What is a Zettlekasten?

Any Zettlekasten is based on the work of Niklas Luhmann, a sociologist. He was a prolific writer, and attributed much of his abundant creativity to his use of a slip box (see Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.


His slip box (a filing cabinet of cards – hence zettle (note) kasten (cupboard)), was unique because instead of filing the cards in a typical hierarchical way, he gave each card a unique identifier (usually a date number) and then cross-referenced this note to other related ideas as they emerged.


Advocates of Zettlekasten have developed a set of Zettlekasten Principles which govern the methodology. These include:


  • A Zettle should be Atomic which means that a note (zettle) should only be about a single concept or idea
  • A Zettle should be Densely Linked because hyper-linking is the power of a Zettlekasten because linking creates a network of linked ideas or concepts.
  • A Zettle should be Concept Oriented. Rather than make notes about authors or titles of books, make your Zettle concept oriented so that you can engender many more links from disparate sources which link to the same concept. This is one of the drivers behind what I call Creativity Activation.
  • A Zettle should be organised using Associative Ontologies. You can’t forecast where a concept will lead you over time. So rather than creating folder in advance, you should let your ideas evolve and take shape over time. The pattern will become clearer the more links you make.


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