Zettelkasten Posts Moved

Since we started the Zettelkasten blog, it became weirder and weirder to keep the old posts here. I found the split among domains unfortunate.

Today, I’ve moved all Zettelkasten-related posts to the project blog at Zettelkasten.de. The old addresses won’t change, and your comments have persisted, too.

Thanks for visiting this blog, and thanks for caring about what I write! If you’re still interested in personal information management, head over to the new place. If you’re into programming, though, stay here.

DEVONthink and Zettelkasten

My dear friend Marko Wenzel has written an excellent review about DEVONthink and how to use it as a Zettelkasten note archive.

I have used DEVONthink myself a few years ago, but I think Marko’s expertise has far outpassed everything I ever knew about the app. I hope he’ll show us the various preview and link building scripts he created, too, because they make his workflow truly unique.

How I Prepare to Work on a Research and Writing Project

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

How do I deal with reading and research projects for University? I plan and prepare the work. This is the second post of the Summer Knowledge Challenge: here, I tell you about the first step, extracting reading notes from Justice for Hedgehogs and preparing the project. The procedure I describe applies to other University assignments and writing projects as well.

Continue reading on Zettelkasten.de …

Introducing Myself on Zettelkasten.de

As I have announced last week, I’m going to move a lot of my Zettelkasten-related writing to the project website at zettelkasten.de.

To deal with my forgetfulness, I have learned to install useful habits and techniques into my life. I believe you have to have a working task management in place which watches your back while you do hard work, like researching and writing. Task management is there to keep real life at bay. You need both to succeed. My journey as a knowledge worker and writer began when I finally got stuff done.

Like Sascha, I have started with an introduction of myself. Since I never really told you how I came to find out about the tool called “Zettelkasten”, you might want to read it, too.

Composing and Revising – The Two Modes of Writing

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Since I recently released the Word Counter for Mac, I have given more thought to the process of writing itself, especially since your comments on writing vs editing started to pour in. I count my words to increase my productivity as a writer. “But!”, people exclaimed, “How do you account for rewrites, deletions, and correcting grammar?” By dividing composing from revising.

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Challenge: Apply the Knowledge Cycle to Reading a Single Book

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I plan to write a long term paper at University later this year. It’s going to be about the book Justice for Hedgehogs1 by Ronald Dworkin, and I’ll be able to mostly work with this single source exclusively. Consequently, there won’t be much additional research. How does the Knowledge Cycle apply if you read a book and don’t do research? I invite you to take the “Summer Knowledge Challenge” and find out with me.

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Feed for All Zettelkasten Posts

You can now subscribe to the posts tagged with “Zettelkasten only. I created a new feed which you can find here. With this feed, you get the Zettelkasten stuff without all the other news. The thing is that you’ll miss all the productivity tips which have nothing to do with the Zettelkasten method.

Don’t know what a feed is and wonder what your browser displays when you click on the link? The US Government website got you covered:

It’s an easy way for you to keep up with news and information that’s important to you, and helps you avoid the conventional methods of browsing or searching for information on websites.

Feeds are means to subscribe to website updates. The updates get pushed into your feed reader inbox, just like e-mail. This is far better than checking pages you like manually all the time. In Firefox, for example, you can bookmark website feeds and get an auto-updating list of new articles in your bookmarks bar. Most modern browsers got plug-ins to subscribe to feeds. Also, see a list of feed readers on Wikipedia for inspiration.

I use Fever to subscribe to other websites’ feeds.

If you didn’t know, the feed for all kinds of posts on this website is here. Subscribe to this one to receive notifications for all posts to this here “Worklog” of mine.

Use a Short Knowledge Cycle to Keep Your Cool

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

It’s important to manage working time. Managing to-do lists is just one part of the equation to getting things done when it comes to immersive creative work where we need to make progress for a long time to complete the project. To ensure we make steady progress, we need to stay on track and handle interruptions and breaks well. A short Knowledge Cycle will help to get a full slice of work done multiple times a day, from research to writing. This will help staying afloat and not drown in tasks.

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Include Images in nvALT for a Multi-Media Zettelkasten Experience

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

nvALT sports features which are not so well-known. You can make it work with an image repository to easily include images in your Zettel notes. I don’t make heavy use of the preview at all, but when I do, it’s mostly because I want to take a look at images. For this purpose, I decided to stick to a simple folder structure and customize the preview template to work with it.

