If I look for some specific information (e.g. whom I talked to in a given meeting and what the take-aways were) I typically know the rough date range when I wrote that information down, so I just go through the notebook entries until I find it. Same with the lab and creative notebooks.
Another advantage is that writing by hand allows you to draw diagrams and write equations with ease. In my opinion nothing beats a paper notebook in this regard. I tried the new iPads and MS Surface tablets but the note-taking experience is just not the same and the results look disappointing IMHO. Also, if I really need to record an image or computer-generated diagram I simply print it, cut it out and glue it into the notebook.
My former colleagues in science used the same method of keeping lab books for decades with great success, I have never heard of anyone using a system like Zettelkasten (but maybe that's just my bubble).
I have also done the dance of going through various productivity tools and have often ended up back in the paper notebook camp. If you are interested in trying another tool out, I’d really love to know what you think of an app I am building. It is meant to be very lightweight with just one screen, and start up really fast, but when logged in, also lets you sync across all devices you have.
It’s available at https://notebrook.app with code ALPHA2020. Everyone is welcome to try. email@example.com for feedback. I think it’s striking a good balance so far of being extremely lightweight but also let’s you recall when you need.
...for some (most?) people. For others, like me, it simply is necessary - we have too many notes, ideas, reminders, thoughts, whatever, of too wide a variety, to use the system described by GP comment, or yours.
1. I put lists in the notes and mark them up with these symbols (inspired by the bullet journal community):
◯ = task, ◐ = in-progress, ● = completed, > = migrated.
2. I also require that the notepads have perforations on every page so that individual pages can be torn out. This is important for keeping the notepad uncluttered -- and lowers the inhibition to freeflow write, because if things don't work out, the page can be torn out.
The Rhodia A5 Dotpad is my go-to
I try to avoid notebooks with tearable pages, because I found them to be too fragile. I carry my most recent notebook everywhere and some of them end up quite beat up. Tearable pages tend to start falling out on their own.
So in my experience Rhodia (and other "higher-end" perforated) notepads are pretty sturdy and tend not to fall apart even with rougher than usual handling (mine haven't). There is a slight price premium however.
With something (relatively) expensive I always had that small, subconscious fear that what I have to write in the notebook wasn't worth ruining the page.
(Yes this actually happened to me)
Previously, everything was scattered in notes on sublime or notion. This is because in the dev world, everything was happening primarily over email or slack, if i ever did have a call with a client, i just made dot points in a text editor and that was it.
My first week as a PM I realized how much more meetings and talking there are. So, I switched to a notebook, but I quickly found the issue of general meeting and “standup” notes being scattered amongst drawings and diagrams etc.
Hence, I now also have two small notebooks. One is for sketches, rough wireframes or ideas, the other is a daily tasks which I use as my standup notes.
Of course, processes can always be further refined, and I’m now also incorporating notion back into my work process.
This is why, for digital use (since I cannot write without pain these days), Microsoft Word is imo the best digital notes software. Full text search, tag integration (#tag), images, hyperlinks, tables, diagrams, equations, and macros (Macros are incredibly awesome.)
There is OneNote but I dislike the org structure and the walled garden approach.
Simple note taking just records what you know and think. ZH
can lead to new understandings of the same set of notes.
I dont see myself following permanent links by timestamp. It is so time-consuming and error-prone, I would drop the whole thing immediately. I know myself this far anyway^^
Major disadvantages - lack of relatively easy search, security, duplication, archiving, integration, accessibility to others, etc.
So it's a complementary tool for me, but the digital-only brigade are missing a useful, and - vital to some - dimension.
However I agree that no digital solution beats paper so far when it comes to drawing diagrams or writing mathematical formulas. However the conversion of handwriting to LateX by https://webdemo.myscript.com/ is quite impressive.
I personally use successive relearning, sometimes also referred to as retrieval-based learning, it's not a note-taking technique per se, but more of a framework on how to learn/study in a way that maximizes retention and meaningful learning.
If anyone's interested in it, here are some resources:
It's only the latest hype around digital Zettelkastens that tout the supposed benefits of mass-linking notes or generating fancy graphs (which I find to be a gimmick with little practical value).
Like any note taking system: Your potential output is what and how much you put into it. No note taking solution - digital or analog - magically produces results without countless hours of input.
Normal notes are fighting complexity by creating smaller and smaller categories of notes
splitting "engineering notes" to "software notes" and "technical writing notes"
and then "software notes" to "java notes" and "design notes"
And this way the notes get deeper and deeper in your notebook and you stop interacting with them.
This described well my personal experience.
