Limit folders. How to use Zettelkasten in Obsidian

I’ve just finished reading the amazing book from Sönke Ahrens about “How to take Smart Notes”[1]. As a visual thinker and sketchnoter my first idea was to use this method to combine visual thinking with networked thinking. Taking smart notes is great, but taking smart sketchnotes would be even greater.

To summarize the content of a book like this within one sketchnote is not that easy. So I started to summarize one main aspect which is important for a reader of Ahrens’ book to work with the Zettelkasten method. It’s the major workflow starting with filling the inbox till using the content of the growing slip-box to produce an output of higher value. I added the tools I’m using in this process and also the page numbers from the book as a reference for further reading and understanding the underlying method.

You are also working with Obsidian and Zettelkasten? Do you see any differences between your own and the workflow described by Sönke Ahrens?

Reference
[1] Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking, 2022.


More about the 12 Principles For Using Zettelkasten

40 Likes

My first idea was to visualize the Flow of Notes within Zettelkasten. Based on a discussion with Sascha on Zettelkasten.de - What‘s your preferred workflow for using Zettelkasten? — Zettelkasten Forum - I changed the perspective. Now the Flow of Knowledge is in focus.

15 Likes

What tool/plugin are you using for the drawing?

1 Like

I use Concepts App for drawing. The output is stored as .png and linked with Obsidian in a special folder for images.

3 Likes

Thank you for visualizing the idea, it is helpful and easier to conceptualize the structure.

2 Likes

Using Note-taking methods could be the first step to extend your mind. Using Zettelkasten as a tool for Personal Knowledge Management may be the next. But there you will have some more dimensions to keep in mind. Here are the four cornerstones of Zettelkasten:

Notes - to capture single ideas
Links - to show connections between ideas
Tags - to build clusters of ideas with similar attributes. Used for filtering & searching of ideas
Folders - to group processes for managing different types of notes

For me it was hard to learn how to use tags efficiently as well as to un-learn my „classic“ use of folders. Folders are not for structuring ideas but a concept to manage the process and workflow for different types of notes.

Tell me about your own experiences? I want to learn more about Zettelkasten and it‘s amazing insights.

8 Likes

Hi @Edmund,

Could you please explain a bit more about Tags and Folders? Tags is like categories in a blog? An example would be very helpful.

Thanks.

1 Like

Hi @membrive,

thank you for asking. Here are some of my ideas about using tags: How to use Tags

Feel free to ask any questions. :grinning:

2 Likes

:zap:5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your First Zettelkasten​:zap:

My Zettelkasten is now more than 9 months old. When I started to write my first notes with Obsidian I followed the rule “Start early and learn by experiment.”

But I also learned: Experiments took a lot of my precious time. Here are my top mistakes to avoid when starting your first Zettelkasten:

  1. Starting without templates - so that it was hard to build up a consistent note structure I needed later for effective searching.
  2. Using tags without rules for tagging - so that building clusters for searching was not very effective.
  3. No use of frontmatter - so that meta data and content of notes became inconsistent and confusing.
  4. No use of time stamps like “created” and “modified” within frontmatter - so that using backups and changing cloud spaces caused a loss of time information connected with my notes.
  5. No use of DataView plugin as a tool for gardening - so that inconsistencies in my Zettelkasten were growing and growing.

All these mistakes lead to intensive re-work of my notes later on.

What about your experiences?

9 Likes

Wouldn’t it be cool if the new Canvas plugin could allow us sketchnoters the ability to do these types of drawings. Maybe not freehand, but at least a palette of shapes (typical flowchart or UML).

2 Likes

I’ve just stumbled across this forum post and am happy I did. This resonated with me:

For me it was hard to learn how to use tags efficiently as well as to un-learn my „classic“ use of folders. Folders are not for structuring ideas but a concept to manage the process and workflow for different types of notes.

I started using Obsidian about two weeks ago and have just gotten to a place where my primary vault has a set of processes, templates, and is usable on a day-to-day. But I’ve noticed now that some of my habits and behaviors don’t lend to the power of a PKM system like Obsidian has to offer. After having recently discovered Zettelkasten, it’s become clear that I do need a complete re-work of my notes in the near future!

Glad I have this resource to lean on.

1 Like

For sure, using PKM is not only a question of tools and methods. Success is strongly connected with my own habits.

2 Likes

How does the process looks like, when all my notes are already in my Zettelkasten? Atomic notes with a hairball of links and other connections. What are the steps to publish a post, an article or a book?

With Obsidian we now have the new Canvas plugin available. It‘s a tool to create concept maps from notes of our Zettelkasten.

My sketchnote shows the integration in my workflow. It was never that easy to organize my notes visually.

More about Obsidian Canvas from Nick Milo at: https://youtu.be/vLBd_ADeKIw

8 Likes

Excellent post, thanks for sharing your Zettelkasten guide for obsidian, I am working to setup my process and this is a great help.

1 Like

This might not be exactly related but I am hoping someone could help me figure out how to structure my notes so that I can have parent and child nodes in graph view.
For example, I want to create a PKM system for neuroanatomy and I want to be able to indicate that some brain areas are sub-regions of larger areas. For example, CA1, CA2, and CA3 are all sub-regions of the hippocampus. Is there a way to build different “levels” into the graph view such that when I click on the “hippocampus” node, the 3 CA nodes appear?

Hope that makes sense! Thanks

You can not change the behavior of the GraphView, but you can adapt the structure of your notes. One idea for your example may be the use of the local graph. It always starts from the selected note and offers a filter the extend the Depth of the graph. Give it a try.

Quite detailed and overwhelming for me. Is it possible that you can walk through a detailed example depicting how each template gets filled at every step? I want to get started and worry about nice things later.

2 Likes

It is easy to start with a detailed example if you use a given workflow:

  • Create a new note in Obsidian on top level of your vault.
  • Title your note.
  • Choose an appropriate template from your templates folder.
  • Fill in the text of your idea with your own words.
  • Add links to the back of your note by using the given categories.
  • Add tags to the frontmatter of your note according your tagging architecture.
  • Move your note to the „Permanent Notes“ folder.

It is also easy to extend this workflow. But you always need some rules to keep your Zettelkasten consistent for later use. Good news: It‘s always easy to revisit and revise your notes.

3 Likes

:sparkles: ARCO Framework :sparkles:

The town of Arco is located north of Lake Garda in Italy. The rocky faces that surround the town are a real paradise for free climbing lovers, that’s why the city is also known as the country of sportive climbers.

For Zettelkasten users ARCO is also an acronym that stands for:

  • Atlas: Book of maps [1].
  • Reference: Book of facts and external links.
  • Calendar: Book of events.
  • Organizer: Book of tasks and projects.

These books are basic entry points for my Zettelkasten. With only three steps in the example you will find a relevant “Map of Content (MOC)” within the “5_Structure Notes”, the related idea from your “3_Permanent Notes” and a link to the sources in your “4_Reference Notes”. It’s a visual example for a simple rule:

Use folders to structure process, not content.

By applying Dieter Ram’s “Ten Principles for Good Design”[2], it contributes to improving “usefulness”. A Zettelkasten should serve its purpose effectively. Ensure that your system is designed to be practical and useful in helping you organize and retrieve information. The design should prioritize utility over unnecessary complexity.

Here’s a screenshot from my iPhone:

References
[1] @nickmilo: The Ultimate Folder System: A quixotic journey to ACE
[2] What is “Good” Design? A quick look at Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles. - Design Museum

2 Likes