From charlesreid1

Main: Zettelkasten

Up: Zettelkasten/Patterns

An example daily page is available here: 20160101

Summary of Pattern

The Daily Page Pattern consists of creating a page named [[YYYYMMDD]] to organize and assemble notes from that day.

By creating a new note/article to collect everything from a given day, it means there is a clean slate each day.

Interlinks from each day's page to other pages are crucial: many inter-wiki links create a link structure that allow easy navigation of the wiki. Each article in the wiki is a node in a network of interlinked pages; an article with lots of wiki links makes it easy to jump around the network.

Contents of Daily Pages

Sections on Daily Pages

Typically, each page will contain the following sections:

  • Summary of Prior Day: A section that summarizes the prior day, plus a link to the prior day's wiki page. This section goes at the top of the page, so that it's easy to find and click. Going backwards two or three days is simple: click the link for the prior day's wiki page, and repeat two or three times. It's always at or near the top of the page.
  • Work Daily Page: On workdays, we create a section for work, that's just a link to another Daily Page Pattern page specific to work, like [[Work/YYYYMMDD]]
  • Links Section: A section to collect interesting links that we come across. Links will usually wind up with their own notes, but this is more for dumping copy-and-paste links we want to save.
    • If we end up going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole (often), we usually open links in new tabs as we go further down the rabbit hole - a good visual indicator of how deep the rabbit hole goes.
    • When we're ready for a break, we can copy all those links into a list in the links section, and now we've recorded that Wikipedia rabbit hole for future reference and exploration!

Categories on Daily Pages

One extra detail of daily pages, to make them easier to wrangle: we always tag a daily page with a category corresponding to the year and month, [[Category:YYYYMM]].

For example, the page [[20160101]] is from January 2016, so it would be tagged with the category [[201601]]. This can be useful for tagging daily pages, but also useful if tagging a note that's date-specific, but not necessarily a daily page or otherwise linked to that date.

For example, notes from a conference or workshop that occurs in January 2016 might also be tagged with [[201601]]. That year-month category will surface those notes.

Templates on Daily Pages

One other thing that we do to make the wiki easier to navigate via clicking links only. At the bottom of each page, we include a special template for that month that includes links to all other daily pages from that month.

(A MediaWiki template is basically just a chunk of text that can be defined in one place, then dynamically inserted in multiple other places.)

Monthly Template

The monthly template is a simple box that goes at the bottom of the page. It contains an organized list of links related to a given topic. You define a template like {{January2016}} and it is a Flag with a list of links to every daily page in January: [[20160101]], [[20160102]], etc.

For an example, see {{January2016}}.

The monthly template also links to the monthly template to the prior and next months, so that a daily page like [[20160101]] would include the monthly template {{January2016}}, which would link to every other daily page for that month, but also link to {{December2015}} and {{February2015}}.

Strengths of Daily Page Pattern


The Daily Page pattern can scale very rapidly and very well through the use of subpages - specifically, breaking more complicated topics out into their own separate pages and notes.

Sections or ideas that grow increasingly complex can be moved off of the daily page and onto a subpage, [[YYYYMMDD/Subpage]], so that new ideas have a clean canvas but it is still tied to the date. The daily page will include a link to the subpage, and the subpage will include a link back to the daily page, to keep things easy to navigate.

Subpages Example

Suppose one day you have a simple but captivating idea for a great side project.

If the idea is just a simple idea you want to keep track of and come back to later, you can create a section in the daily page, and jot it down to refer back to later.

But suppose the idea is complicated, and more ideas start to roll in, and suddenly you're having a brainstorm. A simple section on a daily page is no longer enough to hold all the ideas - but the idea still isn't fully formed enough to create a whole topic page, Category page, set of tags, etc.

The solution? Create a subpage at [[YYYYMMDD/Foobar]]. On the daily page, the section where you were brainstorming about Foobar now links to that subpage. On the subpage, you have all the space to brainstorm that you want, on a nice, fresh, blank canvas.

The subpage should link back to the daily page, and the daily page should link to the subpage, to keep everything easy to navigate. The subpage should also include any Category tags that are relevant, to make it findable later.

