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5. Where to put non-continuation cards

To watch this video on YouTube, click here.

Why I have stopped using folder cards

In the video above, I report that I will no longer be using folder cards. If you'd like to read about my reasons for doing so, click here.


If you want to check out Bob Doto's course, "Building a Zettelkasten for Creative Expression," click here (that's not an affiliate link or anything like that—just the link to his course webpage).

Video transcript

In the third video in this series I have been making about using a Zettelkasten, I showed you where to put a new card that amounts to a continuation of a card that already exists in your old-school Zettelkasten.

In this video, I’m going to show you what to do when you create a new card that doesn't amount to a continuation of an already-existing card.

Oh, and Mom, I’m going to subject you to criticism in this video. There’s actually not much that needs to be said about where to put a new card that doesn’t amount to a continuation of a card that already exists in your Zettelkasten: all you need to do is create a new branch in your Zettelkasten.

However, I have to say more than just that because of things I have said about folder cards in earlier videos.

Up until very recently, if you had created a new card that wasn’t a continuation card, I would have instructed you to create a folder card for the new branch.

However, if you saw the video right before this one, you may recall that towards the end of it I said I had plans to experiment with using fewer or even no folder cards and said I’d report back to you about the results.

Here’s my report: I won’t be using them in the future.

If you have yet to create the first few cards in your own Zettelkasten, I recommend that you not use folder cards.

However, if you have been using folder cards and really, really, really, really, really, really, really like the idea of continuing to use them, then you may certainly do so.

That said, if you do use them, I would still recommend, as I did in the previous video, that you not use them beyond two or three levels deep into your Zettelkasten. If you want to know my reasons for saying that, check out the video before this one.

Now, although I have decided not to use folder cards in the future, I do not plan on getting rid of my ten subject areas. Let me explain why, and then we’ll move on to looking at what you should do with a new non-continuation card.

The main reason I plan on holding onto my top-level categories is that I worry that if I don’t, I will end up creating branches that have just a single card in them.

I just don’t like the idea of creating a new branch and assigning it a new number at the front of the card’s address, only to later find that that card is the ONLY card to have that number at the front of it.

Of course, it's probably highly unlikely that that would happen, but my worry remains.

That worry might not be one you share. It could be a worry that is specific to me. After all, there’s a reason that when I was a kid my parents got for me books like Mr. Worry and Very Worried Walrus.

Speaking of walruses—yeah, we’re going on a detour here—when I turned five, my mother threw a party for me, and one of the things she did in preparation for it was write a short story featuring every child who was invited.

In that story, which she read at the party, each child was referred to using a phrase consisting of their first name, the word “the,” and then the name of an animal that rhymed with their first name.

Very clever, Mom—except for what you did with my name.

Remember? You couldn’t find a name of an animal that rhymed with my first name (which is Forrest), so you used “walrus.” Forrest the Walrus. At best, that’s slant rhyme, which is unacceptable.

And that’s why that birthday of mine would have meant so much more to me had the story you wrote concluded with a formal apology—to me.

Now none of this is to say that you were not a good-enough mother. One piece of evidence to support that assessment of your parenting is this oosik that you gifted to me, which those of you who know what an oosik is will recognize as germane to what I've been talking about the past minute or so.

Okay, detour done.

Let me conclude my remarks about why I do not plan to get rid of subject areas by saying that Bob Doto recommends against using subject areas.

Full disclosure: I just got done taking Bob’s course, which is called “Building a Zettelkasten for Creative Expression,” and just last week he and I talked about this issue of top-level categories.

Actually, it became a shouting match.

Actually, it didn’t.

Bob grants that people can, of course, do what they want with their Zettelkastens, but he recommends against using the top-level categories that I refer to as “subject areas.”

I’m not going to lay out his reasons for recommending against using top-level categories except to say that some of them dovetail with some of the reasons I gave in the previous video for why it’s a bad idea to use folder cards more than two or three levels deep.

If you want to know Bob’s specific reasons, perhaps at some point he will write a piece that lists those (I’m just speculating there; he hasn’t indicated that he plans on doing that).

Alternatively, and especially if you want to learn about how to use your Zettelkasten the way Niklas Luhmann did, I strongly encourage you to enroll in Bob’s course the next time it runs (you can find a link to his course on the page linked to beneath this video).

Okay, so having noted that I will no longer be using folder cards, let me say a little bit more about where you should put new cards if they don’t have a good-enough relation to a card that already exists in your Zettelkasten.

As I said earlier, it’s pretty simple: just create a new branch. And don’t worry about giving that branch a name. That is, don’t create a folder card. Just create a new branch and then put on the new card the number or letter of that branch.

Here’s what that might look like if you are using subject areas the way I do.

Let’s say I have a new card to add to my “race and racism” branch here. And let’s say this new card does not have a good-enough relation to cards that are already within that branch, so I’m going to create a new branch. Since 2a through 2d are already taken, the new branch I’m going to create within the “race and racism” branch is going to have 2e as its address.

But what if you aren’t using subject areas at all? Well, again, if you have a new card that isn’t a continuation of an already-existing card, you would make that new card the beginning of a new branch in your Zettelkasten.

Some of you might be thinking, “But how am I going to know what that branch should be called?”

Again, you don’t have to call it anything.

If you don’t start off with subject areas like I do but want to give the new branch a name, I suggest that you wait to do so till after creating several cards in that branch. After that point, you might want to write down the name of the branch on a card and put that card at the front of the new series of cards.

Let’s list the key points to take away from this video:

First, if you have yet to start creating a Zettelkasten, I recommend that you not create folder cards.

Second, if you have a new card that lacks a good-enough relation to any of the cards already in your Zettelkasten, make that card the first card in a new branch.

Third, if you use subject areas like I do, that new branch will likely be within an already-existing subject area, which is itself a branch, and so you might want to think of the new branch you add to that subject area as a sub-branch.

Fourth, if you’re NOT using subject areas, then the new branch will indeed be a new branch rather than a sub-branch.

Fifth, if you’re not using subject areas but want to give a new branch a name, wait to do that until you have already created several cards within that branch.

Sixth, and most important, while I remain grateful to my mother for purchasing for me a petrified walrus thing, I would still welcome a formal apology for the injustice that was my fifth birthday. I'm outta here.


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