Zettelkasten

Posts from 2014

Writing and Publishing an E-book on Leanpub Effortless and in no Time

I released a book two weeks ago. It’s called “Exploring Mac App Development Strategies” and it’s available for $9.99 on Leanpub. Today, I want to share with you the process of its creation. The book “happened” in two weeks of me coding an example project to solve a particular problem I encountered. I decided to jot down lots of notes and write about my decision making. It took some more hours to edit the copy, and even longer to proof-read and typeset the whole thing, but in the end I finished the 107 pages in under 14 days. I think this was possible because I knew the topic rather well, and because I am able to sit down and write or code for many hours straight. I stay focused by taking breaks regularly every 25 minutes or so.

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Curio (Mac) 30% Off Until Dec 28th 2014

Curio is a popular all-purpose digital notebook application for Mac. Currently, it’s 30% off, so it’s for sale for $34.99 instead of $69.99 until Dec 28th.

If you’re interested in managing rich notes with an application that has a long history of success, you might want to give it a spin. There’s a free trial which may get you hooked. I tried to make use of such notebook apps myself in the past but couldn’t think of many use cases. I don’t plan complex projects which don’t fit into lists or Mind-Maps myself, though lots of people on the interwebs think Curio is terrific for brainstorming, planning, researching, or even task management. I like to separate these things, but maybe you don’t.

Getting Started with DEVONthink 2

Just now, a few days after publishing Marko’s article on DEVONthink as a Zettelkasten archive, did I stumble upon Christopher Mayo’s excellent collection of DEVONthink resources.

Apart from his own introductory words on using DEVONthink, Christopher provides a huge collection of links to get you started. And he showcases 22 different use cases so you may learn from pro users how to facilitate DEVONthink’s potential. I checked out a few of them and I think they alone are worth visiting Christopher’s post if you want to find out more about DEVONthink.

Getting Up to Speed with Reading about Evernote

Recently, I found some Evernote related posts which seem to be the Universe’s hint that I should please finally install Evernote and try to make a Zettelkasten from it. I will, pinky promise. Just not in 2014 anymore. Evernote seems to have changed a lot in recent years. I’m eager to look into it, especially as I doubt its ecosystem will be a good fit due to Evernote being a data silo. We’ll see!

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DEVONthink as a Zettelkasten Note Archive

Today we host our good friend Marko as he tells us of the basic note-taking capabilities of DEVONthink and its appliance to the Zettelkasten method. The Zettelkasten method propagates heavy use of the note archive, stuffed with your own interpretations of things you have learned. The user we have in mind usually is a student of humanities, reading a lot and writing a lot. DEVONthink is capable of doing far more than managing notes, though. It can also in part replace a reference manager. Or you may benefit from its ability to deal with large amounts of files when it comes to seeking similarities in original sources. This can become really interesting for historians, for example.

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The Biography of Sascha’s Zettelkasten

A proper Zettelkasten should be like a second mind, almost a person on its own. I am not there, yet. My buddy, the Zettelkasten, surprises me a lot but he needs to be filled with a couple thousand more Zettels. That doesn’t prevent me from giving you a small biography. I always was keen to some sort of systematic approach and always liked to put something into order. As a child I was obsessed with encyclopedic dictionaries – most about the animal kingdom, but it was really the idea of a complete system of knowledge which got me hooked. I always started to collect something within a file folder. When I look back, the filing seems to be the durable element of all my childhood projects instead of the topics themselves.

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The Two Forms of a Zettel

In this post I try to dig into the nature of a Zettel. When philosophers speak about the nature of something they refer to its most basic qualities. If you substract one of those you would have something different. This is a bird’s eye view consideration. I believe that it is useful to take a step back. But you need to consider that the practical applications need some additional steps of reasoning.

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Stop Relying on a Source and Have Faith in Your own Thoughts

I’ve got a confession to make. Years ago, I was driven by fear: What if I don’t fully understand what the author of a text is saying? I needed to have a backup plan; I had the strong desire to hold on to 100% of the information in a text. I put original articles into my Zettelkasten, and I pasted pages of books into notes without much commentary. The rationale was, to simply store the original text would be the best way to achieve 100% coverage of the author’s intent. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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A Life-Long Writing Project on Writing – and My Anxiety

The first “first draft” I ever finished was a short-ish ebook about writing. I tend to be very heavy on research with my projects. As I realized that my Zettelkasten archive already contains content worth several books, I started to research on how to write a book. The Zettelkasten Method means that you embrace a technique that is called “Schreibend lesen” in German – a phrase Luhmann coined in his later days. It means that you write while you are reading a text. Writing and capturing the ideas in your own words enhances your understanding and thinking on the topic, and perhaps in general.

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Zettel Note Header Automation in NvALT

An essential priniciple of a Zettelkasten is its flexibility. From there you can derive maxims like “you should avoid proprietary software”, and “you should use plain text notes to ensure longevity”. That’s why I don’t use a fancy application with lots of spectacular features but the simple nvALT instead. Here’s how I automate note creation to speed up my workflow.

