Zettelkasten Forum


Hello, new here, with a question

Greetings and thank you all for being part of a knowledge-sharing community. I'm not sure exactly what I was doing a few weeks ago when stumbled across a ZK article online. But I've been on a mission ever since to learn more and get my own implementation going. I have decided to use Obsidian, which is of course presents its own learning curve as well as the terrifying array of choices and customization options that come with it.

I am in my fifties and have been writing down notes on paper here, there, and and everywhere, for decades. But I never knew exactly what to do with all this material except for some occasional reviews, and when I found something of significant interest it might end up in a Word document, often along with other ideas that might have been somewhat related, and that would go into a subfolder somewhere, and soon it would be almost as hard to find as the original fleeting note was. I also have marginalia in almost every book I own, and I try to read a couple books a week, so there is a lot of that too.

Now that I see that the ZK method can rectify my poor organizational system, I am looking at my stacks of notebooks (and all those Word documents) and thinking.... wow, I should go through every last scrap and filter out the precious metals from the useless rocks, and get it all into my ZK. That will be a lot of time. Time that could be spent instead reading more books, which might provide a greater return on investment in terms of useful ideas and more polished knowledge that I can leverage.

I suppose the nominal approach is to set aside a certain amount of time every day to sift through the mound, knowing that eventually I can get it all accounted for. It is at the heart of it an optimization question. But I am interested in reading about how others have dealt with the burden of getting a ton of unorganized and often useless notes into a new ZK.

Thanks for reading!

Comments

  • edited July 26

    Welcome to the ZK forums @Bluewinged. When starting a new endeavor, there are always questions about what to do with work done in the past.

    I probably went a little too long here, but you asked for free advice. Take it for what it is worth.

    Some people will tell you to buck up and spend the time necessary to bring ALL the past into the present. Be disciplined and schedule significant chunks of time to review everything in your history and format it correctly into a new system that will be the FINAL conversion EVER done.

    Some might tell you to forget the past and storm ahead.

    My viewpoint is not worth much and what I did when I started was to start fresh. All my notes were still there, disorganized and willy nilly mostly in Evernote (13,000+) and paper journals. They haven't gone anywhere. I can still find stuff there. Over time when I've been struck profoundly by an idea, given the time and motivation, I will go back sifting through the "useless rocks" and look for an old reference. Then, and only then, I'll bring it into my current ZK either lock, stock, and barrel, or I'll create a link. Links are easy to do with Word or Evernote, and someone on the forums figured out a way to do this with a paper note.

    Working this way has kept me fresh and avoided burnout by avoiding drudgery. We have so much life in the present and future to make work "just" converting the past into something we might use. If you have a use for it, bring an old note forward. I thought this would be a big project, bringing the old into my ZK, but I estimate that I've referenced or refactored into my ZK 2.1% of my old notes into my ZK over the three years I've been zettelkasting. (One per week average.) I try to bring the ideas forward, but the links allow for a deeper dive. My old notes as a reference are not going anywhere.

    I'm also an avid reader and have been for a while. I took many notes during my reading (mainly just highlighted passages) stored in old notes. One experiment I'm trying is to look at my reading notes from books I read five years ago and refactor them into my ZK. My first attempt was a resounding success. "Slipstream Time Hacking by Benjamin P. Hardy." I could connect it with ten other ideas already in my ZK.

    I'd recommend you take the book you are reading right now and use it as a starting place, adding notes and seeing what develops. My first notes were on reading the book "Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor." Focus on your current interests and projects.

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

  • @Bluewinged Welcome to the forum and the great community here!!

    I'll just second @Will 's advice - I think he's got the right approach. Don't bother with the "old stuff" unless you find a current need for it, in which case, bring it into your ZK. But more to the point, focus on creating your ZK from material you are reading or listening to, and processing, now and going forward. You will find that is quite a bit of work all by itself :wink:

  • Thank you both for your comments.

    It had taken quite the mental battle with myself to finally decide on going full digital. I have a natural preference for paper and pens but the benefits and speed of the digital version are too powerful to pass up on. I have thought about trying to have it both ways by using a Livescribe smart pen.

  • Welcome to the forum @Bluewinged 🤗. I also second @Will ’s and @GeoEng51 ’s advice. Concentrate on your new stuff and add your old notes when you see connections.

  • @Bluewinged I suppose one could ask oneself a simple question: how often do I look through my old notes to find items because I need them right now? In my own case, I rarely go back to very old notes. And sometimes, when I do search through them for something I half remember, I find that what I wrote then is no longer very useful. So I tend to agree that it is best to concentrate on what is immediately useful, here and now. If some idea floats to the surface of your mind, and you remember that you had old material dealing with that idea or topic, then go and look for it and incorporate it into your new notes. Let the Zettelkasten grow organically. And I'd just add that, in my limited experience, it is the links between notes that really add value (more than just having a note on a subject). The network is the mightier than the single note.

  • Thanks again for the welcome and for your comments. I appreciate them. I agree that the priority should be new notes and thinking / linking.

    I think a feasible way to deal with the old notes without getting consumed by them, is to work through them only as an occasional mental break from the day's serious work and reading. I find that when there is too much noise in the house for me to concentrate on writing, for example, I can take an old notebook and at least toss all the pages that have zero value. It might not seem like much, but I know I have increased the density of useful vs useless content by doing even just this. I am setting a timer so I don't end up getting carried away with it. I view this as one of my daily housekeeping chores, like doing the dishes. I'm shooting for no more than fifteen minutes a day.

    I have found it helpful to get all the notebooks into one place and then splitting into a couple of substacks:

    (a) finished, labeled notebooks on a topic that I'm not currently doing anything with. These need no further work and can be easily found and consulted as needed.

    (b) the dense, journal-like stuff and half-baked notes that need to be parsed. If I know it is all in one single place, it seems a bit less daunting. I know that if I have the time I can dip into it and make a dent and hopefully find some goodies.

    (c) the trash/recylce pile: my favorite one! As much as I like finding nuggets in my old notes, I also like finding crap pages that I can throw out and reduce my clutter.

  • You mentioned earlier that you are an avid reader. What genera of subjects do you read? Do you read on a tablet, audio at 2x speed or via light rays bouncing off of a piece of wood pulp?

    @Bluewinged said:
    It might not seem like much… by doing even just this. I am setting a timer so I don't end up getting carried away with it. I view this as one of my daily housekeeping chores, like doing the dishes. I'm shooting for no more than fifteen minutes a day.

    I think you missed what we are suggesting. Even this kind of formality sets you up for failure. One more task on top of many many more important tasks. This will quickly become a drudgery and make the whole project of zettelkasting like a housekeeping chore. Especially at the learning phase. Grab onto anything that will reduce the overwhelm of learning a complicated system as Obsidian/Zettelkasten.

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

  • @Bluewinged said:
    Thank you both for your comments.

    It had taken quite the mental battle with myself to finally decide on going full digital. I have a natural preference for paper and pens but the benefits and speed of the digital version are too powerful to pass up on. I have thought about trying to have it both ways by using a Livescribe smart pen.

    I take a lot of handwritten notes on an iPad (because I like taking notes that way during a lecture or while watching a video) and I take them in Nebo, which transcribes handwriting to text. It works very well.

Sign In or Register to comment.