Zettelkasten Forum

Memory Maintenance

My new note-taking/zettelkasting mantra is: Create, review, and edit with abandon. Trust that something surprising or magical will happen.

I realized that in a few months, let alone years, at this rate most of my time would be spent on the maintenance of memories [notes]. I, as others have found, would be too busy maintaining these memories to use them. 1

What does "use" mean? I can use a note's contents to reignite ideas in me. They can spark new, novel ideas and connections with established knowledge. Some balance between creation, review, and maintenance has to be made in zettelkasting. In that sense, zettelkasting is like dog training. Dog training is hard work, and it is often not fun to train, but the rewards of a well-trained dog show up throughout the day.

Reviewing zettel has been a focus of mine, and I highly recommend it. Looking at notes created yesterday, three weeks ago, six months ago, and last year is a great start. If we develop notes sporadically, we'll probably only have one or two notes to review. Slowly and steadily, we plow through our notes, and in time, we will have reviewed every note multiple times.

I think Minto is confused about how much time it takes to review a couple of notes (if atomic, focus on a single idea) and how a short review over and over builds, reinforces knowledge, and shows not only new connections but whole new ideas.

Is it true that the ideas captured in our notes are not worth reviewing? I suggest the next to capture, the review is the most essential piece in a ZK workflow.

  1. Minto, Robert. "Rank and File." Real Life, 2021, https://reallifemag.com/rank-and-file/. ;↩︎

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan


  • edited December 2022

    What @Will and @GeoEng51 said. Still my memory must be defective: I review my notes and wonder, "do I have anything in common with their author?" I see little continuity from one day to the next. Other people appear to live according to their own coherent, overarching and not altogether inaccurate personal narrative, under which their days and weeks bear some purposeful relationship to each other.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

  • @Will said:
    My new note-taking/zettelkasting mantra is: Create, review, and edit with abandon. Trust that something surprising or magical will happen.

    Beautiful mantra
    The value of memories and old notes for the future seems to me often underestimated in many discourses about the note box method.
    Possibly because many users are very focused on a text production process for customers / readers.

    The addressee of my writing is the future me.

    The sense and fun that the present self has with reading and connecting old notes and found objects is one of the most important motivators for the present effort with the banal present notes.

    pure reading is consuming,
    Creating slips of paper (reformulating them and assigning them to a system) is an investment.
    Reading old notes is also a control, whether the investment brings the hoped return.
    Optimal is when old notes support the creation of meaningful new notes. A kind of compound interest effect :-)

    Technical basis
    It is important that the technical basis (hardware, software, methodology) supports this personal, special process of time-shifted writing.

    If it does not, the process naturally distracts too much from the content and becomes annoying.

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