Zettelkasten Forum

Episode #1 - David Epstein: "Range" - Book processing

Don't miss the first episode!

We are very curious about your opinion. We don't do bias your comment with specific question. So we ask in general: What are your thoughts about this format?


  • @sfast GREAT format. Loved hearing your "play by play". @ctietze, sorry about the sports metaphor. The constant questioning about how to use the information and the focus on the tables and graphs is enlightening. Seeing the workflow of note creation and citations were inspiring. The timelapse with commentary is helpful and interesting. I was captivated for 32 mins. Looking forward to the processing of the next section.

    Will Simpson

  • Fantastic stuff! It works really smoothly having the typing etc speeded up, with the voice commentary over the top

  • edited September 21

    What about the length? I speculated that 10--15 Minutes would be more appopriate.

  • It's true my concentration was flagging a bit for the final 5 or 10 minutes.

    If the same info could be made any shorter then that might improve it even further. I'm not sure it is worth shortening it if any info would be lost, as it was all good stuff.

    However, if any was to be cut or shortened then perhaps the following bits:

    -- the intro could be less chatty and more to the point

    -- scrolling through the article looking for the results section (although maybe it is useful to some people to see that it is ok to scroll to the results, you don't have to read a whole article)

    -- the table formatting and how to do plain text tables - I would need a whole tutorial for that from scratch so I didn't gain anything from this

    What I would say is especially useful is the following:

    -- seeing how someone else works: how usual and widespread (and therefore ok!) to follow 'threads; or 'rabbit holes' of linked ideas and end up with more about the cited references than the book itself

    -- the structure of the zettles and the final zettels

    Something else I would love to hear mentioned in the commentary is what keystrokes are being used to do what actions.

    Err that's it for now :) All this is only cos you pressed me, only to be done if you really want to spend time tweaking it. It was really good to begin with.

  • Thanks, that was interesting to watch!

    What I would like to discuss: When does it make sense to work through a text from beginning to end that thoroughly? Maybe a new discussion should be opened for that – I don't know.

    My current opinion on this question:
    Working through a text that thoroughly makes sense if you want do write a high-quality review on it or grade it (although you probably couldn't afford to spend that much time in the second case). I often used to do that at university for texts we were supposed to discuss in seminars, but now in my personal knowledge-work that doesn't really happen anymore. My usual approach now is to start with research questions that I find interesting and skim-read seemingly relevant books for what exactly is relevant to that particular question. I then wouldn't try to summarise the whole book – that would feel like a lot of potentially wasted time – but only the parts relevant to my question...

  • @Vinho valid point from normal academic workflow thinking. But: Would you say the same to Luhmann who basically did something very similar?

  • @sfast:
    It's funny: I studied and worked in academia for quite a while and during that time almost exclusively read texts very thoroughly – similar to Christian in the video (but without the Zettelkasten-technique that I didn't know about yet). Now that I'm out of academia I've switched to the workflow described above.
    About Luhmann: Did he read most texts that thoroughly? I didn't know that.

  • I infer it. He sayd that he touches a text only once.

    But why did you change your way like this? Pretty suprising to me.

  • edited September 23

    @sfast: Hm, would be interesting to look at the context in which he said that, but I can understand your inference.

    About my change of approach: In my academic years (particularly in philosophy seminars) it was often about finding weaknesses in a text/argumentation – you would be considered as clever and shine if you could navigate and summarise the text for that week well and point out mistakes that the author made. For that, it made sense to understand the text as a whole and thoroughly analyse and question the arguments of the author.

    Now, that usually isn't as important. I consult texts when I want to solve a particular problem or when I am interested in the author's opinion on one or more particular questions I personally have. I try to understand everything that is relevant for that – then I'm done. The previous approach took a lot of time which in retrospect I think was often wasted because I wasn't really interested in parts of the text that weren't related to questions that originated in my personal life (that was often a large proportion of the whole text). It also took a lot of willpower to go through it because of that. Having an interesting question before consulting a text motivates me, gives me a clear goal and makes me waste much less time – that's how I see it.

