Bryan Kam wrote two posts about his embarking on a Zettelkasten journey in recent months. Especially if you’re getting started, posts like his can be a nice place to get inspiration and a feel for the early days.
In his first post, he talks about his understanding of the method as a “methodology for thinking in writing.” Which is a pretty apt summary of one of its benefits already. He also draws connections to Getting Things Done, which I’d argue the Zettelkasten Method is not an alternative, but an extension of for personal productivity. Either way, Bryan lists a few core principles and their immediate, actionable results. For example this:
Each “zettel” (aka note) can only contain a single thought. […] Massive interlinking. […] The size limit encourages the recording of inchoate thoughts, to be developed by their relationships. If they’re not linked strongly enough, they may be lost forever in the network. (Less likely in software, but still possible, if you forget to link/search. Also sounds sort of like your brain, doesn’t it?)
A month later, he wrote a follow-up to his post with reflections on the process, and a very nice graphical visualization of note connections. One gem from that post:
The biggest benefit seems to be that a wider variety of thinking is closer to the surface of my mind at all times. I feel that I think more clearly and can make better analogies. I also feel more confident that I have mastered the material I’ve read (or alternatively, that I know when I haven’t understood, and need to learn more before returning to the material).
A second benefit is the serendipity that Luhmann and Ahrens predict. I often find notes that I’d forgotten about, either by a search or by realising that one note connects to another, then finding more links on that note. This produces novel and insightful connections.