Zetttelblogging Combines Capture, Journaling, and Reference

As much as we like to complain about distraction and the evils of social media algorithms, I think we need to recognize just how information rich our environment has become. David Allen was inspired to write Getting Things Done at the beginning of the connectedness revolution in the mid 90s when email and platforms like Lotus Notes and GroupWise started creeping into the work environment. (And can you believe that both platforms still exist 30 years later?)


The first step of GTD is capture. I think the explosion we’re seeing in note taking apps is a reaction to the proliferation of information channels we are tuned into. I love Neuroscience Twitter and Philosophy Twitter. I have set of podcasts that send me off in interesting directions. And RSS feeds and our blogging revival are now growing information flows once again. Did I mention Reddit? And a handful of old-fashioned message boards?


As I’ve chronicled here over the last few months, when I started using Drafts as my main capture tool, I found myself with a better inbox system that led directly to this casual approach to blogging. I have a stream of inbox notes in Drafts.

Now I’ve learned that if I take some time off my Inbox gets backed up and it’s a project to get it back under control. But the process of working through it is modeled on my process for getting my email inbox empty. I look at each note and evaluate it as a potential entry in the journal here. This entry, for example came from a note that just said this:

  • Capture
  • Journal
  • Explode

I jotted that down when thinking about the workflow. But now I’ve expanded that thought into the idea of capture followed by journaling. And as I’ve mentioned, once I write a journal post like this in Drafts, I publish directly to WordPress. There I review the formatting and publish without trying to edit to perfect. This is a casual writing flow.

Some of the notes don’t get journaled as they are project oriented work. So these get filled out similarly as usable notes if they are telegraphic and they plus the posts get pushed to the DEVONthink database.

Explode and Edit Notes

This final step occurs in Devonthink and is the Zettel part of of the Zettleblogging. I went back and forth about how to write journal posts that were Zettels, but realized that the purpose of this narrative form and the purpose of that note keeping form were just too different to consolidate. The natural order seems to be to narrate what I’m seeing and thinking about then, as a second step, abstract out from the journal what I want to preserve as reference. For example, out of this entry I’ll probably edit down to a simple explanation of the Capture, Journal, Explode concept with some notes as to how I arrived at the conclusion.

Save Reference Notes

One final step.

I’ve learned over 20 years of writing at this site that a blog is not a good way to keep notes. Even if it’s searchable by Google or a tool like Dave Winer’s new Daytona which loads a site into an mySQL database for local search. Since WordPress runs off a mySQL database to begin with, I have a decent search functionality right at the top of site which I use from time to time to find an older post to reference.

But a dedicated notes database in DEVONthink or Tinderbox is a different, curated reference library. It’s the equivalent of my old file cabinet full of the papers I copied at the library for research and my notes torn from the yellow legal pads I used to use for note taking from high school all the way through my years on a University Medical School faculty.

I’ve said it many time before: my current workflows are just digital refinements of those xeroxed papers and sheets from legal pads. Whenever I stray too far from those habits, I tend to spend too much time on the tools and less than I should on doing the work.