Obsidian Zettelkasten

106 - Layers of Structure in a Zettelkasten - you can compare and contrast the layers of structure in both the physical and digital zettelkasten, abstracting out the main components. These are foundational components to think about no matter what medium you are creating a zettelkasten within.

107 - Note Identifiers - one of the main layers of structure in a digital zettelkasten is having a UID (Unique Identifier). A UID allows you to identify another note within your current one.

All the below mentioned Identifiers work fine but people prefer different ones based on their secondary functions. For example, the secondary function of Time IDs is they immediately tell you when the note was created. Some people like having this feature because they think of their notes in a temporal aspect.

Because the UIDs provide different secondary functions, sometimes people like to combine the different ones (e.g. Time ID + Title or Luhmann ID + Title).

  • Serial Number - is where you use a counter, increasing it every time you create a note, Note 1, Note 2, Note 3, Note 4, Note 5, Note 6, etc. A zettelkasten program that uses this version would be Zettelkasten^3.
  • Luhmann ID - Luhmann used alternating numbers and letters for his zettelkasten (e.g. 3a1p5c4fB1a), this allowed for him to insert a nearly infinite number of notes between any two notes (Johannes F.K. Schmidt 2018, Section 4).
  • Time IDs - are timestamps, these are good IDs for a zettelkasten because you can essentially have unlimited ones if you drill down to the minute or second (e.g. 2020070290245). Most people aren’t going to be creating new notes so fast that a minute or second timestamp won’t work.
  • Unique Titles - are words, phrases, or sentences that hold semantic meaning and you keep unique to that specific note (.e.g. this note is titled “Note Identifiers”).
  • Random UIDs - you can have programs that generate seemingly random combinations to stand in as your identifier.
    • Random Number - generates a random number, typically using a hash or random number generator.
    • Four Letter Words - I see websites (e.g. Twitch - ClumsyWittyDragonBudStar) using random combo of 4 words as the identifier.

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108 - ID Comparison - the primary function of all the IDs is to act as pointer, so you are able to find a note again. Whether that be find a note when you point to it in another note (links) or just search it. When deciding on an ID then you want to choose one that supports your secondary functions.

I’ve personally been coming around to the concept of generating Time IDs with a shortcut key anywhere, followed by a specific search function. How it would work is when you click the Time ID, [[2020070290245]], it first searches for a note that is a direct match. If it find a direct match it goes to that note, else it pulls up a search that finds notes that have it in the body.

This is what zettlr does. The reason I like this method so much is it allows you to put an ID anywhere in a note, allowing you to link to a specific part of a note. See Zettelkasten De Dicussion

Luhmann ID Secondary Function - Has the secondary benefit of easily showing relationship and related notes. Especially when notes get added over time. Note 1a, 1b, 1c is related to Note 1. It adds a quick layer of structure.

I’m usually not an advocate of Luhmann IDs, as Luhmann used them because they added a layer of organization he needed due to restrictions with a physical zettelkasten. Because the restrictions don’t exist in a digital zettelkasten, Luhmann ID’s aren’t necessary. I make an exception with this forum zettelkasten because it makes for easier organization because I don’t have good tools for managing Time IDs.See 16a1b #rewrite-section

Time ID Secondary Function - placeholder

Name ID Secondary Function - placeholder

109 - General Skills - are skills that have a broad applicability across ones life, no matter what you decide to do with your life.

  • Cognitive Skills
    • Thinking
    • Learning
    • Attention
    • Memory
  • Communication Skills
    • Rhetoric
    • Speaking
    • Writing
    • Drawing
    • Comics
  • Improvement Skills

110 - Sources are the places I go to for feeding information into my Zettelkasten. I have three main sources for information that I feed my zettelkasten:

  • Books (nonfiction books & textbooks) I have found to be the best sources of new information because not only are the structured nicely but the information is usually of high enough quality because the pain it takes to write and publish a book.
  • Podcasts offer similar level of content to blogs and are probably the reason I rarely read blogs or related internet content. I listen to a ton of them because it allows me to multi task (e.g. do household chores or drive while listening).
  • Own Thoughts - walking, which I do every evening with my dog, has been when I usually come up with thoughts I want to put into my zettelkasten. I do this primarily by texting myself

Secondary sources I use:

  • Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia or SuperMemo Guru)
  • Professional Publications and Journals
  • Blogs (rarely use blogs because I find the material to be not as good)

111 - Problems in Note Taking - cataloging the various problems that you run into with taking notes and managing them.

Problem: Retrieval of Relevant Notes

Solution: Selection Tools such as Indexes, Table of Contents, Note Lists w/ Sort Orders, Search Functions, Back links, Unmentioned Links

Problem: Duplicate Information


  • 24a - Storage Problems
  • 24b - Sorting Problems
  • 24c - Selecting Problems
  • 24d - Summarizing Problems

112 - Information Processing - …

  • what information is worth taking notes on?
    • information you want to store until you have opportunity to memorize it
    • information not worth memorizing but is important for model building
  • how to best process the information from sources

Related Information Workflow

113 - Levels of Development make a Zettelkasten - What is the difference between zettelkasten and other note taking methods?

Using Obsidian as the Software Implementation, you can think of the different levels of development to better understand what a zettelkasten is:

  1. Referential System - would be creating notes without any links between them. When you want to “reference” a note, you pull it up through search or the note list.

  2. Wiki System - would be well written full notes on topics with some linking between notes. Think of Wikipedia as the prime example. You can still develop topics with a wiki but it is not built for that, it is built as referential tool. You wouldn’t be putting your random ideas on a topic inside it.