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Building Blocks of a Zettelkasten

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I am working hard on the “Building Blocks” chapter of the Zettelkasten book and I want to finish it first to show it to the public. It covers all parts of the toolkit. To sketch a structure and talk about its components, I need to get the requirements and implementation done before talking about workflow details. Today, I want to show you a birds-eye view of the overarching systems metaphor I’m using in the book.

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The Zettelkasten Platform – 2 Ways You Can Contribute

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the next step in the Zettelkasten.de platform. I offer two exciting ways to contribute to the overall project: a central tools collection, and river of news. This way, we can create a unified base where the online discussion is aggregated so that everyone can follow easily. It will be a useful resource for anyone who wants to find out more about knowledge management and implementing the Zettelkasten method.

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SlipBox (Mac) Note Archive Review

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

SlipBox is a Mac-only application with iPad/iPhone companion apps to manage a note archive. When I found out about the app, I was curious about its ability to traverse a organically growing, tree-like ontology of keywords. That’s the app’s killer feature. SlipBox didn’t disappoint, but I come to the conclusion that it is best suited for project-based note databases.

Continue reading on Zettelkasten.de …

Using nvALT as a Zettel Note Archive

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I want to start this series of reviews with a software I’m fairly familiar with. While most things apply to the Notational Velocity base application, I will talk about nvALT exclusively in this review. nvALT is a fork by Brett Terpstra and David Halter of the original Notational Velocity, which was created by Zachary Schneirov, and a few modifications by yours truly. It’s Open Source, free, and very popular.

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Baseline for Zettelkasten Software Reviews

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I’m going to take a close look at applications to find out which are suitable to implement the Zettelkasten note archive. I already talked about reference managers. While reference managers can be switched pretty easily, migrating a database of notes is far from being a trivial task, depending on the software you used in the past. Therefore, we have to chose how to implement the note archive with great care. Here you’ll find my criteria.

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The Need to Craft

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My last posts were rather prescriptive by nature. Before I start sprinkling in the casual software reviews, I want to slow down a bit and change the pace. Lately, I wondered why I do things. My answer is pretty plain, and I’d like to know what drives you to worry about organizing information. So I’ll begin to share, and then you may, if you like.

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Reading Habits: Putting It All Together

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I am moving next month, and so I though about getting rid of stuff in my life. There are lots of books I’ve read, but from which I never processed all the notes. I know for sure that at I finished least one book in the collection about two years ago! You see, I was, and still am, vulnerable to the Collector’s Fallacy. While I try to get through the pile of books, I reviewed my reading process. This is a summary where I put together some of the topics I already wrote about

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You Only Find What You Have Identified

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

I want to answer the question: Why are unique identifiers useful when you work with a Zettelkasten? The objective of a Zettelkasten note archive is to store notes and allow connections. Both are necessary to extend our mind and memory. As long as the software you use doesn’t provide any means to create links between notes, you have to come up with your own convention. Even if the software did provide such a mechanism, I’d suggest you think twice about relying on it: I want to evade vendor lock-in for my Zettelkasten, and I think you should, too. So let’s assume you don’t care about the software and create your own hyperlink scheme.

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Learn Faster by Writing Zettel Notes

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

As a knowledge worker, you have to learn a lot in your field. The internet is full of information, and there’s the books you just have to know in and out. How do you speed up the process and learn efficiently? Scott Young learned linear algebra in 10 days due to a very efficient method. It works for other fields of knowledge as well. The “Drilldown Method” consists of three stages:

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Note-Taking when Reading the Web and RSS

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

In the last post, I detailed that collecting texts may become a tempting replacement for obtaining real knowledge, but also that collecting in itself doesn’t get us anywhere. I called this the “Collector’s Fallacy”. I think we need to conquer this lazy, stuff-hoarding part of ourselves with good knowledge management habits.

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The Collector’s Fallacy

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

There’s a tendency in all of us to gather useful stuff and feel good about it. To collect is a reward in itself. As knowledge workers, we’re inclined to look for the next groundbreaking thought, for intellectual stimulation: we pile up promising books and articles, and we store half the internet as bookmarks, just so we get the feeling of being on the cutting edge.