Zettelkasten fights this complexity by much more up-front work when adding and linking note, instead of a tree structure, you have a network.
I'm not a big fan of Zettelkästen for this reason, there is no need for those if you go through note refactors and make it a yearly routine (I combine it with OS reinstalls and trying new programs). I don't care about note program longevity for this reason, I'm not bound to a particular program because refactoring also means rewriting many notes from scratch, based on older notes and current knowledge.
This refactoring/rewriting is also a good refresher and helpful for really internalizing broader concepts (which you then can apply to other seemingly similar areas).
So instead of "java notes" and "design notes" you add the "java" and "design" tag, etc., so you can approach your notes in any direction: you can find "java" notes and then narrow the result sets to design notes (so java+design), and vice versa.
And you can add links too between the nodes, so you can also walk them in any order you define.
Existing tools can do this already, it's just a matter of using them.
Is there any more to zettelkasten? Its author invented the same thing on paper notes, but digital tools provide this naturally.
Zettelkasten is very simple and that is the point: You create small and connected notes. This constraint turns out to be useful for research and writing for some people.
There is no trick or secret to it.
i.e. you use one note document for 1 specific book and it might be 1500 words. but instead of linking the documents, you link specific words/paragraphs to other notes/paragraphs?
The gist is focused and self-contained notes, linked together to form structure and connections. A personal wiki with attention of recontextualization.
It takes effort to support this workflow. Notes have to be self-contained and of a somewhat permanent relevance. You don’t put raw reading and meeting notes there.
I wonder if I am doing it wrong. I certainly organize my notes into tree format when I am doing intensive reading on a book. This is to keep my head straight on what topics had been touched on by that book.
On occasions, I do opportunistic linking, however.
Most of the time, it’s more be beneficial to file notes according to the situation in which they’ll be useful rather than where they came from: If you’re going to have a tree structure, the original sources should be out at the leaves as external references rather than the root. This manifests in many forms from lots of different people giving advice:
In Getting Things Done, Allen spends a lot of time on the importance of organizing your todo lists by where you’ll be able to do the actions.
Luhmann used his original Zettelkasten to store passages that he could pull to make drafts of papers, and cross-referenced them to other passages that could be included together.
In How to Write a Thesis, Eco recommends writing a preliminary outline of your thesis and then tagging notes with the section number they’re relevant to.
In his MasterClass series, Chris Hadfield emphasizes the benefit of collecting summary notes organized by the interface you’ll see when actually performing an activity.
I generally take notes on paper and very rarely look at them afterwards.
I note down some thoughts or tasks every day and carry a journal around for that.
I usually get more value out of (work) meetings if I do take notes. I usually take notes but prefer not to if I'm chairing/leading the meeting.
I rarely take notes on what I have read, unless it's something I am actively learning.
Your goal is to learn things, apparently. Memorize what you wrote on the notes.
Zettelkasten's isn't. Its goal is to produce great books and papers.
- It forces some retrieval practice of the notes you’ve taken before, which reinforces all the ideas involved.
- Most of the benefit comes from the act of writing, but there’s an inevitable sense of futility that comes about if those writings are inevitably lost to time. By giving each note an ongoing purpose (to be linked to), the Zettelkasten system dodges this particular trigger to stop writing notes.
(1) as used by Luhmann; not necessarily any of the electronic tools
A better approach is also difficult, ie. asking yourself, do I need better note-taking and memorization of topics? Due to Dunner-Kruger effects, we rarely ponder this. Nowadays, a websearch is a very quick and accessible cop-out and, in many cases (not all), more effective.
Research typically show that pencil and paper works best for memorization. In my experience, I never refer to these notes later however.
Wiki was a good idea in 1995, but taking notes shouldn't require arcane knowledge and have arbitrary implementation limits.
Markdown is slightly better. As a tool, I prefer WYSIWYG into an accessible format.
For TODO-notes, a simple text-file serve me well.
However, for note-taking that I want to refer to later, mindmaps works best digitally in my personal experience, both for memorization and reference.
A free version, though a bit limited, is FreeMind. Works well enough to navigate to find what you need, provided proper node names and structure.
The main reason it's so hip because Luhmann used it.
So, if your work is similar to Luhmanns and your cognitive profile is similar to Luhmans it makes perfect sense to try it out.
But I have no idea how you could test it's effectiveness in any sense that would provide results that are scientifically or statistically sane in any way.
Personally I've tried a "zettelkasten light" and I've found that I can keep my personal random research findings better organized that way - so instead of having just a page in a notebook, building an actual index of the notes as well, and linking thematically identical topics together seems to keep my thoughts better together. Been doing it only for a few months, though, need to see what I think about it in few years.
