/ˈt͜sɛtl̩kastn̩/ (German) zettel = brief note / label; kasten = case / container
You cannot remember everything. Remembering facts is the most difficult.
Ground pilars for note taking:
- You cannot remember something that you cannot explain. If you cannot rephrase something you’ve observed, then you can not learn it.
Ground pilars for the zettelkasten method:
Build up your knowledge base of facts so you can form new (and more elaborate) ideas based on the previous ones. You develop new ideas based on old ones. Taking notes is not to store knowledge, but to build new ones.
Connect your knowledge. This is the most important part. Remember to always seek connections between your notes, and add those connections where you see fit. This ultimately means that you need to be tagging your content appropriately.
The goal is to develop new ideas and not to store them. The storage of knowledge comes second.
Types of notes
(The notes that got away) Temporary notes that contain no particular context. They should be fast to jot, as the reader will be you on the evening of the same day.
Project-related / litteature notes
Gray area between permanent and fleeting notes. If you’re reading a book, or Working on a project, it can be good to write down some of your findings there and then, but add a little bit of context as the reader will be you at the end of the book / chapter / project sprint / project.
It’s easy to forget about these notes. Do not give the notes months of lifetime.
This page is an example. Full of context so it can be read at any other time. The reader can be anyone, years from when it was written.
It’s based on fleeting notes and project-related notes. A days work of notes does not equal an essay. Keep the documents alive and add to them when you have more notes that needs to be materialized.
These notes are for you. Do not make the assumption your notes needs to be able to be interpreted by everyone. You are the target audience.
You write daily fleeting or project-related notes of your thoughts and findings. Keep a physical notepad or notepad app at hands at all time. Especially when reading factual text, watching lecturing videos, and most importantly when you take a shower or go for a walk.1
At the end of your day, you look through your notes. You throw away some, and you keep others.
Take your daily notes and immortalize them as permanent notes.
Taking a step back from the keyboard and letting yourself think, maybe help yourself with some fidget spinner or stress ball, and focus on your thoughts is top tier productivity.
The surface of our culture may be interpreted at first as “if you don’t have both hands on your keyboard at all times then you’re not working 100%”. If you dig deeper and ask around, you stop everyone to give a good answer of what should be right; and that is of course that thinking is the best use of your time.
To enhance your productivity though, you need to materialize your thoughts outside of your brain. The brain mixes up facts and memories all the time, but amazing at storing conncetions between knowledge. If you take notes from your experiences, you can easily remember where to look for this knowledge when you need it again.
Careful when measuring yourself
Measuring yourself on how many blog posts, how many articles, how many paper you’ve written, or even how many GitHub issues you’ve resolved, is a bad practice as those all depend on so many factors.
What’s more realistic is to segment your achivements into smaller chunks. Counting the number of notes you’ve taken each (work) day is a great measurement, because it does not rely on the range of luck or easiness vs the unknowns and walls you will encounter.
- Sönke Ahrens - How to take smart notes https://vimeo.com/275530205
Sir William Rowan Hamilton, a famous mathmatician, figured out the quaternion formula on a simple walk with his wife, and so he carved it in to the side of a bridge. The equation became one of Hamiltons greatest and most famous works. Some ideas are just to valuable to let drift. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Rowan_Hamilton#Quaternions↩︎