Thoughts on Zettelkasten and the slip box

I had a bunch of thoughts yesterday about the Zettelkasten method and how I could use it effectively to manage my knowledge base. I started the day by dumping my thoughts into Logseq. Here they are.

These are open questions for now. I plan to investigate this further and try out different iterations to see what works for me.

  • I've been in a place before where I used Roam to gather a small number of notes (> 100) but then found all of that to be an unmanageable mess.
  • Issues that I see with this setup
    • With notes spread all over the place how do I find anything to link to? I can't go through 200 notes every time I add a new one.
    • All notes are in the same "directory". Because there is no hierarchy, my notes about productivity are in the same place as my notes about data structures & algorithms. This seems unsustainable.
    • There is 1 benefit I see to this. With everything being in the same place, I can find unexpected connections. Unfortunately, that doesn't work for me because I don't go through all my existing notes every time I add a new one.
    • I am interested in many things; productivity, parentings, Islam, algorithms, data structures, system design, programming languages. Having everything in one place seems to add to the mess.
    • As I understand, Niklas Luhmann researched 1 topic extensively - social science. It would make sense for him to keep all his notes in 1 place.
  • The reason I've heard repeated for not having a hierarchy:
    • It promotes unexpected connections b/w notes
    • A note isn't tied to a single category. It can live in multiple places
  • Is that a good enough reason to let go of the organization benefits of a hierarchical structure though?
    • It's much easier to break down browsing notes to find connections if you can "save your place" in your notes. I can look through the notes in 5 folders today, and go through the 5 others later.
    • Notes about the same thing fit differently in different categories. I can take 1 idea and have it fit differently in my notes on parenting and in my notes on productivity. It's easy to copy and link notes together with our digital systems. I can even symlink the same note to multiple places in the hierarchy.
  • Zettelkasten also has index notes. Folders essentially serve the same purpose.
  • Questions I have
    • Did Luhmann succeed because of his slip box, or in spite of it? Are there other examples of successful writers using such a system?
    • Are slip boxes supposed (who decides?) to hold notes on disparate topics?
    • How do people with large slip boxes navigate? Do they use index cards? If so, can I use folders to serve the same purpose as well as reduce the mental load of browsing through my knowledge base?
      • How did Luhmann manage his slip box with 90K notes? I can't imagine he went through all 90K notes every time he added a new one.
  • I imagine most courses around "building a 2nd brain" or "cultivating your knowledge garden" answer this question. I haven't taken any yet, but I plan to. That knowledge might change my perspective on this.
  • Roam/Logseq vs. Obsidian
    • Logseq is very structured. Everything is a bullet point. This provides a number of benefits to me:
      • Writing is much easier. With a forced structure in place, I can think in outlines and short paragraphs, without getting into the weed of how to structure my writing.
      • If every thing is a block, I can easily reference other blocks inline with my writing.
      • I can write queries that show me subsets of my blocks. For example I have a query to show me all notes with a "status:: incomplete" tag on my dashboard.
    • The feature I like most about Logseq is the daily journal. I can write everything there and have it show up in different places. I was attracted to Roam due to this as well.
      • It's great for gathering data and thinking, but didn't work out for me when consolidating and keeping long term.
    • Obsidian offers free form writing. It's not as great to think in, but I feel that it offers a better experience once the thinking is done and I'm writing the final artifact.
    • Artifacts can be permanent notes, but also blog posts and other long form pieces.
    • Here's what I'm thinking of adapting
      • Temporary notes go in Logseq. These are fleeting notes, literature notes, my daily journals with todo items.
      • Once I've gathered data and thought about it in Logseq, the final artifacts go into Obsidian, where they are neatly categorized in folders for easy browsing. I can then link b/w notes in Obsidian as well, using the folder hierarchy to easy searching.
      • Because doing the same thing that I did in Roam again in Logseq isn't useful. I'll end up repeating the same situation where I get to a few 100 notes and then declare bankruptcy.