  3. Zettelkasten - is designed for the development of ideas. It accepts whatever you feed it and requires that you connect the notes to other ones and keep them digestible. This allows you to build up chains of information overtime.

The way I think about it would be to have a public facing wiki system, that is supported by a zettelkasten. Normally people don’t have wikis with super small entries filled with unimportant thoughts.

How you’d use the two together is whenever you reach a critical mass of notes around a topic in your zettelkasten, instead of writing a paper or blog post about it, you create a wiki entry. This is good because it makes sure you are only presenting ideas that have been fleshed out, saving people time.

Related Public Note Repositories


114 - Knowledge Development - Zettelkasten is about knowledge development, while wikis are better suited for knowledge management.

Part of knowledge development is the generation of useful connections that can be acted upon or provide new information that is relevant. The new information can add context to the existing information. Think of how “dogs” sit in the wider context of both mammals and pets, whereby you link to both in your note on dogs.

New information can also add another component to an existing model. This is the flip side of wider context. An example of this would be linking to the dogs note in your pets note.

The wider context of this note would be Zettelkasten Principles (Note 1e).

115 - Specialized Skills - are the unique or highly developed skills you picked up over your life. They can be widespread skills that you just excel at on an unbelievable level (e.g. screen writing or guitar) or more specialized ones such as methodological, statistical and critical thinking skills.

116 - 21st Century Skills are the skills needed to work with newly emerging technology in the 21st century. This often involves being able to interface with computers in order to do more efficient knowledge work. This involves both the production of new knowledge and communication of knowledge.

See 17a1 - Future Roles and 17a3 - Future Skills and Abilities

117 - Information Surprisal and Utility - you want information you communicate to be useful and surprising.

I can spout at you crazy conspiracy theories, which are entertaining due to their level of suprisal but only go so far because of their limited use. You want information that can be useful to you by aiding in the creation of new knowledge or supporting the execution of a skill.

You also want information you are communicating to be surprising. People would get really annoyed if you walk up to them and say their name to them over and over again. It has a suprisal factor when you say their name for the very first time because it gets their attention. The fact that you want to “communicate with them”, which is what you are signaling when you say their name, will be surprising to them. Unless you signal to them in some other way, which removes the suprisal, such as walking up to them.

Four Options of Information Suprisal

26b - Surprising & Useful
26c - Surprising & Useless
26d - Unsurprising & Useful
26e - Unsurprising & Useless

Surprisal & Prior Knowledge

Surprising & Useful Information

Surprising & Useless Information

Unsurprising & Useful Information

Unsurprising & Useless Information

Using suprisal and utility to look at what knowledge is worth prioritizing in development

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118 - Suprisal and Prior Knowledge - one of the factors that makes figuring out the right level of information suprisal difficult is the level of prior knowledge the people you are communicating with have.

Giving an introductory textbook to a graduate student is going to be of limited use because there is no suprisal factor. They already know the information (prior knowledge).

119 - Surprising and Useful Information - An example of this would be the documentary game changers. For the purpose of this example, lets pretend that the information is true and the science is solid. I haven’t evaluated it so I’m not weighing in on its validity. Given that, the information in the documentary is surprising because it challenges the traditional narrative of the necessity of meat for strength. But it is also useful because you can act on the information to improve your own health.

120 - Surprising & Useless - Using the previous example (26b), say the information in the documentary was incorrect. Say that history shows that the science behind it isn’t valid. Such that when you go and try to make the same transition, it fails. This has slight utility because it removes an avenue of exploration. It can also be useful in the sense that surprising and useless information sometimes provides entertainment (e.g. bigfoot documentaries).

In the end you want to avoid this type of information if you can because it is a waste of time. It is better to engage with surprising and useful information. This is often why I prefer books by authoritative sources. While they can still be false and therefore useless, they are more likely to be correct than non authoritative sources.

121 - Unsurprising & Useful - this category of information typically is what you’ve already learned. Because you already know it, it is useless when presented to you again. Ideally you’d instead want to be presented with new information.

The one exception to this is periodic review. If you don’t use material or review it then the retrieval strength for a memory will eventually drop to where you forget information.

122 - Unsurprising & Useless Information - the worst type of information! This is the domain of cliches, whereby the phrase is unsurprising because its been overused and doesn’t help the situation at all because it is so generic.

123 - Compiling follows along the same lines as summarizing, whereby you are deciding what information is worth taking notes on in our infoglut society. This is an important skill to have because we have a limited amount of time on earth, so a certain amount of efficiency is necessary.

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Zettelkasten Research

Blog Posts

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126 - Effective Learning means integrating the right amount of information into your knowledge network in as quick a way as possible. It also means learning information in such a way that you won’t forget it when it is needed.

This means creating the pathways out of the right sets of information and connecting those pathways to retrieval cues. The more retrieval cues you connect the pathway to, the more likely it is you’ll remember it when needed.

What information to learn?

Our memory systems are built around utility, if you don’t end up using the information then the retrieval strength of it diminishes, eventually making it really hard to remember. Therefore in life, you want to learn the information that will have the most utility.

This does not mean only learning generalized information though. Often times specialized knowledge has a high amount of utility because there are not many others who have the specialized knowledge which forms the basis of specialized skills.

See Ranking of Knowledge

What is the right amount of information?

You want to find the right balance in the information you are selecting to learn. What does that mean?

Learning too much information would look like memorizing all the supporting details or problem examples. The reason you don’t want to memorize this information is because it is a little use in the wider context. Instead you want to extract the salient details and use them to build a mental model, which in turn can be used in unfamiliar problems.

On the other end is learning too little. If the information you are reading is too far abstracted from reality then it becomes meaningless. A word in a sentence becomes useless if you don’t already have the definition memorized.

See also Steps to Learning

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