Reflection and Recall

images of nodes, describing filtering, developing, and connecting ideas.

I have been exploring Zettelkasten-esque hyperlinked notetaking in markdown since my early experiments with Vimwiki. I’ve begun referring to it as a Creativity System because it’s not a strict Luhmann Zettelkasten.

I’m in the middle of a large refactoring of my input and outputs1: cataloging (and limiting!) the kinds of input I receive, and creating systems for how I handle those inputs.

While the above is a very imperfect picture, I’ve found this exercise incredibly useful. By formalizing “where does this thing go,” I also simplify the answer to the question “where did that thing go?”

Some of the inputs2 I’m examining…

  • Reading books.
  • Talking with people. (Meetings or conversations.)
  • Digital reading (blog posts and documentation).

Some of the outputs I’m optimizing for…

Doing. There are things you have to do. 🤷‍♂️ Having a good capture -> execution system is very useful for adulting. In addition to projects with a start and finish, there are also things I should do… forever. Quiet time, eating, sleeping, and exercise.

Creating. Professionally I synthesize context and user insights into written documentation or design artifacts. I recall ideas from the inputs as “dots” to connect in new ways revealing new insights and creative work.

Growing. I’m not a machine that just can take infinite amounts of information and create infinite quantities of output. I need to take a step back, assess, and make a call as to what I spend my limited time on. For years I optimizing purely for throughput and never took the time to reflect on my purpose. By over-optimizing for efficiency, I was wasting my time in a thousand directions at once.

I am not done yet… but here are some insights so far. Two primary reasons to design a system is to recall and reflect. Recall so I don’t forget, reflect so that I don’t optimize myself into pointless burnout.

With recall and reflection as two of the goals, I’ve found: Analog processes make reflection effective. Digital systems make recall easy.

If this sounds familiar, this is basically a rediscovery of what Mike Schmidt said: Paper is for thinking, digital is for creating.

Doing creates more input. Anything you do is going to increase your exposure to people and material that creates input. I’m not 100% sure what to do with this thought yet… but I feel like if I’m overwhelmed by the amount coming in… I may need to look at my Doing area.


  1. I was inspired by Mike Schmidt’s thoughtful refactoring of his own production system. 

  2. There’s a through-line here… all inputs are related to people… some are ideas to remember, some are tasks to accomplish… but all come from written or spoken conversations. 


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  • 2021-03-07 03:30:05 +0000

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  • 2021-02-25 18:01:31 +0000

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