Discover Zettelkasten: The German Method For Order

Have you heard of the Zettelkasten method? It's not something new, but people who love order have found a new passion.
Discover Zettelkasten: The German Method For Order

Last update: 27 December, 2022

What comes to your mind when we mention Zettelkasten? If you’ve never heard of this German word, it’s time to open your mind! Grab a pen and a piece of paper ready to take notes because this method will help you to become super organized and efficient.

We always give you ideas and inspiration on how to organize and decorate your spaces, but this time we’re going to give you ideas on how to achieve mental order.

What is Zettelkasten?

Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) was the German sociologist who created the Zettelkasten system. He wrote over 70 books and 400 academic articles using this method. Interestingly, he didn’t create this method with the help of a computer, but thanks to his intelligent note-taking.

To understand this method, it’s necessary to turn to etymology or the origin of the word. Zettelkasten is a Teutonic word that can be divided into two parts: Zettel meaning note or sheet of paper, and Kasten meaning box. Therefore, the word could be defined as a note box.

Luhmann’s Zettelkasten was a piece of furniture made up of six towers with four wooden drawers in each. In it, each drawer was filled with a pile of paper notes. Although, nowadays, various software based on this system avoids using paper and physical boxes.

What’s new about this method?

If you write down your ideas in different notebooks and you have pieces of paper stuck all over the house, this method is for you! The trouble is, when you write notes they tend to stay where you left them, collecting dust. Sometimes you may read them again, but rarely do they turn into something useful.

The problem is that they don’t help to find connections. For example, imagine if you read a book that contained some great ideas, and you subsequently wrote them down. Months later, you read an article that’s related to that book in some way. You may have even seen a movie where you used the same approach. However, even if you’ve taken notes, it isn’t easy to see how these ideas are related. As such, you end up collecting data that leads to nothing.

Hence the importance of this method in helping to make these connections. For its creator, it was like his second memory. It helped him to organize his ideas internally, consider new ones, to better refine his objectives, and go deeper. Simply put, it was a tool for reflection and reasoning.

The pillars of Zettelkasten

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels

To make each note, Niklas used a quarter of a page. In the upper left part of each page, he made a numerical sequence and added ramifications and divisions. In addition, he religiously followed the following principles.

A single idea

Each note must only contain one idea because this allows them to precisely and individually relate. This became known as the “principle of atomicity.”

The autonomy of each note in Zettelkasten

Each note must be autonomous, that is, it must be understandable on its own. This allows notes to be moved, processed, split and concatenated independently. It also ensures that the notes continue to be useful, even if the original source of the information disappears.

Notes must be linked

Luhmann said, “Each note is just an element that derives its quality from the network of links in the system. A note that’s not connected to the network will end up being lost and will be forgotten by the Zettelkasten.” Therefore, each note you write must be related to another note, otherwise it’ll become useless.

Use your own words

Analyze the information or idea before you create a note. That way, when you read it again, you’ll understand it better.

Don’t worry about categorizing

Here, there are no preconceived hierarchies or categories. The organization develops organically. At first, it may seem chaotic, but a lack of pre-conditioning or prepared labels gives rise to free thinking.

Zettelkasten suggests a summary

As ideas are grouped into themes, you need to create summary notes. A summary note is simply one that contains a sequence of links to other notes.

Don’t delete anything

Don’t delete obsolete notes! Instead, add new notes that explain why you no longer find the previous ones valid. Doing this reflects your thinking and how it evolves over time.

As you can see, the Zettelkasten method is easy to practice, but it does require some thought. If you’re interested in learning more about this method, read the book to understand it better. You can find it on Amazon.

This can make you a more organized, productive, and creative person because you start thinking outside the box.