12 Principles For Using Zettelkasten

Figure: Initial version of Zettelkasten principles

What are the basic principles, when working with a Zettelkasten? Here are some of my answers:

  1. Start with clear goals
    Determine what you want to achieve with your Zettelkasten and use this to guide your note-taking and organization.

  2. Make good notes
    Write exactly one note for each idea and write as if you were writing for someone else.

  3. Limit folders
    Folders are best for clustering notes within the structure of your process. Keep your process as simple as possible.

  1. Use templates
    Consistently use a consistent format for your notes to make them easy to read and navigate.

  2. Use links
    Link related notes together to create a web of interconnected ideas.

  3. Use tags
    Use tags to categorize and organize your notes and make it easier to find related information.

  1. Search and retrieve notes
    Test the efficiency of your Zettelkasten by searching for specific information. If you can quickly locate what you need, your system is effective.

  2. Review and revise notes
    Regularly review and revise your notes to ensure they are up to date and accurate.

  3. Inspect and adapt process
    Continually evaluate and refine the organization and use of your Zettelkasten in order to maximize its effectiveness and efficiency.

  1. Simplify Zettelkasten
    Apply the rules of simplicity to improve and ensure the usability and effectiveness of your Zettelkasten so that it meets your needs and provides a positive knowledge management and note-taking experience.

  2. Use AI
    Invite AI to contribute to and review your Zettelkasten to facilitate collaboration and shared learning.

  3. Have fun
    Enjoy the process of building and using your Zettelkasten!

Which principles do you miss and should be added? Which are not so important?


A structure behind this list helps me better understand Zettelkasten values and principles.

1. Writing over Copying:

Instead of mindlessly copying and pasting, Zettelkasten emphasizes “Writing over Copying.” Approach your notes with a purpose. Start with a clear goal (Point 1). It’s like crafting your own story rather than retelling someone else’s.

2. Flexibility over Structure:

Imagine your knowledge system as a playground, not a prison. Zettelkasten encourages “Flexibility over Structure.” It’s about adapting and growing. Think of it as your personal garden of ideas, where you “Inspect and adapt the process” (Point 8) and “Keep up to date” (Point 9) like tending to your plants.

3. Tags over Folders:

Forget about folders and embrace the concept of “Tags over Folders.” Zettelkasten invites you to label and organize your notes using tags, just like tagging your favorite photos on social media. This makes finding and connecting ideas a breeze.

4. Learning over Knowing:

Knowledge isn’t about what you know but how you learn. “Learning over Knowing” is at the heart of Zettelkasten. It encourages active engagement with your knowledge. It’s like the difference between reading a book and discussing it with friends. Embrace this principle, and you’ll find your knowledge growing organically.

Networked Mindset:

Zettelkasten isn’t just about you and your notes; it’s about connecting with a broader community. Think of it as joining a club where “Open-mindedness,” “Collaboration,” and “Connectedness” are the rules. This networked mindset is like discovering new friends who share your interests.

Have Fun:

Amidst all the knowledge management, don’t forget to have fun (Point 12). Zettelkasten can be a joyful journey of exploration. Think of it as a treasure hunt for your own ideas.


Zettelkasten Metro Map

The Zettelkasten metro map is a system of symbols, colors, icons, architectural challenges, cooperative spaces, and crowds of Zettelkasten city residents. Together, they’ve formed an increasingly vital way of understanding the city as a whole.

The city is divided into metro stations, and for those of us who use public transportation, it’s a shared experience.

The Zettelkasten metro system makes the entire city more accessible. You can find out more about the individual metro lines below:

The Zettelkasten metro is the pride of the city. It is always changing, thriving, growing and evolving into something new.

[1] Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking, 2022.
[2] “Tennessine. A Collection of Projects for the Web.” Accessed October 18, 2023. https://tennessine.co.uk/


The 7 Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins someone should be aware of when using a Zettelkasten [1] are:

:one: Copying without comprehension
Copying information into the Zettelkasten without truly understanding or internalizing the content, hindering genuine knowledge growth.

:two: Association without relevance
Creating connections between notes that lack meaningful relationships or relevance to your work.

:three: Tagging without organization
Using tags excessively or inconsistently, leading to a chaotic and unstructured Zettelkasten.

:four: Reference without understanding
Linking to external sources without fully comprehending or integrating the knowledge into your Zettelkasten.

:five: Expansion without reflection
Adding new notes without taking the time to reflect on their implications or connections to existing knowledge.

:six: Quantity without quality
Focusing on creating a large number of notes without ensuring the quality of content and meaningful connections.

:seven: Tool obsession without practice
Constantly switching or obsessing over Zettelkasten tools without dedicating time to actual note-taking and knowledge building.

What are your favorite sins? Which ones are missing?

[1] Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking, 2022.


Today I updated the “12 Principles for Using Zettelkasten”. Here’s the reason why:

Now it will be easy to add the missing posts to:

[8] Review and revise notes,
[10] Simplify Zettelkasten, and
[12] Have fun

If you want to simplify the model choose 3 principles (yellow lines):

[1] Start with Clear Goals
[2] Make Good Notes
[12] Have Fun

Or as I started some years ago with 2 principles:

[2] Make Good Notes
[12] Have Fun