Zettelkasten Forum


Hello all - new forumite from Birmingham, UK

So here I am, 6 days after picking up a copy of Sönke Ahren’s book!

Before I got here, I decided to update my home hardware and plumped for the iOS system with a new 12.9” iPad + magic keyboard, so my Zettelkasten journey will be based in this ‘ecosystem’, and maybe a mac desktop too when I splash some more cash. I can use a windows 7 PC at work and a windows 7 work laptop from home.

I was a devoted user of the Palm system in the early 2000s. Sadly, all my notes, which seemed easy to store, given that the pocket device had a stylus-handwriting recognition system making the entries easy to make, are all lost. :(

It matters now to me to have a note-taking system that is:

  • transferable (who knows what system will be popular in the future)
  • regularly updated and reviewed - this will be down to my habit

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Software on iOS. I tried Notion, and it just doesn’t work. I’ve just downloaded Bear, so now I need to work out a way of creating a template for my Zetteln. I didn’t like Notability. I’m not keen on Evernote - I need to think strategically about note-taking. As Ahren’s says: differentiate between fleeting notes, permanent notes, and project notes. I think Evernote seems to function as a datadump. The inspiration to use Bear comes from MentalPivot’s webpage here
2. For the latter, I will use Scrivener for iOS, and Googles Paperpile app integrates well with this on iOS
3. For better essay writing, some inspiration here from criticalthinkeracademy.com webpage
4. Mind-mapping software to help me learn new concepts

I’ll be scouring the forum here for tips on Bear use, Zettel templates and I guess I shouldn’t be too precious about making errors, and u-turns as I go. I think I can stay within iOS ecosystem, but perhaps some of you will look at the above, and say: just use your PC. Any advice gratefully taken on-board. I’ll still be using paper for those fleeting notes when I’m at work during the daytime!! For example, I’d never heard of markdown till I came here and I think I’ve tried some above with the italic typeface

And my topic areas:
1. Work-related

  • Medicine - palliative medicine is my area
  • Human factors - enrolled on a MSc programme (University of Derby Online Learning) and my note-taking has to get better if I’m to raise my coursework grades!!
  • Regularly teaching other colleagues on the above two areas (and after covid - all powerpoints are going online...!)
  1. Other academic interests
  • Sociology, social sciences methods
  • Ethics in relation to virtue, leadership skills, and teaching
  1. Flute-related literature
  • Proud owner of a large library of flute-music. The catalogue is done, but I could learn and take a lot of notes about all the composers!

Best wishes,
Milind

Comments

  • Welcome to the forums Milind. Hope you can wrestle something useful here.

    @Mpapers said:
    I was a devoted user of the Palm system in the early 2000s. Sadly, all my notes, which seemed easy to store, given that the pocket device had a stylus-handwriting recognition system making the entries easy to make, are all lost. :(

    This is a vote for plain text and portability as a key factor in a zettelkasten. May of us have made this mistake in the past. Some of us don't recognize that we continue to make this mistake with out software choices.

    @Mpapers said:
    ... Evernote seems to function as a datadump.

    Yes, Evernote is a dump but a pretty one. I use it for some things: warrenties, user manuals, personal daily journaling, as a read-it-later web clipping service, backpacking trip reports and stuff that I think doesn't fit in my zettelkasten.

    @Mpapers said:
    I’ll be scouring the forum here for tips on Bear use, Zettel templates and I guess I shouldn’t be too precious about making errors, and u-turns as I go.

    This is a great attitude, not "too precious about making errors, and u-turns as I go."

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited September 5

    @Mpapers said:
    So here I am, 6 days after picking up a copy of Sönke Ahren’s book!

    Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
    1. Software on iOS. I tried Notion, and it just doesn’t work. I’ve just downloaded Bear, so now I need to work out a way of creating a template for my Zetteln. I didn’t like Notability. I’m not keen on Evernote - I need to think strategically about note-taking. As Ahren’s says: differentiate between fleeting notes, permanent notes, and project notes. I think Evernote seems to function as a datadump. The inspiration to use Bear comes from MentalPivot’s webpage here
    2. For the latter, I will use Scrivener for iOS, and Googles Paperpile app integrates well with this on iOS

    First - welcome to the forum and to the world of Zettelkasten users! A few thoughts from a relative newby that hopefully will be useful to you.

    I've been a Bear user for several years and put a lot of notes into it, until I ran into the idea of a Zettelkasten. I still use Bear a bit, but most of my work has shifted to The Archive.

    • You organize things in Bear by using "nested" tags - basically, a categorization system with the equivalent of folders, sub-folders, etc.
    • Works well until you get too many notes and can't remember in what folder you put things. This is a common problem with systems that rely on this type of categorization scheme and one of the reasons I decided to switch to a Zettelkasten.
    • I've gone through all my Bear notes and moved some of them over to The Archive (the ones I wanted to keep in my Zettelkasten). As you gain experience with a Zettelkasten and how it is organized, you will see that Bear is pretty limited in terms of accessing old notes.

