Evernote as a Zettelkasten
(This is a short English language summary of my post Evernote als Zettelkasten)
I mainly use four notebooks in my Zettelkasten:
- !_Inbox (Default notebook)
- 1_Inspiration (more or less for my own thoughts and ideas)
- 2_Reference (more or less for iritations from other people)
- 3_ZKN (for notes that have "matured")
Everything is supposed to start in the inbox and then quickly moves on to inspiration or reference. The trick here is to just have an easy decission to make when trying to empty your inbox. And deciding if something is my own idea or somebody elses is easy enough. Matured notes are those that I keep coming back to. I try to move them when I have at least touched them twice.
I have a tag tree that looks something like this:
This hierarchy has some history to it and is used not only in Evernote, but also in Gmail, in the file system, in OmniFocus, etc. In Evernote the tags retain the full "path" as the tag title, because tags have to be unique in Evernote and some sub tags are used many times throughout the hierarchy (for example "00-meta").
I use Keyboard Maestro to make working with tags easier. The management of the tag tree is somewhat involved since I keep a running note of all tags, a changelog of when I added a tag and a list of rules and practices on how to use the hierarchy.
I have a template which is the base of all notes/Zettel:
- cross references:
This layout helps to structure notes and includes enough "nudges" to do the right thing, that is to link Zettels together. I also link notes inline, but it helps to have back/forward and cross reference available. It's all about making it easy to build up a network of notes.
Principles of working with a Zettelkasten
New search strategy
Searching always needs to start in the Zettelkasten. Even if I'm certain, that I won't find what I'm looking for, I need to find a place to connect what I've researched to. The new search strategy for a new problem looks as follows:
- Have I written a Zettel about this?
- If yes:
- write follow up notes that further the "reach" of the Zettelkasten
- If no:
- e. g. use the Internet and write a Zettel about it
A note should be as atomic as possible, which means it should only hold one thought or just do one thing. Here is an explanation:
The underlying principle I’d call the principle of atomicity: put things which belong together in a Zettel, but try to separate concerns from one another. For example, I might collect a list of assumptions in one Zettel which serves as an overview. like hard determinism. A related argument and its conclusion will be kept in another Zettel. Moral responsibility under hard determinism is a good example. I can re-use the arguments without buying into the assumptions because the arguments are of sufficiently general form. Atomicity fosters re-use which in turn multiplies the amount of connections in the network of Zettels.
And here the Footnote 2:
If you’re a programmer, separation of concerns should ring a familiar bell. I deal with notes in a fashion similar to complex code. Instead of writing classes, I create new note files. Accordingly, patterns emerge: there are argumentative notes; there are notes with term definitions; there are sparks and ideas. Each Zettel pattern fulfils a different purpose.
In my words: The guideline for writing notes should be: reusability when looking at the output and restriction of "functionality" (outline, example, definition, …) when looking at the input. Since atomic notes can be linked with each other, this ensures a high potential of interconnectivity.
No perfection nowhere
Completeness, uniformity, homogenity, closure, etc. There is no need to make Zettels perfect on the first try. Quite the oposite: Gradual practice of improving notes where it is neccesary, right now, ensures much better that the practice of notes taking is a long lasting one. A good way of putting this, from here:
It can be tempting to spend a lot of time to create highly structured, perfectionistic notes. The problem is, you often have no idea which sources will end up being valuable until much later. Instead of investing a lot of effort upfront, organize your notes opportunistically, in small bits over time
Your rule of thumb should be: add value to a note every time you touch it. This could include adding an informative title the first time you come across a note, highlighting the most important points the next time you see it, and adding a link to a related note sometime later. By spreading out the heavy work of organizing your notes over time, you not only save time and effort, but ensure that the most frequently used (and thus most valuable) notes surface organically, like a ski slope where the most popular routes naturally end up with deeper grooves.