Late last year I read the book How To Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens. It profoundly impacted how I read and has formed the basis for my Knowledge Hub in Notion. Before this book I would read books, articles, listen to podcasts and just copy quotes or highlight them in my Kindle. Sure I built up lots of quotes, but those quotes went... nowhere.
The book has become quite a phenomenon with so many people reading it recently. The basic premise of the book is having a notebook or notetaking device next to you while reading. You take 'literature notes' as you read. These are notes that you sum up in your own words rather than just copy and paste text.
Then at certain intervals (Daily, weekly, etc.) you go through your literature notes and you process them into your 'Permanent Notes' Zettelkasten (or slip box).
The author always preferred pen and paper, but I don't know anyone who is actually writing their notes out. But there seems to be many and varied camps on what apps and technology is best when it comes to implementing this system. You have the Notioneers, you have the Roamers and also the Obsidians.
Personally I'm a Notioneer, so I went searching for how I could implement the method using Notion. I found many complex and well thought out systems from really smart people. But personally, I was already struggling with what the heck to actually put in a permanent note, so I wanted a really simple option - which I think I came up with.
I'm calling the Every-Person's Zettelkasten. I personally find that us notion builders tend to build elaborate workspaces that work for the way our brain works - but not always for just a general user. When things are too complex, there's just too much friction and the joy of actually thinking and writing is overshadowed by trying to use the system.
So, I created a template where the system just gets out of the way and I can just get things in there quickly and come back and do what the Zettelkasten is meant to do - be a place for thinking.
Here's how it works...
I created a template in my Zettelkasten database, called 'New Permanent Note.' It consists of three parts.
New Sequence Note Template
At the very top of the template I created a New Sequence Note Template Button. Sequence notes are the notes that sit behind the Top Permanent Note in the slip box. The template button adds a new toggle that acts as a 3x5 note if this was a physical slip box.
Firstly, I write a heading at the top of the toggle, so I know what this note refers to.
Then I add a link back to the literature note that I am processing into this permanent note. That's as easy as typing the '@' and a few letters of the note title. This mentions the page and also creates a backlink in the original page to this permanent note.
Next I take some time to re-phrase the literature note and add my own ideas to it. This is the magic of the Zettelkasten. You're not just copying and pasting. You are taking the time to write something of substance. What ends up happening is that you have collect a whole lot of notes that you can then use for creating content.
Lastly I add any additional links to other literature notes that give context The reason I added this was because sometimes a few literature note relate to the same sequence note.
This Brings Us To The Slip Box
Once I've completed the 'card' I drag it down into the slipbox and 'file it' in between the notes in a place that makes sense sequentially.
Because each of the sequence notes are in toggles, they are easy to move around, open and see what is inside. I also update the # of sequence notes field at the top of the Permanent Note. This is optional, but I like to see how many notes are inside a permanent note easily.
This has been a dream. I've seen other more complex system that relies on sorting records and changing sequence numbers. For me I can just drag around the cards and sequence them in a way that makes sense. It's truly like a real life slip box.
Lastly I Generate Ideas
It's important to remember that the Zettelkasten is not the end results. It's not the goal just to process notes. The Zettelalkasten is a system for thinking and percolating new ideas.
This is a new section that I have only just added in recently and it's a real gamechanger. As I'm taking time inside my Zettelkasten to 'think.' I'm reading notes, I'm rearranging notes, I'm rephrasing content. Ideas begin to bubble to the surface that are worthy of being added to my content database.
So I included a linked view to my content database that just filters anything that is attached to this permanent note. Which means I can easily enter new content ideas directly from the permanent note. Because of the filtered view these ideas are already linked to this permanent notes and have the status of 'Idea.'
Because of this, they then show up in my content hub and I can process them through to a real article or tweet or video - The cycle completes.
This whole process has made me SO excited. Because finally I'm connected everything that I'm consuming, with ideas I'm thinking about and then turning those ideas into things I'm writing about on the internet.
I hope reading about my Zettelelkasten process has encouraged you to either get started with this method, or showed you how you can make this happen really simply within Notion. If you'd like to use my template, I've made it available to duplicate into your Notion Workspace.
I'm keenly interested in how other people are implementing this method. So follow me on Twitter if you have any questions or want to chat all things Zettelkasten.
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