Zettelkasten Forum


The under-stressed importance of a regular review practice.

There has been a lot of discussion of the processes of the ZKM and its similarities and differences with a second brain over on the thread Building a Second Brain and the Zettelkasten Method. A regular review practice, who's importance was not stressed, is a topic I'd like to take up here.

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Let me be a contrarian here. Who needs to review anything? I dump stuff in and use the search tools when I want to extricate my brilliance. Simple, anything else wastes time; time, I could be dumping more stuff in.
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Notes are proxies for ideas. The more time spent reading, writing, revising, and thinking about an idea, the more the idea grows, infiltrates the mind, and integrates with other ideas revealing its true nature.

And how do we get our ideas to reveal their true nature? Through a regular review process. Hopefully, we will act Bayesian and update our notes/ideas when new information is available.

Let's break down what is meant by "regular review practice." A review practice can be a simple rereading or farther up the spectrum of involvement, following the links and potentially refactoring the idea. What I mean by regular is that this practice is integrated with life as a habit. A habit that fits your life. Maybe 30 minutes once a month or, on the other end of the spectrum, daily as part of a morning journaling practice. Where you land on this spectrum will probably move from time to time, but it is important that you are on the spectrum. At least try.

I'd like to share a little piece of Python code that I plug into my daily journaling template.

ZK Review · git/woodenzen/zkdb

These are links that open my ZkK with the appropriate date search query. With this method, I can review every note in my ZK annually. This will not scale as my ZK grows, it is starting to take almost an hour for most sessions, and I have over 3000 notes. It only averages out to reviewing 10 notes a session. Take the number of notes in your ZK and divide by 365, and you'll have a number of notes to review each day, or choose another time frame. Notes vary in the amount of attention they get. Some get only a few seconds, while others trigger an avalanche of exciting new ideas. I find this review process to trigger the creation of some of my most loved new notes.

I'm not suggesting fanaticism with regards to regular review practice, but set a goal, and within the mechanics of life, be flexible, keeping the goal in sight.

I use Bear for my journaling and web clipping.

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.
kestrelcreek.com

Comments

  • @Will Totally agree, and it is an oft over-looked, or at least undervalued, activity.

  • There was an idea storm at dinner last night. I considered how much time I spend each day in review mode. It's variable. Some days I am too distracted to bother. Some days I just read a few notes on the review list and maybe find grammatical errors that beg to be corrected. This might take five minutes. Some days, I admit, I fall into one rabbit hole after another, spending a freakin' high-test morning lost in the grip of a cyclone of ideas. (Please excuse my mixed-up metaphors.)

    I had an idea that I would like to find a method to determine the average word count of my notes. The more the idea coalesced, the more I realized that the average is deceptive. So I set out to plot the distribution of note sizes in my ZK.

    If you are mildly interested. WC_Distribution code on GitHub. Needs Python 3.8 installed and just a wee bit of courage. Normal caveats apply. Use at your own risk. Let me know if you are successful. I'd love to see other word count distribution graphs.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will
    I would guess that distribution is pretty similar for a lot of us. Having fun with Python, I see - projects like this are good practice for furthering our programming skills.

  • @GeoEng51
    I'm not so sure the distribution would be the same. It might depend on your writing habits and what you use your ZK for. The peak, in my case, 100-200 words, probably would be different in different ZKs. It might be interesting to look at a subset of notes. A smaller collection of notes might reveal a different distribution.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • What I mean by regular is that this practice is integrated with life as a habit. A habit that fits your life. Maybe 30 minutes once a month or, on the other end of the spectrum, daily as part of a morning journaling practice. Where you land on this spectrum will probably move from time to time, but it is important that you are on the spectrum. At least try.

    I agree with that.

    My challenge is how to make this happen, since one of the challenges of adopting the Zettelkasten Method is to change a considerable portion of one's habits. The majority of people are very busy (busy means her: The ratio of one's responsibilities to one's self-management capabilities). A dedicated review practice would mean to add more fuel to the fire and would be a deterrent to adopting the method.

    However, over time, you get into the habit of maintaining your Zettelkasten on the go. During coaching, I deliberately show notes that are tidy and notes that are messy to show that the Zettelkasten doesn't explode if some part of it is a mess, as long as it is not your general work mode.

