The Gestalt's Garden

How we discovered the Zettelkasten method

| 4 min (947 words)
#zettelkasten #writing #personal-growth

This article is a collaboration with S. García :-)

I met S. García a few months ago, thanks to the first informal talk at the Gestalt’s Garden. Although he found out about the event late and couldn’t attend, we have been talking and sharing many ideas since then.

S. Garcia also writes and has a newsletter in Substack: “Jardín Mental”. There is an overlap between our interests. Leaving aside our taste for «gardens», he also writes about productivity, learning, and personal growth. So I recommend you to take a look at his writings.

So, what does this collaboration consist of?

We both use a Zettelkasten to write our newsletters. In previous articles, I have explained what the Zettelkasten method is all about. However, there is a barrier that makes it difficult to enter this world because…. what is it that makes you want to use a Zettelkasten?

Imagine you have never ridden a bike before, and a person comes along and explains how useful it is to have a derailleur. Would it be easy for you to understand the importance of this solution? Most probably not. We give more importance to solving a problem when we have experienced the problem ourselves.

In this article, we tell you the personal story that led us to need (and discover) the Zettelkasten method. This way, if you see yourself reflected in any of the problems we show, maybe it’s time to install a derailleur on your bike ;-)

Personal story of S. García

“Nobody teaches us how to learn”

Hello! Now it’s my turn, S. Garcia.

You know what? As a student, I relied completely on my memory—and I wasn’t doing badly at all. My memory was like a sponge that absorbed an infinite amount of content in each class and forgot nothing.

Why waste energy and time writing down what I already had in my memory? That was my mentality throughout high school, but everything changed radically when I got to university. What a reality check I’ve had.

During my studies, the lack of organization and the excess of information were impossible to handle. I reached a point of exhaustion that made me reflect and decide to change my course drastically. The change made me start to excel at university and get high grades. And what was the secret?

Simple: I learned how to learn.

I spent time studying how to study better, not studying longer hours.

To boost my studying so much, I started using Zettelkasten, a way of taking notes that I would say is almost a change of mentality. From that change, everything started to flow.

Personal story of Fernando Nóbel

Hello! :-)

I (Fernando Nóbel) continue now.

I have always loved writing. Since childhood, I have taken notes in class and started countless writing projects. However, this effort—in most cases—was in vain. A few months after I had written something, that writing became useless. Either because it was no longer relevant or because I had lost it.

The management of my writings was bad. I failed to maintain the value of those writings over time. As a result, the notes I took in class were rarely helpful for studying. And my writing projects were… impossible to finish.

Throughout my studies, I have always relied on my memory to get ahead. But this was not because I had a privileged memory—quite the opposite! As you now know, my notes were even worse.

However, as you progress through the education system, the complexity and the amount of information you have to manage gradually increases. The problem is that managing everything from memory has a limit. A limit that will be higher or lower depending on each person. But there is always a limit.

What happens when you reach that limit?

You are forced to choose between:

  1. Reducing the complexity and quantity of the information you manage (not doing what you really want to do).

  2. Managing that complexity in an increasingly more inefficient way, risking falling into chronic stress and burnout (doing what you really want to do at a high personal cost).

In my case, I reached this limit during my PhD. I was not aware of it at the time, but I was overwhelmed, and stress was a regular companion. Without being aware of it, I had chosen the second option. It was only six months before the end of my PhD that I first discovered the Zettelkasten method.

I would like to tell you that the Zettelkasten method was the key to finishing my PhD well and stress-free, but, in reality, it came late into my life.

Currently, I have been using my Zettelkasten as a tool for my work and creative projects for more than two years. Thanks to that, my limit is no longer in my ability to manage my knowledge. In fact, the time I need to organize my writing is minimal. As a result, most of my time is spent doing what I really love to do.

Thinking about and advancing my writing projects.

Conclusion: What next?

This is the end of the first collaboration between S. Garcia and myself. However, our plan is to continue collaborating to deepen —from complementary perspectives— our understanding of the Zettelkasten method. I am looking forward to seeing what ideas come out of this collaborative work :-)

And what problems can you identify in your own story?

You can answer me in the comments or directly to this email. In both cases, I’ll get back to you :-)

Fernando’s comment: I made the English translation of the original text of S. García. You can consult his original version in the Spanish version of this article.

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