Zettelkasten Forum

Analog Zettelkasten

Is anyone compiling or has anyone compiled an analog Zettelkasten? Is anyone doing an analog/digital Zettelkasten. I am curious to hear perspectives on both. I personally like the tactile experience of shuffling the cards as well as writing my notes analog form. I can see the benefits of creating a digital system though.


  • I used to have an analog one. (Or sort of; just a whole lot of indexcards with various things and references on them and some TOC cards.) It was good, but definitely had disadvantages, and I switched when I moved overseas for the first time (with, basically, a suitcase -- so I had to minimize the things I could take, even if this was a hard one to leave).

    Other disadvantages apart from moving: 1) I would sometimes take a card out when I was writing, and not put it back / not in the right place; a few cards, eventually, got lost. I guess people more disciplined than I am in these matters will not encounter this situation.
    2) Searchability is a real huge advantage of the digital one. I ordered mine based on authors (I work in a field where that's important), but sometimes I would remember an idea but not who wrote it, and it was difficult to find or at least could take considerable time.

    I do like analog things quite a bit but keeping my notes that way just isn't plausible any more -- I work from too many different places and move too often for that. I still carry a notebook with me all the time though :smile:

  • @zvt Thank you for the input. I have not yet set up a Zettelkasten as I am trying to decide on best how to set it up. I am definitely going to take handwritten notes while reading as I feel it is more natural than digital and provides a different experience. I also agree with you in reference to digital being more portable.
    I have to just start and let it grow and alter as needed.

  • I carry and use a journal constantly. Often I will write notes there, and then transfer them to my digital ZK. It essentially acts as a first edit pass / filter to decide what needs to go in there. I know it's not the same as shuffling note cards, but it does bring the tactile and haptic aspect of pen and ink to the process.

  • Like @mediapathic I too carry a journal at all times, I also have tucked into my journal 6-10 blank 3X5 note cards that I primarily use for my Minimalist Journal but sometimes they get pressed into note-taking service. Why not be tool-neutral? Take any opportunity for note capture.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • My approach is similar to @mediapathic and @Will -- I have a notebook which uses the very barebones Bullet Journal system for layouts (i.e., my monthly calendar or lists that I need to reference when not on a device) and the rest is reading notes for my research or notes for classes (I teach 2-3 classes daily).

    Notecards are used for certain kinds of reading notes where I need to keep the bundle in physical space. For example, I've been part of a seminar series since August, and I've filled a notebook. So those reading notes are on cards, with the book being discussed, so that I have my thoughts on hand without having to resort to a screen.

    My digital Zettels are then the archive of previous notebooks so that old reading notes, previously delivered lectures, etc. are searchable and tagged. This also serves as my personal knowledge base when drafting new papers, lectures, and the like.

    I'm not using The Archive yet, but I'm looking forward to using it to make my system more streamlined.

    I hope this helped!

  • @zvt @mediapathic @Sociopoetic @Will thank you all for your insight. It is very helpful.

  • You find a description of my use of a paper zettelkasten here on this forum.

    This zettelkasten is designed as an "integrated thought development environment", and the option to combine text, diagrams, sketches, formulas and the occasional mind map on one sheet, without distractions from the device, makes paper an outstanding substrate for me.

  • @thomasteepe I just read your post to the forum. I really like your process and may try to implement it. Thank you for responding. Great work!!!

  • As far as I can tell (perhaps due to my limited reading in the area), the advantages of analog—though very real—seem to be in the creating of, not storing, notes. There seem to be all sorts of benefits in writing down on paper; befits for immediate recall, long term retention, psycho-spatial, etc. But I have yet to read how marks on paper in and of themselves are advantageous, other than a certain type of archival security against digital data loss. This is offset, of course, by all the ways physical media are prone to data loss (fire, water, bugs and beasts…).

    NB: I'm making a big exception for @thomasteepe, because…wow! :-)

    That said, as many here have noted, including Beck Tench and Sönke Ahrens, I think there is a via media, a middle path, as it were, that might allow us to enjoy the best features of both:

    "Read with pen in hand."

    Write as you read, taking notes, asking questions, answering questions, citing what is worth citing. When you finish, review what you have read and written, perhaps writing more. Then, move what you wrote into your digital zettelkasten. Review your zettelkasten and link your new notes as appropriate.

    This gives you all the benefits of having written down your thoughts and the benefits of searching and linking which digital brings.

    As an additional option: If you have an iPad and Apple Pencil (I suspect this may be true on Android devices as well, but I have no experience there), you can use apps like GoodNotes and Notabililty. With these, you not only write as if you were writing on paper, but can convert your handwriting into text. You can use these apps for more than just text though; you can also create diagrams and charts and flows and whatever else, then copy these into your notes (if your zettelkasten allows images).

    fabricando fabri fimus

  • @sylvaticus great input on for writing with a pen in hand. I agree that the neuromotor connection has the best benefits as you mentioned and to me it feels more natural than typing, thats just me. I so like the idea of having it digitally as well so I have it on the go. I have notability and may implement this as well. I am about to process my first book so we shall see how that goes. How do you take notes when you read? Do you do it directly in the book in the margins or use a notebook? I am curious about your workflow. Thank you for the useful information.

  • I think the best part of Notability and GoodNotes is that you can convert your handwriting into text to paste into your text editor of choice or keep the handwriting—but it’s searchable. And Notability has one more trick up its sleeve: it syncs what you write to what you record. You can click on any bit of handwriting or sketch and it will play what you recorded as you were writing (or drawing). Or start playing the recording from anywhere and it displays what you were writing or drawing. Sweet.

    My own process is in flux—and I must confess that I haven’t created my zettelkasten yet. 😜 Till recently, I was in love with idea, but didn’t have a real project for it (this was a stupid belief; I have a lot of material I could use).

    The other problem is that I’m that kind of perfectionist who’s always afraid to start unless I know every detail of how to start and what to do. So lame. Je m’accuse. LOL

    But now I’m actually making the effort to start. I do highlight occasionally, both paper books and digital books and .pdfs. I’m also trying to write up my thoughts on paper first. One trick that I like (makes me feel more creative and makes a more vivid image in my memory) is that I write in white ink on black paper. Fancy! LOL

    Let’s see how far I get! I have some questions for Christian and Sascha based on video #3 on YouTube re titles and links.

    fabricando fabri fimus

  • @sylvaticus HAHA. I feel like you are describing me as you talk about yourself. I unfortunately am a perfectionist and need every detail, materials, etc. pretty funny. Thats how I felt too. I really do not have a project that I am working on though I love to read and actively engage with my books. I do not like the fact that I read and do not remember what a read so I am hopeful this is where the the Zettelkasten may come in. I always have had my thoughts interconnect with various books. I never wrote them down. Who knows what it may lead to. I think that is the fun of it. I do want to avoid just collecting and storing as it is useless.

Sign In or Register to comment.