In this post we are gonna quickly understand what’s the problem ZettelKasten is trying to solve, WTF is ZettelKasten method and how to start with an efficient personal knowledge management system so that we develop a conscious second brain.
Problem of Information Deluge
We read a lot of text in our lifetimes. Not only books, but increasingly we read online — be it magazines / newsletters / publications /twitter threads/ Facebook posts /long medium articles by the people that matter to us and give us inspiration. But the more we read, the more it seems to slip through our long term memory.
So: How to preserve this knowledge? or even better: How do you store that amount of knowledge in a way that you can access it any point in time?
This is the point at which probably most of us stumble upon the word “Zettelkasten.”
What is ZettelKasten Method?
Zettelkasten sounds like a complicated German philosophical concept but it simply means “box of notes.” Zettelkasten is a way to manage our knowledge.
Zettelkasten — box of notes
Who developed it?
Niklas Luhmann, a German social scientist who researched and wrote over 70 books, used half-sheets of paper because they were large enough to be useful and compact enough to store easily.
It’s hard to know if zettelkasten is what helped Luhmann become such a prolific and influential writer, or if it is simply a result of his own peculiar thought process
How to make Luhmann’s zettelkasten method work ?
- Notes are atomic — Each note should hold a single bit of information. It could be a paragraph or a couple of sentences. The point is to have, as nearly as possible, just one thought per note.
- Each Note Has a Home — Every note has a distinct home in the filing system so that you can easily find it when you need it. Luhmann didn’t believe in arranging his notes topically because that could limit a note’s usefulness. A guinea pig — is it a pet, an experiment or food? Once you start thinking of a guinea pig in one context it’s hard to see it in any other.
- Each Note Has a Name- In order to locate the note in its home, the note must have a unique ID. Luhmann used numbers starting at 1 and going on to infinity. He had an elaborate theory of branching, creating sub-sections with letters such as 1a, 1a1 etc. but it seems like he may have walked away from that concept after a while. Followers of the zettelkasten approach use a combination of date and time to create unique IDs because it is guaranteed to be unique and it is easy to remember.
- Notes Link to Other Notes- Using the ID number of a note it is possible to link two notes together. For example a note about a science experiment could link to a note about guinea pigs. In this respect Luhmann’s note taking system resembled modern hypertext.
- Cross Reference Keywords- Luhmann kept a cross-reference guide to important keywords from each of his notes. This way if he wanted to find information about “pets” he could look at the reference sheet and find IDs for all his notes that related to pets.*
If you wanna geek out on note taking efficiently, do read the book — Sonke Ahrens — “How to take smart notes”
&/ you can go through this
Is there a digital way to implement / follow the ZettelKasten Method?
If you really went through the slide deck above you might think the technical implementation is pretty confusing, don’t worry there are simpler and easier tools now.
In the next chapter am gonna explain the roam research cos that’s what am planning to use personally for the QuantumComputingIndia community as it requires a wide range of thoughts to be captured and structured for easy reference.