An Introduction of Tiago Forte, His Ideas, and Some Comments on Their Relations to Zettelkasten
@ctietze asked me to give an overview of Tiago Forte's ideas w/ some commentary, so I figure I'd give it a shot
My Best Quick Summary
Tiago Forte is a Personal Knowledge Managment/productivity developer/researcher w/ a strong GTD background. He describes himself as so:
Founder of productivity consultancy/training firm Forte Labs (fortelabs.co), editor of members-only publication Praxis (praxis.fortelabs.co)
A Brief Overview of Tiago's Ideas
Doug Toft has a solid article summarizing Tiago's ideas:
Doug gives a strong introduction in the first paragraph:
The freshest and most provocative ideas about personal information management and productivity are now coming from Tiago Forte. He runs Forte Labs, which offers consulting, coaching, and workshops.
The general headers should also give you a strong sense of his ideas:
1: TAKE NOTES FOR CREATIVE THINKING, NOT JUST FOR REFERENCE
2: DELIVER THE RESULTS OF YOUR THINKING AS A SERIES OF EVOLVING PRODUCTS
3: USE A SIMPLE SET OF CATEGORIES TO ORGANIZE ANY COLLECTION OF INFORMATION
4: MOVE FROM TIPS AND TRICKS TO BEHAVIORAL EXPERIMENT
5: SAVE INFORMATION FREELY; FILTER IT BASED ON TIME
Some other general overviews on Tiago from Doug here:
The notes in the Evernote podcast also give a good sense of Tiago's thought:
And this Evernote article shows the quality of his writing:
(Doug Toft's site also has a lot of interseting personal knowledge management/behavior change/writing articles in his archive)
A Quick Look at Some More Zettelkasten Related Ideas
The most relevant and succinct post on Tiago related to a Zettelkasten is Doug's Turn Your Notes App Into a Personal Knowledge Base — Tiago Forte on Building a Second Brain
His progressive summarization could basically be a roadmap for slowly creating/brewing/stewing a Zettel:
Tiago’s answer is progressive summarization. Extract the core insights from what you’ve captured. Make it possible to get the “gist” of a note in just a few seconds when you look at it again. You can do this in stages that Tiago calls “layers:
Layer 1 — opening your notes app to add images, text, links, or other information
Layer 2 — boldfacing the key sentences in a note
Layer 3 — highlighting the most important sentences that you boldfaced
Layer 4 — summarizing the note in your own words — a sentence, paragraph, or diagram
Layer 5 — creating a blog post, tweet storm, video, podcast, or other expression based on what you learned during layers 1 to 4
Tiago notes to do these steps in a just in time fashion instead of deliberately in rapid succession:
Tiago also advocates “just in time” organization. You don’t have to do a lot of progressive summarizing or organizing up front. Save these activities for the times when you’re executing — working on a project, making a decision, solving a problem, or creating something.
For example, say you are researching how to better manage your research clip a an article on Zettelkasten (layer 1). You read it and bold a few sentences (layer 2). Close it and forget about it for a few days later. A month later you are looking into Zettelkasten again because you are overwhelmed w/ a bunch of notes from an array of articles and see the note in your notes DB. You glance at the bold sections and highlight a few parts of the bold sections you think are relevant to your goals (layer 3). So eventually you'd get to step 5 where you could create a Zettel or two from the notes (perhaps weeks or months after entering the note into your database).
This is segues into his his idea that:
THE VALUE OF A NOTE CORRESPONDS TO HOW MUCH ATTENTION YOU’VE SPENT ON IT.
The more layers, the more valuable. Which is an interesting metric for Zettel and perhaps would be motivation to test adding bolding/highlighting/summarization to your notes.
He also structures his knowledge differently and doesn't make deliberate links. He uses a structure he calls PARA that focuses on action:
Tiago suggests that you organize notes based on how likely you are to use them. His mantra is organize for “actionability” rather than meaning.
He does this via his PARA system "— short for Projects-Areas-Resources-Archives":
Project-related notes are most actionable. These include tasks that you plan to complete and any information that’s directly related to those tasks.
Notes about areas of responsibility come next. If you’re self-employed, for example, your areas include pitching projects to clients, writing proposals, and billing clients when projects are done.
Resource notes include selected passages or complete contents of articles and books on any topic of special interest to you. These are notes that might be useful in the future — even if they’re not related to your current projects.
Archives get the least follow-up. This is the place to store notes related to completed projects and other past activities.
I think this would synergize well w/ Zettelkasten. More rough, actionable information is dumped into PARA system as notes and slowly transformed into atomic Zettel via live use in projects(in the sense you play w/ the knowledge more in a real life context) and progressive summarization. Thinking about it now, PARA seems more like a info/note to knowledge processing system than a pure org system.
PARA also seems to offer protection against the 'collectors fallacy' issue by organizing and emphasizing by most actionable/current-project-related information.
Finally, Tiago's idea of notes being atomic islands we need to connect is basically Zettelkasten 101:
Tiago teaches a set of workflow strategies for retrieving and using notes. During the podcast he explained one — the “archipelago of islands.”
Start with the definition of archipelago — “a group of many islands in a large body of water.” Then think of each note that you take as an “island,” or individual idea, in the “sea” of your collected notes. To complete a writing project, create “bridges” (connections) between islands.
His writing method of dumping/rearranging notes into a document until things starts making sense also seem very Zet(yes I just made this up):
In practical terms, this means never facing a blank page. In fact, don’t even try to pound out a first draft. Just throw a bunch of relevant notes into a blank document and experiment with them. Delete some. Then rearrange and reword what remains and give the piece a title. Look for connections between note-islands and explain how they are related.
Tiago says that he can compile the gist of 100 to 200 sources — progressively summarized — in one hour. And by inter-weaving just 10 to 15 of these, he can write a hefty blog post. (For another version of this strategy, see Steven Berlin Johnson’s article about creating a “spark file.”)
These are just a few of Tiago's ideas that can potentially help us to create Zettel and improve our conversation w/ our Zettelkasten.
I hope that gives a decent background of Tiago's ideas, how they relate to the zettelkasten system, and why he is becoming a strong voice in the personal knowledge management sphere. If you find his ideas interesting I recommending paying the 5$ for the Praxis membership (you can always cancel after a month) or buying his book of essays on Amazon(just a note, all the essays are either free or behind the Praxis paywall, but if you like things package in a nice ebook format go for it!)
Thanks for reading,
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