I collected my reading notes and highlights from “Digital Zettelkasten: Principles, Methods, & Examples” by David Kadavy.

daunting projects to compete with little dopamine hits

How can I increase the dopamine hit of completing a project?

When you have a digital Zettelkasten, there’s a third option: do small things with small notes, straight from your phone.

When we have a small amount of time, we can do small things with our notes, even on our phone.

A lot of small steps can take us very far.

Yet instead of these tiny actions adding up to essentially nothing, they feed your curiosity in a productive way and drive your projects forward.

GTD takes us closer to our goals with small steps.

We have to set up small next actions when we are tired, so we can do a lot of small things which gives us some form of baseline success.

Instead of using my brain power to try to remember things, I’m using it to write better articles, newsletters, and books. I finally found a bicycle for my mind.

We have to use the brain for doing creative stuff, not remembering things.

Yes, we should rethink educational curricula centered around memorization, but looking things up is at some point a waste of working memory. That’s brain power that could be used to think creatively, rather than to try to grasp a bunch of facts just retrieved.

Instead of looking up information that we have to understand, we can use the energy of the brain for creative things.

Sometimes ignorance is more comfortable than learning, because learning means we have to go through the work of changing.

Learning is harder than ignoring facts.

It’s not so easy it’s boring, and it’s not so hard it’s a slog.

We can create new permanent notes with Craft inline of another note, which can be extracted out into a new note.

Some examples of fleeting notes, from my own Zettelkasten:

Uses of fleeting notes:

  • highlights from books
  • highlights from articles, blog posts
  • our ideas

Yes, Henry Ford’s assembly line went quickly by eliminating waste, but the cars had to be designed first – a process that wasn’t so easy to speed up.

It’s easier to automate a system than invent it. That’s a long and hard process.

As you read, make fleeting notes.

Once you’ve exported your highlights, review them and highlight, once again, the parts of those highlights that are the most interesting.

Look at the highlights of your highlights and re-write the interesting ones in your own words.

I’m taking notes as I read, I don’t rewrite them afterward.

Associative thinking promotes a positive mood, so it shouldn’t be a surprise how fun this task is.

It feels good when we find a connection between two Zettelkasten notes.

Now take only the most interesting ideas from the literature notes, and turn each into individual permanent notes.

Next, I have a link back to the literature note from which I wrote this permanent note. That looks like this:

We can link permanent notes from literature notes, so we can see in backlinks where it’s coming from.

If you try this process and it feels boring to you, it may be because the material you’re reviewing doesn’t feel relevant, doesn’t interest you

It is a warning sign if we are bored while writing our Zettelkasten. It means that we don’t care about the topic, or we know it well already.

The main con of Folgezettel is it’s unnecessary in a digital Zettelkasten. Folgezettel is most advantageous in a paper-based Zettelkasten, because it allows you to easily arrange paper based upon how a sequence of notes follow one another.

Having a series of notes (or outline of notes) can be helpful in a digital Zettelkasten too because we are forced to stop and think about where a new note should fit in the outline.

create keywords based upon patterns you see, which inform theories you’re working on.

Having an index is the same as having “Table of Contents” notes.



Using Zettelkasten to draft our writings

Connected notes in a Zettelkasten can be used as a draft of unformed manuscripts. (The importance of connecting notes in a Zettelkasten)

The writing process starts when we create our notes using the physical routine of the Zettelkasten method. We’re proactively making drafts by connecting our notes, so instead of writing everything from scratch, we can collect related notes together and edit them to form a more coherent basis for a manuscript. In practice, we’re trying to find order in our notes, because from the Zettelkasten’s perspective, each note can relate to another one from any direction.

This whole workflow is the result of the Zettelkasten letting things naturally emerge.


The natural progress of Zettelkasten

GTD and the Zettelkasten methods are bottom-up processes, which means we don’t start with setting a goal that we want to reach, but instead we work with the things that we have at the current moment. The Zettelkasten – similarly to the Natural Planning Model of GTD – naturally let your notes to form into a concrete thing. It is the complete opposite of the traditional view of research which starts by setting the final goal or state that we have to reach.




The physical process of Zettelkasten

The Zettelkasten method breaks down the thinking process into physical steps which can be acquired as habits.

Thinking – the ability to connect and understand things – becomes a physical routine.

These Here are the steps:

  1. Collecting and writing down ideas while I’m watching or reading something.
  2. Processing information by phrasing it in my own words, then adding the note to my Zettelkasten (one though thought is one card).
  3. Optional linking and connecting with existing notes in the Zettelkasten to create a network of information.

This routine is very similar to GTD, which is also the thinking process broken down to physical steps and habits.




Reusing my blog to be my Zettelkasten can be beneficial because I’m always planning to publish longer blog posts, but at the end, I just don’t do it. I don’t enjoy the process of writing long-form articles, because it forces me to think about the content from the reader’s point of view. It makes me nervous since it’s a very different state of mind, other than just writing for myself.

I write a lot of things every day and one of those things is my Zettelkasten. It contains short notes (Zettels) which I captured, processed, and organized. It has interesting content – for me at least – and I like the process of writing in it.

The idea to merge the essence of blogging with the process of keeping a Zettelkasten is very interesting, which should be explored more deeply. A WordPress blog as a tool for keeping a Zettelkasten fits very well because of the following reasons:

  • Zettelkasten should be searchable, this blog is searchable as well.
  • Zettels should be linked together. Since a blog is just a website, it’s made for making links.
  • I can easily tag my notes on a blog.
  • Each Zettel has a unique ID in the form of a public link, I don’t have to generate IDs manually.
  • Keeping a public Zettelkasten can be a concern, but I can mark some Zettels as private.



Today, I constantly remind myself before publishing any article that I am publishing this on my blog (which means that I can publish anything I want), and that it doesn’t matter if people read it or not. I’ll just keep doing my thing, because I enjoy doing it.



Using Zettelkasten and Tinderbox to Document a Literature Review

This is very similar approach to my workflow for solving problems with DEVONthink and MindNode:

  1. I like to take walks when I have to think about something. I capture rough ideas with Drafts by writing down bullet points on my iPhone.
  2. Later, when I sit down and process these notes, I try to edit and rephrase a draft into a full-blown zettel, which is added to DEVONthink.
  3. I keep these ideas in DEVONthink for a couple of days to let my subconscious mind make connections and may came up with better solutions. I always add multiple follow-up zettels linked to the original one.
  4. Since these zettels and all the related reference material kept in the same group in DEVONthink, I can use Shortcuts on iOS to create a mindmap from it. The generated mindmap links back to each original zettel, so this makes a visualized version of my notes. It helps me to use the mindmap to create a plan and may came up with concrete next actions, that’ll be moved into OmniFocus at the end.