Zettelkasten Forum


Getting the most value out of zk and the archive

Hi all! Can anybody please comment on or share how you mine the zk stored on the archive app to facilitate unsuspected insights. This is one of the big advantages of the zk method i read about in Ahrens’ book - being able to physically take the slips and arrange them on the desk in front of you to facilitate better thinking- whether from a hazy initial outline or through an intuitively suspected connection among a “random” set of notes. Can you print the notes in some manageable form? Or do you have some other hacks that you can share? Any tips would be much appreciated. I just started my collection last week with about 30 notes so far and can already see that this is going to be a challenge. Thanks in advance.

Comments

  • Yeah, working with files on a computer is pretty linear. You're not interacting naturally with things at all, but through an arbitrary interface.

    One thing that time and again proved to be super useful is a clipboard manager with a clipboard history. Jumpcut for macOS does that, as does Keyboard Maestro.

    I use the clipboard history to go through notes and copy title after title. Since the history keeps track of what I copy, I don't have to immediately paste the stuff anywhere. I can just keep on copying. When I'm done, I show the clipboard history and paste all of them into the destination note.

    This buffering is more natural than the standard single-item clipboard. When you work with paper slips, you'd be taking out a couple of slips as well, not just one by one.

    That helps me relax: I don't have to interrupt my search through the notes once I found one thing of importance.

    A separate text editor window you switch back and forth between can serve as a buffer as well, of course.

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

  • @ctietze , thanks for the useful tip. I was not aware of this functionality, will try this. Thanks! If there is any way to print the notes that would also be helpful.

  • The amount of notes plays a big role in this concept. I'd suggest that you keep note taking until you have quit a lot. My archive got creative after hundreds of notes but toke of after 2000 and more.

  • @sfast thanks for the additonal tip. I can see how that might happen. For now, as you say, i am focusing on just making it a natural practice to read thoughtfully and take notes regularly. Thanks,

  • edited December 4

    @newzettelkid said:
    being able to physically take the slips and arrange them on the desk in front of you to facilitate better thinking

    This is something that I have been trying to figure out lately, as my ZK has grown over the past year.

    It is a subject that Ahrens doesn't go into much detail on. He refers to it in the abstract in relation what he calls the "desktop"—a place for gathering and re-arranging notes. But he assumes that you are either using a physical ZK, in which case you can use your actual desktop, or Daniel Luedecke's Zettelkasten software, which evidently has a digital "desktop" built in. (See Ahrens, sections 2.1 and 9.3, the end of chapter 6, and chapter 13.)

    Since I am using neither, I thought I might be able to just use the ZK itself to mimic the process of arranging and rearranging notes. I tried going through my ZK and copying and pasting seemingly relevant contents into a single note. But (of course) I found that a plaintext document doesn't have the same kind of dynamism and easy rearrange-ability that a stack of notecards has. And printing out a stack of notes seemed too prohibitively prohibitive.

    So I have been experimenting with using outlining software as my "desktop" instead. (I have tried a few popular apps, but I have found that the outline view in Microsoft Word [gasp] seems to offer the right mix of basic functionality and not-too-crazy-feature-heavy. I found OmniOutliner to be too feature-heavy for me and Folding Text [a plaintext option] almost too basic.)

    As for the process: I have my ZK archive and my Word doc open simultaneously and I just start rooting through the ZK looking for any relevant content to move over into the outline. Anything from general topics and ideas to specific quotes. I don't copy and paste whole notes, or even transfer over the relevant UIDs. (This might be a mistake, but it hasn't been a problem so far.) In the process, I find myself going down rabbit holes through series of linked notes and finding and grabbing things that I wouldn't have otherwise thought to include. (It seems that this is where the promised "insight" or "communication" of the ZK method comes in, in that the ZK "shows" me things I would not have looked for or expected to see.)

    At this stage, I don't worry about creating any hierarchies or classifying or sequencing anything. I just sort of do a "data dump." If it's obvious that a quote or an idea fits under another, I will put it there, but I don't go crazy trying to hierarchize by creating headings and subheadings. I try to see this stage as the digital equivalent of pulling out relevant notecards from the ZK and adding them to a stack. Everything can be at the same "top level" in the outline, like a stack of notecards. I may not use everything that gets "pulled out," but anything that seems relevant might as well go into the pile (aka, the outline). I also don't worry about the overall order at this stage. That kind of discriminating critical work—ordering and reordering the "notecards" (the individual components of the outline)—can happen later. (Ahrens touches on the theory of giving each task the "right kind of attention" in section 9.3. That kind of specific critical work of classifying and sequencing isn't "right" for this stage.)

    The next stage—classifying and sequencing—becomes quite easy in Word's outline view. I start to subordinate some components under others, then to re-arrange and re-order them into a sequence that makes sense for the paper I'm writing. As the levels of the outline start to stack up (or go deeper), I can hide the lower levels, so all I see is the top level, or even the top few levels.

    Any other approaches to the "desktop" stage of writing from the ZK?

    Also, I really appreciate @ctietze 's tip about the Jumpcut app. I have started using it to more quickly gather up all the relevant components and then do a "mass-paste" into the outline. Saves a lot of back and forth.

