Zettelkasten Forum


Am I polluting my Zettelkasten?

At present, I am using multiple folders for different purposes - all searchable within my Zettelkasten software (Obsidian currently, but also have used The Archive). Folders include:

  • Zettelkasten (my ‘pure’ folder for processed notes)
  • Daily Notes (ramblings from the day, todo items, journals, random notes from articles read)
  • Reference Items
  • Book notes (from Kindle Highlights)
  • Incubator (where partially formed Zettels go for further thought before becoming ‘real’ Zettels)

I also kind of use this system as a todo list. Often my daily notes contain morning pages or other random thoughts that come up. Sometimes there is a todo item that I’ll mark to be able to search for later.

When building and linking a Zettel, I like to have a searchable archive of quotes, highlights, etc. from the non-Zettelkasten folder; however, I’m concerned this is ‘polluting’ my system.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Should I keep everything separate or do you think it’s ok (even helpful) to have in one place?

Comments

  • Welcome to the forum!

    @nathanwinklepleck said:
    At present, I am using multiple folders for different purposes - all searchable within my Zettelkasten software (Obsidian currently, but also have used The Archive). Folders include:

    Can you link across all these folders?

    • Zettelkasten (my ‘pure’ folder for processed notes)
    • Daily Notes (ramblings from the day, todo items, journals, random notes from articles read)
    • Reference Items
    • Book notes (from Kindle Highlights)
    • Incubator (where partially formed Zettels go for further thought before becoming ‘real’ Zettels)

    I also kind of use this system as a todo list. Often my daily notes contain morning pages or other random thoughts that come up. Sometimes there is a todo item that I’ll mark to be able to search for later.

    I have all this stuff in my archive, but I find it easier to have it all in one folder on my harddrive.

    When building and linking a Zettel, I like to have a searchable archive of quotes, highlights, etc. from the non-Zettelkasten folder; however, I’m concerned this is ‘polluting’ my system.

    I don't think you pollute your zettelkasten by having a separate folder for extraneous stuff if you can link and search multiple folders. I don't think The Archive can search multiple folders currently, but maybe Obsidian can?

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Technically, Obsidian is not your Zettelkastensoftware but your control panel for various aspects of your workflow. Given that, your question can be transformed to: What are the downfalls in using the same software for different purposes, one of them being the access and manipulation of a Zettelkasten?

    1. Your Zettelkasten is not polluted as long as itself is free of TODOs and all the other stuff you deem not to be zettel notes.
    2. Is it a problem to use the same software for different purposes? I don't think so. It depends on your individual workflow.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 13

    Zettelkasten pollution is an interesting term. Pollution can come from the content in a zettel or the note's size (searchable archive of quotes, highlights, etc.) Pollution is relative. An amount of pollution is expected as various practice stages, something to notice, try to prevent, filter out when noticed. One person's pollution is another person's ambrosia. Even the same person (me) thinks one piece of content or content type is "pollution" when I began. Now I've grown and learned how a slight modification purifies. (I loves me this metaphor of pollution.)

    @sfast said:
    1. Your Zettelkasten is not polluted as long as it is free of TODOs and all the other stuff you deem not to be zettel notes.

    The key here is what you deem to be a worthy zettel. If you 'deem' something as non-polluting, then put it in your zettelkasten. But that doesn't mean a free for all and anyone should do whatever they like and put whatever they like in their zettelkasten anticipating benefits. You can try things and see, learn from other's examples. Just be bayesian. Keep what works and jettison the rest.

    Back to the notion of pollution concentration. Let me make the first confession. I have 30 notes over 1000 words. I have no plans to atomize 29 of them. These 30 notes represent 1.57% of my archive—this just an example. I wouldn't use the term pollution to refer to these notes myself, but someone else might. I still love my long notes!

    TODOs are a matter I'm evolving with. I'm currently settled on having two TODO trackers. I use the tag #2do in my zettelkasten to point to work "on my zettelkasting method." TODOs around zettelkasting. Here is the current list.

    #2do - make a video of the ⌘F11 direct link demo. ›[[202102151621]]‹
    #2do create a centralized YAML template and apply its action to the other note templates. 
    #2do Use Keyboard Maestro to build search and re-search tools.
    #2do Look at my theme. Make it, so secondary hits are highlighted in some way.
    #2do Respond to post and insert help. **After class.**
    

    All other todos are kept outside my zettelkasten as their management tools are more compatible with their use.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Agree with the others. I also use Obsidian (and yes it can search and freely link across all folders under the root "vault" folder) and have separate sub folders: one for evergreen/permanent notes, one for literature notes, one for projects (personal and work project notes), a "resources" folder (containing cheatsheets and the like), a daily notes folder, meeting notes folder, etc.

    My zettelkasten is essentially my evergreen & literature notes. I keep them in separate folders just because I like the separation between "their thoughts" and "my thoughts" although the line admittedly gets very blurry in some cases.