    I also use Scrivener - a lot. Mostly for taking voluminous notes during various engineering review meetings and storing within a project not just the notes but also related PDFs, spreadsheets, Word files, etc. Then later I have to write a report giving my opinion on various aspects of the engineering work. Scrivener is perfect for this - it is dream software for a writer. However, it is not great software to create a Zettelkasten; The Archive works much better for that.

    The other day, I wrote an article on Friendships for my children and grandchildren. It's something about which I've been thinking for months, with about 10 Zettels on various aspects of it. So - The Archive was used to bring different thoughts and ideas on this topic into my Zettelkasten. When I did decide to write the article, I pulled all the relevant notes from The Archive into Scrivener (drag and drop the text files from my Zettelkasten folder into a Scrivener project) and then proceeded to write the article. It was a simple and effective process.

    I could have planned to do something like that from the start, i.e., picked a general topic and then wrote various Zettels as I thought about and/or researched different aspects of it, but in this case I just wrote the Zettels because they appealed to me as something useful to put into the Zettelkasten, and then later I realized I had a larger "story" to tell my kids. In that sense, my Zettelkasten allowed me to discover the larger story from the smaller insights.

  • edited September 5

    Regarding the different types of notes: It think those concepts are misleading because they imply that they are all truly different entities and seem to shift the focus to the superficial layer of "note" and away from the actual thing we want to do (creating/connecting knowledge).

    There is only one distinction necessary to make the process of the Zettelkasten Method flow: Notes that a part of the Zettelkasten (via ID and established connection) and notes outside of the Zettelkasten.

    See my pile of paper:

    Those are not different notes (literature, fleeting, project, whatever). It is just part of my inbox which needs to be processed. From the perspective of the process they are all the same because they invoke the same behavior: I sit at my desk and file them away (in my GTD, my research.org, Zettelkasten etc).

    I talked with Christian about this phenomenon. The more you are able to think in processes the more you can take action. The more you think in things the less you can take action and will therefore just think more because your brain works as if you still need more thinking (resulting in a feeling of being stuck)1.


    1. Which is quite a good term for the problem because your thinking starts in the right hemisphere of the brain, then goes to the left and needs to return to the right. Thinking in things could be framed of the left hemisphere holding on to thoughts that should be given to the right hemisphere. (Iain McGilchrist - The Master and his Emissary) ↩︎

    I am a Zettler

  • @Mpapers I just remembered there was some discussion on tagging in Bear in an earlier post; if interested, you could check it out:

    https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1184/interesting-tagging-idea-from-bear#latest

  • I’ve also used Bear a fair bit for this sort of thing, and given you still have notes there @GeoEng51 it may be useful to point out that Bear does have an implementation of wiki-style linking. Details here. To my mind at least, this deals with the problems you noted in your first post about rigid structure and lost notes.

  • Hello! I am located an hour down the M5 from you. Welcome to the forum.

  • @mjknght said:
    I’ve also used Bear a fair bit for this sort of thing, and given you still have notes there @GeoEng51 it may be useful to point out that Bear does have an implementation of wiki-style linking. Details here. To my mind at least, this deals with the problems you noted in your first post about rigid structure and lost notes.

    Thank you for that link and suggestion! I wasn't aware of that feature and it is certainly useful.

  • Thank you for the welcome and the helpful comments.
    As I thought - some u-turns have occurred: my workflow is quite different to how I thought it would be when I wrote my introductory post in early September.

    My digital/paperless study workflow (reading and then taking fleeting notes, and then creating ‘Zetteln’) is as follows:

    1. Reading online or a hard copy (core textbook for the MSc, article, etc)
    2. Google Paperpile app is my reference repository
    3. Nebo (app) on iPadOS.
    • Forcing myself to handwrite fleeting notes in my own words so that I truly understand what I’m reading
    • Sometimes coming up with a link/idea to something else, which I colour differently, and which ultimately becomes my best Zettel for storing later
    • Getting nebo to convert my handwriting to text does add an extra, sense-checking step. The handwriting recognition is good, and it becomes obvious to me if I am indeed writing full sentences
    1. The Archive on macOS
    • I wrote my first few (four or five) Zetteln today! These were short paragraphs or sentences, again paraphrased from the notes taken on my Nebo app (you can picture the iPad is sitting next to my iMac) on chapter one of a core textbook. I see now that each Zettel in ‘relative’ isolation, makes sense on its own (allowing me to think and link more freely, rather than simply collect a set of “textbook notes”)
    1. Eventually Scrivener for the project notes drawn from my Zetteln and the drafting of work/essays/assignments
    2. Google docs + paperpile app for pulling together the draft and bibliography
    3. Finally MS word to add any finishing touches to the document

    Some reflections so far

    • I gave up on the Bear app. I found the interface too distracting. And perhaps when I was exploring Sönke Ahrens’ ideas earlier this month, plus how to find a paperless solution, I was somewhat nervous about even committing metaphorical pen to paper to create a Zettel
    • I’ve produced a few Zetteln around the reading topic, plus one Zettel that isn’t based on the text, but links to another area I work in, but I can see that I only use one type of markdown: bold and italic. The Archive is
    • Ahrens is absolutely correct when he argues that writing in your own words, rather than merely highlighting, or cutting/pasting text, which is so tempting to do in a paperless context, forces you to engage with the learning material and find connections through your own thought processes.

