Zettelkasten Forum

My life as a craftsperson

I already have a blog post to introduce myself. But well.

I consider myself a craftsman in a very general sense. I like making things. That's part of why I enjoy programming. I also maintain a local group of people who want to improve their drawing skills. I always wanted to become a writer from an early age. Crafting things from wood makes me happy. You see, I don't really care about the medium if it's about happiness; but not everything in life is about personal happiness in the sense of feeling joy. I also want to be useful. So programming and writing it is for now.

Figuring out how life works brought me to philosophy. (Studying philosophy at university in turn forced me to get to know Sascha, by the way.) Before graduating from school, I was already into personal productivity techniques because I felt I didn't know how to do things properly. So I read books like Getting Things Done; and books about how to learn and how to read. I was once subscribed to a weekly newspaper because I found grown-ups read the newspaper and know about politics and stuff, so I began to emulate their behavior in order to be a grown-up myself one day. The notion of a "Zettelkasten" was introduced to me in the "culture" section of this newspaper (there were a couple of articles about Arno Schmidt, Niklas Luhmann, Jean Paul, and their respective Zettelkasten archives over the years). At university, I dived deeper into the practice of feeding my Zettelkasten with information.

And so here I am: after years of experimentation, reading productivity books, and working as a student advisor at university, I now write for one of the best websites for knowledge management on the whole web :)

I don't have a job since March anymore, so I'm a full indie programmer right now. Like the heroes from my late youth! Fortunately for the Zettelkasten project, Sascha's work is mostly knowledge work and less crafting, so he gains far more experience points for his Zettelkasten skill than I do in my meagre spare time. That's very valuable to push the project forward. In the meantime, I'm creating software to make everybody's lives better, hopefully. And in the course of creating this software, I'm taking notes on programming techniques and theories and publish a book about software development every now and then. Thanks, my dear Zettelkasten, for having my back!

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


  • Hey Christian,

    that's a cool introduction :) I like your approach to consider yourself a craftsman. Have you read Cal Newports "So good the can't ignore you"? I read it recently and found it very interesting (although I'm very sceptical about his economic metaphors and concepts like "career capital" due to my "political education and socialisation" when I was young and suggestible)

  • I didn't, but @Sascha did a couple months ago and kept me updated about the topic.

    I guess you're asking because Cal suggests you become an expert in 1 thing instead of spreading yourself thin over many things, and because my craftsman thing is a unifying principle for the different activities I enjoy. A unifying principle does help make sense in life. The craftsman-metaphor helped me to not feel torn so much.

    Similarly, the kind of programming projects I tackle is closely tied to me describing myself as a scholar of sorts. I create software to make scholarly work / knowledge work easier, and I enjoy writing and increasing project-based knowledge, so I'm also serving myself with the software. Bringing this more closely together further reduced the feeling of fragmentation and thus the sensation of stress.

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

  • I wanted to update my intro with a rough timeline after I read @Taylor's intro here: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/982/no-longer-lurking

    (split up because it's too long for 1 post)

    ~2008: My first Zettel: duplicate and change instead of update

    The oldest note with an actual Zettel ID that I have is called 2008-09-07_0419_T1-2_Lauf 4x pro Woche (lit. 2008-09-07_0419_T1-2_Run 4x a week)-- it's a "self programming" note with instructions to myself with regard to running exercises.

    It is part of a couple of notes of early September 2008 where I laid out my plans for living a conscious life. I came right out of a voluntary extension of mandatory military service and had just started studying at University.

    The list of "goals and stuff" (2008-09-07_0440_INDEX_Ziele und Pläne) used to be very intimate, now I don't mind sharing it, especially since 98% of y'all can't read German anyway :)

    It's a structured list of action foci (educate yourself, get fit), model/mission (become a round character, let your family be holy), and objectives like learning an instrument.

    At the bottom, you see I updated this list at 2009-12-01_0531. Some things were added, some replaced/updated. Back then I tried to duplicate notes and work on the dupes instead of changing the originals. I wanted immutable notes. That resulted in a lot of redundancy, so I dropped the habit eventually. It's a pain. Don't do it at home if your software doesn't do it for you. Heck, use git or another version control system if you really think you want to keep a history. (I bet you don't, in the end :))

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

  • ~2010: My abandoned notes, and Kant

    When I read stuff by Immanuel Kant, which, for me back in the day, was the pinnacle of hard-to-understand writing in my mother's tongue, I took meticulous notes on paper. Most of them are still on index cards, tied together, meant as a reading companion for the book. It's fun to interact with them, but I have absolutely no desire to ever transcribe them.

