Process the input for your Zettelkasten

You should always have paper and pencil with you to be able to make input for the note box Zettelkasten at any time.
  • You read something. What is interesting? How would You put it in your own words?
  • You have an idea. How can You capture it? (even in two years You should be able to recognize the idea from the note).
  • You have important insights. How can You formulate them in a comprehensible way?
All this is written on short notes. These notes are then incorporated in the Zettelkasten. The entirety of all thes interlinked notes provide a valuable basis for your work in the future.
Each input should be classified or linked from the keyword register, so that nothing gets lost in the box (dangling references).
[1] Sönke Ahrens, Das Zettelkasten-Prinzip: erfolgreich wissenschaftlich Schreiben und Studieren mit effektiven Notizen (Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2017).

The right Mindset

Have an open mind for using the Zettelkasten

Don't be too hard to yourself. Do not try to achieve perfection when starting with the Zettelkasten method.
Embrace the difficulties. Summarizing a complex text with your own words is a challenge. You will struggle with this tasks as well as with the system. Don't hunt too much for a perfect system.
Instead of just decomposing an article write the note "in dialog" with the notes that you want it to connect with. This is different from just collecting. It immediately brings you in a higher thought process. Especially think: Where have I been wrong before. Use the Zettelkasten to adress your confirmation bias. 34' [1]
The Zettelkasten gives you the opportunity to constantly challenge your insights and thoughts. So it is a tool against confirmation bias, it helps that you get stuck in your own filter bubble
Being open is not so easy, because opening up let a lot of crap come in to you via social media etc. So you have to close down in order to focus, on the other hand you do not want to stick in your own filter bubble. [1]
[1]: Interview of Tiago Forte with Soenke Ahrens, o. J.

How to setup your own Zettelkasten

3 simple rules for note taking

If you are using paper index cards or entries to a digital system you should follow theses principles:

  • Make "atomistic" notes. The idea is to have one thought, one idea on each note. Later you will be able to link these notes together and derive new creative insights from these notes. But you won't be able to do so, if you enter large, complex notes to your systems that cover for instance whole lines of arguments.
  • Do NOT copy text to your notes. If you are taking notes from something you here or read, do not use ctrl-c, ctrl-v to copy paste an idea to your Zettelkasten. Also this is very tempting you will sabotage your system. You have to "play" with the content, you have to really think about each Zettel. Otherwise you will accumulate a huge pile of unprocessed content, that won't help you.
  • Make your notes "self contained". Keep in mind that you will rearrange and move your notes individually and shuffle them around. You will link your notes but every note should stand for its own. In a couple of years it will be very hard for you to grasp an idea from a note if the context is completely missing. Also add references on every note, otherwise you won't be able to cite properly, which will reduce the effectiveness of your Zettelkasten.

Luhmanns Zettelkasten

Niklas Luhmann and his famous tool

Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist. He was born in 1927 and died in 1998. He was a scientist with an immense track record of publications. He published about 70 books and more than 400 articles. []

One of his tools was a Zettelkasten. Where Zettel is the German word for index card / paper slip and Kasten is the German word for box. Actually his Zettelkasten was a file cabinet with 90.000 index cards, which he made from normal sheets of paper to be able to fit all of these index cards into his file cabinet.

There is a website where the Zettelkasten can be explored in a digital form. Goto: to get an impression of the content of the Zettelkasten. 

He use this Zettelkasten as a tool for productive and creative writing. I will work with this system and create my own tools to handle this system as part of MoK. I will post about what I find out along the way.