    But if you dedicate yourself to having a high level system, a regular review habit is very beneficial.

    I asked myself if I would benefit from regular and dedicated review, since I am not only dedicated to having a high level system. My Zettelkasten is my platform to my vocation, and sometimes even the eye of the cyclone of my Ikigai. The answer is, that I don't need a dedicated practice, since I review notes daily.

    So, I follow the Boy Scout rule of Zettelkasten:

    I am a Zettler

  • Haha! Love the Boy Scout rule of Zettelkasten :smiley:

  • edited July 31

    @Will said:
    A review practice can be a simple rereading or farther up the spectrum of involvement, following the links and potentially refactoring the idea.

    I asked my Zettelkasten to tell me a bit about my personal review practice. Here‘s the answer:

    And there is always a huge decrease in sommer ;-)

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • Nice!
    It looks like it's become more than 50% modification instead of creation. When I feel this is happening, I panic and intentionally switch my focus to creation. Your mileage may vary.

    When I spend time improving each note it is like converting a turd into a cascade of glistening ideas manifest in reality.

    Thank you for sharing this look. I wonder if I could produce a similar graph with The Archive. Hum, I'm off to my IDE to see.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will:
    This is exciting: your Jupyter code runs under Windows for Linux Subsystem 2 (WSL2) with a minor modification to your directory function.

    Here is the modification:


    def TheArchivePath():
    return "/home/flengyel/Zettelkasten"

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @ZettelDistraction, thanks for sharing the graph. I'm glad some of the code was useful. In the future, I might do more in Jupyter notebooks, we'll see.

    Our graphs look like twins from different mothers except for the 0-50 word files. I wonder why. Could it have something to do with math?

    Maybe some others will follow your example.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will said:
    Nice!
    It looks like it's become more than 50% modification instead of creation. When I feel this is happening, I panic and intentionally switch my focus to creation. Your mileage may vary.

    I should add, that the graph not only shows my Permanent Notes. There is a lot of modification in my Structured and my Project Notes. That‘s o.k. for me. But I panic when I could see a trend of degreasing output.

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • @Will said:
    @ZettelDistraction, thanks for sharing the graph. I'm glad some of the code was useful.

    Most of the code--I changed one function so it would work with Windows.

    In the future, I might do more in Jupyter notebooks, we'll see.

    I hope so.

    Our graphs look like twins from different mothers except for the 0-50 word files. I wonder why. Could it have something to do with math?

    I probably have more "stub" notes than you have. Also, I was filtering on "*.md" instead of the filter on my ID regex. By filtering on the ID regex, I have a nicer graph.

    What needs to be done is count the number of notes with at most 10, 20, 30, and 40 words.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • The histogram is more informative with lower counts below fifty.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • edited August 1

    Labels corrected following the pandas documentation. Here the defaults are taken. The accuracy of the labels below can be checked by setting successively ZK_WC[file] = 0, ZK_WC[file] = 1, ZK_WC[file] = 10, ZK_WC[file] = 11, ZK_WC[file] = 1000, and ZK_WC[file] = 1001.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • Thanks, Edmund, for the inspiration to dive deeper into this.

    I asked Python to look into my ZK (The Archive) and tell me a bit about my personal review practice. Here‘s the answer:

    I had some issues with corrupted mtimes pre-2021. That is why this graph starts in 2021. There is a big spike in 2022-10, I wonder what triggered it. What might this say about my zettelkasting habits?

    If you are mildly interested. Created/Modified code on GitHub. Needs Python 3.8 installed and just a wee bit of courage. Normal caveats apply. Use at your own risk. Let me know if you are successful. I'd love to see other Created vs. Modified distribution graphs.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited August 2

    For my histogram I used bins with a size of 10. A perfect view to focus on notes with special word counts.

    Post edited by Edmund on

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • @Will said:
    What might this say about my zettelkasting habits?

    Is it easy for you to find some explanations for your visible chart trends?

    Examples:

    • Starting in 2022-10 there is a huge increase of modified notes. Do you know why?
    • In some months (e.g. 2021-11, 2022-09) the activity is very low. Do you know why?
    • If you would filter your timeline to show permanent notes only, would you expect some new insights?

    What are your questions comming up, when you first saw your created/modified chart?

