📝Zettelkasten is bad for pre-packaged learning

Zettelkasten principles are not well suited for neatly packed or utilitarian learning (courses, textbooks, learning how to program, how to use Emacs, etc.).


  • Zettelkasten forces you to split what you’re learning into atoms and that is usually too much work for dense learning. (e.g., when learning programming, do you create a note for every syntax feature? for every library function?)

    • This work is usually not worth it. It likely won’t produce interesting links as they will usually be similar to the structure of the book you’re reading. (Zettelkasten as a tool for breaking down and rebuilding structure)

      • Links will also be closed within the area of study. i.e., the area will be self-contained and there will be little to no cross-disciplinary links and connections.

      • Counterargument: you will start generating new links once you start stepping outside of textbooks, trying things in practice, etc.

  • Too many notes make it hard to review and rehearse what you’ve learned. (You have too keep a comprehensive index and jump over a tons of notes.)

  • There are better tools for that:

    • Wiki-style pages whereas you have all your notes on book/topic in one file. Easier to compile and maintain, helps reviewing everything. (Every note-taking app allows you to create these, so you can mix-and-match wiki-style pages and zettelkasten notes.)

    • § Spaced Repetition

    • Mind maps


  • Splitting everything into atoms does help to understand better, find new ideas and connections.

    • (But do you need that level of understanding? It’s usually enough to know and remember the material and be able to apply it in real life.)

  • There are people who used Zettelkasten (or mixture of zettel and wiki notes) to learn programming and that worked fine for them.

  • Zettelkasten is great for research though.

    • If you use pre-packaged resources to advance your grander research, taking Zettelkasten notes is reasonable.

    • It’s often hard to predict when pre-packaged learning grows into research.

      • (Is taking Zettelkasten notes for pre-packaged learning a premature optimization?)

    • Studying done properly is research. For it is about searching insight. (Ahrens2017)