How to Start your First Zettelkasten

If you’ve come across the Zettelkasten note taking method, you may have come away feeling a bit overwhelmed by the different types of Note comprising the system. Here we’ll show you how to get started with your first Zettelkasten using just 2 types of Note: Fleeting and Permanent Notes.

If you’d prefer a video:

For a step by step guide take a look at ‘Start your First Zettelkasten‘ in our Docs

What is Zettelkasten?

Zettelkasten is a note-taking method pioneered by Niklas Luhmann. He attributes his success in publishing 70 books and 400 articles to his note-taking system.

An image of a chest of many small drawers that could be used to store index cards for a Zettelkasten system

Literally meaning slipbox, Luhmann’s Zettelkasten system was handwritten onto index cards and organised manually. Today you also have the option of creating a digital Zettelkasten

The Zettelkasten system is built around writing notes that contain just one idea and then connecting each note to other related notes so that you build an interconnected network of ideas.

This is a brief overview and if you’d like more information on Zettelkasten:

Start your First Zettlekasten

To get started with your first Zettelkasten system, focus on just 2 types of note: Fleeting and Permanent.

1 Fleeting Notes aka Ideas

Fleeting Notes are notes used to hold all the ideas that are sparked while you’re reading, watching or listening to content, as well as the spontaneous ideas you have throughout the day.

As the saying goes ideas are fleeting, so make sure you save any and all your ideas before you forget them in a fleeting note.

A woman working through some papers with a notepad and sticky notes
Capture your thoughts and ideas as Fleeting Notes so you don’t forget them

2 Permanent Notes aka Notes

Permanent notes are the select ideas that you want to save and come back to in the future. Cherry pick and select the best ideas – the ones that excite you or have important information – from your Fleeting Notes and turn each individual idea into it’s own permanent note.

A permanent note typically:

  • contains the idea written in your own words
  • has a source link
  • is just one idea per note

Adding a title to your Permanent Notes defines each idea for easier searching in future

A woman writing onto a print out, working at a desk next to a laptop and mobile phone
Turn your best Fleeting Notes into Permanent Notes

3 Connecting your Notes

As you add more Permanent Notes into your Zettelkasten, you should start adding links between them to explore the connections and overlap between your different ideas – who knows what you might spot!

These 3 elements – Fleeting Notes to capture your ideas, Permanent Notes to work up select ideas (Fleeting Notes) and then adding connections between your Permanent Notes will get your Zettelkasten up and running

On Protolyst Zettelkasten is simple – you create your fleeting notes by highlighting text as you read, (we call them Atoms) and then you can easily create a permanent note. Take a closer look at using Protolyst for your first Zettelkasten

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