In the last months, I was busy creating a Zettelkasten Template for Notion.
— Elizabeth Butler, MD, PhD | Calmer Notes (@elizabutlermd) March 27, 2022
At this point, you might ask: “A Zettel…what?”
Well, the Zettelkasten is the most powerful tool we know of for any student or knowledge worker. Why? Well, let me explain it in the following paragraphs.
What is a Zettelkasten?
Zettelkasten is a German word and can be translated into English as a slip box. However, I believe the German version sounds much more extravagant and fitting.
The Zettelkasten method was originally invented by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. He was extremely productive in his career, writing 70 books and more than 400 academic articles. Later in his life, he attributed much of his productivity to his “Kasten” which was generating ideas all the time.
If you want to learn more about the method, I highly recommend reading the resources here: zettelkasten.de
In short, a Zettelkasten consists of notes (Zettel) that capture an idea and its source. So far this is not different from hierarchical note-taking. However, the unique selling proposition of a Zettelkasten is that the notes are linked with other notes in the box. Ideally, you link to another note when this note is supporting, challenging, upgrading, or contradicting the new permanent note. You can do the Zettelkasten method analogously with a real slip box and paper notes or digitally with software like Notion.
So, what are the advantages of using a Zettelkasten:
Instead of saving notes in a hierarchical way, with a Zettelkasten, we are now saving them non-hierarchical in a slip box. Every note should be linked with other similar notes. So with time, a web of knowledge emerges: more and more connections will form, some more surprising than the others. This way the Zettelkasten will transform into a tool that will support your creativity and thinking.
“Notes are only as vaulable as the note and reference networks they are embedded in.” — Sönke Ahrens
What kind of notes exists in a Zettelkasten?
- Fleeting Notes:
Thoughts and ideas you are capturing throughout the day. E.g. you are listening to a podcast and writing down an idea you are hearing on a piece of paper or on some simple note-taking app on your phone.
- Literature Notes:
In the next step, you need to decide which of the fleeting notes you want to bring into your Zettelkasten.
Those are literature notes: Short, bullet-point summaries of things you want to remember from the content you’ve consumed
Remember: Less is more! Make a brief summary of the note and include a reference to its source.
One important note: Write down just one single idea per note!
- Permanent Notes
Some of the literature notes can be converted into permanent notes, but do this just to ideas and thoughts you want to explore further.
Literature Notes are short summaries while permanent notes are short essays about a single idea (100-300 words). Other people or your future self should be able to understand them without reading the source material.
Each permanent note contains only one single idea. When you create them you don’t write a full article. You write ideas. That’s how they become reusable. – Eva Keiffenheim
My Zettelkasten story
I first heard about this note-taking system one year ago. Before, I always struggled to access my old knowledge.
I mean, I’ve read 20-30 books a year for the past ten years, but it’s always been a nuisance for me that I’ve forgotten so many things that I’d already read the past
I took notes, made Kindle highlights, started several note-books, but I hardly accessed my old knowledge. It was lying somewhere on my laptop, phone, or in my desk drawer and got forgotten with time.
When I first heard about the Zettelkasten, I immediately got an epiphany moment. Within some weeks I started building a system in Notion – which was the basis for the template I had created for Notion.
Beginners of this method often overcomplicate their Zettelkasten system. Me too, as a result, I iterated my system a lot and greatly simplified it to make it more user-friendly.
Why should you use my template for your Zettelkasten in Notion?
- it simplifies the note-taking process +
- it will guide you through the workflow of note processing.
Every new note forces you to look back at your old notes. Every new connection you create strengthens the web (Metcalfe’s law).
For example, if you’re writing about a topic, all you have to do this way is scroll through your notes in the Zettelkasten. If you have already created a note on this topic, ready-made text modules and ideas for your service will be available.
Once you write an article or a book about a specific topic, you don’t start with a blank page. Instead, you search for permanent notes relevant to your topic. – Eva Keiffenheim
So, who did I create this Zettelkasten template for?
- Undergraduate + PhD students
- Content creators
- Knowledge Workers
- Knowledge Entrepreneurs
In short, for everybody who needs to take notes regularly.
If you are interested in the Zettelkasten method, grab the template on Gumroad or in my Shop (50% off with this link):
How to use my Zettelkasten template for Notion? (Instructions)
If you have bought my Zettelkasten template, learn in this section, how to use it for note-taking and note processing:
1. First, if you want to create a new note or wish to capture an idea, thought or quote, click on “Capture Notes”
2. Create a new entry and write down the information you want to capture. This is a “Fleeting Note”.
3. If you wish to edit the note further, change its status to “Literature Note”
4.) Now the note should appear in the next section. Add sources like the author or the media (book, video, study). Use the field “Source More Info” to add more info, if necessary.
5.) Add tags to make it easier for you to find the note in the future. Tip: Use multiple tags.
6.) Most notes will stay in literature notes. If you don’t want to edit further, just change the field “Done Editing?” to Yes. Congratulation: You have created a literature note. However, you probably want to explore certain ideas and thoughts further. In this case, change the status to “Permanent Note”. Permanent notes are short essays about a single idea. Use the field “Summary” to write a short essay about the topic. Other people or your future self should be able to understand them without reading the source material.
7.) As mentioned in the first part of this article, I recommend linking to other notes. A link is useful if it points to a note that supports, challenges, enhances, or contradicts the new permanent note. In this way, a web of knowledge will develop over time.
Some more tips for using a Zettelkasten productively:
- Don’t capture everything and don’t convert every fleeting note into a literature note. At the end of the day, you should delete plenty of your fleeting notes. Quality beats quantity.
- Every note in your Zettelkasten should capture a single unique idea.
- Use plenty of tags. The more tags you are using, the easier it will be in the future to find the note again.
- Make using the Zettelkasten a daily habit. Use 5 to 10 minutes of your day for converting fleeting notes into literature notes, or literature notes into permanent notes. The Zettelkasten is a great tool – like a hammer – but a tool is only useful if it is used for its purpose. A hammer that is just locked away in the storage room, will not drive any nails into a wall.
If you want to enhance your thinking and writing with the Zettelkasten, you need to write as often as possible inside of your Zettelkasten!
And don’t forget to grab the template (50% off with this link):
- Notion Zettelkasten Template on Gumroad
- Or grab the Notion Zettekasten Template directly from my Shop