Zettelkasten: Building Lifelong Knowledge | Anthony Draper | Skillshare

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Zettelkasten: Building Lifelong Knowledge

teacher avatar Anthony Draper, Building Knowledge for Tomorrow

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction to the Process


    • 2.

      How to Start Your System


    • 3.

      Connecting Ideas


    • 4.

      Connecting Ideas as Creative Process


    • 5.

      How to Keep it all Organized


    • 6.

      Creating Friction in the Process


    • 7.

      Creating Friction: The Pocket Notebook


    • 8.

      Using Your Ideas


    • 9.

      Your Project


    • 10.



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About This Class

Ever wondered how to organize all your information and research from books, podcasts, movies, and the internet? Every wondered where all your ideas will go twenty years from now? Here's you answer.

Enter the Zettelkasten Personal Knowledge System. This system, which I teach you in full, lets you:

  • Reduce complex ideas into simple concepts
  • Extract quotes and ideas from books into usable blocks
  • Increase your creativity by reducing your screen time
  • Never worry about writer's block again
  • Make use of today's research fifty years from now

Zettelkasten has been around in some form or another since at least the 13th Century. Attempts to digitize it have failed to capture the effective simplicity in the system. In this lesson, I teach you the basic, simple, and wonderfully analog zettelkasten.

