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Note-Taking with The Zettlekasten Method

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The Zettelkasten Method is a note-taking method that organizes information in a way that allows an individual to see connections between ideas. This method was devised by prolific German sociologist Niklas Luhman who utilized his expansive Zettelkasten throughout his life in his research. During his career, he published more than 70 books and 400 scholarly articles on a wide array of subjects. It was making him one of the most influential sociologists of the twentieth century.

When Luhmann was asked how he was able to produce so much work quickly, he stated, “I’m not thinking everything on my own. Much of it happens in my Zettelkasten.”. Luhmann organized his Zettlekasten in twenty-four separate wooden drawers, each of which was packed full of paper notes; Over his lifetime, he managed to file away 90,000 note cards in these drawers.

For many, this vast amount of information may seem overwhelming; however, the Zettelkasten Method allows for better learning, better thinking, a higher level of productivity, and heightened creativity.

By building a web of interconnected knowledge using the Zettelkasten Method, you are essentially building another brain. Luhman himself often referred to his Zettelkasten as his “Zweites Gehirn,” or his second brain.

How Can the Zettelkasten Method Power Up Your Note-Taking?

The Zettelkasten Method is, in many ways, similar to the notecard method, which many of us learned in school. However, by using Luhman’s tried and true technique, singular notes become integrated into a vast web of ideas, which will lead to more insightful thinking and the construction of relevant questions, allowing for deep reflection on a given subject or concept.

This superior research method becomes more potent as your Zettelkasten grows and will be able to act in many ways as a well-informed conversation partner. For instance, if you have a question in mind and begin looking through your Zettelkasten, which contains countless ideas which you recorded years ago and have since forgotten, it will provide you with some surprising answers.

You can quickly begin your own Zettelkasten by following a few guiding principals:

  • Each note in your Zettelkasten should contain only one idea to link ideas with optimal focus.
  • Each note should be understandable on its own so that it can be reorganized at will.
  • Each note that you add to your Zettelkasten should be linked to an existing record to build a network of similar ideas.
  • When you link notes, make sure you add brief reasoning for why you have connected them, lest you forget when you return to them.
  • Express ideas within your Zettelkasten in your own words to better understand the concept in the future.
  • Add references to your ideas so that you can revisit the source material at a later date.
  • Don’t worry about keeping your notes in preconceived categories or organizing them by the level of importance; Your Zettelkasten’s organization should develop organically as it grows.
  • As you see connections begin to develop between ideas, link the notes and add connection notes to explain how the two (or more) ideas are connected.
  • As your collection of ideas begin to grow into themes, create outline notes which will contain links to other records. You can then put those notes into a specific order to create your narrative.
  • Never throw out or delete old notes which are no longer relevant or correct. Instead, link these notes to a new record, which explains what is incorrect about the original.
  • Finally, know that the more information you have in your Zettelkasten, the better; Do not hesitate to add ideas to your new second brain. After all, look at how Luhmann, with his Zettelkasten of 90,000 notes, benefited from this method!

A friend of the community @trms posted this very informative video about the Zettlekasten method. Consider following him and let him know I sent you.

Advantages of the Zettelkasten Method

The Zettelkasten Method provides those who use it with a vast repository for the things they learn throughout their lifetime. Of course, it does take time to reap the full benefits of your Zettelkasten. In the beginning, you’ll start with just a few notes, but over time, it will mature. You will have access to long-forgotten bits of knowledge you learned months, years, or even decades previously.

Using the Zettelkasten Method is a sure way to enrich your mind by increasing the knowledge you can retain. You will stop fixating on understanding a complex concept in its entirety and will be able to extract a few key ideas.

Furthermore, because you are writing down these ideas and linking them with other pre-existing ones, the information becomes more like a natural train of thought. Because of this, creating your own Zettelkasten by using the Zettelkasten Method truly is like having a second brain; And who could say no to that?

Have you heard of the Zettlekasten method? Are you using it? Let me know in the comments below. BTW, what software are you using for your Zettlekasten?

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