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Zettelkasten principles

Niklas Luhmann wrote over 70 books and more than 400 scholarly articles using the Zettelkasten note taking method to learn better, think better, publish more, and be more creative.


Luhmann linked his notes together. Notes are no longer just grouped together, but their connections are explicitly tracked. This creates a web of ideas.

  1. Atomicity: Each note should contain one idea and one idea only. This makes it possible to link ideas with a laser focus.
  2. Autonomy: Each note should be self-contained and comprehensible on its own. This allows notes to be moved, processed, separated, and concatenated independently of its neighbors. It also ensures that notes remain useful even if the original source of information disappears. Same idea as the Single-reposibility principle in programming.
  3. Link notes: A note that is not connected to the network will be lost, will be forgotten by the Zettelkasten.
  4. Explain why linking: Briefly explain why notes are linked for future reference.
  5. No copy-paste: Recalling helps the brain to comprehend the information.
  6. Sources: So the original can be read/viewed/heard again in a later stage.
  7. No folder structure: Use tags to aid searchability and links between notes for extending the knowledge graph. All notes can be flat in one folder.
  8. Connection notes: When linking notes that need a longer explanation why they are linked, use a new note connecting the notes.
  9. Outline notes: When creating an overview of a topic or theme, also see Zettelkasten zettel types.
  10. Never delete: Instead, link create a new note with a revised idea that links to the old note.
  11. Keep adding notes: The system doens't break with more notes. Add as many as possible.

Followed by


  • Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive


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These notes are unpolished collections of thoughts, unfinished ideas, and things I want to remember later. In the spirit of learning in public, I'm sharing them here. Have fun exploring, if you want!
© 2022 by Adrian Philipp