Zettelkasten Forum

Imposed Constraints in Zettelkasten'ing

Good morning, all --

I'm a pretty firm believer in that pop-psych notion that imposed constraints (as opposed to total freedom and unlimited possibility) promote creativity and productivity---and it seems to me that this is just as true in knowledge work as it is in creative arts. [Insert convincing anecdote here.]

With that in mind, does anyone feel that the limitless, boundry-less, unconstrained nature of the plaintext file is sometimes a hindrance to their implementation of the ZK system?

I sometimes wish that The Archive (or whatever ZK interface) would impose (or suggest) some limit on the length of a note, in the same way that an A6 piece of paper imposes a limit by virtue of its size. The limit can, of course, be transgressed, through the creation of another note, but it nonetheless reminds the knowledge-worker to be concise, clear, and efficient---to atomize the thought as much as possible.

Instead of a "hard" limit---like a firm word count or a static window size---I imagine something like a "soft" limit, like the floating dotted line that signifies a page break in Microsoft Word, that could serve as a visual reminder to finish up the current thought or start thinking about making a new note.

I should say, I don't think it is valuable to try to replicate every part of the analog system, but this seems like one aspect of that might be worth considering.

Other stray thoughts: A soft limit could be ignored in the case of structure notes. And perhaps it could be optional, a feature that could be toggled on and off.

Of course, I have no idea how such a thing might be done, or even if it is technically possible, but I'm just blue-skying over here. Anyway, all regards to the computer magicians. (Looking at you, @ctietze and @rene.)


  • I also benefit from imposed constraints. Left to my own devices, my notes get verbose. Now I try to limit Zettel notes to ~300 words (which would be 2/3 of a typed page single spaced page, or about the maximum of what I could fit on a 4"x6" index card). Right now the Archive doesn't display word count (so I'm using Christian's excellent Word Counter utility to keep track) but I requested this feature a few weeks ago.

  • Screen size works for me. If I have to scroll, it's probably too long. In fact, most of my zettels are actually quite a bit shorter than that.

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