    BUT - I am clearly a markdown virgin, and so far I’m puzzled about the Archive’s interface for tagging/linking Zetteln to each other. I think I’m also getting muddled with hypertext linking to websites, versus hypertext linking to other Zetteln in my particular copy of the Archive.

    Can someone share with me a link in the forum to the nuts and bolts of using the Archive interface? I realise I need to find my own way through practice, but a steer on “getting started” would be great! I somehow keep (unintentionally) returning to handy pages here about the principles behind the Zettelkasten method.

    Yet I’m certain buried in those pages are steps outlining

    • how to tag/link
    • creating an entry Zettel
    • creating auto-text so that I can quickly fill out a citation for the Zettel, to remind me where I got that idea. So far I haven’t put a citation in any of my Zetteln which is bothering me.

    Many thanks!
    M

  • edited September 27

    @Mpapers said
    Can someone share with me a link in the forum to the nuts and bolts of using the Archive interface? I realise I need to find my own way through practice, but a steer on “getting started” would be great!

    It has been a while since I installed The Archive but I remember it installing with a note tiltled "201802121037 Welcome to The Archive.md". It is a quick start guide. Look for this note.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I am probably being pretty dumb, but the “201802121037 Welcome to the Archive” is rather tricky for me to decipher:

    • I haven’t worked out the significance of the repeated hash symbol as far as my notes are concerned
    • I think I’m muddling how to create lists with how to block quote
    • text changes (some markdown conventions seem to be about formatting, and some are about linking, right?):

      • what’s the difference between making text blue with a single hash and using square brackets
      • should I be using a blue text for Zettel titles (with a hash symbol), or red text (with a hash/number of hash symbols + a space)
    • I haven’t worked out ‘saved searches’ yet....

    I think the Zettel is presenting the Archive’s ‘tools’ to me, but I think I need an example to show me how they work/don’t work...!

  • I highly recommend this 10 minute tutorial on MarkDown.

    @Mpapers said:

    • I haven’t worked out the significance of the repeated hash symbol as far as my notes are concerned

    Forget the repeating hash symbol. I have over 1000 notes and not one repeating hash symbol
    I think I know what you are referring to. The repeated hash symbols are for the different levels in an outline list. They are for visual formatting and not linking.

    • I think I’m muddling how to create lists with how to block quote
    • text changes (some markdown conventions seem to be about formatting, and some are about linking, right?):

    Lists are created on a new line with numbers (for ordered lists) or the - symbol (for unordered list).
    Blockquotes are created on a new line with a > symbol and a space. A return ends a blockquote.

    A return creates a new item in the list.
    * what’s the difference between making text blue with a single hash and using square brackets
    * should I be using a blue text for Zettel titles (with a hash symbol), or red text (with a hash/number of hash symbols + a space)

    Using a 'single hash' is a way of signifying a tag that is applied to a group of notes. All notes with the same tag will populate the Note List (left side of the application window.) #example
    Using square brackets is a way to link a particular note to other notes. [[201802121037]]

    As an example: I have several notes about rubber all with the tag #rubber. And the two notes on thermoplastic elastomers would both have the tag as they were both about rubber but because one expanded on the other they are more intimately tied together with a note to note link (square brackets).

    The colors are not the focus. The colors are controlled by the themes and there are lots of custom options available.

    GIF of a couple of themes. See how it changes the link colors?

    • I haven’t worked out ‘saved searches’ yet....

    I would worry or even think about saved search until you had 50-100 notes. You may or may not even use saved searches. The Omni Bar is a search weapon and saved searches are a way of remembering complex or convenient searches.

    I think the Zettel is presenting the Archive’s ‘tools’ to me, but I think I need an example to show me how they work/don’t work...!

    Here is a sample zettel.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Will, many thanks for plugging so many ‘gaps’ - especially about the coloured plain text - white, black and blue is fine for me at the moment!

    The video is brilliant too! I’d never known academic writing can be done entirely in plain text + markdown!

    But that’s for another chapter in my life. I’ll keep pressing on, playing with tags and double-bracket links to discover the powerful tools of the Archive

  • @Mpapers said:

    But that’s for another chapter in my life. I’ll keep pressing on, playing with tags and double-bracket links to discover the powerful tools of the Archive

    Welcome to the forum from another relative newbie. I found it took two adjustments to my way of thinking to start appreciating a Zettelkasten and using The Archive.

    The first was that the system and process are both simple. In our "modern" way, we seem to want to complicate things, but in fact, that is not necessary. Simple works really well and has the nice side effect of allowing us to focus instead on ideas.

    The second is that "simple" is not equivalent to "weak", but rather just the opposite. A Zettelkasten created using plain text files in The Archive, of course following all the good advice on writing different types of Zettels, is an amazingly powerful way of capturing what you think now and in the future building upon those ideas.

    Good luck with your efforts; I look forward to you sharing your experiences on the forum.

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