Book Club: Zettlekasten

Recently I was part of a call with Daniel and Lars to discuss Zettelkasten, a system for building up a cross-referenced archive of notes to help with research and study that has been getting a lot of discussion recently, the key thing being the building of links between ideas. Tomas Vik provided an overview of the process that we all found very helpful, and the information vs knowledge picture in Eugene Yan’s blog on the topic (by @gapingvoid) really helped us crystalize the goals. It’s not at all new and as Lars noted has a lot of similarities with a wikis in terms of what it produces but it couples this with an emphasis on the process and constant generation of new entries which Daniel found similar to some of the Getting Things Done recommendations. We all liked the emphasis on constant practice and how that can help build skills around effective note taking, clear writing and building links between ideas.

Both Daniel and Lars already have note taking practicies that they find useful, combinations of journalling and building up collections of notes of learnings over time, and felt that there could be value in integrating aspects of Zettelkasten into these practices so we talked quite a bit about how that could be done. There was a consensus that journalling is useful so the main idea we had was to keep maintaining the journal, using that as an inbox and setting aside time to write entries into a Zettelkasten. This is also a useful way to approach recording things when away from a computer, taking notes and then writing them up later. Daniel suggested that one way to migrate existing notes might be to simply start anew, moving things over from old notes as required and then after a suitably long period (for example a year) review anything that was left and migrate anything that was left.

We were all concerned about the idea of using any of the non-free solutions for something that is intended to be used long term, especially where the database isn’t in an easily understood format. Fortunately there are free software tools like Zettlr which seem to address these concerns well.

This was a really useful discussion, it really helps to bounce ideas off each other and this was certainly an interesting topic to learn about with some good ideas which will hopefully be helpful to us.

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