Meet Your Teacher

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Anthony Draper

Building Knowledge for Tomorrow


Hello, I'm Anthony. I'm an attorney and philosopher from the UK who's settled down in Orange County, CA. I love reading, research, productivity, and writing. Much of what I teach involves bringing effective lawyering concepts into other fields and general productivity.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction to the Process: In this lesson, we're going to learn how to develop a personal knowledge system that will last decades. It will never become outdated. It will never need software updates or never glitches or be unavailable. It's never going to be replaced by a different program will not be able to run on your newest operating system. Sounds too good to be true. You know, out in a piece of software is capable of doing that. And I agree. I'm not talking about a piece of software or an app. I'm talking about an entirely analogue system. You may have heard about programs such as Evernote, room research notion, obsidian, things like that. And a lot of these programs advertise helping you build a second brain somewhere to store all of their information in your notes that you might want to access when you're working on projects or a developing areas in your life. And some of these programs are very good at that. They, they claim to be able to connect the dance between two pieces of information to different notes that you've made that you wouldn't necessarily have noticed otherwise would have remained completely separate. But in my experience, they don't do that so well as to justify the potential negatives that come with them. And the biggest negative, I think that all of them share is that you have absolutely no control in most cases Over the most important knowledge that you're building. In order to access RAM research. For example, you need a functional computer and internet connection. For now. You need Roam Research to be active and functional. And if you want to continue using it, you need to continue to pay the subscription service. Assuming you're not an education your entire life and have that education discount. And if any of those things stop, you've just lost a severely limited access to your knowledge. There are a lot of things coming between you and your knowledge. And these are the ideas and concepts that you find important that you want to return to, that you want to write about. And these are the things that can form your first book that could sustain your income and set you apart from other people that don't necessarily have this same system. And the trouble with technologies that we just don't know where it's going. We don't know where these programs are going to be 10, 20, 30 years from now. Take Evernote, for example, back in 2009 and 10, a lot of people were very excited about it. And we're putting we are everything from their life in that because of its excellent search capabilities and organization. But fast forward, 10 years and Evernote was bloated. They become much more expensive. And a lot of people were looking for alternatives, but they had this massive library of information that they put in Evernote. And there were now in essence stuck with. And that's something I absolutely want to avoid. And that's why I don't think there's any digital platform that can do exactly what I'm looking for now, what you should be looking for, which is a lifetime long method of managing your knowledge, your research, your notes, and things that you want to return to and make connections between again and again and again. 2. How to Start Your System: Simply take a flashcard and grab a pencil. Or you think of an idea or find when I'm one of your favorite books. For this example, I'm using philosophy of the heart by Claire Carlyle, a biography of Soren Kierkegaard. And I'll find a previous annotation that I've made, like this one. And then I'll write it or something like it on a flashcard. So here we're going to write. Now, sunk Adams, who is the author of the book, How to Take Smart Notes, suggests taking the idea your own in some way, and not merely copying down quotes from books. However, I tend to use a lot of quotes, mainly because I'm reading philosophy and it can get quite complicated to kind of find your own way of saying rather technical things. But if I do think of some addition, I can either take another flashcard and write it down or just write it in brackets beneath the quote that I've written. So now that we have a first flashcard, What next? Well, since this is my first card, going to write one in the top-left corner. And then I'm just going to write something that tells me where I got the idea from. So for this, I generally write the author's name, Carlyle, and then just the first word of the book, philosopher. And then the page number, which here is a 142. And that's it. You've officially started your first personal knowledge system. 3. Connecting Ideas: So let's say you've done this for 10 nodes. Now. This is when we start to see how this analog methods or passes all the digital methods are discussed at the beginning. We're going to start connecting the ideas together. So let's look at this first note that we've taken. So this anxiety inducing experience, Kierkegaard suggested a human being comes to now his need for God. And let's say. I've also taken this snuff from the concept of anxiety, which is a book by Kierkegaard. And here I find an idea like this right here. So this I would summarize as something like God's prohibition not to eat the fruit made Adam anxious because I welcome him freedoms possibility. And then this is from Kierkegaard, anxiety output. And then this was from page 54. So these ideas are very closely connected because they both deal with anxiety and the human relationship to God. And as I'm browsing my cards, I noticed that connection. Let's have already numbered both of the card, so I've got number one. And this one ended up being number eight because I'd read through this book previously. As you can see, I've made quite a few annotations throughout that made their way into my cons. But these two adults are connected. So number 1 and number 8. So to connect them a lot it is down here on the bottom. I'll write the number eight and then the number one. So when I'm looking at my icons, I think it's an interesting idea. Maybe I'd like to write about it. How can I expand on it? I see that I found called a was connected. So I flipped through what's called a. And as it connected idea. That right there is the heart of the system. But there's one more thing I'd like to touch up. Let's say I come across yet another quote that's closely related to this first one. Like this one. On page 47. Despair as an aspect of spirit. It has to do with the eternal and a person. But the eternal or something he cannot be rid of or not an alternative. So I'm going to write that down. So I think this card is intimately related to carbon number 1. Carbon number 1 is a tree trunk. This is a branch off of that trunk. So I'm going to name it and place it right behind card number 1. And of course this is completely up to me. You can literally just use them as 12345 all the way to 100 thousand and beyond and just connect them like 18 are connected. But I like to, I like the way creating subfields like 11 b and then one B1, B1, B2 lets me borrow into an idea or a concept. So now you really know everything you need to know about starting your own analog personal knowledge system. But if you're like me, you probably still have a few questions. So I'm going to try and answer some of those. And it also explained how I've tweaked this process to suit my needs. So now you know absolutely everything you need to know to start your own analog personal knowledge system. But if you're like me, you probably have a few questions still. So I'm going to try and answer some of those and also explain how I've tweaked this process to suit my needs. 