The Zettelkasten Method – German Edition

Staying on top is key to manage knowledge and information. It’s important to be quick and have a flexible process you can trust to achieve this.

The Zettelkasten Method is that flexible technique to deal with knowledge in an individual way. You can realize the principles with a few keystrokes without having to learn complex or expensive software.

The Zettelkasten Method is second to none in its power and simplicity. Your Zettelkasten will become the almost invisible helper throughout your day and life.

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Practical Integration of the Zettelkasten Method: My Deep Work Days

Fiddling with the details of IDs, and discussions about Folgezettel1 and whether they are an integral part of the method or just a compensatory solution for a physical Zettelkasten is fun and part of the constant improvement.

But sometimes, one thing gets left behind: How to implement knowledge work into your life. This is how I do it.

Designated Deep Work Days

dog on the floor
Picture License: CC0 from Pixabay

“Deep Work” is a term Cal Newport coined in his book of the same name, “Deep Work”.2 His definition is:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. - Cal Newport, Deep Work2

The main aspects of deep work are:

  1. Distraction-free
  2. Concentration
  3. Push your limits

I have two days per week which prioritize knowledge work. On Wednesday and Friday, I don’t work on a specific project but focus on knowledge work as an activity. Mostly, that means that I process a book that connects to a theme I am thinking about. At this moment (2017-06-06), I process King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Moore and Gillette.3 I do nothing but think by writing in my archive until I am to exhausted to be productive. I concentrate on the thinking as hard as I can with no distraction allowed.

This enables me to think through a piece of work or a theme broadly and deeply at the same time. Usually, I focus on my work but allow distractions from time to time. Not during these days. They are my training days for knowledge work and you don’t train your concentration by being distracted.

The Physical Factors of Knowledge Work

You can improve your mental capacities by making sure that your body and brain are prepared and ready to be pushed to their limits. I use a couple of components.

I start the day with a morning routine that consists mainly of mobility work to get me breathing harder, but not too hard. There is research on the interconnection of body and mind. In short: The body cues a state of mind. There is not only the famous power posing4 presented by Amy Cuddy. There are other papers that show similar results for different postures in case you are interested.5

Mobility frees your body from tension and improves your posture. This puts your mind out of a state of inflexibility, too. If you especially interested in this perspective of body work for the mind I recommend the work of Paul Chek.6

I finish my morning session with 15 minutes of meditation. There are a couple of meditative exercises. Meditation is like training for the mind. There are many different practices which can be used differently. I use mindful meditation practice on my deep work days. It helps me to become very present but at the same time is not exhausting or leaves much of an after effect. It is easy on the mind afterwards which is not the case with every meditation practice.

Then I have a short cold shower. Cold exposure raises noradrenaline which further enhances alertness. See Rhonda Patricks great report on the effects of cold exposure.7

I drink coffee two times per week, exclusively on these deep work days. But I drink my hefty pot of coffee not right away. I also do intermittent fasting. This means that I restrict the daily time window of eating. It seems that coffee can start the circadian clock in your liver. One effect of intermittent fasting is to help regulate the circadian rhythm. I don’t mess with my circadian rhythm just because it’s a deep work day.

Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., I begin to drink the coffee. That deepens my concentration but makes it more fragile. My mind is now ready to jump on everything and I have to be careful to concentrate really on what I want. This is due the altered dopamine metabolism in the brain. Because of that I don’t allow any distractions to disrupt my work.

Integration Into My Work

I have a big pile of work in front of me. I am during the transition of being a holistic coach to being mostly a writer and scholar. Deep work is an important part of this process because I need to dig really deep into a variety of topics.

Example: One of the important parts of my work is based on Nassim Taleb’s concept of antifragility.8 So I spent two whole days each week for six to eight weeks to really plow through his work and to subject it to deep scrutiny. It is not enough to casually read a piece of work if you really want to understand it. After all, it is called knowledge work and not knowledge chill-out.

If I dedicate some deep work days to a topic, I feel very confident to talk and write about it. I don’t want to write about something I did a half-assed research.

Deep work really accelerated my work, but not only professional endeavors. The better I get at this deep work days the more concentrated I am in my whole life. They are training of the mind.