Subpages As Bookmarks

Using the Daily Page Pattern described on this page, plus the subpage pattern described above, can help to compartmentalize information from a particular day into a separate page, while still keeping it connected to the context of what was being worked on that day.

We've found that we use the subpage pattern rarely enough that when we do create a subpage to collect a brainstorm or a large amount of information about a particular topic on a particular day, it creates a kind of bookmark in our memory about that information.

For example, suppose you have an important phone call, and you create a new subpage [[20160101/Bob Phone Call]]. Now, when you visit the list of pages in [[Category:201601]], you'll see all the daily pages, plus the subpage for the phone call with Bob. It will stand out - that's what we mean by a bookmark.

Flexible Time Spans

The Daily Page Pattern is also useful because it can very flexibly cover a range of time spans. For example, suppose you had a zettelkasten that was dedicated specifically to historical research of a particular topic. In that case, the daily pages template might take the form of notes pages for [[19720101]] with notes on what happened that day, photos from that date, etc.

Weaknesses of Daily Page Pattern

Low Throughput Situations

One big weakness of the Daily Page Pattern is that it requires lots of information to be effective - the more the better. It is capable of taking a large body of uncategorized, unstructured information, and chunking it up into topic pages, subpages, and sections that are all categorized, interlinked, and networked.

But without that large volume of information to process and categorize, daily pages will break down, because there is not much information or activity to categorize during a given day, and daily pages are consistently left unfilled. Information becomes siloed, there are too many pages and not enough content, and ironically, a system that sings when there is a high volume of information chokes when there is a low volume of information.

A low volume of information can also begin to make each day's blank canvas feel like the wiki is swallowing all of your work, instead of feeling like the blank canvas gives you freedom. If you have a low flow of information into the wiki, and you don't have good mechanisms in place for looking backwards, it's easy to lose track of work across days or weeks.

Starting fresh has its pros and its cons.

How to Overcome the Low Throughput Situation

Caveat: We are still experimenting with every method we are describing here, including ways of overcoming the above issues.

One general principle we've found useful is persistence, which we achieve through MediaWiki templates. Here's what we mean: we create templated chunks of text, which are persistent across daily pages, and that we can include on each daily page. These chunks of text can help create persistence across multiple days, and help daily pages from feeling so empty or disconnected from everything that's come before.

An example of an application of this idea is a monthly template that we create, consisting of a simple bullet list of links to wiki pages/notes for ongoing projects in a given month. We can maintain the bullet list in one place, and we can always include that latest version on any page we want by including a template for projects that month, like {{ProjectsJanuary2016}}.

Example of Rolling Text Template

Suppose you are working on a dashboard project, and you have pages with notes about the dashboard software, a todo list for the project, and notes about the machine running the dashboard. Then the monthly projects template can include a link to all three, and each daily page will now link to the pages for that project, ensuring the project does not slip through the cracks.

Likewise, once the dashboard project is complete, it no longer needs to be included in the next month's projects template. The utility of the monthly projects template is not just that it persists across daily pages, but also that a new monthly projects template is made each month. If a project ends up in a dead end, or in the icebox, it won't make it to next month's projects template; if a project is getting more involved, then all of its detailed subpages, subtasks, and various todo lists can all go in the monthly projects template.

Using the monthly projects template makes sure that if you start a project, and add it to the template, there's always a link on each daily page to that project's organizing page/note, since the monthly template is added to each daily page.

Changing Daily to Weekly or Monthly

It's possible to adapt the Daily Page Pattern to a Weekly Page Pattern or Monthly Page Pattern, to address some of the problems mentioned above.

Personally, we like the week time frame, but that makes page-naming schemes messy. The YYYYMMDD format means we can immediately jump to a particular date, whereas with weeks it isn't clear (which week of the month is the day in? hard to determine.) One way to overcome that is to jump to a list of weekly pages by going straight to the [[Category:YYYYMM]] page, to list all pages from that month. Other ideas are definitely possible.

We don't like the one month time frame for pages - even though naming schema becomes more straightforward (YYYYMM instead of YYYYMMDD), a month is a long time to maintain a single page, and can start to feel cramped after just a few days. This could likely be overcome by carefully curating the month page and making heavy use of subpages, but that doesn't suit our style.