Please read this post with the understanding that I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
The Zettelkasten (hereafter ZK) method has its origins in academia, particularly in that sub-set of academia that is most involved with research of books and scholarly articles. The book “How to Take Smart Notes” originates from that background.
The theory of a ZK is that: (a) When narrowly focused notes are, (b) organized using so-called structure notes (notes comprised mainly of links forming Tables of Content), and are also © linked to each other as logical connections are identified – then the resulting network will generate new insights. As the size and complexity of the ZK grows, critical mass will be achieved. At that point following link sequences will reveal new knowledge. It is an exciting idea.
But, the methods of a ZK can be applied to more pedestrian pursuits. Examples: (1) A lawyer preparing for a complex lawsuit, (2) A police detective investigating a series of crimes with a gazillion facts but no obvious solution, and (3) An investment banker organizing information related to a major acquisition or merger. In these examples, having the ability to quickly establish a link between, say, note 53 and note 417, which is in turn linked to notes 87 and 286 has obvious value. It would not take long for a system like this to grow large enough to overwhelm conventional methods of organization. But, using the ZK method, connective “threads” that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible to find, become immediately visible.
You can step things down even further in terms of sophistication. Because I’m old and because of the virus it seemed prudent for me to create a system that would guide my wife and daughter in the event my “got run over by a bus” moment suddenly arrived. I used ZK methods for this project.
I started with what I called a “Master Index” with links to second-level indices (i.e., tables of content) for subjects such as Notifications, Estate Documents, House and Property, Finances, and Dogs. Each second-level “structure note” (i.e., table of content) has links to notes with “actual” information. For the Dogs ToC there are links to notes for: Vet, Food, Microchips, Licenses, etc. The last entry in the note Vet is a link “up” to “Dogs” and the last entry in “Dogs” is a link “up” to the Master Index. The last entry in every note (I should probably call them drafts) is always a link “up.”
This up and down organizational structure is easily extended or revised. You may find (as I did) that the need for detail grows rapidly beyond your initial assessment. When you realize something is missing, it is easy to add a new link and note. The system becomes incrementally more useful.
Links “up” and “down” are not the only options. Notes can link to other notes – to peers. Here is an example. We have a pest control service that comes bi-monthly. I get a computer-generated telephone call to my cell phone telling me when they will next make a service call. When the job is complete I am sent an invoice by email. Reference to the pest control service appears in several notes: Notifications (to change email and telephone number),Routine Bills, as well as Utilities and Services. It has its own note under the category House and Property. All of these notes are linked to each other.
This structure (it lives in its own Drafts workspace) is not a ZK in the sense described by “How to Take Smart Notes.” I don’t expect any profound insights to suddenly emerge. (Gads! I just realized that the dogs know how to lubricate the garage door!!). But, it is unquestionably a convenient structure for organizing information, even the sometimes complex but routine matters of everyday life.
Bottom line: It is important to distinguish the ZK Method as it was originally conceived in paper and is now being used digitally in academia, from less sophisticated but more frequently encountered organizational challenges. Because of its amazing flexibility, Drafts can be used at whichever level of sophistication you need to address.