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The zettelkasten is a method of note-taking and personal knowledge management

The direct translation of zettelkasten is slip-box, a place to keep & sort your notes.

The 5 most important components of a Zettelkasten system are:

Fleeting notes

Any idea that pops into your head needs to be captured.

Regardless of how, it needs to get out of your mind and onto something that can be seen. This then needs to be put together with other fleeting notes (captured ideas) from throughout your day into somewhat of an inbox, a place to keep track of these thoughts.

Ways to capture an idea:

Places to keep your inbox:

Literature notes

When you consume content, take notes of what you don’t want to forget or what you want to use in your own writing.

Make sure your notes are Atomic, in the smallest form they can possibly be. This is so you can combine your literature notes into permanent notes without their being overlap or redundancy.

Be extremely selective in what you take notes on, make sure that it is relevant to things to care about or what to write about. And be even more selective with adding quotes, as you don’t want to use that as a crutch for your lack of understanding.

Make sure to include the bibliographic details, author & source at the very least, so you know where you got the idea from.

Permanent notes

Every day, you should go through your inbox and seek to refine the fleeting & literature notes that you’ve taken. Making connections and turning them into permanent notes.

Ideally this should happen roughly everyday so that you don’t forget the conceptual ideas behind the notes.

Developing > Collecting

Your Zettelkasten isn’t just for collecting all of your ideas, it is meant to develop your ideas and help expand your understanding. When you add a new permanent note, there are a number of things you need to think about:

These are important questions to answer, as if you ignore them, you will end up with a Zettelkasten that is lacking these kinds of horizontally generated ideas.

One idea = One note
One note = One idea

Your permanent notes should only encompass a single idea, so as not to cause overlapping, which will cause issues when you try to piece together your permanent notes into a whole piece of content.

Rules for a permanent note:

Index notes

A starting point to falling down the rabbit hole, allowing you to navigate your Zettelkasten and find ideas when you need them.

Keyword notes

Help readers/yourself understand an unclear word by further describing it in it’s own note and then linking to that note when you write that word.

Do not brainstorm for a topic. Look into the slip-box instead to see where chains of notes have developed and ideas have been built up to clusters.

Your topic is now based on what you have, not based on an unfounded idea about what the literature you are about to read might provide.

- Sönke Ahrens

Once you have enough notes bring them together as if they were cards scattered on a workbench and try placing them together to start making an initial rough draft.
Don’t just copy them, mold them to fit each other and the piece of content.

Translate them into something coherent and embed them into the context of your argument while you build your argument out of the notes at the same time. Detect holes in your argument, fill them or change your argument.

– Sönke Ahrens


  1. How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens