What is a Zettelkasten - In 10 Seconds

Genuine question: Please can you explain your reasoning, and more specifically how would you define a PKM system?

I’m unsure whether I need a more “traditional” app for, what I assume could be deemed more PKM notes, such as recipes, lesson notes, people CRM etc. and something more lateral like Obsidian for research/writing. I don’t yet know whether Obsidian can hold it all.

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Oh boy, that’s pretty difficult to define because everyone is using their system slightly differently. Everything you mentioned you can—and probably—should try to do that in something like Obsidian. YMMV, but you may be pleasantly surprised

Thank you @nickmilo. After posting I did some more research into Zettlekasten and have decided to throw it all in the same app. I think I’ll be pleasantly surprised, as you mentioned, in years to come when I’ll likely see some really abstract links between things. I excited to see it grow!

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This is actually a very good point.
I’ll try to expand on this with my own understanding of ZK which is heavily influenced by the book “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens that I’m currently reading.

Zettelkasten is primarily a tool to support writing. “Writing” in a very broad sense and as a circular process rather than linear (more on this below).

If ZK is “only” used as a PKM system, it stops short of its potential. The goal shouldn’t be to just collect knowledge. The goal should be to come up with new ideas, to write about them and share it with the world.

In that sense, ZK supports writing because by the time you have some permanent notes and connections between them, few things have happened:

  • you developed your thinking about certain ideas by condensing them into permanent notes
  • you created relationships by connecting the notes and from these relationships, new ideas can emerge

ZK enables you to alwas have ideas for what to write about and never starting from scratch. This is how the process is circular rather than linear: you don’t start with choosing a topic, sitting behind a blank screen and then writing. The topic emerges from the relationships and you have a headstart on your writing with all the notes you already have.

I think it’s a mistake to view ZK as collecting knowledge. It’s really supposed to be a supporting structure for writing and thinking.


For me ZK means to make connection between my notes/things I read, learned, understand, found interesting or mind blowing and at the end to make meaning out of all of these learnings and my life in general.

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i’m a bit late to the party, but i’ll add my 2 cents.

PKM or a PKM System(as i understand it) isn’t necessarily one thing. its a tool kit for collecting and processing information so that you can more effectively, and more efficiently, use it.

the best analogy i can think of is to say its like a chef’s knife roll. not every chef is gonna have the same knives in their knife roll. but all the knife rolls exist for the same reason, to prep and process ingredients that the chef will then cook/serve as a completed dish.

ZK is one of the many knives you can put in your PKM knife roll. use it in conjunction with as many or as few other knives as you want. the end product is the goal. but just like cooking, the process is most of the fun(IMO).

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