Fleeting notes are ideas that pop into your mind as you go through your day. They can be really short, just like one word. You don’t need to organize them. They just serve as reminders of your thinking. These notes have no value except as stepping stones for turning literature notes into permanent notes. You discard the fleeting notes once you transformed them into permanent notes (more on that in level 3).
These notes have no value except as stepping stones for turning literature notes into permanent notes. You discard the fleeting notes once you transformed them into permanent notes (more on that in level 3).
How to take proper literature notes There are three rules for literature notes: make them brief, use your own words, and note bibliographic references. Sönke Ahrens adds another rule. He recommends being extremely selective in what you capture. I’m not. For deciding what I convert into literature notes, I ask myself: What is interesting about this? What’s so relevant it’s worth noting down? By transforming consumed content into literature notes, you're using one of the most effective learning strategies. When you elaborate, you rephrase new information in your own words and connect it to existing knowledge. You’ll make it more likely to remember what you read. Researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand, showed the more you write down, the more you can recall the information later. So don’t try to keep the notes too short — be generous in the way you elaborate and find the length that feels good for you. How to create meaningful references In traditional note-taking settings, the idea is to file new information based on the context you found it. I kept a Notion page for notes on productivity, another one for notes on writing, and so on. But with Zettelkasten, the categorization is more efficient. A note is only as useful as its context. A note’s true value unfolds in its network of connections and relationships to others. You don’t have to use your brain anymore to find separate ideas from different books related to each other. In a Zettelkasten, you don’t file notes in the context you found them but in the context in which you want to discover them.
“Making good cross-references is a matter of serious thinking and a crucial part of the development of thoughts.”
Level 3: Permanent Notes Permanent notes are the real value-adders. You create them by looking through your fleeting and literature notes. Ideally, you create them once a day. Both Sönke Ahren and Andy Matuschak say a knowledge worker’s productivity should be measured by the number of permanent (or evergreen) notes they write in a day. “If you had to set one metric to use as a leading indicator for yourself as a knowledge worker, the best I know might be the number of Evergreen notes written per day.”
“Write exactly one note for each idea and write as if you were writing for someone else. Use full sentences, disclose your sources, make references, and try to be as precise, clear, and brief as possible. “
Once you write an article or a book about a specific topic, you don’t start with a blank page. Instead, you search for permanent notes relevant to your topic.
When recording a new permanent note, always think about linking that note to existing ideas and concepts. To do so, ask yourself questions like: How does this idea fit your existing knowledge? Does it correct, challenge, support, upgrade, or contradict what you already noted? How can you use this idea to explain Y, and what does it mean in the context of Z?
Permanent notes are no holy grail — but a work in progress. Don’t be afraid to write them. You can change and update them whenever you want: what permanent really means is that they’re permanently useful to you.
Whenever I write about a topic, I stumble upon related thoughts.
All I have to do is connect my permanent notes into coherent texts.
Here are two questions to ask yourself when you create references for your literature notes. Answering them will help you make good cross-references:
In which circumstance do I want to find this note? When and how will I use this idea?
you assign keywords by thinking about topics you’re working on, not by looking at the note in isolation
As a rule of thumb, I now create permanent notes about every topic I’m curious about or working on. When you’re in doubt, ask yourself whether you’re curious to explore your idea further
I create permanent notes by going through my literature and fleeting notes and searching for ideas, principles, or concepts that I want to explore further