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • Thank you for the questions. You have provided an opportunity to think critically about myself and my processes. We don't get too many of these opportunities.

    I want to be thoughtful in answering these questions. I think they are meant for me to look honestly into my workflow.

    @Edmund said:
    Is it easy to find explanations for your visible chart trends?

    • No, it's difficult for my feeble brain to determine anything actionable from these graphs.
    • I'm not wired to think psychologically, trying to link low productivity with life events.

    Starting in 2022-10, there is a huge increase of modified notes. Do you know why?

    • I got the review religion. Not sure where the spark that ignited this forest fire came from. I can only thank the universe.
    • I may have stumbled on Sascha's admonition to leave a note in better condition than I found it.
    • This is about when I started using a new template for my notes, and I've been slowly updating older notes to the following format.
    • Grammarly

    In some months (e.g., 2021-11, 2022-09), the activity is very low. Do you know why?

    • This is surprising. The impetus for producing these graphs originally was as a programming exercise. I'm not that curious about the historical fluctuations in my productivity.

    If you would filter your timeline to show permanent notes only, would you expect some new insights?

    What are your questions coming up when you first saw your created/modified chart?

    • My first question was, "Can I sustain this trend?"
    • Then, I immediately started thinking about how to program the created over modified into a trend to paste into my morning journaling template.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • The review process is something I've been able to keep up with, and it has made some surprising connections with current work/ideas.

    My feeling about my formal review process vacillate between dull, rout, confusion, wanting to give up, being drawn to all those tabs in the browser and being in flow, and time standing still, lost in one a-ha moment after another. Somedays are a joy, and some days are not so joyful. I never know how it will turn out.

    There are a few ways, but I find that reviewing notes is the surest way to surface serendipitous connections in your ZK.

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Haha! Love the Boy Scout rule of Zettelkasten

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  • edited August 4

    @Will said:
    You have provided an opportunity to think critically about myself and my processes. We don't get too many of these opportunities. I want to be thoughtful in answering these questions. I think they are meant for me to look honestly into my workflow.

    Thank you for all your thoughtful answers. I found three reasons to use my regular review practice:

    • Review and revise: I regularly review and revise my notes to make it easy to revisit old ideas when needed.
    • Inspect and adapt: I continually evaluate and refine the organization and use of my Zettelkasten workflow in order to maximize its effectiveness and efficiency.
    • Having fun when playing with my existing notes and ideas.

    I decided to use the basic structures from Sönke Ahrens „How to take smart notes“ for my folders in Obsidian:

    So for me „Permanent Notes“ are all my notes in the „3_Permanent Notes“ folder. ;-)

    And let me end with a final question: Do you use tagging for different types of notes? My preferred types are: #type/sketchnote, #type/question and #type/insight.

    Post edited by Edmund on

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • Sönke Ahrens said a few things in his book that struck home as worth imitating, replicating, worth stealing, but his focus on dividing notes into arbitrary categories wasn't one of them.

    I use some tagging when I have a note I want to group with other notes covering a similar topic. I use tags to group notes by topic, not by the form of the note. A sampling of the tags I use are:
    #book
    #article
    #Poetry_of_Zettelkasting
    #hub
    #sub_hub
    #note_taking
    #insight
    #questions
    Along with 233 other tags. Including a tag for every class I take.
    grep '#' taglist.md | wc - l

    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.
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Uh, well, some of us copy our files to different directories until we decide on July, 2023 on a stable location. Also, I'm using Windows...

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @Will said:
    #book
    #article
    #Poetry_of_Zettelkasting
    #hub
    #sub_hub
    #note_taking
    #insight
    #questions

    Oh yes, and I‘m not alone with my #insights and #questions. ;-) Not a surprise, but my Zettelkasten actually generates more questions (97) than insights (15). May be there is a need for improvement?!?

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • @ZettelDistraction said:
    Uh, well, some of us copy our files to different directories until we decide on July, 2023 on a stable location. Also, I'm using Windows...

    I‘m using Windows as well. And I decided to keep the dates created and modified within the markdown file. For me it is a safe option.

    To be curious: I can see a lot of new notes in 2023-08. Is there a new and exiting subject you started to think about?

    Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

  • Edmund Gröpl
    Writing is your voice. Make it easy to listen.

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