    In this manner I use Obsidian for a lot of different purposes, all in the same vault, all able to freely cross-link to each other, but rarely do they actually cross-link to each other.

    And since I have my evergreen and lit notes in two sub folders I have a clear mental separation between "in my ZK" and "not in my ZK" even within the same vault.

    So I think as long as one has that type of separation then it's perfectly fine. Whether that separation is maintained mentally (as in my case) or physically (by keeping concerns in separate vaults) is a matter of personal preference and workflow.

    @Will is on point about trying things out. I have some items in my evergreen notes folder that were put there during early experiments but don't really belong there anymore, but I don't have a clear place to put them yet, so they sit there making my brain itch a bit. Eventually I'll figure out where to put them and scratch that itch and make it go away.

    The key is that you accept that it's ok to have some fuzziness at times, become comfortable with a bit of discomfort and ambiguity, and adapt in small iterations based on tiny experiments and tight feedback loops.

    Remember, your system is more than just your tool, it is also your ability to adapt the tool and the heuristics and methods you use to do so. Become comfortable with a bit of ambiguity and discomfort by learning to trust that you will develop a sense of what feels right and what feels wrong and you will adapt your process and workflow accordingly.

    Luckily Obsidian is very forgiving of these types of changes. That can be daunting because it has the flexibility. Don't let that dissuade you. Adapt and iterate and make it work for you.

  • edited March 14

    Here is my note on pollution within the zettelkasten

    If I created a bunch of random notes with scrambled sentences, it would be ruining the quality of my zettelkasten because it would be wasting time to go through them, creating noise in my graph view, and making it difficult to connect disparate topics at random (open random note).

    How would the same concept apply to the notes within my zettelkasten as a whole? Are the notes I'm taking closer to signal than noise? Are the giant central notes (bibliography notes) bad because they are adding more noise to the collection, at least when it comes to graph view?

    I don't know if I have an answer to this beyond separating literature and bibliography notes (or Idea Indexes) and trying to keep my notes concept oriented, as they tend to be more reusable, which I think is one of the goals of a zettelkasten.

  • @nathanwinklepleck See also this new blog post by the creator of another note taking system who tried the Zettelkasten method similarly to you and experienced a system breakdown as a result, for exactly the same reasons you are concerned about and described in this thread.

    https://blog.noteplan.co/zettelkasten-mistakes/

    TLDR: Keep the ZK in separate folders than other notes, identify them differently, allow them to link between each other as needed but keep a strong mental separation between them to avoid system breakdown.

    @Nick I consider literature notes part of my ZK, but my ZK resides in two folders, one for literature notes and one for evergreen notes. They are distinguished in the titles so it is easy to see at a glance whether a link is to my own thoughts or the thoughts of someone else. The line gets blurry sometimes between the two and it just works surprisingly well.

  • @sfast said:
    Technically, Obsidian is not your Zettelkastensoftware but your control panel for various aspects of your workflow. Given that, your question can be transformed to: What are the downfalls in using the same software for different purposes, one of them being the access and manipulation of a Zettelkasten?

    Great points. There are not any downsides from what I can see other than (possibly) having a ton of 'unnecessary' search items. When I search Obsidian, it pulls in everything (journal entries, todo lists, etc). As I think about it, this could actually be a good thing, as it gives me more information to look at when crafting/linking a Zettel.

  • @Will said:
    TODOs are a matter I'm evolving with. I'm currently settled on having two TODO trackers. I use the tag #2do in my zettelkasten to point to work "on my zettelkasting method." TODOs around zettelkasting. Here is the current list.

    #2do - make a video of the ⌘F11 direct link demo. ›[[202102151621]]‹
    #2do create a centralized YAML template and apply its action to the other note templates. 
    #2do Use Keyboard Maestro to build search and re-search tools.
    #2do Look at my theme. Make it, so secondary hits are highlighted in some way.
    #2do Respond to post and insert help. **After class.**
    

    All other todos are kept outside my zettelkasten as their management tools are more compatible with their use.

    I really like that system, Will. Thanks for sharing!

  • @nathanwinklepleck said:
    I really like that system, Will. Thanks for sharing!

    I didn't mention that the #2do tag is interspersed in my archive in the relevant note not all listed on the same note. I then have a saved search that pulls them all together but I can follow each back to the originating notes.

    This helps with completion tracking, brainstorming, and accountability.

    Each of these notes has a #2do in it.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Zettelkasten (my ‘pure’ folder for processed notes)
    Daily Notes (ramblings from the day, todo items, journals, random notes from articles read)
    Reference Items
    Book notes (from Kindle Highlights)
    Incubator (where partially formed Zettels go for further thought before becoming ‘real’ Zettels)
    

    does this all work as one system, i.e. are conventions followed in all files and folders? If not then you can easily break your Zettelkasten. You must make sure that either everything is compliant with your conventions or else to not interfere with them. Think about collisions and ambiguity, for example with your UID's.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

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