Everywhere I look, I find complicatedZettelkasten shouldn't be complicated, but it is.Zettelkasten is Complicated
There are a lot of things I like about Zettelkasten, but one thing I don't like is how complicated it is to set up. According to the building blocks of Zettelkasten blog post, a typical Zettelkasten system consists of an inbox, an archive, and a reference database.
Inbox**: the gateway into your knowledge system (e.g. Google Notes, Email, Apple Notes, etc.)
Archive**: the one, trusted place to look for information (e.g. Obsidian, Roam Research, etc.)
Reference Data Zettelkasten workflows that require a multi-step setup process. On top of the setup, notes must be regularly reviewed and categorized. For some, this workflow may be a godsend, but for most, it's overkill. I'm here to unveil my method of using Zettelkasten. It may be unconventional, so beware.
ZettelkastenZettelkastenThis is a unique note organization method that functions in a similar vein to a brain—through the connection of ideas. It is proven to promote learning and isn’t restricted by any hierarchical structure. As a result, note discovery is as simple as “following a train of thought”.
Also see the two principles of zettelkasten can be distilled into two principlestwo principles of zettelkastenPrinciple of Atomicity**: Limit notes to a single topic for interoperability
* See How to create useful links
Principle of Connectivity**: Connect information together
https://zettelkasten.de/posts/overview/#principles: take atomic notes and make connections. What this means is to take notes that are limited to a specific topic and make connections between these topics. Without these two principles, there is no Zettelkasten. So it's super important to fully understand this!
In my workflow, there are two types of notes:
- Fleeting Notes: Notes that aren't specific to a topic
- Atomic Notes: Notes that are specific to a topic
Fleeting Notes are similar to any note we normally take. They can be random thoughts in our brains or quick notes from a meeting. What's important to understand is that Fleeting Notes are not atomic notes. Atomic Notes are specific to one topic and what makes them powerful is that they're interoperableinteroperable components are efficientBecause interoperabile components are self-contained, they can be reused in different situations and are easily maintainable (changing one, updates all).
notes/reuse code for efficiency and maintainability. One pitfall many fall into when creating atomic notes is that they create groups and not connectionsTo create useful links, we need to connect, not groupThe focus for creating useful links is on making connections between notes and NOT making groups. Ideas need to be atomic and grouping things doesn't create atomic ideas.
When we don't create links atomic links (e.g. [[school]]), there will be many connections with very little meaning, adding clutter..
The simplest workflow
Now that we understand the basic concepts let's get into my workflow! So what I do is I take fleeting notes like I normally do and add connections to atomic notes if I want the note to potentially resurface in the future. Finally, if I have the time and energy, I will traverse into the atomic note and expand on the topic. And that's it! I know some of you like lists so I'll make one below:
- Take fleeting notes like I normally do
- If I feel it's important, add links to atomic notes
- If I have the time and energy, expand upon my atomic note.
No regular review, no complicated setup procedure, and no need for categorization. This is a simple yet powerful way to take notes. If you're interested to see an example, check out my Zettelkasten examplesLearn Zettelkasten by Example #1: The Collector's FallacyIntro Blurb
I've talked a lot about how Zettelkasten is complicated but I've never dove deeper into exactly how I use Zettelkasten to take notes. In order to lead by example, every week, I will read an article and take connected notes. Hopefully, this process can give you ideas about how to improve your Zettelkasten workflow. Also, feel free to suggest articles you want me to read next week.
Article Link: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/collectors-fallacy/
* I collect things mainly be blog post.
What note-taking app?
I love Obsidian and it's my note-taking application of choice, but it isn't great for taking quick notesThe Totally Unnecessary Way To Write Quick Notes in ObsidianWriting Quick Notes in Obsidian
When using Obsidian I know that having more connections is better. So I often take it upon myself to use Obsidian for everything. Thanks to the plugin system provided by Obsidian, it personalizes the way I use Obsidian and allowed me to do many things that would otherwise be impractical (e.g. getting my TODOs from Todoist). But even with this customizability, sometimes Obsidian just isn't the right tool for the job. One example is writing quick notes into Obsidia. This is why I created Fleeting Notes a scratchpad for taking quick and connected notes. With this app, I can seamlessly create new notes and build/traverse connections.