Zettelkasten: A Tool To Think In. Not A Note Taking System

Zettelkasten: A Tool To Think In. Not A Note Taking System

A few days ago I wrote about my Zettelkasten method that I am using in Notion. I posted it in a few forums that I thought would be useful - one of those was Reddit.

I had a lot of comments from people who use Roam & Obsidian about how I was fundamentally wrong to keep my Zettelkasten in Notion. To be honest, at first I was annoyed at people trying to thrust their software choices at me.

But the comments got interesting & got me thinking. A couple of the arguments went something like this:

  • Why would you keep your 'forever notes' in a system that could disappear tomorrow?
  • Notion has had some downtime lately - what if you lost all your notes?
  • Notion forces you conform to their proprietary system - plain notes are just better
  • Notion doesn't do interlinking of notes well enough for me.

Now, these are all absolutely legitimate arguments. And I'm not here to argue about software. I want to talk about something deeper. About how we fundamentally think about Zettelkasten and how our notes are not actually the most important part of the system.

So, after spending a couple of days on Reddit, I promised one of my commenters that I'd check out Obsidian. I got as far as the homepage when I read this

Tend to your notes like a gardener; at the end of the day, sit back and marvel at your own knowledge graph

Something bugged me about this. Is the Zettelkasten method just another note taking method? Or is it something more - A tool to 'think in.'

The Zettelkasten: A Tool To 'Think In'

If you're building your Zettelkasten, or digital garden or knowledge hub just to sit back at the end of the day and marvel at your knowledge graph - you're doing it wrong.

If you're just in it for the amount of notes you can put in and the amount of connections you can make - you've missed the point.

If you are not turning knowledge into action, then it doesn't matter how many notes you input or connections you make.

Your notes are not the end point.

The original creator of this system - Niklas Luhmann, wasn't sitting back every night and marvelling at his creation of notes. He was getting busy writing 70 books and more than 400 articles.

He saw his Zettelkasten as a tool - A tool to think in.

My Macbook Air is a tool. But If I just sat back and marvelled at it's design everyday without opening and using it - it would be of no use to me.

So too, is your Zettelkasten. Your notes are a vehicle for your thoughts.

What matters fundamentally is what you're doing as a result of those notes. What actions are you taking to grow and to change. Are you producing new ideas because of what you are learning? Or are you just accumulating Knowledge.

Is There Such Thing As A Forever Note?

This idea of 'forever notes' is really foreign to me. I don't see my Zettelkasten that way. I don't plan on looking back at the permanent notes I wrote 10 years from now. I hope I'm writing new notes and thinking about new ideas.

10 years from now, I hope I can look back on all the prolific writing and content I've been able to produce and put out there in the world as a result of those notes - that is what matters to me.

Your notes are not the end game. It's not about how many notes you can amass, or how big your graph can be. Get your ideas out into the world... that's what matters.

I hope this was helpful to you and you start to create some great content from the notes you are writing. If you liked this follow me on Twitter, I love to have conversations about Zettelkasten over there too 🙂

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