Maybe a Zettelkasten is not for you?

Zettelkasten note-taking has seen a renaissance since bi-directional linking became a common feature of note-taking apps. That does not make it a writing panacea, though. A zettelkasten requires a lot of effort to maintain and use effectively, although it can be rewarding.An honest assessment of your writing process is required to establish if the approach could work for you.

How “directed” are your writing outputs? Are your topics generally pre-defined, and is your writing process linear, i.e. you start with a blank page and a general sense of where you’re going, and then write what comes to mind? Are you working to strict deadlines? Having a zettelkasten might not be for you.The most helpful analogy I have found to explain the difference in approach is that of a factory production environment. Think of your brain as the idea factory here.

The directed approach above corresponds with the “just-in-time” management of resources. In this approach, “raw materials” are aligned directly with final products. The operation is lean, doing only what is required to meet production targets.A zettelkasten approach corresponds with “just-in-case” management. A reserve of finished products is created, surplus to production targets.The products from a zettelkasten are atomic notes composed in general reading and note-taking. The output emerges bottom-up as the writer explores the zettels in a non-linear manner, creating links and weaving together different notes.No way is better than the other. We’re all solving for different constraints, some of which a zettelkasten does not play well with.