# Feeling a bit scattered

I have been keeping a Zettelkasten consistently for about two months, so I know that I am in the very early stages. But, I have been feeling a little scattered recently, feeling like notes are getting lost or that I am not absorbing the information as I would like. This scattered feeling is primarily prevalent when I am linking new notes to existing ones.

My workflow is evolving, and before embarking on this Zettelkasten adventure, I had never used a knowledge processing system. I would just read, make notes in the book, and move on. But, I am wanting to take my learning to the next level and start to synthesize the concepts and ideas I am engaging. So I have been taking notes while reading, and then after reading, I go back through them and process them into The Archive.

My question is, is this scattered and overwhelming feeling usual?

I am including an example of my Zettelkasten for any advice on improving. As I am sure it is apparent, I have been going through the forum quite regularly when I have problems and using different techniques posted by the community.

I know that the Zettelkasten is personal and that each person has their approach, but I am open to any suggestions.

• I've been building my zettelkasten only a little longer than you (4 months). I had a similar feeling around the 2nd month. I took it to be a sign that my system and workflow were not sustainable in the long run. I got my bearings again by tweaking my workflow to reduce friction. I detail some of the changes I made below, but my TL;DR is that having a consistent workflow with minimized friction can help you decrease that feeling of being scattered. The less scattered you feel when making notes, the less scattered you will feel when looking through your notes later.

As a side note, I really like the way you've done your links, with a number in the note body! Seeing the links in the middle of the note body has always felt jarring to me. I'm going to incorporate that type of organization into my notes moving forward.

A couple of the changes that I made:
I started tagging my reference and structure notes so I could easily find them or filter them out. I also set up an #inbox tag to mark what I'm actively working on, and a #todo tag for when there is a concept within a note that I want to look into later. I set up saved searches so I could find and filter these notes with the click of a button.

I got a better handle on the difference between reference notes and fleeting note. I made a greater effort to always take handwritten fleeting notes while reading, which I then processed into zettel. My reference note became an executive summary of the contents (and my thoughts) on a reading, with citation information and a list of zettel that were spawned from that reading. This ended up being the key change that helped me most.

I don't know what your current workflow is, but I found that by taking notes on the computer, I ended up being very inefficient in how I made notes. I would write down anything that caught my eye without thinking too hard about the best way to repackage or contextualize that information. It made processing these notes into zettel a nightmare, and I found that the more scattered I felt while making zettel, the more scattered my zettel felt. Handwriting forced me to be careful what information I was noting down, packaging it with an eye towards the zettel that it would be processed into.

The handwriting isn't necessary for you, that was just the step that forced me to reconsider how I was thinking about the notes I make while reading, and how I turn those notes into zettel.

Having this consistent workflow helped my notes feel more ordered and less chaotic: fleeting notes -> empty #inbox reference note -> zettel based on the reading, with obvious links -> look for less obvious links -> summarize the reading and remove the reference's #inbox tag. Having this routine in how I make notes helps me feel confident in the structure of my notes, and feel less afraid that I'll lose something.

I also found that changing my ID numbering helped me feel more in control. Using folgezettel to manually place each note really helped me to feel oriented when I look through my notes. This isn't necessary for an organized zettelkasten, though, as I think I may be in the minority in finding folgezettel IDs more useful than date-based IDs.

• hello @ldomingues

first of, I am a beginner myself, far less experienced than you and in no condition to provide any advice.

Nevertheless I would absolutely love assisting in debugging a ZK.

My question is, is this scattered and overwhelming feeling usual?

This question is not helpful to you. Can you determine a specific task you want to perform so we can discuss its performance?

I have been feeling a little scattered recently, feeling like notes are getting lost or that I am not absorbing the information as I would like. This scattered feeling is primarily prevalent when I am linking new notes to existing ones.

We should not address more than one problem at a time. It seems you are primarily concerned about finding all your knowledge for a specific task. Can you provide an example? How did you search for it? What did you actually find? What is missing?

on the side note, can you tell me which Software you are using? This looks spectacular.

my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

• edited August 2020

@prometheanhindsight said:
I started tagging my reference and structure notes so I could easily find them or filter them out.

This may seem silly, but what is the difference between reference and structure notes? I have two notes that I have marked as structure notes.

Basically, I just put the notes that fit a specific theme together.

As a side note, I really like the way you've done your links, with a number in the note body! Seeing the links in the middle of the note body has always felt jarring to me. I'm going to incorporate that type of organization into my notes moving forward.

Thank you, I felt the same way. It seemed to throw off my flow a little when I was writing and reading my notes.

