How I Make My Old Notes Useful

You are wasting time taking notes you don't use
June 2, 2022
1 minute

Most people's notes never get used after they're written.

I've fixed this problem using a method that dates back more than 400 years.

My Method

I take notes using the Zettelkasten method.

The translation of Zettelkasten is "slip box". The first variant was used in the 14th century with small slips of paper.

I've created the digital equivilant of the Zettelkasten method using an app called Obsidian. You'll see pictures of it farther below.

When using the Zettelkasten method, notes are taken with the intention of capturing the entirety of that idea.

This is contrary to linear note-taking in which you painstakingly transcribe everything to paper. Notes are taken with little to no consideration for their importance.

The alternative to linear notetaking is referential notetaking - the same thing as Zettelkasten.

Here's an example of one of my Zettelkasten notes

an atomized note

Within this note is the idea of "idea" - a meaningless notion that comes from thinking. Referred below that line of text is another train of thought I had at the time - ideas are useless without owned execution.

Why are notes like this important?


When creating Zettels (slips), we are in fact creating "idea atoms". A Zettelkasten note-taking system relies on atomization to make referring to ideas possible. You can use them as building blocks.

Here's an example of atomization.

atomization visualized

This is "graph view" in Obsidian. In this image, the "idea" node points towards the "owned execution" node. This means it's referring to it. It's like pointing toward something and saying "Hey! This has a connection to this. Let's draw a line to show that."

If I click on one of these nodes, it would open up the note on a notepad that looks like this.

how nodes open
The ability of notes to refer like this means you can create infinite variants of larger concepts. This gives you a reason to use your old notes.

Taking notes like this captures a train of thought. A train of thought gets lost when you only take linear notes.

This is one of many reasons I take notes like this.

More to come.

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