Insights develop from connections between ideas. Because my computer notes are arranged topically I generate many content- driven connections between ideas, but one important type of connection is lost: chronological association. Because my analog notebook is a straight chronological stream, I can immediately situate a note made on Plato’s Republic between a comment from a lecture on the philosophy of time and some reflections on the nature of consciousness. These otherwise disparate subjects are connected for me because my thoughts on them all occur on the same day of my life. If the straight chronological format were all I did, the organization of my notes would be quite limited, but because I utilize both systems I get the best of both.
As an added benefit, there is very little friction when I want to write something down. I do not need to come up with a title or figure out where to file something. I get an idea and it goes on the next available line of my notebook. Thus, I rely on my notebook for a stream of consciousness kind of thinking (which of course includes a lot of garbage just like Catcher in the Rye), while I rely on my computer for a more rigorous and organized kind of thinking.
I capitalize on this chronological structure when I want to put a reference to a passage in my computer notes. Every reference looks like this
J stands for “journal” and the date tells me exactly where to look while also associating that reference with other chronologically near-by references.
I like having a record of what I was thinking last year or what I was reading when I developed my views on X, but I also need to have the rich organization of a Zettelkasten system. I can get both by having two note systems.