4. Connecting Ideas as Creative Process: The magic of the system comes in the process of thumbing through your cars to see what new ideas to connect here you can't do. You'll stumble across something and realize it's connected to what you're looking at. And you never would have thought of that connection before in this, this new idea kind of birthed out of you holding these two ideas in your hand that from completely different books or podcasts and, and you never really thought about how they could go together until you're seeing there in front of you, side-by-side. Making these connections is really fun and exciting. Because you feel like you're really exploring and connecting things that might genuinely be new ideas. This is another benefit of the analog system, is that you can physically thumbing through your cards. This tactile experience helps you remember the location of ideas and you remember how they're connected to each other. And you also just don't get as tired as you're working through this because you're not staring at a screen and getting eye strain. And the other really important thing is that something like Roam Research, Yeah, kind of offers this two-way linking where you can highlight a word or phrase and then make that a page and then see what that word is mentioned everywhere else. But there's two fundamental flaws with that. And one of them is, what if you have used different words for the same idea? How does it, how does it find those? And in my experience it doesn't. And that's been frustrating when I've looked at using that. And the other is when it does make those connections automatically. You're actually missing the most important part of this whole process. Because when you are making the connection, That's kind of where the memory is formed in that aha moment where you think, hang on, deaths and deaths go together. And I never thought of that before. When you see them already together on your screen, you miss out on that. And I have found personally that I don't remember these ideas that are being connected quite as well as I do when I'm using this system that I'm showing you today. Unloved that you're creative time can actually be away from your screen. Which makes this idea connecting time or refuge away from the distractions of emails, texts, websites, and just eye strain. I spend almost all day looking at my computer for work. I don't want to look at it again. From my free time. Deep focus is a lot easier with the system because of that. 5. How to Keep it all Organized: So this all looks great, right? But what about when you've got 50 cards, 100 cards or 1000 cards? I had the same concern, but I trusted the process. So here's my current set. As you can see, there's a lot of cancer, at least a 100. But because of all my barring, I don't know exactly how many there are. So I started this process when I was doing a research project on the philosophy of technology from Martin Heidegger. So that's where it all starts for me. My car number 1 is this idea. For no other reason that this was the first idea I found once I started to design the system. And a lot of these early cards kind of around the same exploration of technology. Since that when I was immersed and at the time. But also found a random idea that I thought I'd want to return to later. So as I scroll, suddenly, number 31 has absolutely nothing to do with technology, but with loving your neighbor. And then the card right after that is a write back to technology. And then I expanded my research to other areas. Eventually I may create a car that tells me where some of the main branches are. But it's been surprisingly easy to remember. Like I know anything to do with the concepts of Cosmos or nomos. Begin with the number 30. Right here. Every human societies and enterprise of world-building. And then 3830 be etcetera go into Cosmos and demos. So if I find another idea that's related to those, I know to jump straight to that section to find the specific card I want to connect it to. But for now this might be an incomprehensible mess to anyone else. But I understand it because I created it. And that's where I think a lot of people stutter when they learn about the system. I definitely did. I saw it explained. But for now just looks really unorganized to me. Yeah, I don't know if I can handle that. But trust me when I say only looks that way because it's not yours. When you create your own personal knowledge system, There's a reason the word personal isn't there. It's truly something that's yours and yours alone. Understand it. But it gives you the structure that your brain alone simply wasn't designed to handle. Write a cow. In the book. The bullet journal method. Set it this way. Unlike a book or thoughts or not neatly composed on a good day, they're vaguely coherent. This personal knowledge system lets you change that. 6. Creating Friction in the Process: You could criticize this processes being too time-consuming. You could say, my Kindle highlights are automatically exported to read wise, which syncs to my Rome page, my Notion page, my Evernote database and it connects all my ideas for me. And that's great. I actually use a similar system for my old Kindle highlights and things like that. And I get a daily e-mail of quotes that I really enjoy reading. But I want to warn against thinking of efficiency is paramount. We're working with ideas. We're not just entering data on a spreadsheet. We're working with intangible, elusive ideas. We want to spend time with them, sit with them, struggle with them. Honestly, I find that really difficult to just sit with an idea. But when I'm going through my cards, It just sort of happens. The friction I create in some areas reduces the friction we're at counts in the actual connection and deepening my understanding of ideas. 