Zettelkasten Note-Taking System

The Zettelkasten system was mentioned a couple of times recently, so I thought I would start a thread about it.

Here are some posts about the technique:

Leave a comment below if you’ve tried it.


Here are some other related threads on note-taking:

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I would like to mention about this book here>> How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

It is a great book written not only on “Zettelkasten” theory in depth,but on 'effective learning,long term memory,creative thinking,writing",etc.

With Zettlekasten,we connect our notes/ideas/writtings in a meaningful way with one another in order to cultivate knowledge. The author says:

Learned right, which means understanding, which means connecting in a meaningful way to previous knowledge, information almost cannot be forgotten anymore and will be reliably retrieved if triggered by the right cues. Moreover, this new learned knowledge can provide more possible connections for new information. If you focus your time and energy on understanding, you cannot help but learn. But if you focus your time and energy on learning without trying to understand, you will not only not understand, but also probably not learn. And the effects are cumulative.

Here is a problem, I myself experienced with Flash cards in Anki, that the author mentions in the book:

Just by working with the slip-box, we retrieve old ideas and facts on an irregular basis and connect them with other bits of information – very much how experts recommend we learn (Bjork 2011, 8; Kornell and Bjork 2008). This is also the idea behind flashcards. But even though flashcards are much more effective than cramming or reviewing information within the context of a textbook, they also have a downside: The information on flashcards is neither elaborated on nor embedded in some form of context. Each flashcard stays isolated instead of being connected with the network of theoretical frames, our experiences or our latticework of mental models. This not only makes it much more difficult to learn, but also difficult to understand the implications and the meaning of information (cf. Birnbaum et al., 2013). A scientific term or concept only becomes meaningful within the context of a theory – otherwise it would just be a word.

Here is an interesting article on “The Collector’s Fallacy” and how to solve this problem with “Zettelkasten” system! The Collector’s Fallacy

All these years,I had been collecting articles,notes,writings one after another. And I never created meaningful connection among my collections. I feel,I also suffered from ‘collector’s fallacy’!

Let’s call this “The Collector’s Fallacy”. Why fallacy? Because ‘to know about something’ isn’t the same as ‘knowing something’. Just knowing about a thing is less than superficial since knowing about is merely to be certain of its existence, nothing more. Ultimately, this fake-knowledge is hindering us on our road to true excellence. Until we merge the contents, the information, ideas, and thoughts of other people into our own knowledge, we haven’t really learned a thing. We don’t change ourselves if we don’t learn, so merely filing things away doesn’t lead us anywhere.

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Hi Josh,
it’s good to see you still post! I’ve learned a lot from your posts. How’s your memorisation system going? did you update your system?

The other day, I found the printed version of your posts in my file cabinet about RGB memorisation technique. It’s fascinating!

I read some of your posts and your discussion with Batman. Is he still active in the forum? I don’t see he post any more.

In my opinion, they’re all good. but what’s the goals? Otherwise, we’ll dive into the endless competition of the best tool and system.

For Zettelkasten, it’s really good to think that “I’m communicating with the ideas that authors are talking.” But again, it’s still need to memorize them later on. I used the old way to take notes in flashcards and put them into slipbox. It’s called “common place.”

Each time I create a new card and I would pull the box out and force myself to read every single flashcard. Ask myself " do they connect?" if yes, I put them inbetween the old cards. But I do find the problem which is that the categories are not clear.

I’d love to hear what others have done so far!

Thanks

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Do you create an ‘index’ to track your cards/notes? >> https://zettelkasten.de/posts/idea-index-journal-fiction/

I’m having a hard time to create an index,as I have thousands of different notes/cards/articles/bookmarks,etc! It is gonna take a lot of time and energy! :frowning:

For those who are interested in, you can watch this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOSZOCoqOo8&t=33s

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@elitely I suggest you create a project(s) in your situation. Because it definitely takes time to review all of them.

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I just downloaded the sample of How to Take Smart Notes a couple of days ago. I’ll check it out after I finish my current books.

I update some of my images sometimes, but the general way it works is the same.

I think the RGB system was by r30. I’ll have to go back and reread that one. :slight_smile:

The site has been online for about 10 years and sometimes people come and go as their lives and interests change.

I like the idea of paper notes. I might experiment with it. My only worry is that it might require a large time investment.

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what are those atm?

  • Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman (ebook)
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen (paper)
  • The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould (audiobook)

I don’t wake up easily, so I listen to some of an audiobook before I get out of bed. I read ebooks on my phone whenever I get a moment. The paper book is for the evenings.