@prometheanhindsight said:
I would write down anything that caught my eye without thinking too hard about the best way to repackage or contextualize that information. It made processing these notes into zettel a nightmare, and I found that the more scattered I felt while making zettel, the more scattered my zettel felt. Handwriting forced me to be careful what information I was noting down, packaging it with an eye towards the zettel that it would be processed into.

This is what I think my issue is. Because I didn't know too much about the Zettelkasten process, I generally highlight sections during my reading sessions, then go back through the book and transfer the highlighted sections onto notecards in my own words. After I have my highlights written down, I move them to The Archive. This takes a lot of time, and I think that plays a part because I am processing everything at one time instead of while I am reading.

So you link each note to a reference note that you create every time you read a new book, article, etc? Then you also link other individual notes, similar to how I have mine linked below?

• @zk_1000 said:

on the side note, can you tell me which Software you are using? This looks spectacular.

I'm using The Archive. The moderators for this forum developed it (https://zettelkasten.de/the-archive/)

We should not address more than one problem at a time. It seems you are primarily concerned about finding all your knowledge for a specific task. Can you provide an example? How did you search for it? What did you actually find? What is missing?

It's really about finding the right connections between my new and existing notes. I use the search bar in The Archive to look for specific terms or phrases and then see if a connection can be made to the new note I am creating.

I think it's just getting to the point that I am going to need a little more fluid and organized workflow to get the most out of my reading.

• @ldomingues said:

This is what I think my issue is. Because I didn't know too much about the Zettelkasten process, I generally highlight sections during my reading sessions, then go back through the book and transfer the highlighted sections onto notecards in my own words. After I have my highlights written down, I move them to The Archive. This takes a lot of time, and I think that plays a part because I am processing everything at one time instead of while I am reading.

So you link each note to a reference note that you create every time you read a new book, article, etc? Then you also link other individual notes, similar to how I have mine linked below?

I keep some paper next to me, and I jot down notes as I read, but then I process those into permanent notes whenever I have a chance to avoid having a large backlog of notes to process.

Above is an example of a reference note for a paper that I haven't finished going through. Until I finish the paper, It's mostly just the citation and some tags. Making this its own note means that, as you can see in the notes list, I can quickly pull up a list of all of the notes that link to it (right now, just the notes that were made about this paper).

Then, my notes look something like this after I make them:

The links in this note are mostly just to obvious notes that immediately spring to mind when I'm making the note, as well as other notes that I've made on this reference. Notice that this note isn't tagged #inbox because I can easily find my "work in progress" notes by looking through the references that are tagged as #inbox. I find that prevents my inbox from getting cluttered.

When I finish going through this paper, I will add a summary of the paper to its reference note, as well as a list of link to the notes made based on it. That'll look like this:

This breaks down the note making process into small, easy to follow steps. When I read, I just have to take quick notes. Then I process those later (not waiting until they build up and become overwhelming) mainly within the most obvious context. Then I look for less obvious connections. Then I summarize. Each step is easy and discrete, and so I don't have to think hard about the process, I can focus on thinking about the actual content of the notes.

@Idomingues said:
This may seem silly, but what is the difference between reference and structure notes? I have two notes that I have marked as structure notes.

I don't know if this is technically correct, but the way that I differentiate them is that reference notes summarize and link to notes about a given reference. Structure notes link together disparate ideas into a flow of ideas. So, a structure note will incorporate notes that you've taken on several different references into a flow of ideas.

A part of an example from a note that I'm working on:

• edited August 2020

@prometheanhindsight
You have been extremely helpful, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to lay out your process for me; I'll take this and tweak it to suit me best. I'm still pretty early in the development of my Zettelkasten, so I don't have too many notes added. This is good because knowing myself, I will go back through everything and make changes to the formating.

Post edited by ldomingues on
• @ldomingues said:
... I have been feeling a little scattered recently, feeling like notes are getting lost or that I am not absorbing the information as I would like. This scattered feeling is primarily prevalent when I am linking new notes to existing ones.

My question is, is this scattered and overwhelming feeling usual?

This apprehensive feeling is normal and not to have it may be a sign you are deluding yourself with a false sense of completeness. We only have so much time to dedicate to our knowledge project and are smart to watch our opportunity costs.

I am including an example of my Zettelkasten for any advice on improving. As I am sure it is apparent, I have been going through the forum quite regularly when I have problems and using different techniques posted by the community.

Thanks for sharing an example. Here are my suggestions.

