Zettelkasten Forum

Integrating the Zettelkasten-Methode into the life of a student

Dear Knowledge-Workers

I'm studying Philosophy, Psychologie and History at the University of Vienna.
Therefore I'm really attracted by the topic of knowledge-management and appreciate the well eleborated concept of the Zettelkasten.
But I have to admit that i still struggle to integrate the zettelkasten methode into my life as an student.
Some of my obscurities affect more general problems of a student and some of them affect more zettelkasten-specific problems.
Because Sascha and Christian both seem to be conscientious and experienced students I would hope to hear their opinions to the following questions, as well as the opions of the other members of the forum.

personal cognitive Work Load:

Even though I would consider myself as a relatively good student I often struggle to process all the stuff that i've learn about during the lectures + processing the stuff for an upcoming exam.
My maximal cognitive Work Load (=Capacity for Deep Work) seems to be only 3-4 Hours. But on most of the work-days the lectures alone require three hours of concentration. So therefore I run out of cognitive energy to process
the stuff of previous lectures or stuff for an upcoming exam.

What are you're experiences with your personal cognitive work load?
Is it possible to expand the capacity for deep work? Peterson and Newton estimate the maximal duration of focused knowledge work at 3-4 Hours per Day.
Should I not consider lectures as deep work and therefore save some concentration?

Structuring Deep Work-Units:

As some of you may know, as a student you're free to organize your time spent studying (I call it Deep Work-Units).
So therefore I would like to know how you organize your learn-sessions on a daily basis.

Would you recommend doing all your knowledge work in the morning in a four hour stretch (of course divided by short breaks) or would you recommend to do two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon/evening?
I have to admit that I'd like the idea of finish the knowledge work for the day in an four hour stretch in the morning but don't know about the efficacy of this method.

Strucutring the semester:

Last but not least I would like to know how you process the informations of the ongoing lectures and exams during the semester.

Do you process the lectures immediately (on the same day or the day after) or do you wait until just before the exam to process the lectures?
How do you take notes during the lectures? Do you just mark down possible connections for the zettelkasten, write down interresting informations or do you take notes at all?
How to you process the lecture afterwards? Just processing your notes, processing the PowerPoint-Slides of the lecutures and feed them in into the zettelkasten?

I hope my conciderations are understandable and i would really love to hear some tips of some veteran students in this forum!

With Regards,



  • Hi David,

    I've just finished an undergraduate degree in bioengineering and will be returning to finish a master's later this fall.

    Personal Cognitive Workload:
    I've had similar struggles to you regarding having enough time for focused work given the constant demands as a student. Depending on the day, classes could make up as little as two to three hours a day to six to eight hours a day (lab-based project classes). I think the main thing here is to identify your optimal learning environments, whether that's deep focus during lectures or studying outside.

    In some cases, lectures were essential to my learning process, so I made sure those received more focus than outside work. In others, lectures were less effective than outside work, so those were used to identify areas for deeper study later (not necessarily depends work hours).

    Structuring Deep Work-Units:
    This would probably end up working itself through trial-and-error. Personally, I found my evenings as the most productive hours in my day, so I tried my best to schedule most of my work during those times. The exact details of when I would schedule would vary from week-to-week and quarter-to-quarter (our school's semester equivalent), depending on the cognitive load of required classes, potential exams, and more.

    Structuring the Semester:
    While more demanding, processing notes day-of or a few days after was the most effective for long-term learning. It makes it easier to make connections throughout the semester, as it was easier to follow deeper connections week to week. I would review notes and connections leading up to exams based on feedback on assignments or provided practice exams.

    In terms of lecture notes, it depends on the class. For something like organic chemistry, it was imperative to take detailed notes on reaction mechanisms, which meant processing connections primarily outside of lecture. In introductory classes (such as an introduction to energy resources), my lecture notes primarily consisted of marking down interesting information that wasn't in class readings, etc. and potential connections to other concepts. Integrating these notes into a zettelkasten happen outside of the class.

    I'm still playing around with the best way to do this (as I take hand-written notes via iPad and electronic notes depending on the class), so I'm interested in how others integrate note taking into their process.

  • edited September 13

    Lectures are hit-or-miss. Mathematics lectures are very dense and I had to really pay attention to keep up with writing and do some thinking on the side. But humanities, not so much. Most of the time, ideas were flying around, concepts elaborated, and I resorted more to a SketchNote-style of note-taking to keep engaged at all. Are the lectures recorded? Is it a standard syllabus that other Unis have recorder? If so, you might want to skip attending lectures and watch the recording at 2x speed to get the gist without wearing down yourself so much in the process. (I found boring 90min lectures to consume way more energy than interesting or hard-to-follow ones.)

    Scott H Young is a great resource on this particular topic. I cannot find the article about preparing for lectures, but I think it boils down to figure out what you want from attending the lecture in advance. With a framing like this, new info from the lecture supposedly better sticks, and you have an objective that keeps you engaged, and may prompt you to ask questions, which is always nice. Also, you have a success metric.

    When I coached students at Uni, I always suggested to work with the material shortly after the lecture when the info is still fresh on your mind. Even if the wrapping-up consists of jotting down questions real quick -- doing anything immediately may be better than waiting for the end of semester :)

    Edit: maybe it was in one of Cal Newport's books and that's why I couldn't find it. But through googling I just got this: http://www.calnewport.com/blog/2007/11/21/q-a-recording-lectures-dealing-with-definitions-and-spreading-the-good-word/

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

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