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What are Buffer Notes?

photo of St Petersburg
Buffer notes are … the golden statues in your sprinkling well of ideas, or something? I cannot come up with a sensible caption for this, sorry folks. —Christian (Source)

A buffer note is a note that is like a specific container of notes that you will use later. They buffer the gap between note production and assignment of notes to projects. I came up with these kind of notes when I had written a couple of books but still wrote more about the same topic and was sure that I would be making a second edition.

The second edition of the Zettelkasten Method Book is a perfect example. After I was done with the draft of the first edition of the book, I continued to add notes on this topic to my archive regularly. If I incorporate all the new notes into the book while editing it, I would never be able to finish. Or: If I just incorporate the new notes in the structure note on the Zettelkasten Method, I would never be able to find all the new notes that are not already used in the book. It would be a mess.

Therefore, I made a note in which I copied the title (+ID) of the new notes I have written that were not used in the book. I used a simple convention: ID + title + some context. The context made sure that I would know later on why I thought that the particular note could be used for the book. This is a (translated) example:

[[201708051151 False feedback for men in modern world]] What are the feedback problems of the Zettelkasten Method? Is there a real danger that people would write notes only for the sake of it?

The note is about problems like midlife-crisis, boyhood crisis, and similar stuff that emerges because of false feedback (e.g. thinking that a career serves as the pinnacle of meaning in life). I intended to use some of the thoughts to illustrate how you can get lost in knowledge work. Other examples are: Over-crafting the tools, over-digitalization (not reading real books) etc.

The same can be applied to new writing projects. I have a couple dozens of books that I am writing. New notes can be linked very fast to multiple books notes (either outlines or buffer notes) and with every note more than one book is growing. Like this, you can effectively write draft quite a lot books at the same time without losing the overview.

The buffer notes’s role for the Zettelkasten Method is really a means to store notes relevant to a project in a rather unstructured manner.

Update 2018-03-06: The term “buffer note” appears to be a weird choice, native English website readers tell us in the forums. We consider changing the term in the future. Chime in if you have something you want to add.

Another Win for the Zettelkasten Method

Hello dear knowledge workers,

I just want to announce another win for the Zettelkasten Method. I successfully published a new book, called Lebenswandel: Reflexion und Analyse. In English, it should be translated to “Way of Living: Reflection and Analysis”. It is a very comprehensive overview on designing and thinking properly about one’s lifestyle. Here is a rough translation of the blurb:

The way you live is a bridge between the self we currently are and the self we want to be. Search for the good life – daily.

And Christian made it look pretty, too:

Book cover
Find the book on amazon.com or amazon.de

I learned a lot, again, about the interconnection of the realm of writing and the realm of knowledge work. One of the main lessons I learned is to really separate knowledge work and the actual writing and editing. It is quite funny because knowledge work is done in written form: You think in the form through writing.

I compare this distinction to the dichotomy of writing and editing. These are two steps that are best kept separate: First you write and don’t care about anything but creating. You dig deep in the right hemisphere of your brain. It is called the creative side of your brain. Then you turn on your left-brained, conscious inner critic who has an eye for the craftsmanship of writing. First you produce, then you hone your text. Knowledge work is writing that precedes writing the first draft. So, at this moment, I have a three step process:

  1. Writing notes in my archive, doing knowledge work to give my projects the necessary depth and foundation in thinking and evidence.
  2. Write the first draft on basis of this foundation. My archive is my prompter that gives me directions and holds me accountable to the foundation I built earlier.
  3. Edit the draft until it’s fine.

You can skip the second step and do a copy-pasta-festival to mush all the notes to a first draft. To me, that turned out to be inferior in a similar manner like mushing together writing and editing.

The fun thing is: The next manuscript was already finished when I published Lebenswandel. It is a short to medium book on designing a morning routine from a holistic point of view. It will contain everything from a mobility practice to meditation and cold adaption. Since the manuscript is ready, I have to postpone using my revised workflow for the next writing project. The Zettelkasten Method works. I can see how the output of my creative endeavors with a solid foundation steadily (and not even slowly!) increases.

Role of the Zettelkasten Method

The book was originally planned as a chapter in a book on nutrition. It would have integrated nutrition into all the other areas of life like movement, fasting, meditation, sleeping, stress management etc. But integration was such a big topic that the chapter grew into a book in itself. I needed to encapsulate it as a book on its own. Now it became an overview and the first part of a four book series.

So, how did the Zettelkasten Method come into play? Let’s start with the numbers. It is based on roughly 200 notes and 15 longer articles I published on another blog. I put them together into a rough draft and filled the gaps with just writing. The Zettelkasten Method provided me with a lot of reference material with that, too.

Now, I have a buffer note that collects all the notes that could have gone into the first draft but didn’t make it till my self-set deadline. At this moment, I have 153 notes that will be integrated in the second edition of the book.

The first draft had 113.000 words or roughly 376 pages (180 pages in DIN A4). For the book, I cut it back to about 100.000 words or 340 book pages. It took about eight weeks to finish. I wrote four days a week, 3–4 hours a day. I didn’t use any deep work days for writing (Wednesdays and Saturdays) because they are reserved for knowledge work so far.

Christian’s Comment: Zettelkasten stats porn galore! I love stories like these because they reinforce my beliefs about diligence and showing up for work every day. You don’t need a lot of time to sit down and write a manuscript proper when you’ve already prepared dozens of notes on the subject matter. Unless your fields of interest make 180-degree-turns every now and then, one day you’ll always be prepared to write about a topic to some degree. I’m very happy that Sascha’s book is out in the public – and that he learned more interesting things about the Zettelkasten Method in the process. Things that already have been integrated in the 2nd edition for the German book and the upcoming video course.

The Next Edition of the Zettelkasten Method Book

Hi folks,

I just want to announce that the first rough draft of the second edition of the book is ready. I wrote it completely from scratch and added a lot of learned lessons by myself and through the communication with other knowledge workers.

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

Big advancements are coming you way.

Reference Manager JabRef 4 Released

I just noticed that the developers of JabRef released version 4 in October.

JabRef is still our go-to recommendation when it comes to cross-platform reference management. The BibTeX support is great, and with BibTeX + MultiMarkdown you have an open source publishing toolchain at your fingertips. (On macOS, BibDesk is still our favorite, but JabRef is a close second even there.) Note that JabRef requires Java 1.8+ to run.

The integration with paper recommendation service “Mr.DLib” sounds interesting. I have no clue if this is any good in practice; since I don’t do any research at all at the moment, I cannot evaluate that feature. You’re welcome to share your experience with the rest of us in the forum comments!

Sublime Text 3 Zettelkasten Plugin

Rene from the forums did publish a Sublime Text 3 Zettelkasten plugin for better note-taking with Sublime. (See the discussion there.)

The plugin features:

  • Clickable Wiki-style links like [[this one]], creating notes that do not yet exists
  • Auto-completion of note titles when you begin typing [[
  • Shortcuts to create new notes including a generated ID
  • The ID format is the trusted and true data-based YYYYMMDDHHMM, for example: 201710282111
  • Highlighting of note links, #tags, and footnote references [^like this one]

Huge shout-out to Rene 🙌

Overview Notes and Clickable Links

Sascha created a short video (sub 4min) about the usefulness of a little feature: clicking on stuff to change the search. Once you design your workflow to center around search terms, search shortcuts become super powerful.

In this example, he used the reference manager’s citation key to quickly filter for notes about a book. The result is an overview of book notes, as you will see.

Update 2017-11-13: Link fixed!