But, once more, this is anecdotal recall.
A similarly structured contemporary book is David Fleming's "Lean Logic: Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It" . A true masterpiece of composition IMO, and a work that took the author 30 years.
Interestingly, this work ethic also links to Luhmann's views on the time span of research relevant to him. Quoting a paper I found on the matter :
" In 1962 he received a scholarship to Harvard and spent a year with Talcott Parsons. In 1968, he was appointed professor of sociology at the newly established University of Bielefeld, where he worked until his retirement. Shortly before his appointment he was asked on what subject he wished to work at university. His reply was: “The theory of modern society. Duration 30 years; no costs.” He consequently realised exactly this theoretical program. At the time of his death in December 1998, at the age of 70, he had published an oeuvre of over 14,000 printed pages."
: https://www.academia.edu/17063506/The_Legacy_of_Niklas_Luhma... Reference: Bechmann, G., and N. Stehr. "The Legacy of Niklas Luhmann. Society, January/February 2002.
People have apparently implemented this workflow of note taking in their org-mode usage. Here are a few quick search results:
* https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/100/zettels-and-org... (also mentions org-brain)
Org-mode is my go-to tool for any kind of notes or document, sometimes even for PDFs I want to make, via latex export and then latexmk. I find it more comfortable to use for literate programming than Jupyter notebooks too.
On the other hand, I recently saw a lot of Zettelkasten articles. I'm not sure if its been hyped but I still would like to give it a try. When I found emacs, I gave it a try (it was hard) and eventually I begin to like it because of its tons of features. When I found org-mode, I gave it a try and then I like it and use it everyday. When I found org-babel, I gave it a try and then I like it. When ... ... ...
I hope more people would like to try emacs and org-mode. I know: learning at first is pretty hard. My advise it just to use it everyday. I remember I uninstalled notepad++ from my PC in order to force my self to use emacs. It took a month for my brain to be comfortable using emacs.
 - https://dpitt.me/blog/2020/03/zettelkasten/
Based on the really nice personal wiki style knowledge base at https://roamresearch.com/
For those of us struggling with just what Roam or Zettelkasten are, or are wondering why not just use a wiki: Roam is to a wiki what Markdown is to a text editor. That is to say it's a more focused usage of the editor, with helper functions designed to streamline the workflow that is part of the Roam/Zettelkasten "system"
My own setup in Spacemacs (Emacs with Vim-like leader-key composed functions) is arranged around a Zettelkasten/Roam wiki with daily journal notes and TODO items. (Org-mode is a fantastically complex piece of code, listing its features for organization would take too long, but this has some: https://orgmode.org/features.html )
Daily note-taking is done in org-journal, with TODO items scattered in the notes. Creating a new day's note brings forward all the unfinished org-mode TODO items into the new document. More complex stuff gets linked to as an external document. Example: 2020-06-07.org may have an entry "Write new disaster recovery requirements" and within that entry have a link to the "ProjectName Disaster Recovery Requirements" document. The markup in org-mode for that task now that I'm working on it, looks like this:
* DOING [#A] Write new disaster recovery requirements
- State "NEXT" from "TODO" [2020-06-05 Fri 16:14]
- State "DOING" from "TODO" [2020-06-06 Sat 12:07]
[[file:~/Org/projectname_disaster_recovery_requirements.org][ProjectName Disaster Recovery Requirements]]
* DOING [#A] Write new disaster recovery requirements...
ProjectName Disaster Recovery Requirements
Now when I have the disaster recovery requirements file open, org-roam will show me which docs link to it. Which provides a big boost to my recall of important or associated things. For example the backlinks window shows me I linked to the disaster recovery doc from meeting notes a couple of months old. To refresh my memory I click through and read the meeting notes, to discover someone mentioned a new feature of our software that makes disaster recovery more difficult, or some new corporate policy that affects how we store backups, etc etc.
Why should people care about this? In my opinion, it's because we as "computer people" have a vast amount of knowledge we are expected to be able to use on whatever problems we encounter in our work. I think we need all the help we can get to remember that knowledge and its relevance to a given situation or subject. I personally am pretty loose about how I write my personal knowledge base, I don't write theses or long-form articles with perfect bibtex references, but I do try to get what I'm doing into text form so I can search for it later on.
I'm excited to see how this "personal knowledge management" ecosystem grows and develops. We're only human but we're expected to manage godlike amounts of information.
