Zettelkasten Forum


Feeding the Beast

Hello zettelkasten forums!

I've just recently gotten started with the zettelkasten method, and I find it intriguing and I'm looking forward to seeing how it affects my life, as I have ADHD and it's very easy for me to pick up knowledge and then later lose it due to time away from a subject, and it looks to me as though the zettelkasten method will help me with that.

I've noticed one "problem" as I've started with it however. I've seen the expression that people's zettelkasten are "hungry" and need to be "fed", and having started to use the method I like the expression a lot, it feels appropriate. Whenever I start writing notes it feels as if everything I say has branching possibilities for things that I should make additional notes on.

For example, I am a software engineer, and unlike most of my other interests my knowledge in this domain has remained solid for a long time because it's the topic I spend the most time in. So far I haven't put any notes into my zettelkasten on topics of software because I'm concerned that it will become a huge issue of time. I have accumulated much knowledge in the ~15 years I've spent building software, and I feel like if I put down the first note I won't be able to stop feeding the beast for a very long time.

So I would like to ask two questions: first, how do you all decide on a stopping point when writing and cope with the fact that there's more you could write, and second, how do you keep track of places that you know you could expand on later but have decided not to do so yet in such a way as to allow yourself to come back to it later during some time you have set aside to feed your zettelkasten?

Comments

  • Welcome to the forums @srasu.

    Let me show you some of the ways I "keep track of places that you know you could expand on later but have decided not to do so yet in such a way as to allow yourself to come back to it later during some time you have set aside to feed your zettelkasten?"

    Zettel are proxy for ideas, and ideas are not static. Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.

    The fundamental way is to use an inbox for fledgling zettel. When initially creating a zettel, give it a tag to indicate its incubation, and great a saved search gather all the zettel with that tag.

    I use The Archive to support my zettelkasten, and here is a screenshot of my current inbox. I'm a baker and use the proofing oven metaphor for zettel in the proofing stage.

    A second action is seen in the screenshot above, and that is the "★★★★★★★." This is a symbol I move down the page as I initially factor my notes and highlights to keep track of the process. So next time I work on this proofing zettel, I'll know where to start. Once I've done this orderly, systematic pass factoring everything into my ideas and phrasing with attribution, I'll approach this zettel more organically.

    I can suggest the most fun and the rewarding thing is to lean on a habitual review process. No zettel will spring forth as a fully developed and static proxy for an idea. It will morph and grow. This is the review tool I use.

    I developed a python script that presents this each morning as I journal. This takes the pressure off any idea of completeness. Every zettel is reviewed, and the ideas are repeated in memory at the interval of yesterday, 1 & 3 weeks, 6 months, and yearly. This way, I don't have to fret about having everything absolutely or even close to perfect, as I'll have plenty of opportunities to work little by little, incrementally on each zettel. This process takes about an hour and is some of the most joyful times for reflecting and discovering new connections. One key benefit to this method is that skills build over time, and this process lets you apply future skills to the zettel you create today. Knowing this is comforting.

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

  • @srasu said:
    Hello zettelkasten forums!

    So I would like to ask two questions: first, how do you all decide on a stopping point when writing and cope with the fact that there's more you could write, and second, how do you keep track of places that you know you could expand on later but have decided not to do so yet in such a way as to allow yourself to come back to it later during some time you have set aside to feed your zettelkasten?

    Welcome!

    First, let me say that "feeding the beast" is NOT a Zettelkasten requirement. I work on my ZK almost daily but I process only 1 or 2 ideas most days. There are other things to do in life besides just work on a ZK. Be careful of "ZK burnout". Be patient, work slowly and steadily, and you will find that your ZK grows and becomes quite satisfying over time. If you feel that you need to "binge enter" some zettels on a particular subject or for a particular project - go for it. If you need to take a day or two off, you can do that as well. But don't feel like you have to work at a high pace all the time; it's quite OK to work slowly and steadily. This may not be a normal operating mode for you - just making a suggestion that might help over the long term.

    You also quite rightly identified a need when you take the slow and steady approach. How do you come back and find items that are only partly done? And for that matter, how do you return to zettels that aren't integrated into your ZK (insufficient number of connections). I have two tags to look after this - "#unfinished" and "#unlinked". You can set up saved searches in The Archive. Once a week or so, I click on the link for the "#unfinished" search to check out to which zettels that I wanted to add more material. The fact that I can do that eases my mind about losing things. At the same time, I also click on the link for the "#unlinked" search - sometimes I just didn't have the time to look for links (that's a process that requires some contemplation) and so I want to do it later.

  • @GeoEng51 offers a fountainhead of fabulous advice on taking things slow. Patience is a superpower! Let time be your copilot.

    I want to double down on the @GeoEng51's warning about being careful of "ZK burnout." It is the villain that turns a lot of people off to notetaking.

    Just relax and be happy!

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

  • Thank you both so much!

    I appreciate the advice, and I think that the tagging idea is a good one. I'd been so focused on producing what would be a "good" note when I've been making my initial zettel (and if I have an idea but not the time to ingest it just throwing it into an untracked "inbox" file that's not a part of the zettelkasten proper) that I hadn't really considered putting transient tags in them. This makes a lot of sense, as does having a marker to delimit "good enough" content from random thoughts you want to collect into something sensible.

    I think both of these are habits that I can integrate easily. The idea of having notes periodically come back up to your attention is a really cool one, I might think about doing something like that myself.

    One tool that org-roam has that I think would potentially be useful as I gather more notes is the command to view a random note, which could act in a similar role to the periodic reminders, although less structured (which maybe is okay, it seems like it might be more likely to produce the kind of surprise that could result in good information).

  • edited June 21

    @srasu said:
    One tool that org-roam has that I think would potentially be useful as I gather more notes is the command to view a random note, which could act in a similar role to the periodic reminders, although less structured (which maybe is okay, it seems like it might be more likely to produce the kind of surprise that could result in good information).

    I didn't expect that: I've been testing scripting plugin integration in The Archive with a script that does this; and I always thought it's just a fun demonstration, not actually something someone would miss! So bad news is, The Archive can't yet do that, but the good news is, soon it may :) -- if you consider using the app, that is, not meaning to be pushy.

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

  • A random note review as a plugin for The Archive is something that I've been working on over the last few nights, although I'm not quite ready to release. I've developed a python script that will grab X random notes within a specified time frame.

    I'm thinking about this as some days, my review process is a bit large, and I struggle to get through it with appropriate attention, and this will only get worse as time goes by.

    Variables in script

    • ZK path
    • Number of random notes to return
    • Date range in years past (1,2,3,4...)

    I think that a review process is a schedule that would space out my exposure to the ideas contained in the zettel and incrementally improve the quality of each idea.

    • yesterday.
    • one week ago.
    • three weeks ago.
    • six months ago.
    • one year ago.
    • 3-5 random notes older than one year

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

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