7. Creating Friction: The Pocket Notebook: I actually often create an extra step in this process. I've shown you by using a pocket book. I was a little pocket notebook to write down the ideas and then transfer them from the notebook to the cards. So it goes from the book and to here. And then eventually into the cars. This way, I can filter out ideas of quotes that seemed really great at the time of reading. But now that I've written them down and return to them in the notebook, they've kind of lost that charm or as useful out of context. And because I end up having to write these ideas out twice. And because I'm lazy, I'm not going to write an idea again if it doesn't still seem worth it. And at the end of the day, a lot of ideas don't make it in the cards. And that's completely fine. If the idea's good enough, it'll get there. And if it isn't, it isn't. Don't beat yourself up about this. There's no pressure because this is wholly your system, your knowledge. And anything you want in there can go and anything you don't think is useful, you can let go. 8. Using Your Ideas: So once you've built up a nice conduction like this one, how do you use? I want to compare this system to both regular books where most of my ideas are coming from and to many of these computer programs that people are using. First, let's look at books. Specifically. Let's look at my bookshelf. I've got more books that don't know what to do with. And I never think I have enough. There are countless ideas in these books. Let's look at my philosophy bookshelf. It's probably around 40 or 50 books or most of them I've read cover to cover and have heavily annotated a lot of them. But now they just sit here on the shelf. They ideas stuck inside them until they actively pull that book off the bookshelf, just to find one little idea with them. If you really think about it. This is a books natural state. This is how books are designed to be shut and on a shelf. They'd rather be closed and open. Just look at this. So when I want to write something, I have to remember which book has what idea, go grab it, find the page and so on. And there's maybe just a little too much friction there. The ideas are just too inaccessible. So that's why many people turn to computers. So for your computer, you've got a bunch of different programs you could be using. You could be using Readwise, which I mentioned earlier. You can be using Roam research avenue or you can just put your book notes in a Word document. All of these have their upsides and downsides. And I'm not going to get into the specifics of each of them because they're all actually very different programs. But one overarching theme amongst all of them, this, they lack the fundamental creativity that can be so crucial to our pursuits. Because at the end of the day you're just moving words around on a screen. There's no tactile experience. Even as something like scrivener, an excellent word writing application, you can, you can kinda have this corkboard and move different flashcards effectively around that then become drafts. It still flat and it still hurts your eyes after a couple of hours of use. Now I think this personal knowledge system is better than both books and computers. And the first reason is this. I don't even have to know what I want to write about. When I go to sit down and start writing. When you've got this system, most of your writing isn't actually done in a word processor. It's done right here in the system. Let's say you want to write a blog post that's 500 to 1000 words. Just find one. Like this. Kind of scroll through, skim them until you find something that looks interesting. For me. It's carbon number 2. Freedom is not looking behind the veil, but recognizing the veil for what it is. Avail. The essential truth lies permanently inaccessible behind it. I in the metaphysical world. So this is an idea that I had myself based on reading. That's why there's no citation up here. So I can think about this for a second. Is this something I want to write about right now? If not, just keep flipping through and to find something that is, if it is something you want to write about, great, grab it and look at what other cars are connected to it. So this card actually doesn't have any branches. And he 12 a, 12 b, it goes right to 13 beneath it. But as you can see, I've got four cards here that have thought were connected in some way. So what I can do is see, okay, 24 is connected to it. So I just find that code. And look at this. The importance of technology lies in its ability to make us confront our subjectivity and our freedom. And this is from a book called Jack and hydrogen on page 41. So now I've got all of these other cards that are connected to this idea. So when I'm writing, I can just write about this idea for a sentence or paragraph, however much I can really get out of it in that moment. And then I can kind of write a transition that connects it to this idea. You can write about this idea and I can either bring it back to this one and move on to this next point. Or I can go to any number of cards here. Especially if there are some that are connected here. And just keep going until I've got a decent cluster of nodes. And what you can even do is extract them, put them in some sort of order like this, like this. And then you've got a pretty detailed outline of some sort of essay or paper, or even a book. And then I just start writing. 9. Your Project: My project for you, taking this class is to simply start with ten cards. Simply make ten cards. Just like this. Because once it gets started, a guarantee that you'll, you'll, you'll become addicted to it. So just make the first 10. They can be from anywhere, doesn't have to be from a book. It can be from something your friends said. It can be from the label on a beer bottle, that can be from a podcast, a TV show. In an important idea to remember is that everything is research. Everything is an idea that can be captured. When you're walking down the street and you see something, strike that down on your phone or in a pocket notebook and then put it on a card later. Give it a number, say where you got it from. And then if you've already got some cards at that point, just see how it's connected. And if something isn't immediately connected to another card, just grab another car, right down that kind of connection and connect all those costs together. So just start with ten cars and see how that goes. Maybe you've already got some sort of digital system for this. Try and take him ten notes from Evernote, or ten pages or even paragraphs of blocks from R1 research or Notion and put them into these physical flashcards. And just see how that changes your perspective of these ideas. Opens the mark. And perhaps you'll even find connections that Roam Research or Obsidian didn't find for you. 10. Conclusion: So I hope this class has been helpful. And you can always write in the comments if you have any questions. And let me know how your personal knowledge system is going. I'm planning on making more videos like this in the future. And if you think there's anything I need to cover that I haven't had to do, let me know.