This seems to be a low effort, high reward way of doing things. What extra benefit does Zettelkasten bring and is it worth the additional effort?
EDIT: Another consideration is that you don't want the time you dedicate to sorting a productivity system to be especially big. You want to make stuff. The big txt file doesn't take up a lot of time to organise and allows you to spend time doing good things.
 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22276184 (entitled 'My productivity app for the past 12 years has been a single .txt file')
Might be but the ROI certainly isn't. That's why I use one large text file also. One relevant detail is not to consider that file read only, you must tree shake it regularly. Noise will be less and relevant stuff will be easier to find.
What's the best way to go about it in your eyes?
I don't dive into "implementation details" but you might find something here: https://github.com/slowernews/hamster-system#hamster-flow
2) I can link the notes to create a sort of personal wikipedia. So far I'm pretty happy with Zettlr for this purpose.
I find that even if I don't have to go back to many notes or actively walk through the graph it's really useful for distilling knowledge.
Anyway, I used grep too, but I also navigate by following the links in my notes, which can sometime take me to different location. That can be a single file too or multiple files. That doesn't matter. What matters more is organization(or rather lack of).
With Zettlekasten, you build a concept map of topics that you wouldn't otherwise get if you write your notes linearly or chronologically.
So yeah, zettlekasten doesn't make sense as a productivity system, but that isn't its intended use case anyway.
I tried it, and for me it is not.
The ideas stored are too granular, and the linking becomes unwieldy after a while.
I'd rather store small ideas in a linear big txt file (I use Google Docs), revisit parts from time-to-time and collect/coalesce similar ideas and rewrite them into bigger ideas.
This process of reviewing and rewriting has allowed me to cluster ideas and gain clarity over time. Inspiration is lumpy so everyone needs a cache of thoughts. But these ideas also need to be regularly iterated upon and synthesized into coherent narratives if they are to be useful.
The source code is not available, and each mouseover triggers a lot of Ajax calls (one for the note hovered, one for each link in the hovered note), but the experience is quite pleasant.
I actually prefer Martin Fowler's concept of bliki (blog+wiki) where the granularity is a blog post, instead of a singular note, which captures your understanding of a topic at that time.
It's now being marketed as another holy grail solution, it reminds me of the GTD method back in the day (in terms of marketing).
Index cards and custom sized drawers? lol nope.
To add some constructive feedback: I'm playing with MediaWiki and i noticed this nice links on the right side of all pages: "What links here". It reminded me of this Zettelkasten thing. But without much fuss.
Something like how a text editor can be configured to be a very useful IDE for a given programming language.
I don't see how I could adopt a system that doesn't work on the device I always carry with me — the phone.
Whenever I have an interesting thought, I get my phone, open 1writer, it creates a new [timestamp].md file, and I just jot it down. It instantly saves to dropbox so if I open Sublime on my laptop, the file's already there.
On my PC, I mostly write in Sublime Text but now experimenting with Zettlr and Obsidian.
I heard heard other combinations with other cloud file services and other markdown writing apps work just as good.
Having a folder with plaintext notes going back years just feels ... future-proof.
In case you're looking for a visual editor, you can take a look at Emvi . We didn't build it exactly as a Zettelkasten, but you can reach that goal in pretty much any note taking app. Ours is more focused on collaboration.
 https://emvi.com/ (the UI will change quite a bit in the coming weeks, read about it here https://emvi.com/blog/a-new-experimental-user-interface-QMZg...)
These days I do everything in pen and paper. I file it in a file cabinet. I think this is what Fermi used to do, could be wrong. It works for me. No dependencies, no installations, no updates, no latency, pretty decent storage and great portability.
I make an effort not to dwell on productivity tools, which feel like spending time to save time in spurious and inconsistent amounts. Yes, I wish I could memorize and remember everything worth knowing and doing. No, sometimes it's nice to forget things and prioritize the information that's in front of me.
I've been using Anki as my SRS system for language recall for years. A couple of months ago I started putting in random facts and bits of information that I would normally put into a note. This sort of thing tends to get inputted, filed, and forgotten about until I do a purge of notes every few months. But since I've started using Anki for this, I now 100% remember these types of random facts. A few examples:
- FQ_CODEL stands for Fair Queueing with COntrolled DELay
- ADSB is to air traffic what AIS is to marine traffic
- In CAP theorem, must choose between availability and consistency
(For Anki nerds, I have these as cloze deletions)
The biggest benefit for me (aside from actually remembering this stuff) is that the cognitive overhead of inputting and studying is super low. I can stay focused on doing important work while not having cognitive overhead of learning new things affect my output.
