Elaheh Nazari

Posted on 28th November 2022

Can Developers Use Zettelkasten?

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In Flexiana, as a Clojure software company, developers use different methods to organize their knowledge. Zettelkasten is one of those methods. Zettelkasten is a particular way that you take notes, and then tag those notes to help with making connections. And from there, you can generate new ideas quickly. 

Nowadays we have access to so much information but how do we make sense of all this information? How do you link an idea you’ve found from a book to an insight you got from watching a documentary? That’s the whole idea behind the Zettelkasten Method. 

New knowledge is added to your existing knowledge, and this boosts your understanding of both. And this helps you generate new ideas. You can use Zettelkasten to make connections between the information you follow. 

What’s it about?

So, Zettelkasten literally means a box of notes. Niklas Luhmann used this method to publish at maximum efficiency. He published over 40 books and more than 600 papers in his career. It can show how powerful this method can be.  But how can you apply the Zettelkasten Method to your daily routine to become a creative machine?

You will need two things

  1. A way to take notes: you can use a pen and paper, or digital note-taking tools, like Notion
  2. A program with bidirectional linking: it can connect two ideas back and forth between each other, like Remnote

Think of yourself as an idea collector. When you are running some errands, reading a book, or attending a meeting, for example, new ideas come to your mind. Just write these new ideas down! When you write it down, make sure to include the source of where it came from.

For example, you are browsing the internet. You see an interesting quote by a famous person. You just write it in your Notes app including the name of that person. Throughout the day if you come up with new ideas you will write them down. Luhmann suggested avoiding copying and pasting. Instead, use your own words for a more conducive idea generation, but it might not work for everyone. Just try different ways yourself.

At the end of the day go back and look at all the notes you have collected. Explore your ideas and put tags on them, like hashtagging. 

Import all your notes into a bidirectional linking program, and put tags on them. There is no one way to tag. It should be customized and personalized to you. Some people might categorize them, some might try to relate them to other ideas from the past. It is better if your tags are descriptive and not general, but still, it can be any way you want.

Now it’s time to figure out which one of these notes you want to keep. You don’t have to keep all of your notes, just keep the best ones. You can decide by comparing your new daily notes with the ones you already have. Just go through your tags and see the ideas under those tags. Try to see the connection you make between your ideas under each tag. You can also use the source of your ideas to get a better understanding. This also can help you with generating new ideas. 

After adding some more ideas, you can write a blog post or make a speech, or create a new product using these ideas and tags.

  1. Take notes on the go
  2. Tag your notes
  3. Which daily notes are worth keeping?
  4. Start working on your ideas

Using the Zettelkasten Method, you will have a more systematic way to store, organize and connect information, and generate a lot of new ideas quickly. 

There are only two rules to follow:

  1. Every idea that you write down should be clear and understandable.
  2. Every concept that is written should be linked to a card that has its explanation. The explanation card should have a link back to that concept card.

Zettelkasten and developers

Researchers and students mostly use Zettelkasten, but anyone can use it, as its principles are adjustable.

If you are a developer and you want to learn a new language, scale up your skills or work on a new project, you can use Zettelkasten.

With the rules mentioned above, you can interconnect all your knowledge of development skills. With Zettelkasten you can create two different cards for the syntax of a language and its explanation, to make it easier to understand. This can also apply to methods by breaking them down to their fundamentals and writing them in one card. You can later link the fundamentals to the cards that later explain them. Breaking down to the most basic level can lead to variables and data types.

You can also connect problems, syntax, and functions to different solutions. This way you will have a more broad understanding. Having all the information on cards can give you a total image which can result in helping you with understanding, remembering, and visualizing your knowledge.

Also, when doing research on performing a function, you will get different results from forums, sites, and other materials. Using Zettelkasten, you can put the bits of your findings together to help out. 

You can also include snippets of your codes. Write the snippets on cards. Link them to the concepts you want, including where those snippets have been used. Then, link the snippets to the related ones. Later you can add more cards and snippets to this stack.

You can be creative and match Zettelkasten with GTD. The first is for knowledge management and GTD is for task management. 

There are different applications that you can use to set up your Zettelkasten system. You can also be creative and use command lines to have your own very system like Bob from PyBites.

All in all, Zettelkasten can be used for developers when they want to know:

  • How to do something
  • How a specific thing is implemented in a framework, method, language, etc.
  • The definition of different concepts, etc.
  • Anything knowledge-based.

Later on, you might be able to share your system with your colleagues or anyone. Just don’t forget to update your Zettelkasten system.

Using different methods our Clojure developers make the world go round. If you like our senior developers to collaborate with you, have a remote coffee with us.