How to Actually Generate Ideas Using The Zettelkasten Method

Ev Chapman
September 7, 2021
1 min read

Everyone is obsessed with Zettelkasten lately, but is it really as good as they say?

What makes Zettelkasten such a different note-taking system? Is it the structure of the notes? The interconnectedness of the notes? Perhaps. But maybe it's something more. Maybe it's the practices that accompany the system.

Without the proper practices you're probably running into one of these problems:

  • You are clipping WAY too much and never reading it.'
  • You're collecting lots of notes but don't have a good way to organise them.
  • You've built a big graph of notes but you never go back to them.

The reason I can dive into my notes a year later and still find an idea to write about is that as well as a great system, I've built practices that support the system and help me to find new ideas, surface those ideas, and build a thought library to support even my toughest days.

Here are three of my Zettelkasten practices:

  • Engage daily in the library. Every day I pick at least 2 things in my library to engage with. I deliberately don't use the word consume. Engaging is intentional & deliberate. I take literature notes as I read.
  • Spend 30 minutes processing literature notes. I set a timer each day and process literature notes into permanent notes. I usually process notes after a few days (but not too many days) so they can have some time to percolate and simmer.
  • Once a week I take a wander through my Permanent Notes. Usually on a Sunday when I'm feeling rested, I grab a coffee and I open my permanent notes. I let my mind wander where it wants. Reading, re-writing passages, asking myself questions, letting new ideas form.

Build your system, then support it with good practices.

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