How to Take Smart Notes

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A book by education and social science author Sönke Ahrens. 2nd Edition in 2022 (Amazon link). Popularizes the famous Zettelkasten note-taking system (Z-system) of the pioneering social scientist and systems thinker Niklas Luhmann. Zettlekasten is German for "slip box". We call it the Z-system, and the notes Z-notes, as it may be the last system you'll ever use.

Main Ideas

The Z-system helps learners to organize their thinking and note-taking into atomic units of storage, retrieval, work, and output. The indexing (hyperlinking) system allows ideas to combine ("have sex") and produce diverse offspring. The process of hyperlinking creates knowledge graphs, which some call a "second brain." Breaking projects into small units also facilitates cross pollination between ongoing and recently completed work.

Critical Reception

Ahren's book is the most referenced for helping note-takers to understand how to think differently about their note-taking process. Many positive reviews (3K at 4.4 stars on Amazon in 2022) say it teaches readers to be better thinkers.

Unfortunately it lacks examples of actual notes. But Luhmann's and others Z-notes can be found online.

Application Examples

Rebecca Williams offers a nice set of examples, and thoughts on how to make Z-notes when reading your books.

Tutorial Videos

Zettelkasten Introduction (Simple & Complete Explanation). By Darin Suthapong

  • Excellent summary of Luhmann's Zettelkasten method. about 10 minutes.

Zettelkasten Obsidian Tutorial (Simplest way) By Darin Suthapong

  • Using Obsidian for Zettelkasten - about 15 minutes

The FUN and EFFICIENT note-taking system I use in my PhD. By morganeua

  • Another good workflow for Zettelkasten with Obsidian

From the video summary: "The best book length overview of the zettelkasten system is "How to Take Smart Notes" by Sönke Ahrens. I find it useful for getting inspiration and there's an audiobook, too, if you just need a refresher/some motivation: By far the resource I return to the most is a post by Sascha on the Zettelkasten website called "Introduction to the Zettelkasten Method." I also just surf that website whenever I run into an issue with my own zettelkasten, because 100% someone has answered my question there: Obsidian has a VERY useful "help" section once you download it. It's definitely worth checking out: "

My simple note-taking setup | Zettelkasten in Obsidian | Step-by-step guide By Artem Kirsanov

  • Neuroscience PhD student. Simple and true to Zettelkasten method using Obsidian. Non-Zettelkasten notes kept separately in same Obsidian vault. Default locations for new notes, templates, and images/attachments all covered. Hidden directory .obsidian in vaults touched on as location of vault config info.

2022 Zettelkasten Obsidian Workflow ⚡️ Simple Set Up. By Vicky Zhao [BEEAMP]

  • This is a Zettelkasten in Obsidian workflow with a good section on tagging and titling effectively for finding and linking notes via search. (at 9:25 Search friendly) Also introduces the separate concept of the Idea Compass.