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Racing – A Time-Saving Technique for Your Information Inflow

Time is the most important asset we have. That is one of the core principles of my approach to productivity. At the same time I am a bad investors when it comes to time. One of my main culprits are my channels of information inflow. If I would deal with them in a rational manner, I wouldn’t waste so much time. But I dive into my inbox and somehow lose my discipline to really empty it.

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How I Prepare to Work on a Research and Writing Project

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.

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Dealing with Forgetfulness – Introducing Christian

Hi, I’m Christian, and I’m prone to forget things. 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.

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Composing and Revising – The Two Modes of Writing

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

I plan to write a long term paper at University later this year. It’s going to be about the book Justice for Hedgehogs 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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Use a Short Knowledge Cycle to Keep Your Cool

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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Make Writing a Part of Your Identity

Brian Crain talked about increasing productivity by tracking progress. To have a continuous metric is both motivating and informative. I, too, buy into the saying that you can only improve what you measure. The corollary is: when you care about something, when you really commit to it, you have to do your best to track it and improve. Writing is one such skill. You become a writer by writing more, and you can shift your identity consciously to make this change stick.

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How to Track Your Writing Progress

There’s an interesting 8min talk by Brian Crain on optimizing productivity. Brian found tracking his progress useful: I learned that having a continuous metric is enormously motivating since it allows you to continually improve yourself. These small, continuous changes make a huge difference over time.

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Include Images in nvALT for a Multi-Media Zettelkasten Experience

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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How I use Outlines to Write Any Text

Nowadays, I write all of my texts in outlines. This post is no exception. I found this to be a game-changer when it comes to writing, so I thought I’d share the process. I start with a few broad strokes and go into detail, which equals using deeper levels of indentation. Every item in the outline is going to be a full sentence. This way, I can rearrange paragraphs sentence by sentence in my text editor. Most of the time, though, blog posts simply are too short to make much use of re-arranging their parts. I use this feature heavily in my book manuscript, though, and I found that research-laden posts benefit from an outline, too.

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Building Blocks of a Zettelkasten

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

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the next step in the Zettelkasten 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

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.

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Lessons Learned from Losing All Routine

We finally finished moving into our new apartment. During the ten days it took to arrange the new place, I noticed how strong I’m bound to my routines, and what it means to lose all of them at once for a period of time. There was a daily workout routine, where I hit the gym twice a day on four days each week for both strength training and cardio. In total, I had at least 10 workout sessions per week. Before the morning workouts, I used to write for at least one fixed hour. In the evening I used to have weekly recurring appointments at work where I help organize a team of student advisors or help students with writing tasks and presentations. Also, the evening was my most productive time: I would either continue writing for a bit or dive straight into programming tasks.

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Using nvALT as a Zettel Note Archive

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

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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Reading Habits: Putting It All Together

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

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

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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Editorially is Shutting Down. What About Alternatives?

Editorially will shut down on May 30.

I used Editorially for some time now and me and my collaborators were getting accustomed to the platform. It was more convenient to use Editorially than sharing plain text files in Dropbox, especially when multiple people were involved.

Editorially wasn’t designed for people collaborating at the same time, unlike files in Google Drive, née Google Documents. Also, commenting was a rather finicky task in my eyes. I’m accustomed to using the keyboard only, while Editorially required use of the mouse cursor. But it worked, and it made sense for people not accustomed to plain text writing environments. Editorially connected us Markdown geeks with the rest of the world.

What now?

  • Writeboard.com was shut down, too. It was a simpler tool, but it supported versioning. 37signals are re-structuring their business, so Writeboard.com had to go.
  • Draft is well. This app is focused on getting editorial reviews for your drafts, see changes and integrate them into your document. I have to test it with friends some more until I can judge the service. Unlike Editorially, Draft doesn’t highlight Markdown syntax while you write. It has a ‘preview’ action, though.
  • Authorea is alive and kicking, it’s backed by Harvard University, and it’s especially useful for larger projects: you can collaborate on articles or book manuscripts simultaneously, one section per person. Behind the scenes, Authorea creates one text file for each section. Since there’s no one big document file, you can restructure the document easily. It will only change the order of file references in a table-of-contents file. This is similar to Marked, mmd_merge, and the book format of Leanpub. It’ll cost you some money to create private projects, though. Authorea is designed for Open Science where you’re encouraged to let other people see and fork your articlesIt’s like GitHub for scientific articles – it even supports LaTeX!
  • Open Source has lots of proof-of-concepts. collaborative-markdown may be one way to go. It works fine at the moment, though it isn’t polished at all. Maybe one will have to combine it with syntax highlighting editors like Ace just as the people at OakOutliner seem to do. Also, there’s things like OpenEtherpad.

It seems there’s enough Open Source technology available to create an online collaboration tool if Draft and Authorea won’t do the job.

Do you know of any other alternative?

Note-Taking when Reading the Web and RSS

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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Count Your Words to Increase Your Productivity

So you are a knowledge worker? This means 90% of your work is about dealing with words. Blogger, writer, journalists – the biggest chunk of work is writing. “Writing” is just a short term for producing words. Let’s be clear: productivity equals your output, counted in words. It is writing itself that equals the 20% which get you 80% of the results. If you want to improve as a writer, writing more is your best lever. And more writing leads to a myriad of other benefits:

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The Collector’s Fallacy

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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