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Preparing Fragments Helps You to Ease Into Writing

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

A Zettelkasten makes writing texts easy. It encourages you to prepare research and the most of your writing before you compile your first draft. This way you can focus on one task at a time and needn’t sweat about getting through. This works excruciatingly well with longer texts but it’s proven indispensable for any of my shorter writing projects, too.

Continue reading on Zettelkasten.de …

Extend Your Mind and Memory With a Zettelkasten

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

A Zettelkasten is a device to extend your mind and memory so you can work with texts efficiently and never forget things again. Both permanent storage and interconnectedness are necessary to use the full potential of an archive for your notes. You need a permanent storage for your notes so they can give a cue for the things you want to remember. You also need to manually connect notes to create a web of notes which adjusts to the way your mind works.

Continue reading on Zettelkasten.de …

Announcing a Zettelkasten Info Product

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Recently, I took a look at my Zettelkasten to see which Zettel notes would make a good next post in the series. I re-discovered plenty of material, no doubt. Still, it occurred to me that there’s a lot of important things which don’t fit well in short blog posts and which neither do well when split into a series of posts.

I talked to my pal Sascha about my concerns who has plenty of experience as a writer. He’s running a thriving German blog about nutrition and healthy lifestyle called ImprovedEating which I can only recommend because of the genuine research he’s providing. His blog is a platform to get feedback for the vast amount of research material for the upcoming book he’s writing for about a year now.

The point is: Sascha is a blogger, a book author and a Zettelkasten user. Without a Zettelkasten, he wouldn’t be able to manage all the material he’s researched so far. Of course I wanted him to give me some feedback.

We considered the vast amount of notes on maintaining a Zettelkasten both of us collected through the years. In the end, we decided to create an information product together, that is: a book.

Thanks to our efficient note-taking method, the book will be available soon for feedback from early adopters. I’m pretty excited about this project and I’ll definitely keep you in the loop!

Manage Citations for a Zettelkasten

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Today, we’ll talk about tools for a change. Managing a reference file is part of the collection phase of maintaining a Zettelkasten. It’s of special importance if you’re writing a research paper or a book because without proper citation management things are going to be a mess for you, soon. I’ll show you how I do it and tell you about possible alternatives briefly.

Continue reading on Zettelkasten.de …

Making Proper Marks in Books

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Highlighting texts

My reading workflow consists of phases similar to the phases in GTD: collect, process, write. This post is about collecting.

Marks aid understanding – but don’t overdo it

When you read a book, do you underline words or sentences or whole paragraphs? Do you use a colored text highlighter, a ballpoint pen or a pencil?

Manfred Kuehn thinks the way you treat a book is a sign of how civilized a reader you are. If you paint the pages you don’t know a lot about getting information and treating books. Also, underlining is utterly useless in most cases: you don’t magically remember the content better if you underline it word for word, sentence by sentence. Underlining won’t help you remember; marks are there to aid understanding in a later phase of reading.

Despite Kuehn’s point, you’re not supposed to consider yourself a caveman just because you use colored pens to put marks in texts: Umberto Eco states in How to Write a Dissertation[1] that you should use different colors for different questions, topics, points of view, and he says you should mark passages in color for revisiting the text.[160, 2] According to Eco, it’s useful to color-code your marks and reflect this code in your notes.

I agree that you should neither ruin other people’s property nor their reading experience of library books by painting the book’s pages, though. That’s just ruthless. But you’ll need to mark passages for further reference, else you’ll forget what you found important in the first place. So because you have to, use a pencil and erase your marks later if the book wasn’t yours. If you’re going to re-read the text and use it during future research, buy the book and use colored pencils if you like.

When I read, I collect everything that’s useful on paper. I practice ‘writing while reading’, if you like. Writing improves thinking, remember?

My collection phase consists of both putting marks in the margins and writing notes:

  1. I put pencil marks in both my own and library books. Nowadays, I simple put a dot • in the page margin to find the passage I want to pick up later. These little visual guides ease scanning the page.
  2. The text inspired a thought, and the inspiring part is already marked in the text. I only need to capture the thought during the collection phase. I used to write notes in the margins to remember what I had thought in re-reads of the book. Now, though, I write a summary or a unique thought on separate pieces of paper which I can physically pull out of the text.

Both the mark and the note will be useful when I process the text later. True understanding depends upon elaborate notes which I put into my Zettelkasten. I’ll expand the processing phase in another post.