  1. Folgezettel are not a integral part of the Zettelkasten Method. Not even for Luhmanns Zettelkasten. He had to use it to cope with the physicality of his Zettelkasten. See “No, Luhmann was not about Folgezettel” 

  2. Cal Newport (2016): Deep Work. Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, London: Piatkus. See on amazon  2

  3. R. Moore and Douglas Gillette (1991): King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, New York: HarperCollins.See on amazon 

  4. See her amazing TED talk: Your body language may shape who you are 

  5. Riskind, J. & Gotay, C. (1982). Physical posture: Could it have regulatory or feedback effects on motivation and emotion?. Motivation and Emotion, 6(3), 273-298. Abstract 

  6. https://chekinstitute.com 

  7. https://www.foundmyfitness.com/?sendme=cold-stress 

  8. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2012): Antifragile. Things That Gain from Disorder, St. Ives: Penguin Books. See on amazon 

Christian’s Impressions of Sascha’s Book’s 2nd Edition

I finished reading and commenting Sascha’s manuscript for the 2nd version of the Zettelkasten Method book. Here’re a few first impressions and why I’m excited to get a hold on the next draft.

The most apparent change is the change of focus: instead of a bird’s-eye view of the method and its components, Sascha now emphasizes teaching the reader to work with her Zettelkasten. I liked the systematic approach of the 1st edition, but with this fundamental change, the book becomes so much more inspiring!

As you probably know, I work with my Zettelkasten for a couple of years now, about 8 years, in fact, so I didn’t expect to learn a lot from reading the manuscript. There’s the gentle introduction on to how to feed your archive with notes. But after you finish this stage, you’re promoted from neophyte to apprentice, and Sascha begins a practical discourse with you. Like a master would instruct his apprentices about the intricacies of his craft, Sascha lays out the foundation for years of productive work and teaches you how to adapt to problems of scale. I was so thrilled when I finished that chapter that I wanted to change a lot of my older notes to become more useful for Future Me right away. I was pumped. And I honestly didn’t expect that at all.

After I went through this transformation, I added my two cents about how to change the book’s structure to make this effect even more prominent. So we’ll probably be discussing this stuff some more. But I have no doubt you’ll like the result. I can hardly wait to see how readers react to upcoming drafts of the revised edition.

The Next Edition of the Zettelkasten Method

Hi folks, I just want to announce that the first rough draft of the second edition of the book is ready. I rewrote it completely and added a lot of the lessons I learned on my own and through the communication with other knowledge workers.

It is still in German only but fear not: Its content will be the basis for an online course which takes you step by step through all the print content. And … it will be in English! (And it will be more polished, so you don’t have to suffer from my pathetic English.)

Big advancements are coming your way.

The Archive App – Introduction to the Introduction

Sascha is preparing a video series showcasing the unique features of our app The Archive. Here’s the intro:

Remember that we follow a “software-agnostic approach”. That means our app will be great, but it will still be replaceable. Because we don’t want to lock people in with things they couldn’t do by any other means. The workflow and the method are important, not the tools!

Meanwhile, Sascha is writing the new book and I am working on the app. We are dogfood the beta of The Archive to ourselves already. You cannot imagine how many problems stay under the radar until you try to use the product every day.

Ah well, time to get back to work.

Is Bear for macOS a Zettelkasten Archive Fit?

I spent a few minutes importing a copy of my archive into Bear, a note-taking app for macOS. Bear seems to be popular at least because of its clean look. This is by no means a review, just a first glance at the app.

Importing 3941 files took 37:50 seconds and produced 2448 notes (I have no clue why 1500 files went missing or which ones that were). Search is pretty fast afterwards. So the speed of finding and entering notes is not a show-stopper, quite the contrary.

screensot after the import
After the import, this is what a search for “moral” brought up.

Bear highlights tags very prominently and adheres to the hashtag convention. Some stuff in my life as a programmer starts with a hash (#) but doesn’t denote a tag, though. So the sidebar (also called “outline view”) is full of different kinds of stuff in my case. MultiMarkdown citations use identifiers with a leading hash, too, so there’s a lot of noise waiting to be cleared up.

I didn’t find out where the notes are stored, yet. They get unique identifiers like 33AFB2A1-730B-421D-950B-B689F0FD6148-44496-0000199CCDA23203 so you can link to them. That only seems to work if you don’t hamper with the archive, though: Deleting and re-creating the same note will produce a different ID. Each file is unique. Not each thought. So links are not as stable. I guess it’ll do for a short-term project, but it’s unlikely it’ll serve you good for your whole life.

There also is a Bear subreddit where you can find out more about the app and other user’s approaches.

Since I’m too busy with programming at the moment, I won’t go any deeper here. There’s plenty of features to discover and discuss (like image attachments!), so don’t take this shallow look for the whole experience.

You’re welcome to complete this exploration! Contributions are very welcome if you want to give it a spin yourself and write a thorough review. Find the review guidelines under our tools section. Looking forward to what you folks find.