Jesse J. Anderson


How I Use Craft for My Zettelkasten/Evergreen Notes

This is a work-in-progress (and likely always will be!) but this is how I am currently using the beautiful Craft app to manage my Zettelkasten, Personal Knowledgement, Evergreen Notes, Smart Notes, etc. Craft has native apps for iOS and Mac, meaning I can easily access it from my iPhone, iPad, and Mac and they share the same feature set. These apps are slick too - a lot of care went into the design and it shows. It is simply a joy to use.

Daily Notes

In addition to bidirectional linking—a feature now present in many knowledge/idea/note management apps—the other killer feature that Roam Research has brought to the forefront of the PKM/Note-taking world is Daily Notes.

It's often said one of the hardest things in programming is naming things, and I find that to be the case with note-taking as well. What name do I give to this random underdeveloped thought that happens to be on my mind?

With daily notes, I don't have to name my new thoughts or notes. I can drop these fleeting notes into today's daily note, and create relevant links to enable myself to find them later:

  • Open or create note for today's date.
  • Add a bullet to write down my current thought.
  • Link any topics or ideas within the thought if/when it makes sense:
    • Finished reading @Atomic Notes (book), I should recommend it to @Brandon and finish up my @book notes so I can share them online.
  • Add any additional links that I would want to lead me here later:
    • Finished reading @Atomic Notes (book), I should recommend it to @Brandon and finish up my @book notes so I can share them online. (@If it has value to you, it has value to someone else, @Habits Index)
  • That's it! Make more notes as the day progresses.

If I find myself continually coming back to one of these notes later, that can be a sign that I should elevate that fleeting thought to something more permanent. But without a daily inbox to drop it in, I would lose all context or even worse, fail to capture those ideas in the first place.

Unfortunately, Craft does not currently have a native daily notes feature. It has been highly requested and they have indicated that it is a feature they are exploring so I have high hopes for future support. Their rapid release schedule and the amount of interest within the community is promising.

How I'm Doing Daily Notes in Craft

This is what I've done for now, it's not a perfect system but has worked well enough for me so far. Part of the fun is trying stuff and seeing what sticks.

I have a folder named Daily Notes, and every day I create a new document in that folder following a simple YYYY-MM-DD pattern. If I want to reference a date that doesn't exist, I create that on the fly using @2021-01-20 (making sure to move these dates into the Daily Notes folder later).

Ideal? No. Workable? Absolutely.

I can easily go to my Daily Notes folder and sort by date and it works like an agenda calendar - complete with small previews of the content within each day.

Another model I follow for Daily Notes is using an outline list. I love that I can write "normal" documents in Craft and write long articles using a modified Markdown structure, but I find that the bullet-style Daily Notes like you see in Roam Research works really well as a daily inbox for tracking disparate thoughts and notes.

Permanent Evergreen Notes

For my permanent (evergreen) notes, my structure is still in a bit of flux as I discover how I want to manage them long-term. I am quite drawn to Andy Matuschak's notes. It feels similar to a personal wiki, but without any sort of index to guide you along. Ideas travel more naturally from one to another, hoping to inspire internal conversation in the way that a Zettelkasten is meant to.

My structure is quite similar to Andy's. Thoughts themselves are atomic ideas that stand alone. Their entire meaning contained within a phrase, which I use for the document title. Further paragraphs (usually 1-3) expand on that idea somewhat inside of the document, reaching out to additional evergreen thoughts as needed to create an interlinked web between permanent notes.

I am also using Andy's concepts of a Writing Inbox for working through temporary thoughts that have potential to become evergreen/permanent, and a personal /now page which I am using as sort of an index for myself to track the things I am currently working on (and writing notes on).

Discoverability

Similar to "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", most of my evergreen notes are discoverable in some fashion a few degrees from my /now page. I may create a separate index as these grow, but for now, this is enough.

This limitation actually helps as it forces me to think about how best to connect new permanent thoughts in a way that can be discovered. This is an important part of Zettelkasten—linking your notes in the way you want them to be discovered later.

I expect my system to evolve in time, but I'm quite happy with the system I have working for me right now and I'm excited to see how things progress over the next several months.

Aside: What About Pages and Cards?

Craft has two really nice looking features which embed content inside of a document called pages and cards. While the implementation is quite nice and stylish, I find that the data model conflicts with what I want my Personal Knowledge Management system to be. When you add a page or card to a document, it becomes isolated within that document. As if the document is a folder and that page lives inside that folder.

You can still link to pages/cards from external documents, but it is still a child document that does not show up in the top level list of documents.

I find that for the most part I try to avoid any sort of hierarchy of my documents, preferring them to live at the same level of weight, letting the number of incoming links determine their value, rather than which document owns it.