Zettlekasten, a primer
3 min read

Zettlekasten, a primer

It was 2017 and I was slowly developing an interest in Cognitive Neuroscience. By 2018 the interest became a craze. Slowly the craze developed into an obsession.

I was almost ready to pack my bags and leave to Berkeley. This meant I need to be away from my children for almost 2 years, leave the good work I have done for almost 2 decades, spend almost 100,000 USD (even if i had the best of the best scholarship) and change my trajectory from a user experience designer to a neuroscientist. Consequences of my choice was apparent but the love for neuroscience is also real. The dilemma killed me.

I know I can't breathe without my children and family around me. I know this for a fact. I didn't want to let go for all the beautiful work done for decades together. I wanted to know neuroscience but didn't want to change my trajectory all together. Above all I didn't feel like spending $100,000 for a learning itch. But my greed cannot be brushed away. So I followed my AND equation and took a bold and daring decision.

I decided to stay back. I get to live with my family. I get to keep my $100,000. I get to continue my work. I get to stay as a user experience designer. AND I get to learn neuroscience. That is when I decided to go on a hyperlearning journey.

I discovered Ultralearning, Meta learning, Zettlekasten and more in this period. Each topic deserves a post by itself. The fairy tale ending is I continue my learning using a combination of learning methods. I am blown away by how much I learnt in the past 4 years in general but specifically neuroscience, behavioral science, cognitive science, design and products. This is where I idea of teaching popped. A long story on that later.

Here is a quick primer to Zettlekasten.


Zettelkasten method is a powerful knowledge management system, developed by Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist. His system allowed him to build a huge web of knowledge, learn and retrieve information with ease and develop new ideas, discussions and arguments efficiently. He wrote 56 books and 100+ research papers using this methods. He earned his PhD (by spending Zero $ obviously).

Who doesn't want to get better and efficient in learning and publishing?

Here are the 4 steps to use Zettlekasten

  1. Take Fleeting Notes

In an index card or a Notion page jot down information you don't want to forget or thing you'll use later in your own writing or thinking. Write in your words. Concisely. Not more than 3 sentences. No copy and paste as much as possible.

2. Add References to Fleets

Mention the source on your note where ever applicable. It could be the name of the book with author name or research paper or link to youtube video or blog link or your own thought or heard from a friend etc.

3. Make notes permanent

Look at all the notes of the day and arrange them in logical order based on learning, projects, circles, interests, thinking or research. Add value to existing ideas, arguments, discussions.

Creating that web of knowledge note by note is the objective.

Finding the relationship between what I just learned and what I already know. This is how web of knowledge is created and it is easier to retrieve later as it is in the form of connected notes. This creates more cues to trigger the right memory.

4. Finding meaningful connections

Ask the following questions to find the meaning:

  • how does this idea fit into what I already know?
  • Can this be explained by something else?
  • What does X mean for Y?
  • How can I use this idea to explain Z?
  • What are the common keywords that I can use to retrieve? Keywords should belong to a bigger umbrella of interest and not one-off
  • When and how I will use this idea?
  • Which projects will make use of this note?

5. Arranging Notes

  • Arrange notes by relevancy.
  • Add necessary links that connect them.
  • Index them to discover later

6. Inbox all your fleeting notes

  • Before making a note permanent, have them in the fleet. Review fleeting notes everyday so that they can be pushed into permanent note.

7. Identify Gaps

  • What is missing?
  • What are the gaps?
  • What are the questions unanswered yet?
  • What to learn next?

8. When you want to publish do this

  • assemble relevant notes
  • put them in logical order
  • connect them coherenly
  • write and edit
  • package
  • publish

Writing is seperate from editing. You write everyday as notes or fleets and slide it into a slip box called Zettlekasten. You can connect different fleets in a meaningful way and publish. This is how I never run out of ideas on what to write. I am sure my Zettle has content for next 2 decades. Isn't that a great place to be in?

My recent love is to make it happen using Notion and here is a quicky on that.

🥂 to Zettlekasten!

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