    And honestly I don't really understand why a text should only be touched once. I don't mind consulting a text again when I have a slightly different question or when my understanding of the world has changed in a way that makes it more interesting to me than it was the last time I touched it. The only problem I can see is if you have to start from scratch again every time you touch the text again, but that wouldn't be the case because my notes from the previous time would help me navigate the text faster.

  • Thanks for the explanation. Makes sense.

    Luhmann's reason not to touch a text more than once was time. He said that he has to read to much to waste time with re-reading. The same is true for me.

  • @sfast: It's funny that we seem to argue for opposing things and both give time as a reason ;) I guess in this particular case we could even both be right (because the quickest strategy could be a different one for the two of us), but I suspect one of us is wrong.

    I try to keep re-reading to a minimum by making good notes on the structure of a text (to easily get into it again and find relevant passages). And when I am looking at a text again, I will usually focus on a different part of it (because I'm consulting it for other reasons), in which case I wouldn't call it re-reading.

    I guess re-reading also took more time when Luhmann was alive because you would often have to go the library to get the book again. Today, most of what I read is on my computer or online, so it doesn't take much time to open the text again.

  • So we have to positions with the same goal: Being efficient.

    How to we measure to compare the two instances?

  • I think it's impossible to measure that sort of thing – too many variables...

    The best thing we can do is probably to each say in as much detail as we can why we think our strategy is more efficient than the other one. And first define more clearly what the opposing strategies are. Maybe at least there isn't a disagreement anymore after that.

  • There as many variables as we want. It is a decision. To me there are different options:

    1. Words per hour written. It is proxy for workflow.
    2. Keyboard strokes per hour. A proxy for behavior.
    3. Notes written. A proxy for thoughts harvested.
    4. Published articles/books. A proxy for publication power.
    5. Money earned with knowledge work related activities. Proxy for earning power of the method.

    The question is what we want to measure and we are the ones who have the answer. :smile:

  • edited October 13

    Sorry for the late reaction – I wanted to think a bit more about the topic before replying. Regarding your suggestions on what to measure: I think none of them would be deliver an adequate approximation to how productive my reading (!) habits are:

    Re 1., 2. and 3.: Very often I write about ideas I get from non-written sources (videos, talks, conversations) or very short texts that don't seem to be relevant to our discussion (e.g. posts in social media). I also often write down my own thoughts on random things, which isn't connected to reading something at that point. In addition, my notes are often on particular questions and then contain a lot of different individual thoughts for which separate notes will only be created if they have a certain level of complexity.

    Re 4.: I'm not publishing anything currently (and am not aiming for it either).

    Re 5.: I haven't earned any money with such activities yet (and am not aiming for it in the next years either).

    Having read your article on the Barbell method of reading and your article Reading for the Zettelkasten is Searching, I'm really not sure how much our approaches actually differ. The first step according to the Barbell method as I understand it would be to skim through the text, searching for anything that is useful/interesting/inspiring or that is difficult to understand, and mark such content for further processing in step 2. You would skip parts as soon as you can identify them as not useful. That sounds very sensible to me and is what I would do as well (when the aim is to get useful ideas out of the text and not necessarily to understand it completely as a whole).

    What prompted me to start the discussion in the first place was the impression that Christian was looking quite in-depth at a passage in the text that he actually wasn't very interested in. He seemed to have a drive to process the text as a whole to a certain depth – no matter if he was actually interested in the individual thoughts or not. That makes sense to me if you need to write a review on a text, summarise it for someone or grade it (i.e. in "forced" work-related contexts), but I wouldn't do it anymore as part of my personal knowledge-work. And I'm also not sure if it is compatible with your Barbell method, because it says to only process things further if they are useful, interesting or inspiring (or could be when understood). By the way: Doing this would mean that it could make sense to touch a text again after having processed it – when your interests have changed.

  • @sfast: By the way: I very much look forward to the article on how to evaluate books before you read that you announced a while ago!

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