    Paper is great. I miss working with paper. It just isn't useful for the stuff I really do, sorry. Still I like to play with the book and the index cards every couple of years or so.

    A more recent variant of the reading notes are part of a Structure Zettel that tries to 1:1 replicate the book, Critique of Pure Reason. This "book overview note" got updated some time in the past decade; the ID originally contained dashes and underscores like the one I showed above, and it originally was still an immutable Zettel, so I had 2 or 3 versions lying around that I combined some 5 years ago or so.

    It's called 201008261307 Überblick Kant -- Kritik der reinen Vernunft and looks like this:

    More doesn't fit, sorry :)

    With regard to the recent revival of Folgezettel vs Structure Zettel, I today notice that I prepended a list of things outside the book's table of contents: it's a list of central concept notes, which are themselves prototypical Structure Zettel (I didn't know about these in 2010). They are also kind of "programming" me for reading Kant. "Sprachgebrauch" is roughly "linguistic usage", and I try to explain to myself how Kant (mis)used words in this text, and others.

    Why is this so interesting to me now? Because I annotated a topical structure with stuff that's uniquely useful for me to understand whatever follows. That's a pragmatic decision. It breaks with the rest of the structure. that's why I prepend it below a level-1 heading at the top of the note.

    Sprachgebrauch: <!-- (~"linguistic usage" of phrases and words) -->
    *   [Bedingung der Möglichkeit][§2010-09-06_1019]
    *   [Vorstellen][§2010-08-30_0926]
    *   [Ding an sich (physisch)][§2010-09-01_1118]
    *   [Gegenstand geben/denken][§2010-09-02_1017]
    Übersichten:  <!-- (these are structure notes) -->
    *   [Anschauung][§201009301714]
    *   [Erkenntnis][§201009301747]
    *   [Kategorien][§201009301617]

    2010 was also the year I learned to program on the Mac, so I could change the source of Notational Velocity and add MultiMarkdown highlighting to it, which eventually, in a combination with David Halter's fork that added a sidebar to NV, led to nvALT by Brett Terpstra and David Halter. I jumped on the nvALT bandwagon quickly afterwards. And I vowed to never use NV's native tags and rely on plain text instead, it seems :)

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

  • ~2013: Naive structural renaissance

    I didn't record the exact event, but around 2013 or 2014, I adopted Sascha's suggestion (with reluctance, as always) to create different kinds of notes through intentional naming. I showed the INDEX stuff above already. And Kant's overview was an INDEX, too. This is still ancient, v2 note-taking with a twist. So I renamed notes like Idea and Reason to Concept of Idea and Concept of Reason to telegraph that they are supposed to be overviews of the concept, without much detail. The details should be collected on other atomic notes. Like Concept of Idea according to Kant an overview like this would merely link to.

    Still very stiff and mechanical. Lots ot notes on particular texts without much cross-connection. Many "Concept of X" notes that spawned from this thinking as Dictionary-like short explanations of all kinds of things. An explosion of ontologies. The concept craze eventually began to ebb in 2015.

    Around this time I dropped the note kind categorizations. _INDEX_ for overviews, _R2_ for "reference material - my interpretation" and _R1_ for "reference material - original quote", etc.

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

  • ~2015: Focus on programming

    I launched my first app in 2012 and then followed in 2013 with another. Programming became a thing. Not just a hobby anymore, but part of my journey to financial freedom and, eventually, finding a sense in life. My departure from philosophy and a University career began back then, unbeknownst to me.

    This also meant a more serious approach to learning programming stuff for the Mac and iPhone. A couple of years in, and I have produced quite a few "tutorials to myself" in my Zettelkasten. It took a surprisingly long time for programming to become a real topic in my Zettelkasten. I didn't want that stuff in there. I wanted to keep my Zettelkasten clean; it was supposed to focus on truly important topics, like morality, living the good life, psychology, and stuff like that.

    But programming became important to me, so I took the tool that I knew and tinkered with for so long to apply it to a domain I already understood, and began to understand more and more.

    That's also the time where my output increased. If you take a look at my programming blog index around late 2014, the topics change from
    "How I Edited my Last Zettelkasten Post and Came up With Something Even Shorter Than the Post Itself" (the Zettelkasten blog posts were originally all hosted there) to "Model-View-View Model in Swift" and "Getting XPC to a Helper App Working with Sandboxing Enabled". It's a personal blog, so there were multiple topics, but I eventually would divide Zettelkasten and the rest more cleanly.

