Zettelkasten - definition. Origin German. Translates roughly to ‘slip box’. A slip of paper in a wooden box. Really lots of slips, sort like a card catalog. This was a term used by Niklas Luhmann, a German Sociologist, used to describe a system of note taking that he used. He worked starting in the 60’s and died 1998 at 70.Mostly unknown in the West, he was a prolific writer and wrote in many fields. His modus operand can be summed up “no writing, no thinking”.
I come to studying and developing a Zettelkasten via my realization that I want to improve my retention and integration of my reading. I can read a lot but I don’t feel that I’m getting what I could out of it. Note-taking is widely touted as means of integrating what is read into your life. It points to ideas from different realms that support or contrast each other, shows gaps and contradictions in ideas note-taking slows you down and facilitates a two-way conversation with the author. May great thinkers say writing is thinking. Our notes are our thinking, a second brain of sorts.
Unlike Evernote, I use this exclusively for process my reading and “bolts of lightening” inspiration where something I’ve read becomes clear in life. This is also plain text only. It has required learning MarkDown, easier than I first thought. Also the goal of breaking up readings so that one idea is recorded in one note is sometimes hard. Each note is only about 250 words or less. Each note has a low level of commitment to its creation. Low barrier to getting it done. I tend to great them in blocks, but not always.
My path so far.
I have been looking for a way to be able to recall the mental models I form when reading. I like to read and read a lot. I feel a like I’m cheating myself by not focusing on the recall of what I read.
This lead me to Make It Stick a book that explores the ways that work for recall. It lays waste to the claims of traditional methods I’ve used in the past.
This lead me to “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens. This is a 5 star book. In it the argument is laid out for note-taking as the best means of integrating what is read into your life. At the end he refers to some online tools. He also did a wonderfully informative talk at the Paris NEWCRAFTS Conferences in 2018.
This lead me to excellent zettelkasten.de website by Christian Tietze and Sascha Fast. Reading their blog and participating in the forum based on like minded individuals working to improve their ‘knowledge management’. There is a wide variety of methods with everyone tweaking things as they learn and practice.
This lead me to a practice of creating 3 or 4 notes a day in a software app call The Archive, created by Christian Tietze. We’ll see. In only a couple of months I have accumulated over 300 zettels (notes). Trying to keep to one idea - one note. One idea at a time.