1. Markdown footnote syntex is [1] for the reference and [1]: for the footnote itself.
https://www.markdownguide.org/extended-syntax/#footnotes
2. Topping the note with the work Title is a bit redundant. I've become a fan of minimalism. Of course, the title is # The Rider and The Elephant, there is no need to label it.
3. You have a one-sentence summary of the contents of the note at the beginning which is great. In the summary statement or phrase, I'd sprinkle the "Keywords" interstitially. A metaphor for the #mtf principle ... is #the_rider&the_elephant. ... understand the concept of #intuituionism; how institutions and ...

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @prometheanhindsight said:
I've been building my zettelkasten only a little longer than you (4 months). I had a similar feeling around the 2nd month. I took it to be a sign that my system and workflow were not sustainable in the long run. I got my bearings again by tweaking my workflow to reduce friction. I detail some of the changes I made below, but my TL;DR is that having a consistent workflow with minimized friction can help you decrease that feeling of being scattered. The less scattered you feel when making notes, the less scattered you will feel when looking through your notes later.

I still have a nagging feeling that some magical and obscure note is lurking deep in my zettelkasten that I can't link to every time I create a new note. It gets worse the more notes I have. I'm okay with doing the best I can and practising to get better.

@prometheanhindsight said:
I got a better handle on the difference between reference notes and fleeting note. I made a greater effort to always take handwritten fleeting notes while reading, which I then processed into zettel. My reference note became an executive summary of the contents (and my thoughts) on a reading, with citation information and a list of zettel that were spawned from that reading. This ended up being the key change that helped me most.

What you call a Reference Note sounds like what I call a Structure Note. I too found them to be a game-changer.

@prometheanhindsight said:

You are describing my workflow and I wish I'd discovered this 20 months ago.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @zk_1000 said:
on the side note, can you tell me which software you are using? This looks spectacular.

Yes I agree, the software you are using @ldomingues looks spectacular!

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @ldomingues said:
This is what I think my issue is. Because I didn't know too much about the Zettelkasten process, I generally highlight sections during my reading sessions, then go back through the book and transfer the highlighted sections onto notecards in my own words. After I have my highlights written down, I move them to The Archive. This takes a lot of time, and I think that plays a part because I am processing everything at one time instead of while I am reading.

Skipping the notecards step speed things up a lot. Transfer the highlights and the notes taken during the reading directly on the editor window of The Archive. Tag each note #inbox to keep track of work in process. While creating and editing the note, rework, fish out the ideas, check for gaps in your understanding. Do all this while creating the note as a note, not on a card but in your zettelkasten. Ops, I can hear a pin drop. This workflow is antithetical to those in love with the physical note-card zettelkasten.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• I'd consider making the ID's under the title clickable. Encapsulate them in [[]] as in
[[202003141705]] and [[51B1]]
Then when you select the link all the note's backlinks get populated in the Note List.
I'd lose the label as you know they are ID's and labelling them such is redundant.

Our workflows are similar. I to make a skeleton Structure/Reference note and tag it #inbox and develop it as I read and create zettels and link into my zettelkasten. So far this workflow has kept me moving forward. Thanks for posting the screenshots, seeing examples really helps.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• We cannot stress this enough:

(@Will): I still have a nagging feeling that some magical and obscure note is lurking deep in my zettelkasten that I can't link to every time I create a new note. It gets worse the more notes I have. I'm okay with doing the best I can and practising to get better.

When you have 10 or 20 or even 30 notes, you can easily work with them, and since they're all still so familiar, if not the ID on its own, the title surely suffices to bring to memory what the note is about -- and maybe even when you wrote it, what the weather on that day was, and what you had for breakfast With rising quantity, it's natural to lose the personal close connection to each and every note you ever wrote. This has to happen sooner or later. In general, I would like to suggest everyone not take this as a sign of personal failure of some kind, but as feedback that you hit critical mass for the next level of autonomy of the Zettelkasten.

Now how can we foster autonomy (and thus surprise) without going the route of estrangement?

Structure notes are a good way to get a hold of topic sub-departments. So props for doing these. I personally have less of these table-of-contents style structure notes that @sfast often posts screenshots of and that you @ldomingues have adapted (title + . . . . . + link). I don't work in my Zettelkasten most of the time and feel better leaving more commentary, so I usually have bullet points, one for each link, with a sentence or two telling my future self why the link is there, e.g.

Experimenting with the format there might be helpful, too.

I personally don't see the use of a reference note that just captures a literature reference. The title is a duplicate of the paper's title, and it doesn't look instructive to me, but if it works, more power to @prometheanhindsight In the end, it's all just text files, and if you have Zettel as evergreen notes and the occasional work-in-progress file that will be transformed into one, that wouldn't hurt. It's a highly personal, maybe even hacky solution, though, and I find it hard to recommend, but interesting as a productivity hack nevertheless. (I have my own, of course ) I think it'd be cool if you shared your workflow from reference note to finished product as its own story some day!