  • @argonsnorts this is very helpful! Never expected to see Microsoft Word but whatever works. I am still very much a newbie and am going to give that a shot. What you laid out makes sense. Will get back with comments as I make progress, will be a while. Thanks very much for the detailed and helpful overview!

  • I use just a new structure note as a desktop. Quite simple and the new structure note can stay without messing the archive.

    The underlying principle is the same you use with outlines. You have some item (real notes, headings in structure notes etc.) that hint towards content. Then you play with the relations between them by exploring possible structural relations between them. Hence: Structure notes as desktops.

    Additionally: If you use structure notes, your use the underlying principle as a ongoing method to sort your thoughts and content.

  • Thanks @argonsnorts, for your always insightful comments here, and in another thread, about drafting while using ZK notes and about the ever-thorny issue of how to link notes.

    As my archive has grown (I just hit 500 notes), the issue of connections between notes becomes increasingly fraught and consumes increasing amounts of time. I identified with your comment in the other thread that you feel your ZK is more like a wiki than a 'true' ZK; the virtuous feelings generated by my early rush to transfer hand written notes into linked ZK notes is gradually subsiding into a similar version of your feeling that your collection of notes "allows me to be lazy without feeling lazy."

  • edited December 4

    @Phil said:
    (I just hit 500 notes)

    I too have just hit 500 notes, and I am starting to give up on the idea of having a neatly ordered Zettelkasten, in which notes are sequenced "properly" within the archive. I am starting to understand why it is actually quite a waste of time to worry about trying to create tidy sequences within the archive—sequences that could be pulled out whole and ported over into some imagined manuscript.

    If that were true, the archive would be an end in itself—something so finely crafted that it could be read through from one point to another. But we already have those things—in the form of wikis, book, and articles. So its not really necessary to try to make a thing like that (a finished thing) when we can make instead something that sits between chaos and structure, something designed to be (and stay) not finished, and therefore something that remains vital and dynamic—like a repository of potential.

    It seems that it is during the initial stages of composition—during the "desktopping" or "pulling-out-notes" stage—that the ZK's potential gets released and a new finished thing starts to emerge. So, one of the primary virtues of the ZK comes from the fact that it is not tidy, or neatly sequenced, or easily read from one point to another.

    That's how I'm starting to think about it, anyway. I'm seeing that I don't need to be so precious and careful about the exact links I make or the exact lines of connection between one note and another. I just need to link in new notes in a way that makes it likely that I will come across them, at some point, when I am rooting through looking for materials to pull out.

    As a side note, it is occurring to me how long it takes to figure all this stuff out, by trial and error (and error and error), even with all the help and guides and resources. So I'm quite thankful to @sfast and @ctietze for keeping up a nice platform for comparing notes and processes, and for airing out realizations as they occur along the way. :+1: It really helps to externalize. (And sorry, in general, that my externalizations tend to go on so long... :grimace: I'm not the most concise writer...)

  • @argonsnorts said:

    (And sorry, in general, that my externalizations tend to go on so long... :grimace: I'm not the most concise writer...)
    @argonsnorts - I find the long externalizations helpful, thanks!

  • Me too. Very helpful.

  • @argonsnorts - I am starting to understand why it is actually quite a waste of time to worry about trying to create tidy sequences within the archive—sequences that could be pulled out whole and ported over into some imagined manuscript.
    If that were true, the archive would be an end in itself—something so finely crafted that it could be read through from one point to another. But we already have those things—in the form of wikis, book, and articles. So its not really necessary to try to make a thing like that (a finished thing) when we can make instead something that sits between chaos and structure, something designed to be (and stay) not finished, and therefore something that remains vital and dynamic—like a repository of potential.

    Wow. Yes. I can only hope my zettelkasen will turn out with these propreties.

    @argonsnorts - As a side note, it is occurring to me how long it takes to figure all this stuff out, by trial and error (and error and error), even with all the help and guides and resources. So I'm quite thankful to @sfast and @ctietze for keeping up a nice platform for comparing notes and processes, and for airing out realizations as they occur along the way. :+1: It really helps to externalize. (And sorry, in general, that my externalizations tend to go on so long... :grimace: I'm not the most concise writer...)

    Couldn't agree more. Thanks @argonsnorts @sfast @ctietze

  • edited December 6

    It seems that it is during the initial stages of composition—during the "desktopping" or "pulling-out-notes" stage—that the ZK's potential gets released and a new finished thing starts to emerge. So, one of the primary virtues of the ZK comes from the fact that it is not tidy, or neatly sequenced, or easily read from one point to another.

    Sounds legit! Very cool that the two of you share your process with the community. It's super exciting to see how expectations change and workflows mature.

    I am starting to give up on the idea of having a neatly ordered Zettelkasten, in which notes are sequenced "properly" within the archive. I am starting to understand why it is actually quite a waste of time to worry about trying to create tidy sequences within the archive

    Remember our invitation: If you want to share write-ups of your progresses so far, we'd be happy to share it as a post on the blog!

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

  • thx @argonsnorts your post will be the initiator of a blog post. :smile:

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