Measure What You Want to Achieve with Your Zettelkasten

The user @wanderley opened a thread in the forum. He basically wrote that whenever he creates a Zettel, he goes into a research frenzy to make the Zettel “worthy” of his Zettelkasten. In his example, he transformed a report based on experience into a claim supported by quite some evidence.

But one statement stood out to me:

I will never finish processing my notes at this pace. [On] the other hand, it feels wrong to add a permanent note without backing it up.

I asked him if his true objective was to finish to process his notes. I asked the question instinctively, because as a coach I often encounter difficulties with proper goal setting:

Let’s say a female client asks me for training advice to improve her looks. I then ask her to specify her goal. As a reply, she sends a photo of a fitness model. My objection could be that her bone structure would not allow her to reach such a goal, but let’s assume the goal is achievable.

I then need to S.M.A.R.T-ify the goal. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. I need to transform something vague into something concrete. My method is to create strength and endurance based goals that correlate with aesthetics. One of the subgoals is to have a nice butt. But what does it mean? For my female client, it means to squat with a barbell on her back with 1.5 times her bodyweight for six repetitions. Then we would re-assess her butt and re-adjust the strategy.

Picture byarielrobin on Pixabay

This process of transforming unclear yearnings into tangible goals is one of the key elements of being productive. If a field permits avoiding to measure success, you can be certain that 90% of the people are not productive. There will be a lot of deception – self-deception, and deception of others.

Do avoid this problem we need to make our efforts and their results measurable. I for example have tested:

  1. General productivity vs time I had invested. (Zettel per day or session.) Refinement of Structure Zettel in 2017 resulted in an increase of 10.04% of overall Zettel production. The initial introduction of Structure Zettel increased my production manifold – no previous throughput was measured, but I doubled my productivity at least according to my total Zettel count within one year, from 3000 to 6000.
  2. My Zettelkasten is too young to produce large amounts of books. The articles of my German blog are not taken into account. But the amount of research possible per time window has increased, demonstrated by the amount of carefully researched evidence (superficial commentary work does not count).
  3. The amount of written words per deep work session increased from 2000–3000 words to 4000–10000 per day by some refinement in 2017.
  4. Subjective increase in break-through moments in that time period – confirmed by Christian.
Word count statistics per day. Notice the increase of productivy after I refined how I use Structure Notes

I do not quantify my work often. Therefore I only have a few key data points. However, I do track temporarily how different changes impact my productivity. At the time of this writing, the claim that the Zettelkasten Method is a productive way to work is not demonstrated in public. Take statements about its awesomeness with the proper grain of salt. I personally know that this claim is true but there is a big difference between personal knowledge about something and solid evidence.

I will close this gap. I criticise the lack of real world demonstrations. It seems that the experts in this field produce material mainly inside this field. The situation is similar to those of success coaches who are just successful at being success coaches but at nothing else. Naturally, I feel obliged to create some of my work under the public eye.

My recommendation to you is: Figure out how you can measure your definition of success and then track your progress, and if there is any at all. For example:

  1. Track the number of thoughts you write down in a well-formulated way.
  2. Track the number of blog posts you publish if you are a blogger.
  3. Track the number of daily written words. (Disclaimer: that’s Christian’s app)
  4. Track your behaviour via apps like Timing.

Then you will see where others remain blind.

Christian’s Comment: Measurement is a controversial topic, and I think it’s important to keep in mind that the same number can be an indicator of productivity for someone, and a vanity metric for someone else. I think that it’s important to measure things that are important to you if you want to get clarity. It sure helps to conquer doubt, and can give perspective to small improvement that add up in the long run but feel insignificant on their own. Since every Zettel you write equals time you never get back, its creation has opportunity cost. Is the Zettel and the Zettelkasten Method worth your time? You can only find an answer to this question when you know where you want to go, and then figure out if you really get there.