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

• @ldomingues

I had the same feeling. I think it comes from a lack of order. There is a reason, why I call Structure Notes "departments" sometimes: The Zettelkasten is big and should be big. So, it should scale to the smallest unit you need.

For example, if I work on a specific subject, I work mostly on a specific structure note. Say, I process this thread. To me, it is interesting because of the beginner's feelings, Zettelkasten didactics and Zettelkasten workflow.

Then I'd open the two structure notes: ZK didactics and ZK workflow. From there, I'd branch and first create the link and then the note:

1. Write at the right spot "[[ID note name]]"
2. Click on it.
3. Enter
4. cmd+l, enter, "# ", cmd+v (creates title in the note)

Then I write the note and search for some other notes that could expand the content of the note, explain it, be explained by it, etc. (I connect knowledge, not notes or Zettel)

I come back to both structure notes after I finished the process of creating and integrating.

The calmness, or at least lack of feeling scattered, results from ignoring most of my Zettelkasten at this point.

And: Structure Notes should be structured! Simple lists have the same structural value like tags: Non (or 1 on a scale from 0-∞). Nest the list, create subsections on the structure note, craft ascii-Art Flow-Charts, tables etc.

These are some examples:

Straight Arm Strength

Running, Jogging, Sprinting

Attention, Concentration, Focus

I am a Zettler

• @ctietze said:
We cannot stress this enough:
When you have 10 or 20 or even 30 notes, you can easily work with them, and since they're all still so familiar, if not the ID on its own, the title surely suffices to bring to memory what the note is about -- and maybe even when you wrote it, what the weather on that day was, and what you had for breakfast With rising quantity, it's natural to lose the personal close connection to each and every note you ever wrote. This has to happen sooner or later. In general, I would like to suggest everyone not take this as a sign of personal failure of some kind, but as feedback that you hit critical mass for the next level of autonomy of the Zettelkasten.

The feedback that your zettelkasten has reached this critical mass should be looked at as a huge success! A win in the battle to establish the beginnings of a growing mind-melding workflow. This is not the time to feel frustrated but a time to party, congratulate yourself, give yourself a high-5. Ops, I just dated myself.

Structure notes are a good way to get a hold of topic sub-departments. So props for doing these. I personally have less of these table-of-contents style structure notes that @sfast often posts screenshots of and that you @ldomingues have adapted (title + . . . . . + link). I don't work in my Zettelkasten most of the time and feel better leaving more commentary, so I usually have bullet points, one for each link, with a sentence or two telling my future self why the link is there, e.g.

Your point about leaving a sentence or two with a link in a structure note has been a powerful game-changer. It makes me think more about the content of the note, how it might be useful in the future, and like @sfast says it makes clearer that I'm connecting ideas and not just notes. My structure notes are a blend of @sfast's 'departmentalized' table of contents and your method. I call my method an annotated TOC.

As an example of an Annotated TOC. Part of a note where I assimulated a book. (Structure note treatment of literature, a literature note?)

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @sfast said:
For example, if I work on a specific subject, I work mostly on a specific structure note.

Thinking about it, this is true for me too. I use these structure notes like Luhmann used his reference notes. As entry points into what my zettelkasten knows.

Say, I process this thread. To me, it is interesting because of the beginner's feelings, Zettelkasten didactics and Zettelkasten workflow.

I've processed a few threads from the forums. This is going to be one of them. Some of you have been immortalized in my thinking partner's brain. (zettelkasten) Maybe I should give my thinking partner a name like maybe - Mike? What do you think?

Then I write the note and search for some other notes that could expand the content of the note, explain it, be explained by it, etc. (I connect the knowledge, not notes or Zettel)

I come back to both structure notes after I finished the process of creating and integrating.

The calmness, or at least lack of feeling scattered, results from ignoring most of my Zettelkasten at this point.

This is a great concise description of a classic workflow. Just Rinse and Repeat.

The screenshots you shared are great examples of what you are talking about.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• Here is another element of structure notes (for clarification that there are many ways to attack this issue):

(Table)

(I do only have one note on one of the elements)

I am a Zettler

• @Will says:
I'd consider making the ID's under the title clickable. Encapsulate them in [[]] as in

[[202003141705]] and [[51B1]]
Then when you select the link all the note's backlinks get populated in the Note List.
I'd lose the label as you know they are ID's and labelling them such is redundant.

I don't know why I hadn't thought of making the ID a link! Such a simple thing that's going to save me a lot of time.