    Since then, business-related stuff and programming topics began their rise to dominance. These things had actual practical implications. (Sorry, morality!)

    Of course I have stats for this.

    date   total notes   notes w/o diary   word count
    2012-01-29 1463 1215
    2012-05-22 2076 1702
    2012-07-24 2235 1857
    2012-08-10 2295 1909
    2012-08-27 2323 1937
    2012-11-02 2354 1973 456729
    2012-12-09 2437 2055 465061
    2013-01-01 2471 2107 464570
    2013-02-01 2554 2190 468824
    2013-03-01 2604 2240 474843
    2013-04-02 2638 2274 477707
    2013-05-01 2703 2339 483805
    2013-06-01 2772 2410 489478
    2013-07-01 2815 2454 494056
    2013-08-01 2863 2502 500587
    2013-09-02 2888 2527 502532
    2013-10-02 2944 2583 507841
    2013-11-01 2994 2633 514591
    2013-12-01 3026 2665 518439
    2014-01-02 3061 2710 520121
    2014-02-02 3138 2787 520726
    2014-03-01 3172 2821 525371
    2014-04-03 3193 2842 527360
    2014-05-01 3208 2857 528296
    2014-06-01 3219 2868 529816
    2014-07-02 3247 2896 532636
    2015-02-02 3457 3113
    2015-03-01 3482 3138
    2015-03-16 3489 3145 555043
    2015-05-01 3532 3188 559831
    2015-06-01 3548 3203 561764
    2015-07-01 3576 3231 564634
    2016-02-16 3724 3380 575852
    2016-04-01 3733 3389 576070
    2016-06-01 3744 3403 578794
    2016-07-01 3762 3421 581896
    2016-08-01 3804 3463 588382
    2016-09-01 3825 3484 589701
    2016-10-14 3893 3552 597452
    2016-10-19 3918 3577 601818
    2016-10-24 3925 3585 602692
    2016-11-01 3940 3600 604063
    2016-11-11 3953 3613 610825
    2016-12-01 4027 3688 618999
    2017-01-24 4048 3709 624037
    2017-02-01 4059 3720 625271
    2017-02-25 4079 3740 628422
    2017-03-01 4088 3749 629314
    2017-04-01 4107 3768 631049
    2017-05-01 4140 3801 635135
    2017-06-01 4192 3853 638960
    2017-07-01 4229 3890 642846
    2017-07-11 4281 3942 648774
    2017-08-01 4325 3986 654693
    2017-10-01 4477 4138 671084
    2017-10-24 4517 4178 677476
    2017-11-01 4540 4201 680251
    2017-12-01 4616 4277 690813
    2017-12-04 4631 4292 693113
    2017-12-12 4651 4312 695687
    2018-01-01 4692 4353 701736
    2018-02-01 4754 4415 710105
    2018-03-01 4803 4464 716337
    2018-04-01 4858 4519 721455
    2018-05-01 4907 4568 726501
    2018-06-01 4935 4596 730246
    2018-07-01 4960 4621 732994
    2018-08-01 4977 4638 735375
    2018-09-01 4997 4658 738128
    2018-10-19 5052 4713 748279
    2018-11-01 5056 4717 748836
    2018-12-01 5084 4745 752839
    2019-01-01 5101 4762 754273
    2019-02-01 5127 4788 757480
    2019-03-01 5145 4806 760578
    2019-04-01 5173 4834 763355
    2019-05-01 5191 4852 765363
    2019-06-01 5217 4878 767345
    2019-07-01 5231 4891 769722
    2019-08-01 5261 4921 776038
    2019-09-01 5278 4938 777646
    2019-10-01 5312 4971 782245
    2019-11-01 5348 5009 788197
    2019-12-01 5473 5134 800388
    2020-01-01 5513 5174 804568
    2020-02-01 1 1 0
    2020-03-01 1 1 0
    2020-04-01 1 1 0

    Wat! I just noticed the script is broken since February!!11

    | 2020-04-01 | 5621 | 5283 | 818904 |

    Phew, okay. Fixed now.

    Looks like this as a graph:

    2015 was also the year of the Folgezettel wars here.

    The notion of Structure Notes was introduced through Sascha into my Zettelkasten in early 2016.

    Took me until 2018 to take more personal notes on the topic and interpret their uses more.

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

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