Getting Fancy with Marks

For academic reading, I employ a tactic which is slightly more complex. My good friend Sascha suggested to divide text into its functionings:

  • I circle terms which are being defined and write a D for Definition in the margin.
  • When the author elaborates a model, I put an M or μ in the margin and maybe highlight key terms she uses.
  • If I spot an argument, I put an A or α in the margin and sometimes draw a vertical line in the margin to designate the passage.
  • Everytime I find a weakness in the argument or disagree due to a different starting point, I put a bolt glyph in the margin.

These glyphs I only use for texts in philosophy and sociology which tend to be more complex and need to be broken down into manageable parts. In nearly every other fiction and non-fiction book it’ll suffice to take note and aid the eye with unobstrusive marks.

Please tell me more about your own reading habits!


  1. I couldn’t find an English translation of Eco’s Come si fa una tesi di laurea. The German translation (affiliate link) is very popular, though. I cite this one.  ↩

  2. Eco, Umberto: Wie man eine wissenschaftliche Abschlußarbeit schreibt, translated from Italian. Müller, 2007.

Create a Zettelkasten for your Notes to Improve Thinking and Writing

This post has moved to Zettelkasten.de. Read it there.

Assuming you’re a writer or a thinker, why should you care about the way you take notes? If you want to think creatively and write original articles and books, you need to form associations in your mind effectively. Notes can help you with that if you adhere to a few basic principles. You can emulate communication processes with your own notes if you structure them in a certain manner. Notes can and should stimulate new associations and foster your creativity just like a good talk does.

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Multi-Markup Notational Velocity

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I integrated recent changes to Zachary Schneirov’s original NV into my code base. Most issues you were reporting should be solved just by that baby step. The other new and cool stuff is: I’m constantly trying to decouple the code Zachary (“scrod”) wrote. It works fine as-is, but it’s not easy to change and add features while keeping up to date with Zachary’s code. Merging everything every now and then is a little risky. I want my code to be an easy addition, ideally not touching anything from the original. That is just plain impossible, but thinking about it should indeed help me improve my code in many ways. I still can’t grasp how easy it is to do all these small changes. Incredible!

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Too many Notational Velocity forks?

Note that no one’s forking it to remove features. One Thing Well

There’s an implicit argument I disagree with: Since we’re dealing with apps which do One Thing Well here, the quotation may just as well state: “look! how they make the program less focused on a single task but make it more complex instead.”

This, in my mind, basically means either (1) Notational Velocity in its original form was just perfect, hence the impossibility of removing stuff, or (2) Notational Velocity wasn’t perfect but doing one thing well and we developers jumped in and broke the golden rule.

I disagree to that second possible conclusion, partly because I wholeheartedly agree to the first one.

All of us “forkers” try to make something entirely new out of NV. I want to transform it into a text editor for (Multi)Markdown files. Other want a full-screen writing environment. I don’t want to add features to Notational Velocity. I want to change it; and I for my part am pretty certain that it will eventually evolve into something else, a consistent tool for the task of managing notes in my digital archive (Zettelkasten).

I use NV to navigate notes lightning fast, I do not compose them there. I rely on the aid of TextMate’s powerful features there.

My personal aim will be a toolset which combines Notational Velocity browsing with TextMate editing and Markdown-powered preview. I could continue to work with Finder and TextMate alone. Only thing was, it’s a pain in the butt, it was especially painful to search and browse notes. My system evolves around the possibility of changing its parts. Just give us hobby developers time to get our grips onto the code and getting up to speed with our ideas. Some may improve Notational Velocity for one purpose or another, some may break it entirely in the eyes of the userbase. And hopefully, new tools will emerge and prove useful in their own right and their niche.

Markdown Preview for Notational Velocity

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This is how it looks when I enable my Zettelkasten rendering mode. Bonus: another note featuring my current naming conventions is visible at the top of the list. A “Zettelkasten” is an German term describing an archive which mainly consists of annotations on literature, quotes and excerpts. Also, notes with synthesized information are allowed.

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Introducing MultiMarkdown Notational Velocity

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Theres a new Notational Velocity fork available on the interwebs. What makes it unique? So far, it’s the MultiMarkdown support–and you can choose if you want MultiMarkdown included in a bundle with Notational Velocity or rather a Notational Velocity binary which supports your local setup, assumed to reside at ~/Library/Application Support/MultiMarkdown/.

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