@ctietze says:
I personally don't see the use of a reference note that just captures a literature reference. The title is a duplicate of the paper's title, and it doesn't look instructive to me, but if it works, more power to @prometheanhindsight

The reference note that only has reference information in it is a placeholder until I finish the reading. Once I finish the reading, I put a summary of the reading into the reference note. I find this very useful since I read a lot of science papers. Having my personal summary of a paper helps remind me which papers I might want to revisit.

Currently, I also put a list of notes made from that reference, but I haven't actually found that to be a useful practice so I may stop doing that in the future, or look for a way to make those links more meaningful than just a list of note titles.

@sfast says:

Then I'd open the two structure notes: ZK didactics and ZK workflow. From there, I'd branch and first create the link and then the note:
>

Write at the right spot "[[ID note name]]"
Click on it.
Enter
cmd+l, enter, "# ", cmd+v (creates title in the note)

This is great! I had no idea this was possible. I think this made it click for me how you manage to keep yourself oriented using date IDs. Making sequence notes always felt too cumbersome as a way to keeping track of note sequences to me. If it's this easy to create a new note from a link, though... I don't know if you've fully converted me, but I'm definitely going to play around with this today.

I still wonder if this is too strong a connection to replace the way that I use the folgezettel IDs. I guess it really depends on what structure notes I make, and how I group topics in those structure notes...

@Will says:
As an example of an Annotated TOC. Part of a note where I assimulated a book. (Structure note treatment of literature, a literature note?)

This looks really good. I need to do something like this with my reference notes to avoid the note links being a meaningless list.

Maybe I should give my thinking partner a name like maybe - Mike? What do you think?

Might make it easier to talk about your notes in public. "I was talking to Mike the other day, and he had the most interesting idea..."

• @prometheanhindsight said:

Maybe I should give my thinking partner a name like maybe - Mike? What do you think?

Might make it easier to talk about your notes in public. "I was talking to Mike the other day, and he had the most interesting idea..."

Exactly! Most of my friend's eyes glaze over when I bring up my zettelkasten. But they'd be interested in what Mike had to say.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @sfast said:

(I connect knowledge, not notes or Zettel)

This. This right here. It's everything.

I did a coaching session with Sönke Ahrens yesterday, and I'm about a month into my Zettelkastenwelt. Biggest takeaway (from many!) was that fundamental shift in how I relate to my ZK. What does my project need? What is my ZK saying about it in this conversation with me? What is it that my next note wants to contribute to this ongoing conversation?

Now I'm viewing my Zettels as postcards to my fascinating and brilliant colleague and friend, ZK, who loves to stretch my thinking...and loves it when I stretch theirs.

While I take physical notes throughout the day of interesting things and ideas, in the evening when I sit down to reflect and process in Archive (yes, I'm an ambizetteler), I'm prompting myself with a sticky note on my desk to think, "Hey, ZK...I was thinking about what you said about X the other day...and [insert my thoughtful contribution/question/challenge here]."

Connecting knowledge. Not cards.
(With tags to other cards, of course. ;^)

• @jeannelking said:
Now I'm viewing my Zettels as postcards to my fascinating and brilliant colleague and friend, ZK, who loves to stretch my thinking...and loves it when I stretch theirs.

My favorite part is when I collect arguments about something and then a few weeks later after a lot of reading and research I get to a point where I completely disagree with my starting position - I love it when I start to write new arguments and confront them with my previous thinking, it really feels like I am teaching my ZK and learning from my past self at the same time.

• Looking at your filenames, I think you're doing pretty well. I also keep filenames no longer than 4 words. Inside the note I do write a full title but I keep the filename extremely short. What I don't recommend is to use special characters in the filenames, just these characters aAzZ-09.

The note looks good to me as well.

For the structure notes let me recommend you this; Every note you write try to add a one-sentence summary of the note at the top of the note. Similar to Wikipedia. Then, when you write a structure note, instead of just adding a link like this [[numbers]], you could copy-paste the one-sentence summary and then the link. My example of a note I took from a podcast referenced in a structure note looks like this;(*)

• PODCAST SUB-TOPIC; SELF-PUBLISHED VERSUS GETTING A PUBLISHER. Chris Do, as a designer, recommends self-publishing as a way to learn from experience, profit opportunity, and most important to him the control over the writing and decisions of the quality of the end product. [[AJ20200814a19-self-published-vs-publisher]].

(*) notice how the note's title is shortened in the filename, the time stamp is unique, so I don't really care much about the filename's title or if changed it one day with out having to change all the notes that link to it. The time stamp is all I keep unique.

• This is all excellent stuff, thank you everyone for your input and advice! I will be applying what I learned here! I already have some rough ideas on how best to incorporate the information that I feel is best for my goals!