625 - And you're wise to not want to share the software. Sascha's right. It can be such a black hole. I had to commit to just using The Archive for my system this year, because I waste a lot of time switching systems. That means I probably shouldn't have asked you about your software. 😂

  • Have you noticed any change over time in the style you make your notes (besides their size) or think things through? I understand, that it might be a hard topic to answer, because your note sizes changed over several years and the memory is likely faulty.


    1. In the beginning, I created notes by just jotting down what was in my mind.
    2. Then I began to formalise and practice and my notes became a bit formulaic
    3. With my becoming aware of structure notes and the tight connection between the nature of knowledge and the Zettelkasten Method I made more conscious choices

    In phase 3, I began to actually began to reify many abstract and obscure concepts of mine and began to just build my own stuff within the Zettelkasten instead of following the lead of the authors of articles and books. This is the point in time when I consequently treated source material as building blocks for my own stuff and stopped the need to respect the authors intentions.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited January 2022

    @Sascha said:

    In phase 3, I began to actually began to reify many abstract and obscure concepts of mine and began to just build my own stuff within the Zettelkasten instead of following the lead of the authors of articles and books. This is the point in time when I consequently treated source material as building blocks for my own stuff and stopped the need to respect the authors intentions.

    Glad to see that I'm not the only one who went through that. :) Whether or not to build my own stuff and if so how was one of my main struggles at the beginning. Now I do the same as you.

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