The difference is in how your individual notes are structured into a coherent system. Instead of filing a note in your cabinet by topic / theme, you give each note a unique ID number and over time add links to others within your note.
I say, do what works for you. I wouldn’t want to carry around a file cabinet, personally.
It seems as though Zettelkasten, despite being a relatively old phenomenon (e.g. see Niklas Luhmann), is experiencing a renaissance these days. Ultimately, it is just (yet) another way of keeping track of your notes and thoughts. You can think of it as cataloguing everything you write down. I reckon whether you stand to gain anything from converting your existing note-taking to a Zettelkasten operation depends entirely on how you currently take notes. What really matters is that whatever approach you employ works for you. In general, I wager the mere act of actually writing something down and approaching material in a critical, thoughtful manner as opposed to merely consuming is what drives both retention and understanding. Zettelkasten might help you attain that. It might also not.
My understanding simplified:
Wiki - linked notes
Zettelkasten - Wiki + process on how to read and work with resources, guidelines on how notes should be added, structured and tagged
Instead I’ve been using a stream of small auto-timestamped logs with hashtags to take and retrieve my notes and ideas. It is not a tree-based system, it’s just a text log stream and has worked extremely well for me so far.
I used to do this in a private slack group but eventually created an app called ZenJournal. You may also find it useful.
If you use Sublime (as I do beside Emacs), ther's a plug-in:
During my undergraduate studies I summarized each paper or book I read in form of a single plain text file. This was very helpful when studying for oral exams that required internalizing in the order of >20 volumes. While these weren't cross-referenced, and no special tool was used, this still helped to ace the exams, mostly because the practice of summarizing/compressing the material to its essence itself is essentially the same as learning it.
Main main advice is any tool or none is fine as long as the notes are in plain text so they can last - it's the most durable file format, and you can always build a full-text index to make it searchable e.g. using Lucene.
Anyone else do it this way?
What's the purpose of using a number to link? Why not use words, like hyperlinks have been doing for decades?
Also, using IDs means it is very easy to visually scan a note for links. The [[##############]] format stands out vividly.
I like it, it doesn't bother me. Do whatever works for you.
If I were to write something large like a book, I would probably maintain distinctions between early drafts vs later drafts of chapters. I am imagining that most writers do have some system which captures the notion of the stage the work is in.
Publishing externally is the ultimate way to make it permanent though- otherwise nothing stops the author from amending.
I've been forced to use MS OneNote for one contract, since the laptop is locked-down. Works ok, but search-ability and keyboard-only usage sucks in comparison.
It seems like it's only good for summarizing or collecting information for repackaging and publishing. Maybe that is all it's purporting to be, though.
(As an aside, both Zettlr and Obsidian completely freeze up on my 7000+ blog/wiki folder, but Obsidian eventually manages to parse and cross-link most of it given time)
Using Google keep with keywords at the end/start of the note, plus optional categories, seems to achieve the same thing.
Everything is searchable, so if I'm thinking about something, I'll just do a few searches by keyword and see if I saved something before.
No need for 2 pages of "how to use" :/
I used the same Google keep as you for multiple years, but Keep isn't available offline on PC, it's interface doesn't help in interlinking, and it is not open source. Last one hurts especially considering its a Google project, one of the decent ones at that, and thus it can always be cancelled next quarter.
I moved in to Emacs+org-mode on PC, and Orgzly/Orgro on Android. It syncs notes via syncthing, on my lan, no internet required, but can be used. This gives it a ruledundancy. Org-mode is also much Kore organic for note taking, since it allows collapsing trees, embedding code, equations. Adding links can be done inline, unlike Keep (I haven't used it in last year so that may have changed).
As for search, Keep is good enough if your notes only have shopping lists and one off stuff that you require every now and then. Keep is, however, terrible for organizing any amount of knowledge. Org-rifle, for eg. gives context aware search results across my entire notes folder. The power is unmatched by Keep, where notes are mostly siloes, and interface too verbose to let you a birds eye view.
And did I mention Keep takes multiple seconds to load on a good connection? And that its closed source? For some, that alone is reason enough.
It somehow involves a combination of organically determining a hierarchy of the notes, and then helping to algorithmically prune notes that are no longer useful.
I'm guessing this exists already but that I just need to look harder.
I know it's a bit off topic - so I guess my comment fits right in HN discussions :D
edit: I figured this out myself; the author of the application is described:
Hendrik Erz is a research assistant at the University of Bonn. His main research focusses on the nexus between Marxist economic theory, digitalisation and violence in capitalist societies (riots and terrorism).