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@Josh

I think the RGB system was by r30. I’ll have to go back and reread that one

Oh that’s right.

The site has been online for about 10 years and sometimes people come and go as their lives and interests change.

Honestly, Batman is one of the guys who knows what he is talking about.

My only worry is that it might require a large time investment.

It depends on your goals. I think it’s all right. You can have a look at this one commonplace book by Ryan Holiday

Writing by hand is just different. Surely, it’s not scalable.

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There is a piece of free software that attempts to mimic the card index style of Zettelkasten.

The features are that it encourages short notes, with an extra place for you to record thoughts about the notes, card numbering, keywords (rather like tags) and author and source attribution.

The user interface is clunky and unforgiving; the documentation minimal (unless you read German). But that may be deliberate; you have to go and look at previous notes in order to link them correctly, so you continue to refresh your knowledge.

Available here

I suppose you could use pretty much any note taking software to put together your own Zettelkasten system. Using Evernote you can associate notes with tags, or have hard links between notes, or even have your own free text based search using whatever method you like. OneNote could be made to do the same.

This subject really caught my eye, so I’m going to dig a bit deeper and see how I can put it to use.

I am a bit of a hoarder of information, but it’s rarely organised and assimilated correctly. I have an Evernote notebook that started well tagged then just got overwhelming. I now rarely refer to it, as a google search is often faster and gets me the info I need.

Hopefully I’ll find something in here to help me improve the situation.

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Zettelkasten,as far as I understand,is more than just creating ‘tags’. It is more of creating ‘meaningful’ links among multiple related thoughts/notes! Each Zettelkasten note is very short, and focused on only one idea written by the note-creator with his own words! In this case,it is similar to “Feynman Technique”. But it extends the Feynman technique further by creating “meaningful” links among related notes!

For example,in the screenshot below,I’m showing my “Zettelkasten” notes on my office work related stuff.

In the green square box in my image,I created a tag on “MVA(Motor Vehicle Accident)”. Then I created “related and meaningful” connection among all the notes related to Motor Vehicle Accident. The tag “MVA” is not enough. I needed to connect all notes that are directly or indirectly related to the concept of MVA,and even other ‘concepts’.

I could also create connections with related topic(Tags)like “Insurance policy on MVA” or “Human Behavior”,etc! This way,my notes not only stay connected,but also,I can expand my understanding of the related topics!

Creating Zettelkasten notes,links is hard and time consuming(as you have to ‘think’ a lot for creating meaningful connection and notes). But it is worth it…

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Thanks for the explanation.
So what software is that you’re using?

@fatphil

It is “Notion” that I used. I find “Notion” a great tool for creating linked Database. I can do everything I want(from task management,todo,notes,bookmark,etc to different types of system settings) in Notion…In past,I also used “Evernote and OneNote”,too. But I have left these two and now I am converting my notes from Evernote and OneNote to Notion,because Notion is superior in many aspects to those two tools…Besides,Notion is free! I love “Notion”. I find it awesome! It dramatically changed the way I work everyday now!

You can directly import all of your EverNote’s notes into Notion…

Other two great tools are:

And

Roam Research is pricey,btw. But both Notion and Obsidian are free for personal use… :slight_smile:

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One thing you may want to consider is: are your zettels future proof?

One of the main ideas about a zettelkasten is that you use it for your entire life. So people worry that vendor specific data formats used to save your data (besides locking you to the vendor) may become unavailable in the future (perhaps decades from now) for many reasons.

And so some zettelkasten users prefer that the data is stored as plain text files (typically using markdown text), which can be read by anything and is most likely as future proof as you can get.

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Both “Notion” and “Obsidian” let the users store the data in .txt or .md formats. Not sure about Roam Research though…

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I tried Obsidian and it looks interesting. I’m trying to find a way to do something similar with my notes in Vim and saw these posts:

I’m still looking for a way to create visual graph of notes like in Obsidian by using a script on the markdown files. If an existing tool doesn’t exist, it might be easy enough to extract the links and draw it with graphviz.

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This video is interesting.

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Most topics here are more about memorization. Zettlkanstern method expand beyond momorization to understanding, creation, etc.
Notion and Roam are two interesting applications. I started to use Notion recenlty inspired by this guy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjoxkxM_I5g&t=632s

I also noticed that there’s a Anki plugin connected to Notion called “notion2anki” created by a boy:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVuQ9KPLbb3bfhm-ZYsq-bQ

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