The Two Conditions That Helped Me to Finally Understand Zettelkasten

Call it what you want: The Slip-Box, the Note Card system, or Zettelkasten — everything you read on it will be useless without these two basic tenets

Yi Shun Lai

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library filing cabinet
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

I’ve been trying for the last year and a half to implement Ryan Holiday’s great index-card filing system for keeping ideas in place. The idea immediately appealed to me: I scribble in books and mark them up and make notes in the margins and on Post-It notes.

I also really, really love boxes and individual slips of paper.

By the time I finally wanted to take Holiday’s system seriously, I had probably wasted hundreds of hours saying to myself, “Okay, I read that factoid in this book, and it would be perfect in this essay/presentation I’m writing. I know I stashed that book in the ‘continuously to be referenced’ area of my bookshelf, now…hang on, did I move it? Ah. Here it is. Now, where in the book was it? It was in the section where she was talking about how she got that radio for her birthday one year, wasn’t it? Where’s that?”

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!