Zettelkasten is German for ‘slip-box’, IE, a box with slips of paper in it. You keep everything on a bunch of note cards. Niklas Luhmann developed the system to take notes on his reading. He went on to be an incredibly prolific social scientist. It is hard to know whether his productivity was tied to Zettelkasten, but, others have reported large productivity boosts from the technique as well.

How Zettelkasten Works

  • Whenever he read something, he put the bibliographic information on one side of a card and the notes from it on the other side of the card. This note will go to the bibliographic slip-box.
  • After this step he will take a look at the content and think about how this information is relevant into his own thinking and writing.
  • Then he would go to the main slip-box and write his ideas on a new piece of paper. Only one paper per idea and he restricted himself to only write on one side of the paper. (This is one aspect of Zettelkasten which is atomic).
  • He wrote his notes with a focus on his existing notes to find a connection between them. He rarely put his notes in isolation.
  • He use his own words without taking away the original meaning.
  • He did not organize his note by topics, he gave them fixed number.
  • The last one is putting an index for notes that are connected.

Luhmann used paper for his slip-box, right now there are a lot of great softwares that we can use for this. I personally use Obsidian. I am in love with it and I think this is the best for my current workflow.

To read more on Zettelkasten: https://zettelkasten.de